Paul’s Defense of His Ministry, 1-18
2 Cor 10:1 By the meekness and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you-I, Paul, who am “timid” when face to face with you, but “bold” when away!
This opens a new section in 2 Cor, in which Paul answers the criticisms of the new ministers and their supporters in the Corinthian church. The fervour which which he does so shows the seriousness of the situation, and that his relationship with the church at Corinth, and indeed, the very life of that church, were at stake.
Some scholars have thought that chapters 10-13 constitute a separate letter in the Corinthian correspondence.
By the meekness and gentleness of Christ – not so much a note of exasperation, so much as of a deep concern that the spirit and example of Christ should govern all their dealings, not least when the situation requires some firmness. On our Lord’s teaching and example, see Mt 5:5 11:29. Paul draws on this example again in Phil 2:5ff; cf 4:5. But note that Christ’s meekness is compatible with great sternness, Jn 2:14 Mt 23. So Paul, too, mixes Christ-like meekness and gentleness with sternness in refuting the propaganda of the false teachers. He will do so again, not long afterwards, in writing to the Galatians, Gal 1:6 ff, w 5:22-23; 6:1ff.
I appeal to you – there is both authority and gentleness in this appeal.
2 Cor 10:2 I beg you that when I come I may not have to be as bold as I expect to be toward some people who think that we live by the standards of this world.
2 Cor 10:3 For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.
Notice how Paul explains his ministry in vv3-5. Summarising Paul’s teaching in this in the Corinthian correspondence, Peter Adam says, ‘He does this not so much by setting examples of techniques of preaching but by explaining the nature, authority and truth of his gospel and the style of his ministry, and the suffering that results from his gospel aims.’ (Speaking God’s Words, 82)
2 Cor 10:4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.
The weapons we fight with – These have been specified in 2 Cor 6:6,7. See also Eph 6:13 1 Thess 5:8.
‘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 men. 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.’ (Barnes)
The Corinthians seriously underestimated human resistance to and rebellion against God, something that Paul refers to here as ‘strongholds’ – powerfully guarded fortresses, highly resistant to attack from outside. Yet Paul’s weapons, far from being ‘worldly’, v3, posses divine power to overthrow these fortresses, v4, and the arguments and pretensions they equip themselves with, v5. These weapons are used, v5 to ‘take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.’ Here is the battle for the mind!
Paul’s estimate of the power of unbelief is a realistic one. Only the right weapons, correctly used, can subdue such a proud and resistant rebel. These weapons are the words of God. And let us understand that all preaching is futile which does not strenuously seek to bring the Lordship of Christ and his saving power into clear focus.
‘In the war in which Paul was engaged, his confidence was not in himself, not in human reason, not in the power of argument or eloquence, not in the resources of cunning or management, but simply and only in the supernatural power of God.’ (Hodge)
Strongholds – ‘The word here rendered “strongholds” (ochuroma) 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 six thousand 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.’ (Barnes)
‘The opposers of the gospel felt that they were so entrenched, so protected by the fortresses which they occupied, that they despised the ministers of Christ and derided their efforts. What these strong-holds were the apostle tells us in what follows.’ (Hodge)
‘The ministers of Christ come to destroy Satan’s kingdom, therefore the old serpent will spit all his venom at them. If we tread upon the devil’s head, he will bite us by the heel. The devil sets up several forts and garrisons in men’s hearts – pride, ignorance, unbelief. Now the weapons of the ministry beat down these strongholds. (2 Cor 10:4) Therefore Satan raises his militia, all the force and power of hell against the ministry. The kingdom of Satan is a ‘kingdom of darkness’, (Ac 26:18 Rev 16:10) and God’s ministers are called the ‘light of the world’. (Mt 5:14) They come to enlighten those that sit in darkness. This enrages Satan. Therefore he labours to eclipse the lights, to pull down the stars, that his kingdom of darkness may prevail. The devil is called a lion. (1 Pet 5:8) The souls of people are the lion’s prey. The ministers’ work is to take away this prey from this lion. Therefore how will he roar upon them, and seek to destroy them!’ (Watson, The Beatitudes)
