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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
2 Corinthians 10

 

 

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Verses 1-6

Chapter 22

WAR.

2 Corinthians 10:1-6 (R.V)

THE last four chapters of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians stand as manifestly apart as the two about the collection. A great deal too much has been made of this undeniable fact. If a man has a long letter to write, in which he wishes to speak of a variety of subjects, we may expect variations of tone, and more or less looseness of connection. If he has something on his mind which it is difficult to speak about, but which cannot be suppressed, we may expect him to keep it to the end, and to introduce it, perhaps, with awkward emphasis. The scholars who have argued, on the ground of the extreme difference of tone, and want of connection, that 2 Corinthians 10:1-18; 2 Corinthians 11:1-33; 2 Corinthians 12:1-21; 2 Corinthians 13:1-14, of this Epistle were originally a separate letter, either earlier (Weisse) or later (Semler) than the first seven chapters, seem to have overlooked these obvious considerations. If Paul stopped dictating for the day at the end of 2 Corinthians 9:1-15; if he even stopped a few moments in doubt how to proceed to the critical subject he had still to handle-the want of connection is sufficiently explained; the tone in which he writes, when we consider the subject, needs no justification. The mission of Titus had resulted very satisfactorily, so far as one special incident was concerned-the treatment of a guilty person by the Church; the tension of feeling over that case had passed by. But in the general situation of affairs at Corinth there was much to make the Apostle anxious and angry. There were Judaists at work, impugning his authority and corrupting his Gospel; there was at least a minority of the Church under their influence; there were large numbers living, apparently, in the grossest sins; {2 Corinthians 12:20 f.} there was something, we cannot but think, approaching spiritual anarchy. The one resource the Apostle has with which to encounter this situation-his one standing ground alike against the Church and those who were corrupting it-is his apostolic authority; and to the vindication of this he first addresses himself. This, I believe, explains the peculiar emphasis with which he begins: "Now I myself, I Paul entreat you." αυτος εγω παυλος is not only the grammatical subject of the sentence, but if one may say so, the subject under consideration; it is the very person whose authority is in dispute who puts himself forward deliberately in this authoritative way. The δε ("now") is merely transitional; the writer moves on, without indicating any connection, to another matter.

In the long sentence which makes up the first and second verses, everything comes out at once-the Apostle’s indignation, in that extreme personal emphasis; his restraint of it, in the appeal to the meekness and gentleness of Christ; his resentment at the misconstruction of his conduct by enemies, who called him a coward at hand, and a brave man only at a safe distance; and his resolve, if the painful necessity is not spared him, to come with a rod and not spare. It is as if all this had been dammed up in his heart for long, and to say a single word was to say everything. The appeal to the meekness and gentleness of Christ is peculiarly affecting in such a connection; it is intended to move tile Corinthians, but what we feel is how it has moved Paul. It may be needful, on occasion, to assert oneself, or at least one’s authority; but it is difficult to do it without sin. It is an exhilarating sensation to human nature to be in the right, and when we enjoy it we are apt to enlist our temper in the divine service, forgetting that the wrath of man does not work the righteousness of God. Paul felt this danger, and in the very sentence in which he puts himself and his dignity forward with uncompromising firmness, he recalls to his own and his readers’ hearts the characteristic temper of the Lord. How far He was, under the most hateful provocation, from violence and passion! How far from that sinful self-assertion, which cannot consider the case and claims of others! It is-when we are in the right that we must watch our temper, and, instead of letting anger carry us away, make our appeal for the right by the meekness and gentleness of Jesus. This, when right is won, makes it twice blessed. The words, "who in your presence am lowly among you, but being absent am of good courage toward you," are one of the sneers current in Corinth at Paul’s expense. When he was there, his enemies said, face to face with them, he was humble enough; it was only when he left them he became so brave. This mean slander must have stung the proud soul of the Apostle-the mere quotation of it shows this; but the meekness and gentleness of Christ have entered into him, and instead of resenting it he continues in a still milder tone. He descends from urging or entreating ( παρακαλῶ) to beseeching ( δέομαι). The thought of Christ has told already on his heart and on his pen. He begs them so to order their conduct that he may be spared the pain of demonstrating the falsehood of that charge. He counts on taking daring action against some at Corinth who count of him as though he walked after the flesh; but they can make this face-to-face hardihood needless, and in the name not of his own cowardice, but of his Lord’s meekness and considerateness, he appeals to them to do so. δυσφημούμενοι παρακαλοῦμεν.

