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Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians 10

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Paul, having finished the subject of the duty of alms-giving in the previous chapter, enters into this on a vindication of himself from the charges of his enemies. His general design is to vindicate his apostolic authority, and to show that he had a right, as well as others, to regard himself as sent from God. This vindication is continued through 2 Cor. 11–12. In this chapter the stress of the argument is, that he did not depend on anything external to recommend him - on any “carnal weapons;” on anything which commended itself by the outward appearance; or on anything that was so much valued by the admirers of human eloquence and learning. He seems willing to admit all that his enemies could say of him on that head, and to rely on other proofs that he was sent from God. In 2 Corinthians 11:0 he pursues the subject, and shows by a comparison of himself with others, that he had as good a right certainly as they to regard himself as sent by God. In 2 Corinthians 12:0 he appeals to another argument, to which none of his accusers were able to appeal, that he had been permitted to see the glories of the heavenly world, and had been favored in a manner unknown to other people.

It is evident that there was one or more false teachers among the Corinthians who called in question the divine authority of Paul. These teachers were native Jews 2 Corinthians 11:13, 2 Corinthians 11:22, and they boasted much of their own endowments. It is impossible, except from the Epistle itself, to ascertain the nature of their charges and objections against him. From the chapter before us it would seem that one principal ground of their objection was, that though he was bold enough in his letters and had threatened to exercise discipline, yet that he would not dare to do it. They accused him of being, when present with them, timid, weak, mild, pusillanimous, of lacking moral courage to inflict the punishment which he had threatened in his letters. To this he replies in this chapter:

(1) He appeals to the meekness and gentleness of Christ; thus indirectly and delicately vindicating his own mildness from their objections, and entreats them not to give him occasion to show the boldness and severity which he had purposed to do He had no wish to be bold and severe in the exercise of discipline, 2 Corinthians 10:1-2.

(2) He assures them that the weapons of his warfare were not carnal, but spiritual. He relied on the truth of the gospel and on the power of motives; and these weapons were mighty by the aid of God to cast down all that offend him. Yet he was ready to revenge and punish all disobedience by severe measures if it were necessary, 2 Corinthians 10:3-6.

(3) They looked on the outward appearance. He cautioned them to remember that he had as good claims to be regarded as belonging to Christ at they had, 2 Corinthians 10:7. He had given proofs that he was an apostle, and the false teachers should look at those proofs lest they should be found to be opposing God. He assured them that if he had occasion to exercise his power he would have no reason to be ashamed of it, 2 Corinthians 10:8. It would be found to be ample to execute punishment on his foes.

(4) The false teachers had said that Paul was terrible only in his letters. He boasted of his power, but it was, they supposed, only epistolary bravery. He would not dare to execute his threatening. in reply to this, Paul, in a strain of severe irony, says that he would not seem to terrify them by mere letters. It would be by something far more severe. He advised such objectors, therefore, to believe that he would prove himself to be such as he had shown himself to be in his letters; to look at the evidence, since they boasted of their talent for reasoning, that he would show himself in fact to be what he had threatened to be, 2 Corinthians 10:9-12.

(5) He pursues the strain of severe irony by secretly comparing himself with them, 2 Corinthians 10:12-16. They boasted much, but it was only by comparing themselves with one another, and not with any elevated standard of excellence. Paul admitted that he had not the courage to do that, 2 Corinthians 10:12. Nor did he dare to boast of things wholly beyond his ability as they had done. He was contented to act only within the proper limits prescribed to him by his talents and by the appointment of God. Not so they. They had boldness and courage to go far beyond that, and to boast of things wholly beyond their ability, and beyond the proper measure, 2 Corinthians 10:13-14. Nor had he courage to boast of entering into other people’s labors. It required more courage than he had, to make a boast of what he had done if he had availed himself of things made ready to his hand as if they were the fruit of his own labors, implying that they had done this; that they had come to Corinth, a church founded by his labors, and had quietly set themselves down there, and then, instead of going into other fields of labor, had called in question the authority of him who had founded the church, and who was laboring indefatigably elsewhere, 2 Corinthians 10:15-16. Paul adds, that such was not his intention. He aimed to preach the gospel beyond, to carry it to regions where it had not been spread. Such was the nature of his courage; such the kind of boldness which he had, and he was not ambitious to join them in their boasting.

(6) He concludes this chapter with a very serious admonition. Leaving the strain of irony, he seriously says that if any man were disposed to boast, it should be only in the Lord. He should glory not in self-commendation, but in the fact that he had evidence that the Lord approved him; not in his own talents or powers, but in the excellence and glory of the Lord, 2 Corinthians 10:17-18.

Verse 1

Now I Paul myself beseech you - I entreat you who are members of the church not to give me occasion for the exercise of severity in discipline. I have just expressed my confidence in the church in general, and my belief that you will act in accordance with the rules of the gospel. But I cannot thus speak of all. There are some among you who have spoken with contempt of my authority and my claims as an apostle. Of them I cannot speak in this manner; but instead of commanding them I entreat them not to give me occasion for the exercise of discipline.

By the meekness and gentleness of Christ - In view of the meekness and mildness of the Redeemer; or desiring to imitate his gentleness and kindness. Paul wished to imitate that. He did not wish to have occasion for severity. He desired at all times to imitate, and to exhibit the gentle feelings of the Saviour. He had no pleasure in severity; and he did not desire to exhibit it.

