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PAUL’S REPLY TO HIS OPPONENTS CHAPTERS 10.-13.
SECTION 14. — HE BEGS THEM NOT TO FORCE HIM TO USE HIS DIVINELY-GIVEN AUTHORITY, THE LIMITS OF WHICH HE HAS NEVER EXCEEDED. CHAPTER 10.
I Paul myself exhort you by the meekness and clemency of Christ, who, though face to face lowly among you yet when absent am bold towards you. But I beg that I may not when present be bold with the confidence with which I reckon it needful to be daring towards some who reckon us as walking according to flesh. For, though walking in flesh, not according to flesh do we make war. For the weapons of our warfare are not fleshly, but powerful before God for pulling down of strong places, while we are pulling down reasonings and every high thing which lifts itself up against the knowledge of God and are leading captive every thought to the obedience of Christ, and are holding ourselves in readiness to avenge all disobedience, whenever your obedience may be made full.
At the appearances, do you look? If any one trusts to himself to be Christ’s, this let him reckon again in himself, that as he is Christ’s so also are we. For even if something more abundantly I boast about our authority which the Lord gave for building up and not for pulling you down, I shall not be put to shame; that I may not seem as though terrifying you with the letters. Because the letters, says one, are heavy and strong; but the bodily presence is weak, and the utterance despised. This let such a one reckon, that such as we are in our word by letters when absent such also when present in our work.
For we dare not place ourselves among, or compare ourselves with, some of those who recommend themselves. But they, measuring themselves with themselves, are not intelligent. We, however, not in reference to the measureless things will we boast, but according to the measure of the standard which God has measured to us, a measure to reach even as far as you. For not as not reaching to you do we stretch ourselves beyond bounds. (For as far as even you we have advanced in the Gospel of Christ.) Not in reference to the measureless things boasting in other men’s labours, but having hope, while your faith is increasing, among you to be enlarged according to our standard, to abundance, to preach the Gospel as far as the places beyond, not to boast in another man’s standard touching the things already done.
But “he that boasts, let him boast in the Lord.” (Jeremiah 9:24.) For not he who commends himself, not that man is approved, but whom the Lord commends.
Placing himself suddenly and conspicuously before his readers, Paul opens DIV. III.; in which he defends himself, not as in DIV. I. against general suspicion and by a general proof of the grandeur of the apostolic ministry, but against specific misrepresentations by definite persons. And, just as the joyful ending of DIV. I. opened a way for the financial business of DIV. II., so the grateful ending of DIV. II. affords an easy platform of approach to the unpleasant matter of DIV. III.
That DIV. III. is a reply to calumnies known now only by this reply, makes it in part obscure to us. As we pass along we must gather, as well as we can, the nature of these calumnies, and then endeavor to understand Paul’s reply to them.
2 Corinthians 10:1. I myself Paul: the great Apostle, condescending to plead, alone his own cause before his children in the Gospel.
Meekness: see under 1 Corinthians 4:21. Christ on earth (Matthew 11:29; Matthew 21:5) constantly refrained from asserting Himself. This appeal reveals Paul’s consciousness of the danger, when reproving others, of indulging a self-assertion unworthy of Christ; a beautiful trait of his character.
Clemency: a disposition to temper justice with equity, kindness, and benevolence. Same word in Acts 24:4; 1 Peter 2:18; Philippians 4:5. Paul strengthens his appeal (cp. Romans 12:1) by pointing to the known character of Christ. “Do not compel me to lay aside the meekness and clemency so conspicuous in Christ, my Master and Pattern.”
Who face to face etc.: the very reproach of his enemies (2 Corinthians 10:10) used as an additional plea.
Lowly among you: during his previous visit to Corinth; a beautiful picture of the apostle, going about unobtrusively among his converts, asserting as little as possible his apostolic authority, and not even claiming from them maintenance. Cp. 1 Thessalonians 2:7. He had thus imitated the meekness of Christ. But he fears that he must now act otherwise.