The charge of walking after the flesh is one that needs interpretation. In a general way it means that Paul was a worldly, and not a spiritual, man; and that the key to his character and conduct-even in his relations with Churches-was to be sought in his private and personal interests. What this would mean in any particular case would depend upon the circumstances. It might mean that he was actuated by avarice, and, in spite of pretences to be disinterested, was ruled at bottom by the idea of what would pay; or it might mean-and in this place probably does mean-that he had an undue regard for the opinion of others, and acted with feeble inconsistency in his efforts to please them. A man of whom either of these things could be truly said would be without spiritual authority, and it was to discredit the Apostle in the Church that the vague and damaging charge was made.

He certainly shows no want of courage in meeting it. That he walks in the flesh, he cannot deny. He is a human being, wearing a weak nature, and all its maladies are incident to him. As far as that nature goes, it is as possible that he, as that any man, should be ruled by its love of ease or popularity; or, on the other hand, should be overcome by timidity, and shrink from difficult duties. But he denies that this is his case. He spends his life in this nature, with all its capacity for unworthy conduct; but in his Christian warfare he is not ruled by it-he has conquered it, and it has no power over him at all. "I was with you," he wrote in the First Epistle, "with weakness and fear and much trembling"; but "my speech and my preaching were with demonstration of the Spirit and of power." This is practically what he says here, and what must be said by every man who undertakes to do anything for God. No one can be half so well aware as he, if he is sincere at all, of the immense contrast between the nature in which he lives and the service to which he is called. None of his enemies can know so well as he the utter earthenness of the vessel in which the heavenly treasure is deposited. But the very meaning of a divine call is that a man is made master of this weakness, and through whatever pain and self-repression can disregard it for his work’s sake. With some men timidity is the great trial: for them, it is the flesh. They are afraid to declare the whole counsel of God; or they are afraid of some class, or of some particular person: they are brave with a pen perhaps, or in a pulpit, or surrounded by sympathizing spectators; but it is not in them to be brave alone, and to find in the Spirit a courage and authority which overbear the weakness of the flesh. From all such timidity, as an influence affecting his apostolic work, Paul can pronounce himself free. Like Jeremiah [Jeremiah 1:6-8] and Ezekiel, [Ezekiel 2:6-8] he is naturally capable, but spiritually incapable of it. He is full of might by the Spirit of the Lord: and when he takes the field in the Lord’s service, the flesh is as though it were not. Since the expression εν σαρκι περιπατουντες refers to the whole of the Apostle’s life, it seems natural to take στρατευομεθα as referring to the whole of his ministry, and not solely to his present campaign against the Corinthians. It is of his apostolic labours in general-of course including that which lay immediately before him-that he says: "The weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty before God to the casting down of strong holds."

Nobody but an evangelist could have written this sentence. Paul knew from experience that men fortify themselves against God: they try to find impregnable positions in which they may defy Him, and live their own life. Human nature, when God is announced to speak, instinctively puts itself on its guard; and you cannot pass that guard, as Paul was well aware, with weapons furnished by the flesh. The weapons need to be divinely strong: mighty in God’s sight, for God’s service, with God’s own might. There is an answer in this to many of the questions that are being asked at present about methods of evangelizing; where the divinely powerful weapons are found, such questions give no trouble. No man who has ever had a direct and unmistakable blessing on his work as an evangelist has ever enlisted "the flesh" in God’s service. No such man has ever seen, or said, that learning, eloquence, or art in the preacher: or bribes of any sort to the hearer; or approaches to the "strong holds," constructed of amusements, lectures, concerts, and so forth, were of the very slightest value. He who knows anything about the matter knows that it is a life-and-death interest which is at stake when the soul comes face to face with the claims and the mercy of God; and that the preacher who has not the hardihood to represent it as such will not be listened to, and should not be. Paul was armed with this tremendous sense of what the Gospel was-the immensity of grace in it, the awfulness of judgment; and it was this which gave him his power, and lifted him above the arts, the wisdom, and the timidity of the flesh. A man will hold his own against anything but this. He will parley with any weapon flesh can fashion or wield; this is the only one to which he surrenders.

