“What? He’s going to ask her out? Doesn’t he know she’s out of his league?”
“I’ll do the best I can. But I’m not in their league.”
“He did poorly. I guess he’s just not ready for the big league.”
We have a knack for sorting ourselves and others into social categories and assigning value accordingly. In what’s called upward social comparison, we compare ourselves to those we consider superior. As a consequence, we either end up feeling badly about ourselves, or else motivated to be more like them (because we believe that’s where we belong). In downward social comparison, we feel superior to those who are below us. And we use the metaphor of leagues to say who’s in which category and what they’re worth.
Paul’s opponents in Corinth are in competition with him. In his absence, they’re trying to portray Paul as a loser. They’ve used a number of arguments to suggest that he’s not much of an apostle — if in fact he is one! — and that therefore whatever he says about his apostleship is only hollow boasting. He’s not worth your allegiance; follow us instead!
Too much is at stake for Paul to take this lying down. He writes:
We won’t dare to place ourselves in the same league or to compare ourselves with some of those who are promoting themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves, and compare themselves with themselves, they have no understanding. (2 Cor 10:12, CEB)
“Not in the same league”: the CEB uses the metaphor to translate Paul’s statement that he doesn’t dare count himself in the same category as his opponents. It’s possible that he’s being humble, saying, in effect, “My opponents are making a big mistake, and we don’t dare do the same.” But he’s probably being at least a little sarcastic, skewering their presumptuous attempt at self-promotion.
The problem is not boasting per se, but the standard of comparison. “My opponents are measuring themselves by themselves,” Paul argues. In essence, they’re saying, “Look at me! Look how impressive I am,” without reference to some objective, external criterion.
It’s not literally true, of course, that Paul’s opponents have no external standard. If they didn’t share at least some standards of social comparison with the Corinthians, some criteria of who’s in what league, few if any of the Corinthians would have been tempted to throw Paul over in the first place. But Paul’s point is that they have the wrong standard, one that doesn’t come from God.
What could a godly standard of boasting mean? More on that in the next post.