Who in presence - Margin, In outward appearance. It may either mean that when present among them he appeared, according to their representation, to be humble, mild, gentle 2 Corinthians 10:10; or that in his external appearance he had this aspect; see on 2 Corinthians 10:10. Most probably it means that they had represented him, as timid when among them, and afraid to exercise discipline, however much he had threatened it.

Am base among you - The word used here (ταπεινὸς tapeinos) usually means low, humble, poor. Here it means timid, modest, the opposite of boldness. Such was formerly the meaning of the English word base. It was applied to those of low degree or rank; of humble birth; and stood opposed to those of elevated rank or dignity. Now it is commonly used to denote that which is degraded or worthless; of mean spirit; vile; and stands opposed to that which is manly and noble. But Paul did not mean to use it here in that sense. He meant to say that they regarded him as timid and afraid to execute the punishment which he had threatened, and as manifesting a spirit which was the opposite of boldness. This was doubtless a charge which they brought against him; but we are not necessarily to infer that it was true. All that it proves is, that he was modest and unobtrusive, and that they interpreted this as timidity and lack of spirit.

But being absent am bold toward you - That is, in my letters; see on 2 Corinthians 10:10. This they charged him with, that he was bold enough when away from them, but that he would be tame enough when he should meet them face to face, and that they had nothing to fear from him.

Verse 2

That I may not be bold - I entreat you so to act that I may not have occasion to exercise the severity which I fear I shall be compelled to use against those who accuse me of being governed wholly by worldly motives and policy. In other words, that I may not be compelled to be bold and decisive in my measures by your improper conduct.

Which think of us - Margin, “reckon.” They suppose this; or, they accuse me of it. By the word “us” here Paul means himself, though it is possible also that he speaks in the name of his fellow apostles and laborers who were associated with him, and the objections may have referred to all who acted with him.

As if we walked - As if we lived or acted. The word “walk” in the Scriptures is often used to denote the course or manner of life; see the Romans 4:12, note; 2 Corinthians 5:7, note.

According to the flesh - see the note on 2 Corinthians 1:17. As if we were governed by the weak and corrupt principles of human nature. As if we had no higher motive than carnal and worldly policy. As if we were seeking our own advantage and not the welfare of the world. The charge was, probably, that he was not governed by high and holy principles, but by the principles of mere worldly policy; that he was guided by personal interests, and by worldly views - by ambition, or the love of dominion, wealth, or popularity, and that he was destitute of every supernatural endowment and every evidence of a divine commission.

Verse 3

For though we walk in the flesh - Though we are mortal like other people; though we dwell like them in mortal bodies, and necessarily must devote some care to our temporal needs; and though, being in the flesh, we are conscious of imperfections and frailties like others. The sense is, that he did not claim exemption from the common needs and frailties of nature. The best of people are subject to these needs and frailties; the best of people are liable to err.

We do not war after the flesh - The warfare in which he was engaged was with sin, idolatry, and all forms of evil. He means that in conducting this he was not actuated by worldly views or policy, or by such ambitious and interested aims as controlled the people of this world. This refers primarily to the warfare in which Paul was himself engaged as an apostle; and the idea is, that he went forth as a soldier under the great Captain of his salvation to fight his battles and to make conquests for him. A similar allusion occurs in 2 Timothy 2:3-4. It is true, however, that not only all ministers, but all Christians are engaged in a warfare; and it is equally true that they do not maintain their conflict “after the flesh,” or on the principles which govern the people of this world. The warfare of Christians relates to the following points:

(1) It is a warfare with the corrupt desires and sensual propensities of the heart; with eternal corruption and depravity, with the remaining unsubdued propensities of a fallen nature.

(2) With the powers of darkness; the mighty spirits of evil that seek to destroy us; see Ephesians 6:11-17.

(3) With sin in all forms; with idolatry, sensuality, corruption, intemperance, profaneness, wherever they may exist. The Christian is opposed to all these, and it is the aim and purpose of his life as far as he may be able to resist and subdue them. He is a soldier enlisted under the banner of the Redeemer to oppose and resist all forms of evil. But his warfare is not conducted on worldly principles. Muhammed propagated his religion with the sword; and the people of this world seek for victory by arms and violence; The Christian looks for his conquests only by the force and the power of truth, and by the agency of the Spirit of God.

Verse 4

For the weapons of our warfare - The means by which we hope to achieve our victory.

Are not carnal - Not those of the flesh. Not such as the people of the world use. They are not such as are employed by conquerors; nor are they such as people in general rely on to advance their cause. We do not depend on eloquence, or talent, or learning, or wealth, or beauty, or any of the external aids on which the people of this world rely. They are not such as derive advantage from any power inherent in themselves. Their strength is derived from God alone.

But mighty through God - Margin, “to.” They are rendered mighty or powerful by the agency of God. They depend on him for their efficacy. Paul has not here specified the weapons on which he relied; but he had before specified them 2 Corinthians 6:6-7, so that there was no danger of mistake. The weapons were such as were furnished by truth and righteousness, and these were rendered mighty by the attending agency of God. The sense is, that God is the author of the doctrines which we preach, and that he attends them with the agency of his Spirit, and accompanies them to the hearts of people. It is important for all ministers to feel that their weapons are mighty only through God. Conquerors and earthly warriors go into battle depending on the might of their own arm, and on the wisdom and skill which plans the battle. The Christian goes on his warfare, feeling that however well adapted the truths which he holds are to accomplish great purposes, and however wisely his plans are formed, yet that the efficacy of all depends on the agency of God. He has no hope of victory but in God. And if God does not attend him, he is sure of inevitable defeat.