Perhaps in the fifth verse [2 Corinthians 10:5], which is an expansion of "the casting down of strong holds," a special reference to the Corinthians begins to be felt: at all events they might easily apply it to themselves. "Casting down imaginations," the Apostle says, "and every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God." "Imaginations" is probably a fair enough rendering of λογισμους. though the margin has "reasonings," and the same word in Romans 2:15 is rendered "thoughts." To what it applies is not very obvious. Men do certainly fortify themselves against the Gospel in their thoughts. The proud wisdom of the Greek was familiar to the Apostle, and even the obvious fact that it had not brought the world salvation was not sufficient to lower its pride. The expression has sometimes been censured as justifying the sacrificium intellectus or as taking away freedom of thought in religion. To think of Paul censuring the free exercise of intelligence in religion is too absurd; but there is no doubt that, with his firm hold of the great facts on which the Christian faith depends, he would have dealt very summarily with theories, ancient or modern, which serve no purpose but to fortify men against the pressure of these facts. He would not have taken excessive pains to put himself in the speculator’s place, and see the world as he sees it, with the most stupendous realities left out; he would not have flattered with any affected admiration that most self-complacent of mortals-the wise of this world. He would have struck straight at the heart and conscience with the spiritual weapons of the Gospel; he would have spoken of sin and judgment, of reconciliation and life in Christ, till these great realities had asserted their greatness in the mind, and in doing so had shattered the proud intellectual structures which had been reared in ignorance or contempt of them. "Thoughts" and "imaginations" must yield to things, and make room for them: it was on this principle Paul wrought. And to "thoughts" or "imaginations" he adds "every high thing [ ὕψωμα] that exalts itself against the knowledge of God." The emphasis is on "every"; the Apostle generalizes the opposition which he has to encounter. It may not be so much in the "thoughts" of men, as in their tempers, that they fortify themselves. Pride, which by the instinct of self-preservation sees at once to the heart of the Gospel, and closes itself against it; which hates equally the thought of absolute indebtedness to God and the thought of standing on the same level with others in God’s sight,-this pride raises in every part of our nature its protest against the great surrender. It is implied in the whole structure of this passage that "the knowledge of God" against which every high thing in man rises defiantly is a humbling knowledge. In other words, it is not speculative merely, but has an ethical significance, which the human heart is conscious of even at a distance, and makes ready to acknowledge or to resist. No high thing lifts itself up in us against a mere theorem-a doctrine of God which is as a doctrine in algebra; it is the practical import of knowing God which excites the rebellion of the soul. No doubt, for the Apostle, the knowledge of God was synonymous with the Gospel: it was the knowledge of His glory in the face of Jesus Christ; it was concentrated in the Cross and the Throne of His Son, in the Atonement and the Sovereignty of Christ. The Apostle had to beat down all the barriers by which men closed their minds against this supreme revelation; he had to win for these stupendous facts a place in the consciousness of humanity answering to their grandeur. Their greatness made him great: he was lifted up on them; and though he walked in the flesh, in weakness and fear and much trembling, he could confront undaunted the pride and the wisdom of the world, and compel them to acknowledge his Lord.

This meaning is brought out more precisely in the words with which he continues-"bringing every, thought, into captivity" to the obedience of Christ. If we suppose a special reference here to the Corinthians, it will be natural to take νοημα ("thought") in a practical sense-as, e.g., in 2 Corinthians 2:2, where it is rendered "devices." The Corinthians had notions of their own, apparently, about how a Church should be regulated-wild, undisciplined, disorderly notions; and in the absence of the Apostle they were experimenting with them freely. It is part of his work to catch these runaway thoughts, and make them obedient to Christ again. It seems, however, much more natural to allow the wilder reference of αιχμαλωτιζοντες to the whole of Paul’s apostolic work; and then νοημα also will be taken in a less restricted sense. Men’s minds, and all that goes on in their minds ( νοήματα covers both: see 2 Corinthians 2:11; 2 Corinthians 3:14; 2 Corinthians 4:4), are by nature lawless: they are without the sense of responsibility to guard and consecrate the sense of freedom. When the Gospel makes them captive, this lawless liberty comes to an end. The mind, in all its operations, comes under law to Christ: in its every thought it is obedient to Him. The supremacy which Christ claims and exercises is over the whole nature: the Christian man feels that nothing-not even a thought-lies beyond the range in which obedience is due to Him. This practical conviction will not paralyse thinking in the very least, but it will extinguish many useless and bad thoughts, and give their due value to all.

