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Bible Commentaries

William Barclay's Daily Study Bible
2 Corinthians 10

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-18

Chapter 10

PAUL BEGINS TO ANSWER HIS CRITICS (2 Corinthians 10:1-6)

10:1-6 It is I Paul who call upon you--and I am doing it in the gentleness and the sweet reasonableness of Christ--I, who, as you say, am a poor creature when I am with you, but a man of courage when I am absent. It is my prayer that, when I do come to you, I may not have to be bold with that confidence with which I reckon that I can boldly face some who reckon that we direct our conduct by purely human motives. It is true that we live in a human body, but for all that we do not carry on our campaign with human motives and resources (for the weapons of our campaign are not merely human weapons, but God has made them powerful to destroy fortresses). Our campaign is such that we can destroy plausible fallacies and all lofty-mindedness which raises itself up against the knowledge that God has given, such that we capture every intention and bring it into obedience to Christ, such that we are prepared to punish all disobedience, when your obedience has been fulfilled.

Right at the beginning of this passage are two words which set the whole tone which Paul wishes to use. He speaks of the gentleness and the sweet reasonableness of Christ.

Prautes (Greek #4240), gentleness, is an interesting word. Aristotle defined it as the correct mean between being too angry and being never angry at all. It is the quality of the man whose anger is so controlled that he is always angry at the right time and never at the wrong time. It describes the man who is never angry at any personal wrong he may receive, but who is capable of righteous anger when he sees others wronged. By using that word Paul is saying at the very beginning of his stern letter that he is not carried away by personal anger, but is speaking with the strong gentleness of Jesus himself

The other word is even more illuminating. Sweet reasonableness is the Greek word epieikeia (Greek #1932). The Greeks themselves defined epieikeia (Greek #1932) as "that which is just and even better than just." They described it as that quality which must enter in when justice, just because of its generality, is in danger of becoming unjust. There are times when strict justice can actually result in injustice. Sometimes real justice is not to insist on the letter of the law, but to let a higher quality enter into our decisions. The man who has epieikeia (Greek #1932) is the man who knows that, in the last analysis, the Christian standard is not justice, but love. By using this word Paul is saying that he is not out for his rights and to insist on the letter of the law; but is going to deal with this situation with that Christlike love which transcends even the purest of human justice.

Now we have come to a section of the letter which is very hard to understand--and for this reason, that we are hearing only one side of the argument. We are hearing only Paul's reply. We do not know accurately what the charges were which the Corinthians levelled against him; we have to deduce them from the answers which Paul gives. But we can at least try to make our deductions.

(i) It is clear that the Corinthians had charged Paul with being bold enough when he was not face to face with them but a pretty poor creature when actually there. They are saying that when he is absent he can write things that he has not the courage to say in their presence. Paul's reply is that he prays that he may not have occasion to deal with them personally as he knows he is quite capable of doing. Letters are dangerous things. A man will often write with a bitterness and peremptoriness which he would never use to another person's face. Exchange of letters can do a deal of harm which might well have been avoided by a face to face discussion. But Paul's claim is that he would never write anything which he was not prepared to say.

(ii) It is clear that they charged him with arranging his conduct on human motives. Paul's answer is that both his conduct and his power come from God. True, he is a man subject to all the limitations of manhood, but God is his guide and God is his strength. What makes this passage difficult to understand is that Paul uses the word flesh (sarx, Greek #4561) in two different senses. (a) He uses it in the ordinary sense of the human body, flesh in its physical sense. "We walk," he says, "in the flesh." That simply means that he is, like anyone else, a human being. (b) But he also uses it in his own characteristic way for that part of human nature which gives a bridgehead to sin, that essential human weakness of life without God. So, he says, "We do not walk after, or according to, the flesh." It is as if he said, "I am a human being with a human body, but I never allow myself to be dominated by purely human motives. I never try to live without God." A man may live in the body and yet be guided by the Spirit of God.

Paul goes on to make two significant points.