To the pulling down of strongholds - The word rendered here as “strongholds” (ὀχύρωμα ochurōma) means properly a fastness, fortress, or strong fortification. It is here beautifully used to denote the various obstacles resembling a fortress which exist, and which are designed and adapted to oppose the truth and the triumph of the Christian’s cause. All those obstacles are strongly fortified. The sins of his heart are fortified by long indulgence and by the hold which they have on his soul. The wickedness of the world which he opposes is strongly fortified by the fact that it has seized on strong human passions; that one point strengthens another; that great numbers are united. The idolatry of the world was strongly fortified by prejudice, and long establishment, and the protection of laws, and the power of the priesthood; and the opinions of the world are entrenched behind false philosophy and the power of subtle argumentation. The whole world is fortified against Christianity; and the nations of the earth have been engaged in little else than in raising and strengthening such strongholds for the space of 6,000 years. The Christian religion goes forth against all the combined and concentrated powers of resistance of the whole world; and the warfare is to be waged against every strongly fortified place of error and of sin. These strong fortifications of error and of sin are to be battered down and laid in ruins by our spiritual weapons.

Verse 5

Casting down imaginations - Margin, reasonings. The word is probably used here in the sense of device, and refers to all the plans of a wicked world; the various systems of false philosophy; and the reasonings of the enemies of the gospel. The various systems of false philosophy were so intrenched that they might be called the stronghold of the enemies of God. The foes of Christianity pretend to a great deal of reason, and rely on that in resisting the gospel.

And every high thing ... - Every exalted opinion respecting the dignity and purity of human nature; all the pride of the human heart and of the understanding. All this is opposed to the knowledge of God, and all exalts itself into a vain self-confidence. People entertain vain and unfounded opinions respecting their own excellency, and they feel that they do not need the provisions of the gospel and are unwilling to submit to God.

And bringing into captivity ... - The figure here is evidently taken from military conquests. The idea is, that all the strongholds of paganism, and pride, and sin would be demolished; and that when this was done, like throwing down the walls of a city or making a breach, all the plans and purposes of the soul, the reason, the imagination, and all the powers of the mind would be subdued or led in triumph by the gospel, like the inhabitants of a captured city. Christ was the great Captain in this warfare. In his name the battle was waged, and by his power the victory was won. The captives were made for him and under his authority; and all were to be subject to his control. Every power of thought in the pagan world; all the systems of philosophy and all forms of opinion among people; all the purposes of the soul; all the powers of reason, memory, judgment, fancy in an individual, were all to come under the laws of Christ, All doctrines were to be in accordance with his will; philosophy should no longer control them, but they should be subject to the will of Christ. All the plans of life should be controlled by the will of Christ, and formed and executed under his control - as captives are led by a conqueror. All the emotions and feelings of the heart should be controlled by him, and led by him as a captive is led by a victor. The sense is, that it was the aim and purpose of Paul to accomplish this, and that it would certainly be done. The strongholds of philosophy, paganism, and sin should be demolished, and all the opinions, plans, and purposes of the world should become subject to the all-conquering Redeemer.

Verse 6

And having in a readiness ... - I am ready to punish all disobedience, notwithstanding all that is said to the contrary; see the notes on 2 Corinthians 10:1-2. Clothed as I am with this power; aiming to subdue all things to Christ, though the weapons of my warfare are not carnal, and though I am modest or timid 2 Corinthians 10:1 when I am with you, I am prepared to take any measures of severity required by my apostolic office, in order that I may inflict deserved punishment on those who have violated the laws of Christ. The design of this is, to meet the objection of his enemies, that he would not dare to execute his threatenings.

When your obedience is fulfilled - Doddridge renders this: “now your obedience is fulfilled, and the sounder part of your church restored to due order and submission.” The idea seems to be, that Paul was ready to inflict discipline when the church had showed a readiness to obey his laws, and to do its own duty - delicately intimating that the reason why it was not done was the lack of entire promptness in the church itself, and that it could not be done on any offender as long as the church itself was not prepared to sustain him. The church was to discountenance the enemies of the Redeemer; to show an entire readiness to sustain the apostle, and to unite with him in the effort to maintain the discipline of Christ’s house.

Verse 7

Do ye look on things after the outward appearance? - This is addressed evidently to the members of the church, and with reference to the claims which had been set up by the false teachers. There can be no doubt that they valued themselves on their external advantages, and laid claim to special honor in the work of the ministry, because they were superior in personal appearance, in rank, manners, or eloquence to Paul. Paul reproves them for thus judging, and assures them that this was not a proper criterion by which to determine on qualifications for the apostolic office. Such things were highly valued among the Greeks, and a considerable part of the effort of Paul in these letters is to show that these things constitute no evidence that those who possessed them were sent from God.

If any man trust to himself ... - This refers to the false teachers who laid claims to be the followers of Christ by way of eminence. Whoever these teachers were, it is evident that they claimed to be on the side of Christ, and to be appointed by him. They were probably Jews, and they boasted of their talents and eloquence, and possibly that they had seen the Saviour. The phrase “trust to himself,” seems to imply that they relied on some special merit of their own, or some special advantage which they had - Bloomfield. It may have been that they were of the same tribe that he was, or that they had seen him, or that they. confided in their own talents or endowments as a proof that they had been sent by him. It is not an uncommon thing for people to have such confidence in their own gifts, and particularly in a power of fluent speaking, as to suppose that this is a sufficient evidence that they are sent to preach the gospel.

Let him of himself think this again - Since he relies so much on himself; since he has such confidence in his own powers, let him look at the evidence that I also am of Christ.

