Observe here, 1. The charge brought in unjustly against St. Paul by the false apostles, namely, that when he was present with the Corinthians, he was low and humble enough to some degree of baseness; but when absent, that then he writes like a lord to them, and exercises an authority with pride and imperiousness over them. The greatest apostle, no more than the meanest minister of Jesus Christ, cannot expect protection from slander and false accusation.
Observe, 2. The pious and prudent course which the apostle takes for his own necessary and just vindication; he beseeches them, by all that meekness and gentleness, which, according to the command and example of Christ, he desired to express towards them, firmly to believe that he desired nothing more, than not to be forced to use his power with that boldness towards them, which he feared he must use against the false apostles, who accused him of too much servility and meanness in his behaviour amongst them, and reproached his ministry as carnal and self-seeking.
That is, "Although I yet dwell in the body, and consequently am not free from human infirmities and weaknesses; yet neither my ministry nor my life are from fleshly principles, by fleshly means, or fleshly ends." The best and holiest of men in this life walk in the flesh; they are clothed with a mortal body, but they do not war after the flesh, they do not fight under the banner of corrupt nature.
Here note, The Christian life described; it is a warfare; we war; It is a life of vigorous opposition. The Christian has many enemies to conflict with, and to contend against, both outward and inward enemies; in a passive sense, he is a man of strife and contention, his hand is against many, and many hands against him; he doth not manage a war for the flesh, but against the flesh: And in the next verse, he tells us with what weapons he managed this war.
Observe here, 1. That as the life of every Christian is a continual warfare, so the ministers of the gospel are more eminently men of war; they fight against principalities and powers; and the devil draws up his full strength to pull down the office of the ministry, which is erected for the pulling down the strong holds of him and his kingdom.
Observe, 2. The weapons which these spiritual warriors, the ministers of the gospel, do make use of in their conflict and combat with sin and Satan: The weapons of our warfare are not carnal but spiritual. They are not carnal or fleshly weapons that we use, neither fraud nor flattery, nor force; but spiritual armour, with which we batter the fortresses of sin and Satan; namely, the sword of the Spirit, the word of God, the plain and persuasive preaching of the gospel, the Holy Spirit, miracles of all sorts, eminent wisdom and patience, exemplary zeal and courage in executing and inflicting the censures of the church upon the disobedient.
Observe, 3. These weapons are called mighty; but mighty through God; that is, as quickened by the power and presence of God's Spirit. Then is our ministry mighty, when made mighty through God. The spirits of darkness cannot be conquered but by spiritual weapons. It is as possible to make an impression with your finger upon a wall of brass, as for the best sermon in the world to make an effectual impression upon a sinner's will, without the cooperation and concurring assistance of the Holy Spirit: The weapons of our warfare are spiritual and mighty through God. It is the Spirit that gives them their success and efficacy: There is a real spiritual power and energetical presence of Christ in his own institutions and appointments. When the sword of the Spirit is taken into the hand of the Spirit, it works wonders.
Observe, 4. The great and good execution which these spiritual weapons do effect and accomplish when thus accompanied with the power of God; they are mighty to the pulling down of strong holds.
By which some do understand a particular beloved lust; a special sin, by which Satan keeps and holds possession of the sinner's heart.
Others understand it more generally of every thing that opposeth, resisteth, and hindereth the success of the gospel; and particularly the stubborn will of the sinner, which is so strong an hold, that no power short of an Almighty power can influence it to surrender: Casting down imaginations or reasonings, and proud conceits, and particularly unbelief, in which sinners fortify themselves against the convictions of the word, disdaining to submit themselves to the abasing, humble, and self-denying way of the gospel.
But behold the glorious conquest which the gospel of Christ obtains over sinners thus fortified against it: It casts down imaginations, and pulls down every strong hold. Thus the ministry of the gospel spoils Satan of his armour, in which he trusted by shewing the sinner, that all this can be no defence to his soul against the wrath of God.
Observe, 5. The improvement of the victory: The gospel doth not only lead away these enemies spoiled, but brings them into captivity and obedience to itself.
Oh happy and blessed conquest! Sinners do not only lay down their arms, and fight no more against Christ, but they repair to his camp, and fight for him with those reasonings of theirs which before were employed against him. Oh! blessed victory! where the conqueror and conquered both triumph together.
That is, having in a readiness that which will revenge all disobedience upon refractory and stubborn offenders (namely, the power of excommunication) and both authority and ability to inflict such corporal punishment as he judged fit, by delivering them unto Satan; which power he resolved to make use of, when the greater part of them were, by their obedience to his admonitions, reduced to good order again.
