Observe here, 1. The great modesty of the apostle in this expression; I suppose I was not a wit behind the chiefest apostles. He might have said he was equal with them, and in some sense superior to them, even the most eminent of them, Peter, James, and John. Indeed the apostleship, as an office, was of equal honour in all the apostles; but even amongst them, some had more excellent gifts, and greater enlargements, and did more signal services than others. Thus one of those stars differed from another in brightness and glory.
But, observe, 2. Before whom it is that St. Paul thus compares himself with the chiefest apostles: it was not before the true, but the false apostles, that he makes this modest boast. He did not contend with any of the apostles of Christ for the upper hand, nor say, I am not behind any of you, or I am better than any of you; but he only gives check to those false apostles who undervalued him, and poured contempt upon him. He who said at another time, I am not worthy to be called an apostle, says here, I am not behind the chiefest apostle.
From whence we learn, That the ministers of Christ may stand upon terms of credit with those that vilify their persons, disparage their function, and discredit that honourable work which God hath called them unto. Though all ambitious contending with others is odious, yet no man ought to betray either the truth of God or his own integrity, lest he should be counted contentious. He purchases the opinion of an humble and peaceable minister too dear; who either pays the faith of God for it, or his own credit: something of reputation being absolutely necessary in a minister, to render his labours successful.
Observe, 3. The objection which the false apostles, those proud boasters of their eloquence, made against St. Paul, namely, that he was rude in speech. That the apostle had some imperfection in his speech or utterance, is the opinion of many. Others affirm, that he was an eloquent preacher, from Act_19:12 where he is compared to Mercurius for it; but he did not think fit, in his ministry, to use the Grecian flaunting way in ostentation thereof, that so the power of the gospel might not seem to be placed in human wisdom. "However, says the apostle, though I be rude in speech, yet not in knowledge; if my language has nothing extraordinary in it, yet sure nothing can be objected against my skill in the mysteries of salvation. But I need not tell you of this, who have had the proof of it in my ministry amongst yourselves."
Note, we hear, The manner and methods of St. Paul's preaching; it was grave and serious, pious and ardent, plain and profitable. No doubt he could have acted the orator in the pulpit, as well as most: But he chose rather to speak close and home to the consciences of men, in a plain and familiar style, delivering all his evangelical and apostolical precepts so plainly, that the weakest capacities might understand and receive them. Plain truths, without any art or varnish, may be conveyed with more warmth and vigour to the conscience, than all the charms of human eloquence from the most fluent and popular tongue.