That as he is Christ’s, even so are we Christ’s - That I have given as much evidence that I am commissioned by Christ as they can produce. It may be of a different kind. It is not in eloquence. and rank, and the gift of a rapid and ready elocution, but it may be superior to what they are able to produce. Probably Paul refers here to the fact that he had seen the Lord Jesus, and that he had been directly commissioned by him. The sense is, that no one could produce more proofs of being called to the ministry than he could.

Verse 8

For though I should boast ... - If I should make even higher claims than I have done to a divine commission. I could urge higher evidence than I have done that I am sent by the Lord Jesus.

Of our authority - Of my authority as an apostle, my power to administer discipline, and to direct the affairs of the church.

Which the Lord hath given us for edification - A power primarily conferred to build up his people and save them and not to destroy.

I should not be ashamed - It would be founded on good evidence and sustained by the nature of my commission. I should also have no occasion to be ashamed of the manner in which it has been exercised - a power that has in fact been employed in extending religion and edifying the church, and not in originating and sustaining measures suited to destroy the soul.

Verse 9

That I may not seem ... - The meaning of this verse seems to be this. “I say that I might boast more of my power in order that I may not appear disposed to terrify you with my letters merely. I do not threaten more than I can perform. I have it in my power to execute all that I have threatened, and to strike an awe not only by my letters, but by the infliction of extraordinary miraculous punishments. And if I should boast that I had done this, and could do it again, I should have no reason to be ashamed. It would not be vain and empty boasting; not boasting which is not well-founded.”

Verse 10

For his letters - The letters which he has sent to the church when absent. Reference is had here probably to the First Epistle to the Corinthians. They might also have seen some of Paul’s other epistles, and been so well acquainted with them as to he able to make the general remark that he had the power of writing in an authoritative and impressive manner.

Say they - Margin, “Said he.” Greek (φησὶν phēsin) in the singular. This seems to have referred to some one person who had uttered the words - perhaps some one who was the principal leader of the faction opposed to Paul.

Are weighty and powerful - Tyndale renders this: “Sore and strong.” The Greek is, “heavy and strong” (βαρεῖαι καὶ ἰσχυραί bareiai kai ischurai. The sense is, that his letters were energetic and powerful. They abounded with strong argument, manly appeals, and impressive reproof. This even his enemies were compelled to admit, and this no one can deny who ever read them. Paul’s letters comprise a considerable portion of the New Testament; and some of the most important doctrines of the New Testament are those which are advocated and enforced by him; and his letters have done more to give shape to the theological doctrines of the Christian world than any other cause whatever. He wrote 14 epistles to churches and individuals on various occasions and on a great variety of topics; and his letters soon rose into very high repute among even the inspired ministers of the New Testament (see 2 Peter 3:15, 2 Peter 3:16), and were regarded as inculcating the most important doctrines of religion. The general characteristics of Paul’s letters are:

(1) They are strongly argumentative. See especially the Epistles to the Romans and the Hebrews.

(2) They are distinguished for boldness and vigor of style.

(3) They are written under great energy of feeling and of thought - a rapid and impetuous torrent that bears him forcibly along.

(4) They abound more than most other writings in parentheses, and the sentences are often involved and obscure.

(5) They often evince rapid transitions and departures from the regular current of thought. A thought strikes him suddenly, and he pauses to illustrate it, and dwells upon it long, before he returns to the main subject. The consequence is, that it is often difficult to follow him.

(6) They are powerful in reproof - abounding with strokes of great boldness of denunciation, and also with specimens of most withering sarcasm and most delicate irony.

(7) They abound in expressions of great tenderness and pathos. Nowhere can be found expressions of a heart more tender and affectionate than in the writings of Paul.

(8) They dwell much on great and profound doctrines, and on the application of the principles of Christianity to the various duties of life.

(9) They abound with references to the Saviour. He illustrates everything by his life, his example, his death, his resurrection. It is not wonderful that letters composed on such subjects and in such a manner by an inspired man produced a deep impression on the Christian world; nor that they should be regarded now as among the most important and valuable portions of the Bible. Take away Paul’s letters, and what a chasm would be made in the New Testament! What a chasm in the religious opinions and in the consolations of the Christian world!

But his bodily presence - His personal appearance.

Is weak - Imbecile, feeble (ἀσθενὴς asthenēs) - a word often used to denote infirmity of body, sickness, disease; Matthew 25:39, Matthew 25:43-44; Luke 10:9; Acts 4:9; Acts 5:15-16; 1 Corinthians 11:30. Here it is to be observed that this is a mere charge which was brought against him, and it is not of necessity to be supposed that it was true, though the presumption is, that there was some foundation for it. It is supposed to refer to some bodily imperfections, and possibly to his diminutive stature. Chrysostom says that his stature was low, his body crooked, and his head bald. Lucian, in his Philopatris, says of him, “Corpore erat parvo, contracto, incurvo, tricubitali” - probably an exaggerated description, perhaps a caricature - to denote one very diminutive and having no advantages of personal appearance. According to Nicephorus, Paul “was a little man, crooked, and almost bent like a bow; with a pale countenance, long and wrinkled; a bald head; his eyes full of fire and benevolence; his beard long, thick, and interspersed with gray hairs, as was his head,” etc. But there is no certain evidence of the truth of these representations. Nothing in the Bible would lead us to suppose that Paul was remarkably diminutive or deformed; and though there may be some foundation for the charge here alleged that his bodily presence was weak, yet we are to remember that this was the accusation of his enemies, and that it was doubtless greatly exaggerated. Nicephorus was a writer of the sixteenth century, and his statements are worthy of no regard. That Paul was eminently an eloquent man may be inferred from a great many considerations; some of which are:

(1) His recorded discourses in the Acts of the Apostles, and the effect produced by them. No one can read his defense before Agrippa or Felix and not be convinced that as an orator he deserves to be ranked among the most distinguished of ancient times. No one who reads the account in the Acts can believe that he had any remarkable impediment in his speech or that he was remarkably deformed.

