For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends. (2 Corinthians 10:18)“Commend” in this verse is a different Greek word. In our vernacular, it means to present, or to consist, or to put together. With that knowledge, if I were paraphrasing this verse, I would say, “The self-made person who tries to put his act together does not have the integrity as those whom the Lord puts together.”
The Message translates it this way: “What you say about yourself means nothing in God’s work. It’s what God says about you that makes the difference.”
That version makes the evaluation more of a verbal recognition rather than describing how a person might evaluate themselves (shaving off just enough to make him still look good?) compared to God’s evaluation that concerns being honest and a person of integrity.
Several other verses talk about being approved by God. He approves those who handle His Word with care and diligent study, using truth “directly and correctly” as the Holy Spirit teaches. As Paul says, I am supposed to:
Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)When I am diligent and exert myself to use the Bible the way I should, God is pleased.
He also says, “Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12).
This verse connects the ability to calmly resist temptation with a love for God. The verb indicates that enduring such tests with that love as a motivation will result in becoming a person that God approves. He wants me to have integrity, to never “shave the coin” to make myself look good, or have an unfair advantage, or be dishonest.
At first reading, I thought 2 Corinthians 10:18 was about getting God to say “Well done” but it goes beyond that. It is about letting God work in my life. It is having Him mold and shape me into the person He wants me to be without trying to cut corners or fool anyone. It is about integrity that comes through constant testing.
As James wrote, it is also about a reward. God shows His approval with the crown of life. Of course this is not earned as if I were doing the work. Instead, God does the work of making of me what He wants, then rewards me! At first this seems unfair, but it is not. When He is done with me, I am crowned with a life that fully like Jesus Christ. I may get the reward, but God gets the glory — all of it.