but we will not boast beyond limits, but will boast only with regard to the area of influence God assigned to us, to reach even to you. for we are not overextending ourselves, as though we did not reach you. for we were the first to come all the way to you with the gospel of Christ. we do not boast beyond limit in the labors of others. but our hope is that as your faith increases, our area of influence among you may be greatly enlarged, so that we may preach the gospel in lands beyond you, without boasting of work already done in another’s area of influence. “let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” for it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends. [2 corinthians 10:13-18]
if you’re like me, these verses might have gotten your brain into a knot at first. maybe you’d read them briefly and skip over any further digging so you could grasp the larger meaning of the chapter. i’m inviting you to untangle your mind with me a bit so we can mine some gold from these inspired words.
what does paul mean by an “area of influence” assigned to us by God? this one is directly applicable to us as believers in whatever our context. do you have a job, a neighborhood, an apartment building, a family, a church community, children? are you alive and placed somewhere, anywhere? this is your area of influence. we all have one, whether we choose to see it or not.
paul is both giving himself limited authority, while deferring to the ultimate authority of God. paul has a sphere, God has unlimited influence. paul’s influence has designated boundaries, Christ’s influence is boundless. to have influence with the corinthians was not an overextension of paul’s influence, but it was within what God had called him to in ministry.
actually, paul uses this “sphere” or “area” of influence verbiage to resonate with the corinthians. these terms were commonly used in racing games at the time which were very popular in corinth. paul is actually saying that he’s “staying in his lane” by ministering to the corinthians, especially since he planted the church there.
paul is denying the idea that he is “building on someone else’s foundation” by ministering to the church at corinth, but that he himself laid that foundation and has a vested interest in the flourishing of the church. what he’s saying is that as the sphere of influence at corinth grows, so does paul’s sphere of influence and by extension, the gospel.
so paul isn’t so interested in the growth of his own fame. he’s interested in the growth and spread of the gospel extending from a church he planted. he’s not looking for accolades, he’s looking to grow and spread the fame of Christ.
there were many teachers in corinth at the time attempting to ride paul’s coattails, if you will. they were building on his foundation to create a name for themselves. paul is saying, this should not be so! his primary goal was to build foundations where there were none.
paul quotes jeremiah 9:24 when he says “but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that i am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. for in these things i delight, declares the Lord.”
he’s likely quoting this verse to remind the corinthians of why he came to them in the first place, and why he continues to desire to have influence over them and to retain their respect. it’s not to boast in himself, but to boast in Christ. the corinthians were only hurting their own spiritual growth by rejecting paul and what paul rode into town teaching. so what mattered was what he thought or said about himself, but the commendation of the Lord.
reflect on this today:
*how have you attempted to use your sphere of influence to exalt yourself?
*have you ever tried to build upon someone else’s area of influence in an attempt to create your own following? why?
*what would it look like to sincerely boast in the Lord?
God, help us to be obedient to your call and attuned to your voice. immerse us in your word and your presence so we can discern what you’re calling us to in our areas of influence. help us to do all things for your commendation and not to build our own kingdom or reputation, but yours.
in Jesus name,
~ erin boettge