(2) Such was somehow his grace and power as an orator that he was taken by the inhabitants of Lycaonia as Mercury, the god of eloquence; Acts 16:12. Assuredly the evidence here is, that Paul was not deformed.

(3) It may be added, that Paul is mentioned by Longinus among the principal orators of antiquity. From these circumstances, there is no reason to believe that Paul was remarkably deficient in the qualifications requisite for an orator, or that he was in any way remarkably deformed.

And his speech contemptible - To be despised. Some suppose that he had an impediment in his speech. But conjecture here is vain and useless. We are to remember that this is a charge made by his adversaries, and that it was made by the fastidious Greeks, who professed to be great admirers of eloquence, but who in his time confided much more in the mere art of the rhetorician than in the power of thought, and in energetic appeals to the reason and conscience of people. Judged by their standard it may be that Paul had not the graces in voice or manner, or in the knowledge of the Greek language which they esteemed necessary in a finished orator; but judged by his power of thought, and his bold and manly defense of truth, and his energy of character and manner, and his power of impressing truth on mankind, he deserves, doubtless, to be ranked among the first orators of antiquity. No man has left the impress of his own mind on more other minds than Paul.

Verse 11

Let such an one think this ... - Let them not flatter themselves that there will be any discrepancy between my words and my deeds. Let them feel that all which has been threatened will be certainly executed unless there is repentance. Paul here designedly contradicts the charge which was made against him; and means to say that all that he had threatened in his letters would he certainly executed unless there was a reform. I think that the evidence here is clear that Paul does not intend to admit what they said about his bodily presence to be true; and most probably all that has been recorded about his deformity is mere fable.

Verse 12

For we dare not make ourselves of the number - We admit that we are not bold enough for that. They had accused him of a lack of boldness and energy when present with them, 2Co 10:1, 2 Corinthians 10:10. Here in a strain of severe but delicate irony, he says he was not bold enough to do things which the had done. He did not dare to do the things which had been done among them. To such boldness of character, present or absent, he could lay no claim.

Or compare ourselves ... - I am not bold enough for that. That requires a stretch of boldness and energy to which I can lay no claim.

That commend themselves - That put themselves forward, and that boast of their endowments and attainments. It is probable that this was commonly done by those to whom the apostle here refers; and it is certain that it is everywhere the characteristic of pride. To do this, Paul says, required greater boldness than he possessed, and on this point he yielded to them the palm. The satire here is very delicate, and yet very severe, and was such as would doubtless be felt by them.

But they measuring themselves by themselves - Whitby and Clarke suppose that this means that they compare themselves with each other; and that they made the false apostles particularly their standard. Doddridge, Grotius, Bloomfield, and some others suppose the sense to be, that they made themselves the standard of excellence. They looked continually on their own accomplishments, and did not look at the excellences of others. They thus formed a disproportionate opinion of themselves, and undervalued all others. Paul says that he had not boldness enough for that. It required a moral courage to which he could lay no claim. Horace (Epis. 2 Corinthians 1:7. 98) has an expression similar to this:

“Metirise quemque sue modulo ac pede verum est.”

The sense of Paul is, that they made themselves the standard of excellence; that they were satisfied with their own attainments; and that they overlooked the superior excellence and attainments of others. This is a graphic description of pride and self-complacency; and, alas! it is what is often exhibited. How many there are, and it is to be feared even among professing Christians, who have no other standard of excellence than themselves. Their views are the standard of orthodoxy; their modes of worship are the standard of the proper manner of devotion; their habits and customs are in their own estimation perfect; and their own characters are the models of excellence, and they see little or no excellence in those who differ from them. They look on themselves as the true measure of orthodoxy, humility, zeal, and piety; and they condemn all others, however excellent they may be, who differ from them.

And comparing themselves ... - Or rather comparing themselves with themselves. Themselves they make to be the standard, and they judge of everything by that.

Are not wise - Are stupid and foolish. Because:

(1) They had no such excellence as to make themselves the standard.

(2) Because this was an indication of pride.

(3) Because it made them blind to the excellences of others. It was to be presumed that others had endowments not inferior to theirs.

(4) Because the requirements of God, and the character of the Redeemer, were the proper standard of conduct. Nothing is a more certain indication of folly than for a man to make himself the standard of excellence. Such an individual must be blind to his own real character; and the only thing certain about his attainments is, that he is inflated with pride. And yet how common! How self-satisfied are most persons! How pleased with their own character and attainments! How grieved at any comparison which is made with others implying their inferiority! How prone to undervalue all others simply because they differ from them! - The margin renders this: “understand it not,” that is, they do not understand their own character or their inferiority.