Am bold (or courageous, 2 Corinthians 10:6) towards you: in the strong and fearless language of the First Epistle and in the rest of this. Paul’s habitual gentleness when at Corinth claims respect for his present fearless severity. This verse suitably and modestly introduces DIV. III., where more than anywhere else in his writings he puts himself prominently before his readers.
2 Corinthians 10:2. But I beg; takes up and strengthens “I exhort” in 2 Corinthians 10:1. Paul entreats them not to compel a man who has hitherto been gentle in their midst and bold only from a distance to be now bold when present with them.
With the confidence; explains the boldness he is reluctant to manifest.
I reckon: Paul’s calculation about his own conduct when he shall come to Corinth. [Cp. “judge” in 2 Corinthians 2:1; 1 Corinthians 2:2; 1 Corinthians 7:37.] The inserted word needful is necessary for English idiom and gives the evident ground of his calculation.
Daring: same word in 1 Corinthians 6:1; Romans 10:20; Romans 5:7. It is stronger than “bold” in 2 Corinthians 10:1, and suggests peril. It makes therefore a climax. Paul has resolved to trample under foot, if need be, fear of man and of consequences. But he begs his readers not to compel him to do this.
Towards some etc.; introduces definite opponents, whose presence we shall feel throughout DIV. III. Their opposition arose from false reckoning about Paul’s conduct. They have made their reckoning about him and he has made his reckoning about what he will do to them. Cp. 2 Corinthians 12:20; 2 Corinthians 13:2.
According to flesh: as in 2 Corinthians 1:17, which refers to the same false estimate. Cp. Romans 8:4. They supposed that Paul’s steps were directed by the needs and desires of the present bodily life.
This verse implies that there may be occasions requiring the Christian to lay aside the meekness and clemency which Christ loved to manifest, and to assert himself and act with severity. Sometimes (John 2:15) Christ did so. But Paul’s example warns us to do this, as he did, reluctantly and only after efforts to avoid it have failed, as something abnormal caused and justified by abnormal circumstances.
2 Corinthians 10:3-5. These verses justify Paul’s “confidence,” and thus both support his request and disprove the false reckoning of his opponents.
Walk, carry on war: a climax. His path is beset with foes: and therefore his march is a battle.
In flesh, according to flesh: conspicuous contrast. A body of flesh is the surrounding element in which, (cp. Galatians 2:20; Galatians 5:17,) but not the directive principle according to which, he carries on the conflict of life. See under Romans 8:4.
According to flesh; with aims, means, and methods, suggested by the needs and desires of bodily life.
The weapons: Romans 6:13 : an important element in all war, determining almost all else. According to our weapons will be the aim and the method of our warfare.
Fleshly: Romans 15:27; 1 Corinthians 3:3. The means on which Paul relies for victory do not belong to our present bodily life. It is needless to say “but are spiritual.” Paul therefore adds as a contrast what is practically a proof that the weapons are not fleshly, viz. their supernatural effectiveness.
Powerful before God: literally to God, i.e. in God’s estimate. Cp. Acts 7:20.
Strong-places: a common word for fortresses. Same word in Proverbs 10:29; Proverbs 21:22.
While we pull down etc.; depicts the actual efficacy of these weapons in the hands of Paul.
Reckonings: calculations about things around and about our own conduct.
And every high thing: wider than reckonings. All lofty thoughts about ourselves and our powers hinder us from knowing God. For we cannot know Him as the supply of all our needs, as our strength and joy and life, until we have seen ourselves to be needy and helpless and lost, i.e. until every high thought within us has been brought down to the dust. Therefore every high thing in man lifts itself up against the knowledge of God. Cp. 1 Corinthians 1:20; 1 Corinthians 1:27 ff.
And leading-captive, etc.: another aspect of the victory which Paul is gaining.