The Apostle descends unmistakably from the general to the particular in 2 Corinthians 10:6 "Being in readiness to avenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled." Apparently what he contemplates in Corinth is a disobedience which in part at least will refuse to surrender to Christ. There is a spirit abroad there, in the Judaists especially, and in those whom they have influenced, which will not bend, and must be broken. How Paul means to take vengeance on it, he does not say. He is confident himself that the divinely powerful weapons which he wields will enable him to master it, and that is enough. Whatever the shape the disobedience may assume,-hostility to the Gospel of Paul, as subversive of the law; hostility to his apostolic claims, as unequal to those of the Twelve; hostility to the practical authority he asserted in Churches of his founding, and to the moral ideas he established there,-whatever the face which opposition may present, he declares himself ready to humble it. One limitation only he imposes on himself-he will do this, "when the obedience of the Corinthians is fulfilled." He expressly distinguishes the Church as a whole from those who represent or Constitute the disobedient party. There have been misunderstandings between the Church and himself; but as 2 Corinthians 1:1-24; 2 Corinthians 2:1-17; 2 Corinthians 3:1-18; 2 Corinthians 4:1-18; 2 Corinthians 5:1-21; 2 Corinthians 6:1-18; 2 Corinthians 7:1-16 show, these have been so far overcome: the body of the Church has reconciled itself to its founder; it has returned, so to speak, to its allegiance to Paul, and has busied itself in carrying out his will. When this process, at present only in course, is completed, his way will be clear. He will be able to act with severity and decision against those who have troubled the Church, without running any risk of hurting the Church itself. This leads again to the reflection that, with all his high consciousness of spiritual power, with all his sense of personal wrong, the most remarkable characteristic of Paul is love. He waits to the last moment before he resorts to severer measures; and he begs those who may suffer from them, begs them by the meekness and gentleness of Christ, to spare him such pain.


Verses 7-18

Chapter 23

COMPARISONS.

2 Corinthians 10:7-18 (R.V)

THIS passage abounds with grammatical and textual difficulties, but the general import and the purpose of it are plain. The self-assertion of αυτος εγω παυλος (2 Corinthians 10:1) receives its first interpretation and expansion here: we see what it is that Paul claims, and we begin to see the nature of the opposition against which his claim has to be made good. Leaving questions of grammatical construction aside, vv. 7 and 8 [2 Corinthians 10:7-8] define the situation; and it is convenient to take them as if they stood alone.

There was a person in Corinth-more than one indeed, but one in particular, as the τις in 2 Corinthians 10:7 and the singular φησιν in 2 Corinthians 10:10 suggest-who claimed to be Christ’s, or of Christ, in a sense which disparaged and was meant to disparage Paul. If we use the plural, to include them all, we must not suppose that they are identical with the party in the Church who are censured in the First Epistle for saying, "I am of Christ," just as others said, "I am of Paul," "I am of Apollos," "I am of Cephas." That party may have been dependent upon them, but the individuals here referred to are taxed with an exclusiveness and arrogance, and in the close of the chapter with a wanton trespassing on Paul’s province, which show that they were not native to the Church, but intruders into it. They were confident that they were Christ’s in a sense which discredited Paul’s apostleship, and entitled them, so to speak, to legitimate a Church which his labors had called into being. Everything compels us to recognize in them Jewish Christians, who had been connected with Christ in a way in which Paul had not; who had known Him in the flesh, or had brought recommendatory letters from the Mother Church at Jerusalem; and who on the Strength of these accidents, gave themselves airs of superiority in Pauline Churches, and corrupted the simplicity of the Pauline Gospel.