Verse 13

But we will not boast of things without our measure - Tyndale renders this:” But we will not rejoice above measure.” There is great obscurity in the language here, arising from its brevity. But the general idea seems to be plain. Paul says that he had not boldness as they had to boast of things wholly beyond his proper rule and his actual attainments and influence: and, especially, that he was not disposed to enter into other people’s labors; or to boast of things that had been done by the mere influence of his name, and beyond the proper limits of his personal exertions. He made no boast of having done anything where he had not been himself on the ground and labored assiduously to secure the object. They, it is not improbable, had boasted of what had been done in Corinth as though it were really their work though it had been done by the apostle himself. Nay more, it is probable that they boasted of what had been done by the mere influence of their name. Occupying a central position, they supposed that their reputation had gone abroad, and that the mere influence of their reputation had had an important effect. Not, so with Paul. He made no boast of anything but what God had enabled him to do by his evangelical labors, and by personal exertions. He entered into no one else’s labors and claimed nothing that others had done as his own. He was not bold enough for that.

But according to the measure of the rule ... - Margin, Or, “line.” The word rendered “rule” (Greek, κανὼν kanōn, whence our English word canon) means properly a reed, rod, or staff employed to keep anything stiff, erect, asunder (Hom. ii. 8. 103): then a measuring rod or line; then any standard or rule - its usual meaning in the New Testament, as, for example, of life and doctrine, Galatians 6:16; Philippians 3:16 - Robinson’s Lexicon. Here it means the limit, boundary line, or sphere of action assigned to anyone. Paul means to say that God had appropriated a certain line or boundary as the proper limit of his sphere of action; that his appropriate sphere extended to them; that in going to them, though they were far distant from the field of his early labors, he had confined himself within the proper limits assigned him by God; and that in boasting of his labors among them he was not boasting of anything which did not properly fall within the sphere of labor assigned to him. The meaning is, that Paul was especially careful not to boast of anything beyond his proper bounds.

Which God hath distributed to us - Which in assigning our respective fields of labor God has assigned unto me and my fellow-laborers. The Greek word rendered here as “distributed” (ἐμερίσεν emerisen) means properly to measure; and the sense is, that God had measured out or apportioned their respective fields of labor; that by his providence he had assigned to each one his proper sphere, and that in the distribution Corinth had fallen to the lot of Paul. In going there he had kept within the proper limits; in boasting of his labors and success there he did not boast of what did not belong to him.

A measure to reach even unto you - The sense is, “the limits assigned me include you, and I may therefore justly boast of what I have done among you as within my proper field of labor.” Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles Acts 26:17-18; and the whole country of Greece therefore he regarded as falling within the limits assigned to him. No one therefore could blame him for going there as if he was an intruder; no one assert that he had gone beyond the proper bounds.

Verse 14

For we stretch not ourselves beyond our measure - In coming to preach to you we have not gone beyond the proper limits assigned us. We have not endeavored to enlarge the proper boundaries, to stretch the line which limited us, but have kept honestly within the proper limits.

As though we reached not unto you - That is, as if our boundaries did not extend so far as to comprehend you. We have not overstepped the proper limits, as if Greece was not within the proper sphere of action.

For we are come as far as to you ... - In the regular work of preaching the gospel we have come to you. We have gone from place to place preaching the gospel where we had opportunity; we have omitted no important places, until in the regular discharge of our duties in preaching we have reached you and have preached the gospel to you. We have not omitted other places in order to come to you and enter into the proper field of labor of others, but in the regular work of making the gospel known as far as possible to all people we have come to Corinth. Far as it is, therefore, from the place where we started, we have approached it in a regular manner, and have not gone out of our proper province in doing it.

Verse 15

Not boasting of things without our measure - There is here probably an allusion to the false teachers at Corinth. They had come after Paul had been there, and had entered into his labors. When he had founded the church; when he had endured trials and persecutions in order to reach Corinth; when he had labored there for a year and a half Acts 18:11, they came and entered the quiet and easy field, formed parties. and claimed the field as their own. Paul says that he had not courage to do that; see note, 2 Corinthians 10:12. That required a species of boldness to which he could lay no claim; and he did not assume honor to himself like that.

That is, of other men’s labors - Not intruding into churches which we did not establish, and claiming the right to direct their affairs, and to exclude the founders from all proper honors and all influence, and endeavoring to alienate the affections of Christians from their spiritual father and guide.

But having hope ... - So far from this; so far from a desire to enter into the labors of others and quietly enjoying the avails of their industry; and so far even from a desire to sit down ourselves and enjoy the fruit of our own labors, I desire to penetrate other untrodden regions; to encounter new dangers; to go where the gospel has not been planted, and to rear other churches there. I do not, therefore, make these remarks as if I wished even to dispossess the teachers that have entered into my labors. I make them because I wish to be aided by you in extending the gospel further; and I look to your assistance in order that I may have the means of going into the regions where I have not made known the name of the Redeemer.

When your faith is increased - When you become so strong as not to need my presence and my constant care; and when you shall be able to speed me on my way and to aid me on my journey. He expected to be assisted by them in his efforts to carry the gospel to other countries.

That we shall be enlarged - Margin, “Magnified by you.” Bloomfield supposes that this means. “to gain fame and glory by you;” that is, as the teacher may justly by his pupils. So Robinson renders it. “to make great, to praise.” But to me the idea seems to be that he wished them to enlarge or magnify him by introducing him to larger fields of action; by giving him a wider sphere of labor. It was not that he wished to be magnified by obtaining a wider reputation, not as a matter of praise or ambition, but he wished to have his work and success greatly enlarged. This he hoped to be enabled to do partly by the aid of the church at Corinth. When they became able to manage their own affairs; when his time was not demanded to superintend them; when their faith became so strong that his presence was not needed; and when they should assist him in his preparations for travel, then he would enter on his wider field of labor. He had no intention of sitting down in ease as the false teachers in Corinth seem disposed to have done.