(i) He says that he is equipped to deal with and to destroy all the plausible clevernesses of human wisdom and human pride. There is a simplicity which is a weightier argument than the most elaborate human cleverness. Once there was a house party at which Huxley, the great Victorian agnostic, was present. On the Sunday morning it was planned to go to church. Huxley said to a member of the party, "Suppose you don't go to church; suppose you stay at home and tell me why you believe in Jesus." The man said, "But you, with your cleverness, could demolish anything I might say." Huxley said, "I don't want you to argue. I want you just to tell me what this means to you." So the man, in the simplest terms, told from his heart what Christ meant to him. When he was finished, there were tears in the great agnostic's eyes. "I would give my right hand," he said, "if I could only believe that." It was not argument, but the utter simplicity of heartfelt sincerity which got home. In the last analysis it is not subtle cleverness which is most effective but simple sincerity.

(ii) Paul speaks of bringing every intention into captivity to Christ. Christ has an amazing way of capturing what was pagan and subduing it for his purposes. Max Warren tells of a custom of the natives in New Guinea. At certain times they have ritual songs and dances. They work themselves up into a frenzy and the ritual culminates in what are called "the murder songs," in which they shout before God the names of the people they wish to kill. When the natives became Christian, they retained these customs and that ritual, but in the murder songs, it was no longer the names of the people they hated, but the names of the sins they hated, that they shouted before God and called on him to destroy. An old pagan custom had been captured for Christ. Jesus never wishes to take from us our own qualities and abilities and characteristics. He wishes to take them and to use them for himself. His invitation is to come to him with just what we have to offer and he will enable us, to make a finer use of ourselves than ever before.

PAUL CONTINUES TO ANSWER HIS CRITICS (2 Corinthians 10:7-18)

10:7-18 Look at what lies in front of you. If anyone confidently believes that he belongs to Christ, let him examine his own case again, because, just as he belongs to Christ, so do we also. If I make what might look like excessive claims about our authority--that authority which the Lord gave us to upbuild you and not to destroy you--I will not be put to shame. And I am going to do just that very thing so that I may not seem, as it were, to be striking terror into you through a series of letters, because, to quote my opponents, "His letters are weighty and strong but his bodily presence is weak and his speech contemptible." Let the man who makes statements such as that consider that, such as we are in speech through letters when we are absent, that very thing we are in deed when we are present. Far be it from us to include ourselves among or compare ourselves with some people who commend themselves, but when their only standard of measurement is to measure themselves by themselves, and when their comparison does not go beyond comparing themselves with themselves, they are not sensible. As for us, we will not boast beyond our measure, but we will boast according to the measure of the sphere God has apportioned to us as our measure, a sphere which extends as far as you. For we are not overreaching ourselves, as if our sphere did not reach to you, for indeed we were the first to bring the gospel of Christ to you. We do not boast beyond our measure, but we do cherish the hope, that, as your faith increases, we will be given a greater share of honour among you, in a sphere which belongs to us, and which will enable us to preach the gospel to the regions beyond, and not to boast about things which have already been done in someone else's sphere. Let him who boasts boast in the Lord, for it is not the man who commends himself who is proved to be of sterling quality, but the man whom the Lord commends.

Paul continues to answer his critics; and we are faced with the same problem that we are hearing only one side of the argument and can only deduce what the criticisms were from Paul's reply to them.

(i) It seems clear that at least some of Paul's opponents asserted that he did not belong to Christ in the same way as they did. Perhaps they were still casting up at him the fact that once he had been the arch-persecutor of the Church. Perhaps they claimed special knowledge. Perhaps they claimed a special holiness. In any event they looked down on Paul and glorified themselves and their own relationship to Christ.

Any religion which makes a man look down upon his fellow men and think himself better than they, is no true religion. When revival came to the East African Churches in recent years, one of its features was the public confession of sin. While the natives willingly took part in that confession, Europeans tended to stand aloof, and one of the missionaries wrote, "It is felt that to hold back from it is to refuse to be identified with the fellowship of forgiven sinners. Europeans are often accused of being proud and unwilling to share fellowship in this way." There can be no finer definition of the Church than a fellowship of forgiven sinners. When a man realizes that it is to such a fellowship he belongs there is no longer any room for pride. The trouble with the arrogant Christian is that he feels rather that Christ belongs to him than that he belongs to Christ.