The first words in 2 Corinthians 10:7 - τα κατα προσωπον βλεπετε-are no doubt directed to this situation but they have been very variously rendered. Our Authorized Version has, "Do ye look on things after the outward appearance?" That is, "Are you really imposed upon by the pretensions of these men, by their national and carnal distinctions, as if these had anything to do with the Gospel?" This is a good Pauline idea, but it is doubtful whether τα κατα προσωπον can yield it. The natural sense of these words is, "What is before your face." The Revised Version accordingly renders, "Ye look at the things that are before your face": meaning, apparently, "You allow yourselves to be carried away by whatever is nearest to you-at present, by these interloping Jews, and the claims they flaunt before your eyes." It seems to me more natural, with many good scholars, to take βλεπετε, in spite its unemphatic position, as imperative: "Look at the things which are before your faces! The most obvious and palpable facts discredit these Judaists and accredit me. A claim to be Christ’s is not to be made out a priori by any carnal prerogatives, or any human recommendations; it is only made out by this-that Christ Himself attests it by giving him who makes it success as an evangelist. Look at what confronts you! There is not a single Christian thing you see which is not Christ’s own testimony that I am His; unless you are senseless and blind, my position and authority as an apostle can never be impugned among you." The argument is thus the same as that which he uses in 2 Corinthians 3:1-3, and in the First Epistle, 2 Corinthians 9:2.

At first Paul asserts only a bare equivalence to his Jewish opponent: "Let him consider this with himself, that, even as he is Christ’s, so also are we." The historical, outward connection with Christ, whatever it may have been, amounted in this relation to exactly nothing at all. Not what Christ was, but what He is, is the life and reality of the Christian religion. Not an accidental acquaintance with Him as He lived in Galilee or Jerusalem, but a spiritual fellowship with Him as He reigns in the heavenly places, makes a Christian. Not a letter written by human hands-though they should be the hands of Peter or James or John-legitimates a man in the apostolic career; but only the sovereign voice which says, "He is a chosen vessel unto Me, to bear My Name." Neither as Christian nor as apostle can one establish a monopoly by making his appeal to "the flesh." The application of this Christian truth has constantly to be made anew, for human nature loves a monopoly; it does not seem really to have a thing, unless its possession of it is exclusive. We are all too ready to unchurch, or unchristianise, others; to say, "We are Christ’s," with an emphasis which means that others are not. Churches with a strong organization are especially tempted to this unchristian narrowness and pride. Their members think almost instinctively of other Christians as outsiders and inferiors; they would like to take them in, to reordain their ministers, to reform their constitution, to give validity to their sacraments-in one word, to legitimate them as Christians and as Christian societies. All this is mere unintelligence and arrogance. Legitimacy is a convenient and respectable political fiction; but to make the constitution of any Christian body, which has developed under the pressure of historical exigencies, the law for the legitimation of Christian life, ministry, and worship everywhere, is to deny the essential character of the Christian religion. It is to play toward men whom Christ has legitimated by His Spirit, and by His blessing on their work, precisely the part which the Judaisers played toward Paul; and to compromise with it is to betray Christ, and to renounce the freedom of the Spirit.

But the Apostle does not stop short with claiming a bare equality with his rivals. "For though I should boast somewhat more abundantly concerning our authority I shall not be put to shame"-i.e., "The facts I have invited you to look at will bear me out." The key to this passage is to be found in 1 Corinthians 15:15, where he boasts that, though the least of the apostles, and not worthy to be called an apostle, he had, through the grace of God given to him, labored more abundantly than all the rest. If it came to comparison, then, of the attestation which Christ gave to their several labors, and so to their authority, by success in evangelizing, it would not be Paul who would have to hide his head. But he does not choose to boast any more of his authority at this point. He has no desire to clothe himself in terrors; on the contrary, he wishes to avoid the very appearance of scaring them out of their wits by his letters. {for ἐκφοβεῖν compare Mark 9:6; Hebrews 12:21} His authority has been given him, not for the pulling down, but for the building up, of the Church; it is not lordly, [2 Corinthians 1:24] but ministerial; and he would wish, not only to show it in kindly service, but also in a kindly aspect. "Not for casting down," in 2 Corinthians 10:8, is no contradiction of "mighty for casting down" in 2 Corinthians 10:4 : the object in the two cases is quite different. Many things in man must be cast down-many high thoughts, much pride, much willfulness, much presumption and self-sufficiency-but the casting down of these is the building up of souls.