According to our rule - Greek, “According our canon;” see on 2 Corinthians 10:13. The sense is, according to the rule by which the sphere of his labors had been marked out. His rule was to carry the gospel as far as possible to the pagan world. He regarded the regions lying far beyond Corinth as coming properly within his limits; and he desired to occupy that field.

Abundantly - Greek, Unto abundance. So as to abound; that is, to occupy the field assigned as far as possible.

Verse 16

To preach the gospel in the regions beyond you - What regions are referred to here can be only a matter of conjecture. It may be that he wished to preach in other parts of Greece, and that he designed to go to Arcadia or Lacedaemon. Rosenmuller supposes that as the Corinthians were engaged in commerce, the apostle hoped that by them some tidings of the gospel would reach the countries with which they were engaged in traffic. But I think it most probable that he alludes to Italy and Spain. It is certain that he had formed the design of visiting Spain Romans 15:24, Romans 15:28; and he doubtless wished the Corinthians to aid him in that purpose, and was anxious to do this as soon as the condition of the eastern churches would allow it.

And not to boast in another man’s line of things ... - Margin, “Rule,” the same word (κανὼν kanōn) which occurs in 2 Corinthians 10:13. The meaning is, that Paul did not mean to boast of what properly belonged to others. He did not claim what they had done as his own. He did not intend to labor within what was properly their bounds, and then to claim the field and the result of the labor as his. He probably means here to intimate that this had been done by the false teachers of Corinth; but so far was he from designing to do this, that he meant soon to leave Corinth, which was properly within his limits, and the church which he had founded there, to go and preach the gospel to other regions. Whether Paul ever went to Spain has been a question (see the note on Romans 15:24); but it is certain that he went to Rome, and that he preached the gospel in many other places after this besides Corinth.

Verse 17

But he that glorieth - He that boasts. Whatever may be the occasion of his boasting, whether in planting churches or in watering them; whether in his purposes, plans, toils, or success. Paul himself did not deem it improper on some occasions to boast 2 Corinthians 11:16; 2 Corinthians 12:5, but it was not of his own power, attainments, or righteousness. He was disposed to trace all to the Lord, and to regard him as the source of all blessing and all success.

Let him glory in the Lord - In this serious and weighty admonition, Paul designs, doubtless, to express the manner in which he was accustomed to glory, and to furnish an admonition to the Corinthians. In the previous part of the chapter there had been some severe irony. He closes the chapter with the utmost seriousness and solemnity of manner, in order to show on his part that he was not disposed to glory in his own attainments and to admonish them not to boast of theirs. If they had anything valuable they should regard the Lord as the author of it. In this admonition it is probable that Paul had in his eye the passage in Jeremiah 9:23-24; though he has not expressly quoted it. “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise loving-kindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth.” The sentiment is a favorite one with Paul, as it should be with all Christians; see the note on 1 Corinthians 1:31. On this verse we may here remark:

I. That nothing is more common than for people to boast or glory. Little as they really have in which to glory, yet there is no one probably who has not something of which he is proud, and of which he is disposed to boast. It would be difficult or impossible to find a person who had not something on which he prided himself; something in which he esteemed himself superior to others.

II. The things of which they boast are very various:

  1. Many are proud of their personal beauty; many, too, who would be unwilling to be thought proud of it.

(2)Many glory in their accomplishments; or, what is more likely, in the accomplishments of their children.

(3)Many glory in their talents; talents for anything, valuable or not, in which they suppose they surpass others. They glory in their talent for eloquence, or science, or gaining knowledge; or in their talent for gaining property or keeping it: for their skill in their professions or callings; for their ability to run, to leap, or to practice even any trick or sleight of hand. There is nothing so worthless that it does not constitute a subject of glorying, provided it be ours. If it belong to others it may be valueless.

(4)Many glory in their property; in fine houses, extended plantations, or in the reputation of being rich; or in gorgeous dress, equipage, and furniture. In short, there is nothing which people possess in which they are not prone to glory. Forgetful of God the giver; forgetful that all may be soon taken from them. or that they soon must leave all; forgetful that none of these things can constitute a distinction in the grave or beyond, they boast as if these things were to remain forever, and as if they had been acquired independently of God. How prone is the man of talents to forget that God has given him his intellect, and that for its proper use he must give account! How prone is the rich man to forget that he must die! How prone the frivolous and the beautiful to forget that they will lie undistinguished in the grave; and that death will consume them as soon as the most vile and worthless of the species!

III. If we glory it should be in the Lord. We should ascribe our talents, wealth, health, strength, and salvation to him. We should rejoice:

  1. That we have such a Lord, so glorious, so full of mercy, so powerful, so worthy of confidence and love.
    1. We should rejoice in our endowments and possessions as his gift. We should rejoice that we may come and lay everything at his feet, and whatever may be our rank, or talents, or learning, we should rejoice that we may come with the humblest child of poverty, and sorrow, and want, and say, “Not unto us, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy and for thy truth’s sake;” Psalms 115:0: i; see the note on 1 Corinthians 1:31.

Verse 18

For not he that commendeth himself ... - Not he who boasts of his talents and endowments. He is not to be judged by the estimate which he shall place on himself, but by the estimate which God shall form and express.

Is approved - By God. It is no evidence that we shall be saved that we are prone to commend ourselves; see Romans 16:10.

