We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything. (2 Corinthians 6:3-10 NIV)
To the title of this devotional someone would object: “But should we even be concerned with commending ourselves to others?” After all, Paul wrote, “For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends” (2 Cor.10:18). First, we should notice that this verse comes from the same letter of Paul – 2 Corinthians – as the passage above, and, in fact, uses the same Greek word: sunistemi, meaning “commend” or “approve” or “demonstrate.” It is the same word as used in Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrated his love to us in this, that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”
We should not seek to commend ourselves to others in a way that we appear to be something that we are not, or something that we are not by the grace of God. As Paul also wrote in his first letter to the Corinthians, “By the grace of God, I am what I am” (1 Cor. 15:10). Even though much of what he had become was through his own hard work, he was quick to explain this: “I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me” (1 cor. 15:10). God had supplied the motivation, the daily power and strength in his life, and the capacity for learning and knowledge. This was so clear to Paul that he could not take any credit for anything in his life – it was all by the grace and unearned favor of God.
But as Christians we still need to know who is who, what level of maturity is someone at in his life, how committed is he, and so on. We need to know this not to judge one another, or to compete with one another, but to see who is sincere and who is not, who we should entrust with leadership and who is not yet ready for it.
Paul, under the inspiration of the Spirit, gave us a set of simple standards to use, the same standards that he used. Look at the list above: endurance, hardships, beatings and imprisonments, hard work, purity, going without, yet maintaining truthful speech. Though he was misunderstood, he responded in love and grace, letting God commend him. We see in these words a beautiful picture of a mature and loving man of God. And this is how we commend ourselves to one another, also. Not by boastings, or posturing, or by putting others down, but by sincere commitment to God and love for people, and by letting God commend us.
As a first year missionary, I was asked to lead in the scripture reading for our annual mission meeting in the Philippines, just before our main speakers shared from their hearts. That year we had Dr Baker james Cauthen and his wife, Eloise, as our speakers. Dr Cauthen was the Executive Secretary of the Foreign Mission Board (that became the International Mission Board) of Southern Baptists from 1954 to 1979. At that time they had already begun formal retirement but continued to serve as God gave them strength and opportunities to do so. Dr Cauthen passed away just a few years later.
They had served long overseas in China in the 1930’s and 40’s, and had faced many hardships. Under his leadership, the missionary force increased from 908 to also 3,000. They were great souls. As a young missionary, just thirty years old, I knew my job was to read the scripture and just sit down. What could I possibly say that would be on the same level as what they had shared? I managed to say that I had appreciated greatly their teaching, and then got out of the way quickly.
They commended themselves to us as deep, mature, sacrificial, loving, and mature believers. They had great gifts fo leadership, but they would say like Paul, “By the grace of God we are what we are.” They impressed us with their humility and dependence on the Lord, with their compassion for us, and with a lifetime of service. Have you been in the presence of people like this? Can you become someone like this?
Of course, shallow people will always admire the least important things about us. They will be impressed by positions, talents, knowledge, and power. Though we should love all and let God do with them what he wills, it is also true that the shallow people are not always worth our time or energy. But the people worth investing in will be impressed not by the surface things, but by commitment and endurance of hardship, by humility and genuine love. This is how we are to commend ourselves to one another – for then surely it is God who had sustained us.