Do you struggle, like me, with making even your God-given life, family, and ministry far too much about you? What you prefer. What you are comfortable with. What you are willing to settle for. Recently in my devotional reading of 2 Corinthians 10, I came across an interesting, inspired solution to our proneness of being so self-oriented in everything that we are and lead. The antidote-maintaining and expanding a pioneering spirit.
Here are a few takeaways that jump off the page through the lense and life of the Apostle Paul:
A pioneering spirit displaces foolish evaluations of self.
2 Co 10:12 “For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.”
The false teachers known by the Corinthian believers were in the habit of comparing themselves with others. They would hold up Paul before the gaze of the Corinthians in such a way as to mock him. They considered themselves to be the “inner circle” of all knowledge. They were the elite ones (Elitism tends to critically analyze the actions of others from a place of unproductive passivity). According to them, no one could stand by them and be seen in a favorable light. Paul here says he is not brash enough to be found among those who commend themselves, or with those whose only standard of measurement is their own life. It should be obvious that if a person’s only standard is himself, then he is always right! There is no room for improvement!
The place to start to implement your inner entrepreneur is in primarily leading not others but self into ever-greater discipline and growth-no matter what “every other reasonable leader” is doing, thinking, or feeling. Often this initiative in our personal space starts with small, daily things like flossing our teeth, making our bed, exercising, diet, and attitude adjustments. As Andy Stanley wisely points out, “To be a great leader, you must lead yourself.”
A pioneering spirit erradicates the take-more-than-our-fair-share-of-the-credit tendencies of self.
2 Co 10:13-14 “But we will not boast of things without our measure, but according to the measure of the rule which God hath distributed to us, a measure to reach even unto you. For we stretch not ourselves beyond our measure, as though we reached not unto you: for we are come as far as to you also in preaching the gospel of Christ:”
Paul states his intention of boasting only in the sphere of ministry which God had given to him. He made it a practice not to intrude into someone else’s work when he wanted to brag on God. This is an obvious reference to the Judaizers. It was their practice to work their way into churches already established by the Apostle Paul or some other Christian, and there build upon another man’s foundation. In distinctive contrast, Paul will make his boast only in the places and persons where God had honored his ministry. That would include Corinth.
Our desire to boast in what God has done through unworthy us is only a sanctified desire when it manifests itself in authentic initiative instead of “bump drafting” behind the impactful accomplishments and deep-cutting sacrifices of others. A probing question would be as follows: How much of who/what/where you have prominently listed today on your resume, website, business card, and social bio is honestly connected to what you-as opposed to those who have gone before you-have initiated. (Far too many in our world and even Christian circles are “trust fund babies” posing as mature, impactful leaders.) Nothing will distance you and me from that crowd of pretenders quicker/more consistently than launching an original thought, initiative, relationship, or ministry!
A pioneering spirit liberates us from the feeble, finite resources of self.
2 Co 10:15-16 “Not boasting of things without our measure, that is, of other men’s labors; but having hope, when your faith is increased, that we shall be enlarged by you according to our rule abundantly. To preach the gospel in the regions beyond you, and not to boast in another man’s line of things made ready to our hand.”
As one author recently posted, “Much frustration in life can be put in perspective when we learn to expect a trail instead of a sidewalk.” A reality that requires not only our all-out effort but for God to show up! The church plant at Corinth was requiring so much of Paul’s time and energy that, in the short term, he was hindered from fulfilling his mission to the regions beyond. But…it was Paul’s hope was that when the Corinthians’ faith increased, and he could move on, their faith would express itself in practical help that would enable him to go into still further regions and extended his ministry. The “rule” or standard of success was to preach the gospel in the virgin soil of souls beyond the Corinthians (probably meaning Western Greece, Italy, and Spain).
Could it be that you are stuck right now because everything rises and falls upon your intrinsic resources that, by the way, diminish as you move through life? The solution to that predictably diminishing return of living in autonomy is to invest now in new financial, relational, and gospel priorities (of which some may not immediately work out) that will exponentially increase your assets in the future. Yes, it may be extra exhausting and uncomfortable in the present tense, but you will not regret it. John Maxwell refers to this as the law of advance attraction, “Resources and opportunities flow to the person who moves.”
A pioneering spirit sanctifies our vertical relationship with God that is otherwise off if guided only by self.
2 Co 10:17-18 “But he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. For not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth.”
According to a recent study by the World Health Organization, people spend on average 93% of their lives indoors. What launching into something new with the Lord does is gift us with a challenging/growing perspective outside of ourselves and our little world. As one commentator asserts from verse 17, “In Paul’s epistles, the in (en) in the phrase, in the Lord, always expresses an intimate and mystical relation with Christ. The phrase is somewhat like a spiritual trademark (e.g., Rom 16:12, 13, 22; Phil 4:1, 2, 4, 10; Phm 20). No other NT writer uses it.” In other words, Paul is admonishing us to revel only in what fresh fellowship or personal enabling we are experiencing ourselves with the Lord. Ultimately the pioneering spirit is not about what we do but WHO we are becoming in the presence of our glorious Lord!
In verse 18, Paul concludes that self-commendation is not what wins God’s approval. The question that Paul’s critics should face is this: Has the Lord commended you by so blessing your ministry that souls have been saved, that saints have been established in the faith, and that churches have been planted? Can you demonstrate the approval of the Lord by pointing to those who have been converted through your preaching? This is what counts. Where are the current and unmistakable evidences of heaven’s favor upon your life and leadership? Nothing will free you from a consumed-with-self existence like praying for and pursuing that kind of measurable blessing and affirmation from God Himself on a regular basis. A God, by the way, who will judge us with either a “well done” or the loss of those words based upon not what we have maintained but what we pioneered! Don’t be like the wicked and slothful servant who buries what you have been given from the Lord out fear of losing it when you, as a careful steward, should be using it to gain and grow for the Master (Mt. 25).
Paul, a sacrificial and others-focused apostle, without a pioneering spirit ceases to be everything that we respect and admire about him. May I humbly submit to you that the same is true of you and me. According to Paul David Tripp, “In the image of the Creator, we’re designed to create. We were made to be builders, managers, and doers. We were designed to change our surroundings. We were created to leave an imprint of our work as we move on to another place.” Nothing is more unnatural or out of sync with God than to lose our drive to create new things.
Whether it is my taking on seminary, a foreign adoption, planting a church, flipping houses, launching a counseling ministry, or host of smaller pursuits, I am discovering anew and afresh today that there is no other commitment that will disengage us from the gravitational pull of orbiting around ourselves like sanctified initiative. What new relationship do you need to take a step? What new ministry is God leading you to start? What regular discipline or life-giving leisure needs inaugurated in your family? To not ask or be compelled to action by these questions affects more than you and me! As Thomas Watson warns us, “Once an organization loses its pioneering spirit and rests on its early work, its progress stops.” The choice between making this life about you or the pioneer God intended you to be will determine everything in eternity, not only for you but everyone you could and should impact!
Commentary primarily taken from MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) Nashville: Thomas Nelson.