“As the Scriptures say, ‘If you want to boast, boast only about the LORD.’ When people commend themselves, it doesn’t count for much. The important thing is for the Lord to commend them” (2 Corinthians 10:17-18 NLT).
Most modern dictionaries associate the word “boast” with a person who acts in an egotistical manner. One such example defines this word as “a statement in which you proudly tell other people about what you or someone connected with you has done or can do, or about something you own, especially in order to make them admire you.” (1)
However, we can turn to a earlier dictionary to define the word “boast” in the sense that it is used in the passage quoted above. That resource provides us with the following definition: “To speak in exulting language of another; to glory; to exult.” (2) So these verses tell us that our efforts to engage in self-exultation are ultimately worthless; if anyone should be exalted, it should be God Himself.
Although Paul the Apostle will go on to boast extensively over the next two chapters of this letter to the Corinthians, he did not do so for self-promotional purposes. Instead, Paul prepared the members of the Corinthian fellowship for what is about to come by first reminding them of an important principle: “What people say about themselves means nothing. What counts is whether the Lord says they have done well” (ERV).
One source explains the rationale behind Paul’s approach…
“In (2 Corinthians chapter eleven) and the next, Paul indulges in what he calls folly. He is going to engage in the foolish business of speaking well of himself. It is not that he wants to do this at all. It was positively distasteful to him. But he asks the Corinthians to bear with him as he thus makes a fool of himself.
Apparently the false teachers had engaged in a great deal of boasting. They doubtless gave glowing accounts of their service and of their spectacular successes. Paul had never done this. He had preached Christ and not himself. The Corinthians seemed to prefer the boasting type of ministry, and so Paul asks them to let him engage in it for a while.” (3)
Another commentary leaves us with the following insight…
“In the Christian church, indeed, self-commendation should be viewed with suspicion as a mark of disqualification. God’s commendation of a person is shown, not by verbal boasts, but by the testimony of the consciences of those who have experienced the blessing attendant upon that person’s labours and by the continuing and increasing fruits of his labours…” (4)
(1) American definition and synonyms of boast from the online English dictionary from Macmillan Education https://www.macmillandictionary.com/dictionary/american/boast_2#boast_14
(2) Webster’s 1913 Dictionary http://www.webster-dictionary.org/definition/boast
(3) William Macdonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary Edited by Arthur Farstad Thomas Nelson Publishers (2 Corinthians 10:18) p.1858
(4) Philip E. Hughes, Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians p. 371 quoted in Constable, Thomas. DD. Notes on 2 Corinthians 2017 Edition (10:17-18) “http://www.planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/html/nt/2corinthians/2corinthians.htm” Copyright © 2017 Thomas L. Constable.