Thought: result of perception, or mental vision. Formerly our thoughts raised themselves up, thus keeping out the knowledge of God. Now, they not only bow down into the dust but bow to Christ who died for us that He may be our Lord. Not only ourselves but every thought in us must bow to Him. The present participles do not imply actual universal achievement, which 2 Corinthians 10:6 contradicts; but, according to Greek usage, the meaning and purpose of the work in which Paul was actually engaged. Cp. 2 Corinthians 5:19; Romans 2:4. God permits men to resist both His own influences and His servants’ efforts.
2 Corinthians 10:6. Another element in Paul’s warfare, and another proof that his weapons have superhuman power.
Every disobedience; implies that some professed Christians do not surrender themselves to obey, but actually resist, Christ.
Avenge: merited and conspicuous punishment. Cp. 2 Corinthians 13:2 ff; 1 Corinthians 4:21; 1 Corinthians 5:5; Acts 13:11; Acts 5:5; terrible proofs of apostolic power.
Holding ourselves in readiness etc.: but not actually avenging. This suggests that Paul was not accustomed to vengeance, though he was prepared for it.
Your obedience: in contrast to these opponents whom Paul is careful throughout DIV. III. to distinguish from his readers. This suggests that they were few, and perhaps foreigners, i.e. Jews. For them Paul betrays no hope: upon them he is able and ready to inflict severe punishment.
Your obedience made full: by shaking off all connection with those who resist Paul. Else they would be involved in the punishment. Therefore Paul delays to punish till his readers have cleared themselves from complicity with the crime: and with this motive (2 Corinthians 1:23) he postponed his visit to Corinth.
The opposition of his enemies suggests to Paul a military metaphor. To him life is not only a walk but a warfare. But he is equipped with superhuman weapons, with which he pulls down whatever in man lifts itself up, thus hindering men from knowing God, and brings every thought to bow to God; and with which he is able to punish all that resist. This reveals the error of those who look upon Paul as acting merely from human motives and with human powers. And it gives immense force to his appeal to be allowed to leave unused these great punitive powers and to imitate the meekness and clemency of Christ. Thus Paul begins his self-defence by an entreaty that his opponents will not compel him to punish them; and gives proof of his power to do so by pointing to the spiritual triumphs of blessing, far above human power, which he obtains day by day in the hearts of men. For these triumphs prove that the power of God is with him. Similarly in 2 Corinthians 1:19, he claims credit for veracity by pointing to the truthfulness of Christ whose word he preaches.
2 Corinthians 10:7-8. After pointing to the spiritual victories which prove his divine mission, Paul reasserts (2 Corinthians 10:7-11) in contradiction to his opponents his authority and power; and declares (2 Corinthians 10:12-18) that in exercising it among the Corinthians he is keeping within the limits marked out for him by Christ.
Appearances: same word as, and recalling, “face to face” in 2 Corinthians 10:1. Cp. 2 Corinthians 5:12. Some despised Paul because of his lowly appearance and demeanor among them. He asks whether it is on the outside of things that they fix their attention; and then directs them to something which merits their thoughtful calculation.
Trusts to himself to be Christ’s; is easily understood apart from, and therefore does not of itself imply, any reference to the Christ-party (1 Corinthians 1:12) at Corinth. Whether this party was actually in Paul’s thought, we cannot now determine. He bids his opponents, instead of looking at externals and reckoning accordingly, to make another reckoning from the solitude of their inner selves. He does not think fit to deny here that his opponents are Christ’s servants, but he claims to have given proof that he also is such. This appeal derives its force from the proof given in 2 Corinthians 10:5 that Paul and his colleagues are doing with superhuman weapons Christ’s work. And it is worthy of thoughtful consideration by all who engage in religious controversy. 2 Corinthians 10:8 asserts that Paul not only is Christ’s but has received from Christ special authority.
Somewhat more abundantly; even than he has done in 2 Corinthians 10:3-6.
Building up, not pulling down: 2 Corinthians 13:10. He may have to pull down; but only in consequence of abnormal circumstances and with a view to further building up. Therefore he will pull down as little as possible. The contrast, I boast, our authority, found throughout the Epistle, suggests that the plural is chosen, not as in 1 Thessalonians 3 : if probably for Paul alone, but to include others. They share the authority: the boast is his only.
