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Paul Vindicates His Apostleship
2 Corinthians 10:1-18
Now I Paul myself beseech you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ, who in presence am base among you, but being absent am bold toward you: but I beseech you, that I may not be bold when I am present with that confidence, wherewith I think to be bold against some, which think of us as if we walked according to the flesh. For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ; and having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled. Do ye look on things after the outward appearance? If any man trust to himself that he is Christ’s, let him of himself think this again, that, as he is Christ’s, even so are we Christ’s. For though I should boast somewhat more of our authority, which the Lord hath given us for edification, and not for your destruction, I should not be ashamed: that I may not seem as if I would terrify you by letters. For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible. Let such an one think this, that, such as we are in word by letters when we are absent, such will we be also in deed when we are present. For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise. But we will not boast of things without our measure, but according to the measure of the rule which God hath distributed to us, a measure to reach even unto you. For we stretch not ourselves beyond our measure, as though we reached not unto you: for we are come as far as to you also in preaching the gospel of Christ: not boasting of things without our measure, that is, of other men’s labours; but having hope, when your faith is increased, that we shall be enlarged by you according to our rule abundantly, to preach the gospel in the regions beyond you, and not to boast in another man’s line of things made ready to our hand. But he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. For not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth. (vv. 1-18)
What a very practical portion of the Word of God this is, and how grateful we can be for some of the unpleasant experiences that came to the apostle Paul, because of the lessons that we may glean from his attitude regarding them. He had ministered, as we have seen, for a long time in this famous Greek city. For a year and six months he had worked and prayed and toiled, laboring with his own hands to support himself and those associated with him, while he preached publicly and from house to house, striving to reach lost sinners and bring them to Christ, and once they were saved, to present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. He had seen the work grow and develop in a marvelous way. He had seen men of marked ability come in among them who could build them up, and then, as a true missionary, he had left them and moved on to other fields, that he might still carry the gospel to those who had not heard it. And now having been away from them, he had learned of a preconcerted movement among certain enemies of the gospel of the grace of God to try to turn his own converts away from confidence in him as an inspired and duly authorized apostle, in order that thereby they might weaken the faith of those converts in the glorious declaration of the grace of God which he had proclaimed. Paul here had to insist very strongly upon the authority that had been given him. He had to defend his apostleship, to magnify his office. And though it was the very last thing he delighted to do, he had to call attention to the work that God had wrought through him and show that he was truly a sent-one of Christ. They had seen a lowly tentmaker, his hands often begrimed with toil. They had seen him put away his rough garments to get ready for a preaching service, and go down to the meeting place to minister Christ after his working hours.
They had seen a common workingman, and now they used this against him. “Why,” they said, “he is not an apostle, a man who exists in the lowly way he lives. How ordinary, how commonplace, his calling is from day to day! Do you call him an apostle? Do others of the apostles of Jesus Christ have to work as he does, with their own hands?” And so they despised him the more because of his very humility. He replies, “I Paul myself beseech you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ.” What did they think of Christ? He was a carpenter and used the saw, the hammer, and the adze in the carpenter’s shop at Nazareth, and took the lowest place here on earth that He might exalt us to the highest. Well, by His meekness, by His gentleness, I “who in presence am base among you, but being absent am bold toward you:…I beseech you, that I may not be bold when I am present with that confidence wherewith I think to be bold against some, which think of us as if we walked according to the flesh.” You see, he had to write them a very strong letter in order to point out and reprove serious things that were being done in the church at Corinth. There was party strife there and, among other things, they were setting one servant of God against another. Some were saying, “I am of Paul, and I of Apollos, and I of Cephas,” and others were declaring, “We alone are of Christ.” And Paul had to rebuke all that and rebuke it sternly. And then there were brethren going to law one with another, and there were other things that had to be dealt with, and so his letters were sharp and strong. But now he has to deal with those who are his detractors. They were saying, “It is all right, he can sit down in the privacy of his own study and write boldly, but if he had to meet you face to face, he would not dare to talk like that.” And Paul says, as it were, “I hope there will not be any occasion for it. I write you a letter rather than to come to see you, because I do not want to have to say these stern things to you: I love you too tenderly to wish to hurt you. I thought I might help you with my letters, but if you do not respond to them I will have to tell you face to face what I mean, and show that we have divine authority backing up everything we have to say.”