Where note, That the apostle defers the excommunicating and censuring the offenders amongst them, they being very many, till he had, by exhortaiton and argument, brought over as many as possibly he could unto obedience. There is no place for severe remedies, when the diseases have taken and infected the whole church: the offenders in the church, when very many, cannot be easily punished; for when great multitudes are concerned, they are like to draw great multitudes after them.
The apostle's practice in this case here, is a good pattern for our imitation, not to be too forward, rash, and hasty in denouncing the censures of the church, but to proceed prudently and gradually: first using all fair means and gentle methods, and waiting with all patience for the reducing them to their duty who will be reduced, and then revenging the glory and honour of God only upon such as will by no means be reclaimed or reduced.
Because the false apostles had taught the Corinthians to despise St. Paul, upon the account of his mean appearance; he here expostulates with them, and desires to know whether they would judge of men by outward appearance, or by inward worth? As if he said, "Are ye so weak as to judge of me by my outward person, by my bodily presence, by the meanness of my garb, by the smallness of my stature, by my outward aspect and countenance? but if you will judge of me, and the pretended apostles, by ministerial gifts and authority received from Christ, surely I have as much to shew of these, as they can pretend to shew; for in nothing was I behind the very chiefest apostles." There is no judging of men, much less of ministers, by outward appearances: Much real worth sometimes lodges within, when nothing but what is despicable and contemptible appears without.
As if the apostle had said. I have not only an equal power and authority with those which despise me (the false teachers) but I have an authority and power which they cannot, dare not, will not pretend unto; namely, the power to inflict corporal punishments upon obstinate and contumacious offenders, and delivering them up to Satan: which power, if at any time I make use of, it is for edification, not for destruction. This rod is not to be used rashly, but discreetly, by me.
Observe we, and learn from hence, an excellent rule, Never to handle the censures of the church (those edge-tools) but with care and caution, with an intention to reform, not to ruin; to save, not destroy: The church's power is for edification, not for destruction.
Our apostle here goes on, vindicating himself from the aspersions and reflections which the false teachers cast upon him. They told the Corinthians, that St. Paul's letters were indeed severe and authoritative, terrifying and affrighting: but his personal presence was weak, and his speech contemptible.
Tradition tells us, that Paul (according to his name) was a man of very little stature, and his voice answerably small; whence probably, the false apostles took occasion to raise this report of his presence and speech. St. Chrysostom saith, that St. Paul's stature was low, his body crooked, his head bald; and when it is added, that his speech was contemptible, it cannot be understood as if it were so for want of eloquence, but it is thought, this refers rather to some infirmity, or natural impediment, which the apostle might have in his speech.
The gift of knowledge and learning, and the gift of utterance and elocution, as they are distinct in their nature, so they are separable in their subject, and do not always go together; a person of the profoundest knowledge is not always happy in elocution and utterance.
However, in these false teachers we see the constant method and practice of impostors and seducers; namely, to asperse and lessen all that stand in their light. This is an old way of insinuating into the people. The false apostles feared they should never reign at Corinth, but by bringing St. Paul into disesteem with the Corinthians; therefore they say, his letters are weighty, but his bodily presence weak.
But the apostle, 2 Corinthians 10:11. gives them to understand, that they should find him the same both absent and present; and that his deeds then should appear as awful as his words now; that when he came again, he would not spare, but punish all disobedience.
Note here, That the things which St. Paul would have his accusers fear, was that by the miraculous gift of the Holy Ghost given to him, to inflict corporal punishments upon disobedient persons, they should speed as Elymas did, Acts 13:8 who was smitten with blindness, &c.
Observe here, 1. St. Paul's just charge, which he brings in against the false apostles, for their pride and vanity, in commending themselves: and comparing themselves with such as were like themselves: The measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves amongst themselves, are not wise. The reason why many think themselves wiser than they are, is, because they compare themselves with these that are below themselves, and not above them in understanding and knowledge. It is an excellent mean to keep us from pride, to consider how many are above us in knowledge: and there are thousands so much excelling us in understanding, that our knowledge is but ignorance, our strength but weakness, our faith but unbelief, our fruitfulness but barrenness, compared with theirs.
Observe, 2. As the pride and vanity of the false apostles, so the great modesty and humility of St. Paul, the true apostle of Christ Jesus: but we will not boast of things without our measure, but according to the measure which God hath distrubuted to us.
Where note, The apostle makes his apostleship or preaching of the gospel, to be, as it were, his spiritual exercise, or running a race, to which he here alludes: declaring that he kept his province, his stage, his compass of ground which God had marked out to him; beyond or out of which line, whoever pretends to run, doth over-extend himself, and boast without his measure.