At this point comes what is logically a parenthesis, and we hear in it the criticisms passed at Corinth on Paul, and his own reply to them. "His letters," they say (or, he says), "are weighty and strong; but his bodily presence weak, and his speech of no account." The last part of this criticism has been much misunderstood; it is really of moral import, but has been read in a physical sense. It does not say anything at all about the Apostle’s physique, or about his eloquence or want of eloquence; it tells us that (according to these critics), when he was actually present at Corinth, he was somehow or other ineffective; and when he spoke there, people simply disregarded him. An uncertain tradition no doubt represents Paul as an infirm and meager person, and it is easy to believe that to Greeks he must sometimes have seemed embarrassed and incoherent in speech to the last degree (what, for instance, could have seemed more formless to a Greek than vv. 12-18 of this chapter?) [2 Corinthians 10:12-18]: nevertheless, it is nothing like this which is in view here. The criticism is not of his physique, nor of his style, but of his personality-what is described is not his appearance nor his eloquence, but the effect which the man produced when he went to Corinth and spoke. It was nothing. As a man, bodily present, he could get nothing done: he talked, and nobody listened. It is implied that this criticism is false; and Paul bids any one who makes it consider that what he is in word by letters when he is absent, that he will also be in deed when he is present. The double role of potent pamphleteer and ineffective pastor is not for him.

The kind of criticism which was here passed on St. Paul is one to which every preacher is obnoxious. An epistle is, so to speak, the man’s words without the man; and such is human weakness, that they are often stronger than the man speaking in bodily presence, that is, than the man and his words together. The character of the speaker, as it were, discounts all he says; and when he is there, and delivers his message in person, the message itself suffers an immense depreciation. This ought not so to be, and with a man who cultivates sincerity will not so be. He will be, himself, as good as his words; his effectiveness will be the same whether he writes or speaks. Nothing ultimately counts in the work of a Christian minister but what he can say and do and get done when in direct contact with living men. In many cases the modern sermon really answers to the epistle as it is referred to in this sarcastic comment; in the pulpit, people say, the minister is impressive and memorable; but in the ordinary intercourse of life, and even in the pastoral relation, where he has to meet people on an equal footing, his power quite disappears. He is an ineffective person, and his words have no weight. Where this is true, there is something very far wrong; and though it was not true in the case of Paul, there are cases in which it is. To bring the pastoral up to the level of the pulpit work-the care of individual souls and characters to the intensity and earnestness of study and preaching-would be the saving of many a minister and many a congregation.

But to return to the text. The Apostle is disinclined to pursue this line further: in defending himself against these obscure detractors, he can hardly avoid the appearance of self-commendation, which of all things he abhors. An acute observer has remarked that when war lasts long the opposing combatants borrow each other’s weapons and tactics: and it was this uninviting weapon that the policy of his opponents laid to the Apostle’s hand. With ironical recognition of their hardihood, he declines it: "We are not bold-have not the courage-to number ourselves among, or compare ourselves with, certain of them that commend themselves" - i.e., the Judaists who had introduced themselves to the Church. "Far be it from me," says the Apostle grimly, "to claim a place among, or near, such a distinguished company." But he is too much in earnest to prolong the ironical strain, and in the verses which follow, from 12 to 16 [2 Corinthians 10:12-16], he states in good set terms the differences between himself and them.

(1) They measure themselves by themselves, and compare themselves among themselves, and in so doing are without understanding. They constitute a religious coterie, a sort of clique or ring in the Church, ignoring all but themselves, making themselves the only standard of what is Christian, and betraying, by that very proceeding, their want of sense. There is a fine liberality about this sharp saying, and it is as necessary now as in the first century. Men coalesce, within the limits of the Christian community, from affinities of various kinds-sympathy for a type or an aspect of doctrine, or liking for a form of polity; and as it is easy, so is it common, for those who have drifted like to like, to set up their own associations and preferences as the only law and model for all. They take the air of superior persons, and the penalty of the superior person is to be unintelligent. They are without understanding. The standard of the coterie - be it "evangelical," "high church," "broad church." or what you please-is not the standard of God: and to measure all things by it is not only sinful, but stupid. In contrast to this Judaistic clique, who saw no Christianity except under their own colors, Paul’s standard is to be found in the actual working of God through the Gospel. He would have said with Ignatius, only with a deeper insight into every word, "Where Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church."

