On October 6, 1949, Jim Elliot noted in his journal, "Second Corinthians 1 was my morning meditation. Stirred to sober wonder at what, or rather who, shall be my glorying in the day of Jesus Christ?"
In 2 Corinthians 1:12–14, Paul shares with the Corinthians his hope that they will boast (or glory) in him, as he will in them, in the day of the Lord Jesus. Taking Paul's aspirations to heart, Jim Elliot imagined what it would look like for himself to appear before the Lord and have something—or someone—to boast in. This would-be missionary, who in less than seven years would spill his blood in Ecuador for the sake of the gospel, was contemplating what his glorying might be on that day.
Difficulty in Corinth
That Paul would want the Corinthians to boast in him—and he in them—sounds strange to our ears. In a previous letter, Paul essentially argued the opposite (1 Corinthians 1:10–30). For eighteen months, Paul lived in Corinth to establish the church there (Acts 18:1–17). But after he left, things began to unravel. When groups coalesced around their preferred leaders, Paul was shocked to learn some were boasting in him! He would have none of it.
Over time, the opinions of some within the church began to change. They questioned Paul for his physical weakness and apparent fickleness. They were miffed that Paul refused to take their money—something those in their culture would provide for a favored philosopher. Meanwhile, some of the Corinthians embraced new teachers who discredited Paul's ministry and undermined his gospel.
By the time Paul writes 2 Corinthians, he's no longer addressing their overzealous commitment to various preachers. He's concerned by their foolish following of false apostles. So Paul gives a defense of his new covenant ministry. He wants to fortify their commitment to him and his gospel. He even appeals to the Corinthians to rally in support of his ministry, specifically to give toward his Jerusalem offering.
It's hard to imagine Paul seeking support from a church suspicious of his cause. Today, when missionaries request ministry partnerships, they generally do so with those already disposed to their mission. Paul didn't always enjoy that luxury. So how does he persuade the Corinthians? He motivates them with an opportunity for communal boasting (2 Corinthians 1:14) and shared thanksgiving. He stirs in them a desire for glory.
- When Paul requests prayer support, he says: "You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing ["grace"] granted us through the prayers of many" (2 Corinthians 1:11).
- When defending the suffering that accompanies his preaching, Paul reiterates: "For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God" (2 Corinthians 4:15).
- When encouraging sacrificial giving to the church in Jerusalem—what Paul repeatedly calls an "act of grace" (2 Corinthians 8:6–7, 9)—he explains: "[This grace] will produce thanksgiving to God . . . overflowing in many thanksgivings to God . . . they will glorify God because of your submission . . . while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you" (2 Corinthians 9:11–14).
Paul's logic is this: the Corinthians should graciously partner in his ministry because it will result in grace extending to more and more people. As that grace is sown broadly, the Corinthians will reap the benefits (2 Corinthians 4:15; 8:10). Specifically, their shared labor in Paul's ministry will be rewarded with thanksgiving.
Reward of Thanksgiving
Let's be honest. The reward of thanksgiving isn't much incentive for many of us. Who hasn't received a thank you note only to throw it out the same day? Yet, Paul thinks the prospect of thanks will overcome any reticence the Corinthians may have.
In the ancient world (and in many cultures today), gifts came with strings attached. If the recipients of a material gift were poor and unable to return the favor, they would publicly return thanks, honoring the donor and elevating their reputation. This social aspect of thanksgiving, therefore, directly connects with the concept of boasting. We can also see that connection in many of Paul's letters, when he boasts before the Lord (and others) by giving thanks for the faith and love of churches (1 Corinthians 1:4; Philippians 1:3; 1 Thessalonians 1:2).
This link between thanksgiving and boasting is perhaps clearest in Paul's correspondence with the Thessalonians. He writes, "We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly. . . . Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God" (2 Thessalonians 1:3–4).
Paul gives thanks to God by boasting to others about the Thessalonians. This Godward thanksgiving has more than a vertical dimension. It gives glory to God, yes. But we in the West might easily miss its deep, meaningful horizontal dimension. To brag about someone in the presence of others (and God!) is to honor and encourage them. Paul uses this boast to praise believers for their faith and inspire others to imitate them (2 Corinthians 7:14; 8:1).
Boasting on the Final Day
Ultimately, Paul's thankful boast is an appetizer to the feast of praise which he envisions on the last day, when all our work is made manifest (1 Corinthians 3:13). As Jim Elliot recognized, Paul expects on the final day to have the Corinthians boast of him as he will of them (2 Corinthians 1:14). That mutual "glorying," I believe, involves joyful thanksgiving to God for his grace at work through others. So, Paul looks forward to standing before Christ, proud of his labors (Philippians 2:16), rejoicing in the fruit of his work (1 Thessalonians 2:19), and seeing others give thanks for him to the glory of God (2 Corinthians 1:11).
But that's not all. Paul wants other churches—in Corinth, Philippi, and Thessalonica—to share in that joy and glory as well. So, he encourages them to pray and give so others will thank God for them. He invites believers to join his work, knowing God will bring their partnership to completion at the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6). And he asks them to give generously—not because he desires their money, but so they'll share in the reward and harvest (Philippians 4:17; cf. Matthew 10:41). For Paul, missions is the church's collective effort in view of a shared thanksgiving and communal boast at the coming of Jesus. This is the glory of mission partnership.
“For Paul, missions is the church's collective effort in view of a shared thanksgiving and communal boast at the coming of Jesus. This is the glory of mission partnership.”
When Jim Elliot read Paul's words about such a shared celebration, he imagined what it could be to stand before the throne in glory. He was looking forward to the day when he would join a rousing band of grateful recipients of grace and rejoice together with them in the presence of the Lord. That's a glory, he believed, worth dying for. According to Paul, it's a glory worth praying, giving, and living for, too.