Shall not be put to shame: facts will justify even this larger boast.
2 Corinthians 10:9-11. God will make good even this larger boast in order that His servant’s written words may not seem to be empty terrifying; as they would seem if he were “put to shame.”
The letters: the First Epistle, the lost one, (1 Corinthians 5:9,) and possibly others unknown to us.
Strong: such as influence men.
Bodily presence weak; does not necessarily mean that Paul’s personal appearance was even by his enemies thought to be undignified. For this taunt will be disproved (2 Corinthians 10:11) when he comes. Cp. 1 Corinthians 2:3. It is sufficiently accounted for by Paul’s unobtrusive demeanor (2 Corinthians 10:1) among his converts. Nor can reliance be placed on uncertain traditions about his small stature and bodily weakness: although the latter is not unlikely. For they are sufficiently explained by his name (Paulus: a little one) and by this verse.
Despised: by his opponents; perhaps owing to his studied simplicity (1 Corinthians 2:1) of style. Another verdict is given in Acts 14:12.
Let such a one reckon: “Let him reasonably infer from the character revealed in my letters how I shall act when present.” Paul made his presence little felt among the Corinthians because there were then no gross offences requiring punishment. And he preferred to do good in an unostentatious manner, not even (1 Corinthians 1:16) baptizing his own converts. He now bids his opponents infer from his letters how he will act in altered circumstances.
2 Corinthians 10:12-16. Exposition, after expounding the word “terrify” in 2 Corinthians 10:9, of “the authority” claimed in 2 Corinthians 10:8. Paul thus supports the foregoing threat.
We dare not; suggests the peril of the conduct of his adversaries. Cp. Romans 15:18.
Or compare ourselves: “place ourselves among or place ourselves beside.”
Some of those; singles out definite persons whom Paul has in mind. But they: in contrast to Paul who dares not measure himself thus. Among themselves; includes each with himself, and each [cp. Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13; Colossians 3:16] with others of the same class. They take themselves and their companions as a standard of what men ought to be; and having no other standard they form a senseless estimate.
Intelligent: same word in Romans 3:11; Romans 15:21; Ephesians 5:17; 1 Corinthians 1:19; Romans 1:21; Ephesians 3:4 : so to put things together as to interpret rightly their significance and to understand their real nature. These men, by taking themselves as their measure, showed that they did not rightly interpret conduct and character.
But we: in conspicuous contrast to the foregoing.
The unmeasured things: the indefinite and undefinable fancies which were all that the boasting of the opponents had in view. Paul declares that he will not boast in reference to such phantoms.
But according to the measure etc.: the standard by which Paul’s boasting shall be measured, viz. the divinely marked out limits of his apostolic work.
The standard: literally the canon, which is a Greek word denoting a straight wooden staff, then a measure of any material, then an authoritative rule of conduct. Paul represents God as marking out, as if with a measuring staff, his apostolic field of labor, (cp. Galatians 2:7,) and declares that according to the measure thus marked out his boasting shall be. Of anything beyond these limits, he will not speak. His highest boast will be “I have finished the work Thou gavest me to do.”
A measure etc.; specifies the measure thus marked out, viz. that it includes Corinth.
2 Corinthians 10:14. Proof of the last words of 2 Corinthians 10:13. The argument is: Corinth is within our limits; for beyond these we do not stretch ourselves; yet we have actually come to Corinth. [Yet: best rendering of
In the Gospel: as in 2 Corinthians 8:18; Romans 1:9; 1 Corinthians 9:18. It expounds the spiritual and soul-saving significance of “as far as even to you we have advanced.”
2 Corinthians 10:15-16. Not in reference to the unmeasured things boasting; takes up the same words in 2 Corinthians 10:13, and continues the description of the boasting in which Paul will not indulge. Consequently, 2 Corinthians 10:14, needful to prove the last words of 2 Corinthians 10:13, is a parenthesis.