But whom the Lord commendeth - see the note on Romans 2:29. The idea here is, that people are to be approved or rejected by God. He is to pass judgment on them, and that judgment is to be in accordance with his estimate of their character, and not according to their own. If he approves them they will be saved; if he does not, vain will be all their empty boasting; vain all their reliance on their wealth, eloquence. learning, or earthly honors. None will save them from condemnation; not all these things can purchase for them eternal life. Paul thus seriously shows that we should be mainly anxious to obtain the divine favor. It should be the grand aim and purpose of our life; and we should repress all disposition for vain - glory or self-confidence; all reliance on our talents, attainments, or accomplishments for salvation. our boast is that we have such a redeemer: and in that we all may glory!


1. We should have no desire to show off any special boldness or energy of character which we may have; 2 Corinthians 10:1-2. We should greatly prefer to evince the gentleness and meekness of Christ. Such a character is in itself of far more value than one that is merely energetic and bold; that is rash, authoritative, and fond of display.

2. They who are officers in the church should have no desire to administer discipline; 2 Corinthians 10:2. Some people are so fond of power that they always love to exercise it. They are willing to show it even by inflicting punishment on others; and “dressed in a little brief authority” they are constantly seeking occasion to show their consequence; they magnify trifles; they are unwilling to pass by the slightest offences. The reason is not that they love the truth, but that they love their own consequence, and they seek every opportunity to show it.

3. All Christians and all Christian ministers are engaged in a warfare; 2 Corinthians 10:3. They are at war with sin in their own hearts, and with sin wherever it exists on earth, and with the powers of darkness. With foes so numerous and so vigilant, they should not expect to live a life of ease or quietness. Peace, perfect peace, they may expect in heaven, not on earth. Here they are to fight the good fight of faith and thus to lay held on eternal life. It has been the common lot of all the children of God to maintain such a war, and shall we expect to be exempt?

“Shall I be carried to the skies.

On flowery beds of ease,

While others fought to win the prize,

And sailed through bloody seas?

“Are there no foes for me to face,

Must I not stem the flood?

Is this vile world a friend to grace,

To help me on to God?”

4. The weapons of the Christian are not to be carnal, but are to be spiritual; 2 Corinthians 10:4. He is not to make his way by the exhibition of human passion; in bloody strife; and by acting under the influence of ambitious feelings. Truth is his weapon; and armed with truth, and aided by the Spirit of God, he is to expect the victory. How different is the Christian warfare from others! How different is Christianity from other systems! Muhammed made his way by arms, and propagated his religion amidst the din of battle. But not so with Christianity. That is to make its way by the silent, but mighty operation of truth; and there is not a rampart of idolatry and sin that is not yet to fall before it.

5. The Christian should be a man of a pure spirit; 2 Corinthians 10:4. He is to make his way by the truth. He should therefore love the truth, and he should seek to diffuse it as far as possible. In propagating or defending it, he should be always mild, gentle, and kind. Truth is never advanced, and an adversary is never convinced, where passion is evinced; where there is a haughty manner or a belligerent spirit. The apostolic precepts are full of “wisdom,” “speaking the truth in love” Ephesians 4:15), “in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves: if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth;” 2 Timothy 2:25.

6. In his warfare the Christian shall conquer; 2 Corinthians 10:4-5. Against the truth of Christianity nothing has been able to stand. It made its way against the arrayed opposition of priests and emperors; against customs and laws; against inveterate habits and opinions; against all forms of sin, until it triumphed, and “the banners of the faith floated from the palaces of the Caesars.” So it will be in all the conflicts with evil. Nothing is more certain than that the powers of darkness in this world are destined to fall before the power of Christian truth, and that every stronghold of sin shall yet be demolished. So it is in the conflicts of the individual Christian. He may struggle long and hard. He may have many foes to contend with. But he shall gain the victory. His triumph shall be secure; and he shall yet be enabled to say, “I have fought a good fight - henceforth there is laid up for me a crown.”

“The saints in all this glorious war.

Shall conquer though they die;

They see the triumph from afar,

And seize it with their eye.”

7. Yet all should feel their dependence on God; 2 Corinthians 10:4. It is only through him and by his aid that we have any power. Truth itself has no power except as it is attended and directed by God; and we should engage in our conflict feeling that none but God can give us the victory. If forsaken by him, we shall fall; if supported by him, we may face without fear a “frowning world,” and all the powers of the “dark world of hell.”

8. We should not judge by the outward appearance; 2 Corinthians 10:7. It is the heart that determines the character; and by that God shall judge us, and by that we should judge ourselves.

9. We should aim to extend the gospel as far as possible; 2 Corinthians 10:14-16. Paul aimed to go beyond the regions where the gospel had been preached, and to extend it to far distant lands. So the “field” still “is the world.” A large portion of the earth is yet unevangelized. Instead, therefore, of sitting down quietly in enjoyment and ease, let us, like him, earnestly desire to extend the influence of pure religion, and to bring distant nations to the saving knowledge of the truth.

10. Let us not boast in ourselves; 2 Corinthians 10:17. Not of our talents, wealth, learning, or accomplishments let us glory. But let us glory that we have such a God as Yahweh. Let us glory that we have such a Redeemer as Jesus Christ. Let us glory that we have such a sanctifier as the Holy Spirit. Let us acknowledge God as the source of all our blessings, and to him let us honestly consecrate our hearts and our lives.

11. What a reverse of judgment there will yet be on human character! 2 Corinthians 10:17-18. How many now commend themselves who will be condemned in the last day. How many people boast of their talents and morals, and even their religion, who will then be involved in indiscriminate condemnation with the most vile and worthless of the race. How anxious should we be, therefore, to secure the approbation of God; and whatever our fellow-men may say of us, how infinitely desirable is it to be commended then by our heavenly Father.

Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 10". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bnb/2-corinthians-10.html. 1870.
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