Located in south-central Greece, Corinth is a city-state of antiquity and important seaport. Ancient Greece was the basis of much of Western culture today, including the belief in democracy, equality under the law and even trial by jury. In 4th-century democratic Athens every citizen who wished to prosecute a lawsuit had to come up with a speech. Not every citizen was able to write his own speeches – which introduced the practice of employing a speech writer. Demosthenes’ skill in his speeches was quickly recognized. And so began his lifelong career at court pioneering the profession of a modern-day lawyer.
Still today Demosthenes is seen as one of the greatest ancient Greek orators. With that in mind I can see why Paul’s speaking skills were even a topic. Members of the Corinthian congregation remarked he was better at writing letters than delivering speeches. In response Paul wrote (2 Corinthians 10:10-11):
“For some say, ‘His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing.’ Such people should realize that what we are in our letters when we are absent, we will be in our actions when we are present.”
Paul’s clash with the Greek intellectuals of his time is similar to what happens today. Carrying the gospel torch, believers are in public view and subject to all kinds of criticism. When our pride gets hurt we almost automatically switch gears and get defensive. Not Paul – attacked as he was, he did not fall into this trap. He concluded that it did not matter what anybody thought about him because he did not seek anybody’s approval. His ministry was not based on self-recommendation, but on the Lord’s recommendation.
Everything we have – and that includes our gifts and talents – comes from the Lord and is a reason to be thankful, not boastful. The only thing left to boast about is to know the Lord. The prophet Jeremiah wrote (Jeremiah 9:24):
“‘But let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me,
that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,’ declares the Lord.”