Observe, 3. That the apostle's line, or measure reached as far as Corinth, where Christ never had been preached; thither he came, and there he first planted the Christian faith amongst them; and he takes occasion from thence, to advance himself above the false apostles.
1. That he could shew a commission to preach to the Corinthians; a measure by which God had distributed the Corinthians to him as his proper province, which none of them could pretend unto.
2. That whereas they went out of their line, leaping from one church to another, he went on orderly in the conversion of churches to the faith, from Judea, through all the interjacent provinces, till he came to Corinth.
3. That whereas they came to those churches where the gospel had been already preached, and so could only boast of things made ready to their hands, he preached the gospel where Christ was not named before.
Here the apostle tells the Corinthians, that he would not boast of other men's labours, nor pretend any title to those Christians at Corinth, nor any where else, whom others had converted, as the false apostles did: Notwithstanding he declares his hope, that when the gospel should have an eminent success amongst them, and thereby their faith be increased, that the increase of their faith would increase his joy and comfort, his present advantage and future reward; because it was the fruit and increase of the seed which he had himself sown amongst them. The apostle also doth farther declare his hopes, that he should preach the gospel beyond Corinth, in the regions of Achaia, where it had not been preached before; he being unwilling to enter upon other men's labours.
Here note, That though ordinary ministers are fixed in particular places, and confined to particular churches, yet the apostles had a commission to go into all places, and preach the gospel over the whole world, and were tied to no certain place or people.
Note farther, That the apostle seems to prefer an instrumentality in the work of conversion, before being instrumental in the work of edification. The false apostles could only pretend to build upon other men's foundations, and carry on a work by others made ready to their hands: But the apostle preferred preaching the gospel where Christ had never been heard of, as being unwilling to build upon another's foundation, or to boast of another man's line. It is a special favour now vouchsafed by God to us his ministers, if he puts the honour upon us, to make us instruments in his hands, either for conversion, or edification, either for bringing home, or building up a people.
Happy we, if when our predecessors have laboured before us, we enter into their labour, and see the seed, which they sowed with a laborious hand, flourishing in the lives of our people, to the joy of our hearts. Ere long, both he that sowed, and he that reapeth, shall rejoice together.
These words are a seasonable exhortation to all the ministers of the gospel.
1. To take heed that they glory not in themselves, or in any services or performances of their own. As it is the highest act of grace to make our boast of God all the day long, so it is the highest act of corruption, to make a boast of any thing we either have or do, though but for a moment.
Alas! what have we, that we have not received? Or what do we, wherein we have not been divinely assisted? And if so, why should we glory? Verily, when man is most bent and set upon these gloryings, God delights to check him therein, and spit upon his glorying; and so jealous is God of his glory, that he seldom suffers a proud minister, that assumes and arrogates to himself, to be either serviceable or successful in his work.
2. These words are an exhortation to all the ministers of the gospel, as not to glory in themselves, so to glory in the Lord; that is,
1. To glory in the work of the Lord, that we promote his kingdom, his honour and interest in the world.
2. To glory in the help of the Lord: the Lord is a master in covenant with us, and that a covenant of grace, in which every command hath a promise annexed to it, a promise both of assistance and acceptance.
3. To glory in the reward of the Lord, expected by us, and secured to us, by purchase and promise, the private Christian's labours shall not be in vain in the Lord, much less his faithful ministers, who have borne the burden and heat of the day; let them then glory in the Lord, and not in themselves, seeing all the good that is in them, and their actions, comes from him, and their recompence of reward is secured by him.
Three things are here observable, 1. The proneness which is in human nature to admire, applaud and commend itself. Man is a proud piece of flesh, and a little apprehended excellency in himself presently puffs him up, and he looks big with conceit: "Tis rare to see a man rich in gifts, and poor in spirit; poverty of spirit is better than all the riches of gifts: yea, it is the truest riches of grace.
Observe, 2. Though a man is prone to commend and admire himself, yet self-commendation is no just prize, but rather disparagement, a shameful indication both of pride and folly. He that commendeth himself, is not approved either of God or wise men; the same word in Hebrew, signifies to praise ourselves and to be foolish because there is no greater evidence of folly than self-commendation; yet sometimes, a wise man is forced to boast of his own performances, rather in a way of self-vindication, than by way of self-commendation.
Observe, 3. That it is God's approbation, and not our own commendation, which is matter of true praise and real honour. When God and conscience bear witness to our sincerity, we need neither our own nor other's commendation; the open testimongy of God, and the silent applause of our own conscience, is above all commendations whatsoever.
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 10". Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/
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