In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul warns them of men who claim to be apostles but are “false apostles, deceitful workers” (2 Corinthians 11:13). By contrast, Paul had demonstrated the authentic signs of apostleship among them (12:12). Paul was not like those who claimed to be apostles but were not, and he points to one thing they do which he would not: “For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.” (2 Corinthians 10:12). In other words, the false apostles would engage in self-praise, comparing themselves with each other. It was not wise. While Paul in this context is dealing with the false apostles’ method of measurement, his point in verse 12 can lead us to a foundational question: What is the right measuring stick for us spiritually? Who or what should we use as a standard?
The right measuring stick for us spiritually is not ourselves or our own will, but many measure themselves this way. Twice in Judges it is said that “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (17:6; 21:25), and it is not meant as a compliment. Measuring according to my own standard ends in spiritual death, separation from God: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12).
The right measuring stick for us spiritually is not others. One could be inclined to think that he is right in the sight of God because in his estimation he lives more righteously than another. Have you ever thought that way before? It’s not wise and will result in an inflated estimation of self. (Or making one you esteem highly your measuring stick may have the opposite effect – a feeling of inadequacy and worthlessness.) Paul said his challengers were “comparing themselves among themselves.” The resulting self-approval or self-commendation proves nothing about one’s condition in the sight of God: “For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends” (2 Corinthians 10:18).
What then is the right measuring stick? The objective truth of the gospel found in the word of God is the right standard of measurement. Jesus said, “He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him – the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day” (John 12:48). Paul wrote about the day “when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel” (Romans 2:16). Since we will be judged by the gospel, and thus our eternity determined by our response to its words, isn’t the gospel the right measuring stick for us spiritually?
Paul exhorts us to “let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another” (Galatians 6:4). So we should ask ourselves: How do I measure up spiritually? By comparing our thoughts, words, and deeds against the word of God, we can obtain an objective answer. This ought to include: What have I done right? Is there something I’m doing wrong? What do I need to work on? We need spiritual checkups, and we need to use the word of God as the measuring stick.