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh.” We are in the flesh, it cannot be otherwise, but, he says, we do not war according to the flesh. We are not men who, as servants of Christ, are actuated by mere fleshly motives. “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal.” We do not behave in a fleshly way, but our weapons, which are those given us by the Holy Spirit of God, are “mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds; casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” What an ideal that is for the servant of God! The minister of Christ is not sent to preach eloquent sermons with beautiful resounding platitudes, but to give men the truth of God; and the effect of this truth upon the conscience is intended to bring every thought into subjection to the obedience of Christ, that all human reasoning may come to an end when God speaks, and that there may be absolute subjection to His will. If you are not ready to obey the Word of God, then I have to be in readiness to revenge every disobedience, he says.
Next he warns them against looking on the outward appearance. I judge Paul’s physical appearance was not that of a great statesman or a great leader. The Greeks particularly admired splendid physique, as we may see from the many magnificent statues they have left behind. But Paul was probably a very small man. The name Paul means “little one,” and people naturally received names in those days that intimated what they were. His outward appearance was weak and his speech contemptible. It may be there was a hesitancy in his speech, caused possibly when he was stoned at Lystra, and perhaps he could not speak with freedom or fluency. So they despised him because of physical infirmities. But that little man, though physically weak, was filled with the power of the Spirit of God, and through that power had done wonderful things for Christ, and so he could say, “If any man trust to himself that he is Christ’s, let him of himself think this again, that, as he is Christ’s, even so are we Christ’s.” In other words, “I am not much to look at, but I belong to Christ just as much as the fine-looking teachers with heroic figures. I am His servant, and He uses me in spite of my physical infirmity. It is He Himself who has given me direct authority.” “Though I should boast somewhat more of our authority, which the Lord hath given us for edification, and not for your destruction.” He would not claim authority in order to avenge himself of them, but his authority was for their blessing. In obedience to Him he had brought them the gospel, and now he desired to build them up in Christ. “For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak.” “Well,” he says, “wait until I get there, and see.” I think there is a little bit of grim humor here. I think the apostle rather smiled as he wrote the next verse: “Let such an one think this, that, such as we are in word by letters when we are absent, such will we be also in deed when we are present.” We dare not compare ourselves with others, saying, “Well, I can do it better than someone else.” Paul says, “No, that is not it. It is not a question merely whether I am able to preach better than others or not. We are all Christ’s servants.” “We dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not [intelligent].” It is a very foolish thing to compare or contrast ourselves with others. To every man his work. Every servant of God has some special gift. Whitefield said, “Other men may preach the gospel better than I can, but no man can preach a better gospel.”
But now the apostle says, “I have had one definite aim and nothing is going to turn me aside from that.” “We will not boast of things without our measure, but according to the measure of the rule which God hath distributed to us, a measure to reach even unto you.” Rule might be translated “canon.” Canon law is the law or rule by which churches are governed. Paul seems to say, “This is the canon that God has given me, a measure to reach even unto you, and that is, that we should preach the gospel in the regions beyond.” He says, “My rule as a missionary is not to be occupied so much with churches already established, and certainly not to go where other men have labored, and then add my little to it. I do not want to build on another man’s foundation. But my business is to preach the gospel where Christ is not named.” It is not wrong to build on other men’s foundations. I stand here today, and what am I doing? Well, the best I can do is to build on other men’s foundations. But Paul recognizes that. He says, “I have laid the foundation, and another [man] buildeth thereon.” But he declares, “My rule is not to build on other men’s foundations.” He was a foundation layer. He went from country to country, from city to city, from village to village, carrying the gospel of the grace of God. He sought to lead souls out of darkness, who had never heard the message of light before. Then he would gather them together by the Spirit’s power into little groups. We hear that word indigenous used so much these days, referring to missionary work. The natives are encouraged to establish “indigenous churches.” This was Paul’s mode of operation. He had preached at Corinth, and away he went. Other men could come now and build them up, but he must carry the gospel to the ends of the earth. What a missionary Paul was! He was a pattern foreign missionary for our entire age. There have been many since then who have gone forth in the same spirit that actuated him. This is the business of the church, and if we cannot all go, we can help those to go who are free to do it, and we can pray and give that they may work on unhindered by want. We are not, says Paul, “to boast in another man’s line of things made ready to our hand. But he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.” Whether one is building on another man’s foundation or seeking to tell men and women in distant lands of Christ, it is all the same: “He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. For not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth.” Here, then, is the ideal missionary as exemplified in the life of the apostle Paul. May we all in some measure at least enter into it. How wonderfully Paul sought to follow his Master. He said, “Follow me, as I follow Christ.” Christ came from the heights of glory down into the depths of sin and woe, and He trod the path of humiliation and shame, and at last went to the cross and there gave His life for the redemption of guilty men. “He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.”
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 10". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25