(ii) It would seem that the Corinthians had actually sunk to taunting Paul about his personal appearance. His bodily presence, they jeered, was weak, and he was no speaker. It may well be that they were right. A description of Paul's personal appearance has come down to us from a very early book called The Acts of Paul and Thecla, which dates back to about A.D. 200. It is so unflattering that it may well be true. It describes Paul as "a man of little stature, thin-haired upon the head, crooked in the legs, of good state of body, with eyebrows meeting, and with nose somewhat hooked, full of grace, for sometimes he appeared like a man and sometimes he had the face of an angel." A little, balding, bandy-legged man, with a hooked nose and shaggy eyebrows--it is not a very impressive picture, and it may well be that the Corinthians made great play with it.

We might do well to remember that not seldom a great spirit has been lodged in a very humble body. William Wilberforce was responsible for the freeing of the slaves in the British Empire. He was so small and so frail that it seemed that even a strong wind might knock him down. But once Boswell heard him speak in public and afterwards said, "I saw what seemed to me a shrimp mount upon the table, but, as I listened, he grew and grew until the shrimp became a whale." The Corinthians had sunk nearly to the ultimate depths of discourtesy and of unwisdom when they taunted Paul upon his personal appearance.

(iii) It seems that they accused Paul of making boastful claims to authority in a sphere in which his writ did not run. No doubt they said that he might try to play the master in other Churches, but not in Corinth. His blunt answer is that Corinth is well within his sphere for he was the first man to bring them the good news of Jesus Christ. Paul was a Rabbi and it may be that he was thinking of a claim that the Rabbis often used to make. They claimed and received a very special respect. They claimed that respect for a teacher should exceed respect for a parent, for, they said, a parent brings a child into the--life of this world, but a teacher brings a scholar into the life of the world to come. Surely no man had a greater claim to exercise authority in the Church of Corinth than the man who, under God, had been its founder.

(iv) Then Paul levels a charge at them. Ironically he says that he would never dream of comparing himself with those who are forever giving themselves testimonials, and then, with unerring precision, he puts his finger on the spot. They can give themselves testimonials only because their one standard of measurement is themselves and their one standard of comparison is with one another.

They had, as so many people have, the wrong standard of measurement. A girl may think herself a good pianist but let her go and compare herself with Solomon or Moiseiwitsch and she may change her mind. A man may think himself a good golfer but let him compare himself with Cotton or Hogan or Palmer or Nicklaus and he may change his mind. A man may think himself a good preacher but let him compare himself with one of the princes of the pulpit and he may feel that he never wishes to open his mouth in public again.

It is easy enough to say, "I am as good as the next man," and no doubt it is true. But the point is, are we as good as Jesus Christ? He is our true rod of measurement and our proper standard of comparison and when we measure ourselves by him there is no room left for pride. "Self-praise," says Paul, "is no honour." It is not his own but Christ's "Well done!" for which a man must seek.

Before we leave this passage we must look at a phrase which is characteristic of Paul's heart. He wishes to get things straightened out at Corinth because he longs to go on to the regions beyond, where no man has yet carried the story of Christ. W. M. Macgregor used to say that Paul was haunted by the regions beyond. He never saw a ship riding at anchor or moored to the quay but he wished to board her and carry the good news to the regions beyond. He never saw a range of hills blue in the distance but he wished to cross it and to carry the story of Christ to the regions beyond.

Kipling has a poem called "The Explorer" which tells the story of another man who was haunted by the regions beyond.

"'There's no sense in going further--it's the edge of

cultivation,'

So they said, and I believed it--broke my land and

sowed my crop--

Built my barns and strung my fences in the little

border station

Tucked away below the foothills where the trails run

out and stop.

Till a voice, as bad as Conscience, rang interminable

changes

On one everlasting Whisper, day and night repeated--

so:

'Something hidden. Go and find it. Go and look

behind the ranges--

Something lost behind the ranges. Lost and waiting

for you. Go!'"

That is precisely how Paul felt. It was said of a great evangelist that, as he walked the city streets, he was haunted by the tramp, tramp, tramp of the Christless millions. The man who loves Christ will always be haunted by the thought of the millions who have never known the Christ who means so much to him.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)

 


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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Barclay, William. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 10:4". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/2-corinthians-10.html. 1956-1959.

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