In other men’s labours: cp. Romans 15:20. The opponents boasted of the influence they had gained in a church which Paul’s toilsome and weary labors had founded and among men who directly or indirectly owe to him their conversion.
Having however hope: Paul’s actual feelings about the Corinthians. The continued increasing of their faith was a needful condition of the enlargement of Paul’s field of labor.
In you to be enlarged: same phrase in Philippians 1:20, but in a different sense. It is explained in 2 Corinthians 10:16. Paul suggests, though perhaps he does not necessarily imply, that their faith is already increasing. And, if so, he will be able to leave them and go to preach to others beyond. Thus in them, i.e. through their growing faith, Paul’s field of labor, and therefore himself, i.e. his own influence and success, will be enlarged. But even this hoped-for enlargement will be according to his divinely-given standard. For to all the Gentiles (Romans 1:5) he is sent.
For abundance: something beyond and above. See under 2 Corinthians 9:12. It is explained in 2 Corinthians 10:16, which gives Paul’s purpose in cherishing this hope, viz. to preach the Gospel in places still further off than Corinth. He is thinking probably of his projected (Romans 15:24; Acts 19:21) journey to Rome and Spain: an interesting coincidence of thought. The repetition in 2 Corinthians 10:16 b reveals Paul’s deep sense how unjust is his opponents’ boasting. While his thoughts about the Corinthians, whom he had led to Christ, were that their increasing faith would enable him to break up new ground still further off, his opponents were exulting about things in a field allotted by God to Paul, and in reference to work which they found already done. With such men Paul dares not compare himself. And, since he is acting, as he has asserted and in some measure proved, within his appointed limits, his readers may expect to find him carrying out when present at Corinth the threats of his letters.
2 Corinthians 10:17-18. A general principle suggested by the contrary conduct of Paul’s opponents, supported by another general principle, and suitably preparing the way for Paul’s boasting in sections 15-18. Same words in 1 Corinthians 1:31. 2 Corinthians 10:18 is a reason why they who exult should have Christ, for whom they labor and from whom they expect reward, as the element of their exultation.
Who recommends himself: as (2 Corinthians 10:12) these men did.
Approved: proved to be genuine, as in 1 Corinthians 11:19.
The Lord commends; by evident marks of approval. If we remember that the only proofs of real worth are those which Christ gives, all our exultation will have Him for its element, and all mere human boasting will be shut out.
Paul begins his defence by threatening reluctantly to lay aside his accustomed and Christlike lowliness, and fearlessly to punish his opponents. That he is able to do this, is proved by the superhuman power with which he is accustomed to overcome in his converts the spiritual forces of evil. With the same power he is prepared to inflict punishment. But he waits till his readers have shaken themselves free from all connection with his enemies, lest the blows which will fall upon these also strike them.
Men must not look at externals, but must reason intelligently about realities. To Paul, Christ has given authority over His Church. About this he might say more than he has said, without exceeding what will be proved to be true. For he is not one who terrifies merely from a distance. But he remembers that the purpose of his authority is not to pull down but to build up. His readers have abundant proof that he will make good the threats of his letters. How great the contrast between himself and his opponents! All their boasting is reckless self-commendation. No standard except themselves and their companions have they for their self-measurement; which is therefore no measurement at all. All their boasting is about their influence over men who but for Paul would not have been Christians. But, when speaking about his readers, Paul speaks about those who are within the bounds specially marked out for him by God. For, in view of his spiritual success, none can say that, when he came to Corinth, he exceeded those bounds. So far is he from boasting without a measure and about other men’s labors that his chief thought about his own converts at Corinth is that their increasing faith will enable him to enter the fresh ground which still remains untouched within the marked out boundaries of his apostolic work. He concludes by reminding his opponents and himself remembering that all boasting must have Christ for its element: for the only commendation which is proof of real worth comes from Him.
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Beet, Joseph. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 10". Joseph Beet's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 13 / Ordinary 18