(2) Another point of difference is this: Paul works independently as an evangelist; it has always been his rule to break new ground. God has assigned him a province to labor in, large enough to gratify the highest ambition: he is not going beyond it, nor exaggerating his authority, when he asserts his apostolic dignity in Corinth: the Corinthians know as well as he that he came all the way to them, and was the first to come, ministering the Gospel of Christ. Nay, it is only the weakness of their faith that keeps him from going farther: and he has hope that as their faith grows it will set him free to carry the Gospel beyond them to Italy and Spain; this would be the crown of his greatness as an evangelist, and it depends on them ( ἐν ὑμῖν μεγαλυνθῆναι) whether he is to win it; in any case, the winning of it would be in harmony with his vocation, the carrying of it out in glorious fullness ( κατὰ τὸν κανόνα εἰς περισσείαν); for, like John Wesley, he could say the whole world was his parish. If he boasts at all, it is not immeasurably; it is on the basis of the gift and calling of God, within the limits of what God has wrought by him and by no other; he never intrudes into another’s province and boasts of what he finds done to his hand. But this was what the Jews did. They did not propagate the Gospel with apostolic enthusiasm among the heathen; they waited till Paul had done the hard preliminary work, and formed Christian congregations everywhere, and then they slunk into them-in Galatia, in Macedonia, in Achaia-talking as if these Churches were their work, disparaging their real father in Christ, and claiming to complete and legitimate-which meant, in effect, to subvert-his work. No wonder Paul was scornful, and did not venture to put himself in a line with such heroes.

Two feelings are compounded all through this passage: an intense sympathy with the purpose of God that the Gospel should be preached to every creature-Paul’s very soul melts into that; and an intense scorn for the spirit that sneaks and poaches on another’s ground, and is more anxious that some men should be good sectarians than that all men should be good disciples. This evil spirit Paul loathes, just as Christ loathed it; the temper of these verses is that in which the Master cried, "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he is become so, ye make him twofold more a son of hell than yourselves." Of course the evil spirit must always be disguised, both from others and from itself: the proselytizer assumes the garb of the evangelist; but the proselytizer turned evangelist is the purest example in the world of Satan disguised as an angel of light. The show is divine, but the reality is diabolical. It does not matter what the special sectarianism is: the proselyting of a hierarchical Church, and the proselytizing of the Plymouth Brethren, are alike dishonorable and alike condemned. And the safeguard of the soul against this base spirit is an interest like Paul’s in the Christianizing of those who do not know Christ at all. Why should churches compete? why should their agencies overlap? why should they steal from each other’s folds? why should they be anxious to seal all believers with their private seal, when the whole world lies in wickedness? That field is large enough for all the efforts of all evangelists, and till it has been sown with the good seed from end to end there can be nothing but reprobation for those who trespass on the province of others, and boast that they have made their own what they certainly did not make Christ’s.

At the close, to borrow Bengel’s expression, Paul sounds a retreat. He has liberated his mind about his adversaries-always a more or less dangerous process; and after the excitement and self-assertion are over, he composes it again in the presence of God. He checks himself, we feel, with that Old Testament word, "Now he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. I have always broken new ground; I have come as far as you, and wish to go farther, evangelizing; I never have boasted of another man’s labors as if they were mine, or claimed the credit of what he had done; but all this is mine only as God’s gift. It is His grace bestowed on me, and not in vain. I would not boast except in Him; for not he who commends himself is approved, but only he whom the Lord commends." No character which is only self-certified can stand the test: no claim, to apostolic dignity and authority can be maintained which the Lord does not attest by granting apostolic success.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 10:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/2-corinthians-10.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, December 16th, 2019
the Third Week of Advent
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