‘Jesus Christ discovered truth powerfully, speaking “as one having authority, and not as the Pharisees,” Mt 7:29. They were cold and dull preachers, their words did even freeze betwixt their lips; but Christ spake with power; there was heat as well as light in his doctrine: and so there is still, though it be in the mouth of poor contemptible men, 2 Cor 10:4 “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God, to the casting down of strongholds: it is still quick and powerful, sharper than a two edged sword; and piercing, to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow,” Heb 4:12. The blessed apostle imitated Christ; and being filled with his spirit, spake home and freely to the hearts of men. So many words, so many claps of thunder, (as ones said of him) which made the hearts of sinners shake and tremble in their breasts. All faithful and able ministers are not alike gifted in this particular; but, surely, there is a holy seriousness and spiritual grace and majesty in their doctrine, commanding reverence from their hearers.’ (Flavel, The Fountain of Life)
2 Cor 10:5 we demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
The knowledge of God – ‘According to Paul, the norm for all knowledge of God is the knowledge of God in Jesus Christ. (cf. 2 Cor 10:5; Php 3:10; Col 2:2f) In Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory and the image of the invisible God, God has become fully known for the spiritual purposes of the human race; and, consequently, any proposed philosophical knowledge of God cannot be considered to compete with the knowledge of God in Jesus Christ. Thus on Mars’ Hill Paul accuses the audience, which included Stoics and Epicureans, of ignorance; and he sets out the true knowledge of God as that known by creation (Ac 17:24) and Jesus Christ (17:31). In 1 Cor 1:20-22 he claims that the wise men of Greece have produced theological foolishness, for in their proposed wisdom they failed to know God (note Paul does not speak of the existence of God, but of the knowledge of God). In 1 Cor 2:1-6 Paul emphatically declares that Christian faith does not rest upon the methodology followed by the philosophers. Christianity does not rest upon “lofty words or wisdom,” nor upon “plausible words of wisdom,” nor upon the “wisdom of men.”‘ (Ramm, ISBE, art. ‘Apologetics, Biblical’)
‘The scripture expresseth the work of conversion by a threefold metaphor, viz. That of a resurrection from the dead, Rom 4:4. That of creation Eph 2:10. And That of victory or conquest, 2 Cor 10:4,5. All these set forth the infinite power of God in this work; for no less than Almighty Power is required to each of them, and if you strictly examine the distinct notions, you shall find the power of God more and more illustriously displayed in each of them. To raise the dead, is the effect of Almighty Power; but then the resurrection supposeth pre-existent matter. In the work of creation, there is no pre-existent matter; but then there is no opposition: That which is not, rebels not against the power which gives it being. But victory and conquest suppose opposition, all the power of corrupt nature arming itself, and fighting against God: but yet not able to frustrate his design. Let the soul whom the Father draws, struggle and reluctate as much as it can, it shall come, yea, and come willingly too, when the drawing power of God is upon it. O the self-conflicts, the contrary resolves, with which the soul finds itself distracted, and rent asunder! The hopes and fears; the encouragements and discouragements; they will, and they will not: but victorious grace conquers all opposition at last. We find an excellent example of this in blessed Augustin, who speaks of this very work; the drawing of his soul to Christ, and how he felt in that day two wills in himself, “one old, the other new; one carnal, the other spiritual; and how in these their contrary motions and conflicts, he was torn asunder in his own thoughts and resolutions, suffering that unwillingly which he did willingly.” And certainly, if we consider how deep the soul is rooted by natural inclination, and long continued custom in sin, how extremely averse it is to the ways of strict godliness and mortification; how Satan, that invidious enemy, that strong man armed, fortifies the soul to defend his possession against Christ, and entrenches himself in the understanding, will, and affections, by deep-rooted prejudices against Christ and holiness, it is a wonder of wonders to see a soul quitting all its beloved lusts, and fleshly interests and endearments, and coming willingly under Christ’s yoke.’ (Flavel, The Method of Grace)
2 Cor 10:6 And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete.
Moffatt continues the military imagery of the preceding verses: ‘I am prepared to court-martial anyone who remains insubordinate, once your submission is complete.’
Paul has faith in the ultimate submission of the majority to his authority and to the truth of the gospel. Those, however, who remain disobedient in these areas will no longer be counted among their number, cf 1 Jn 2:18-19.
2 Cor 10:7 you are looking only on the surface of things. If anyone is confident that he belongs to Christ, he should consider again that we belong to Christ just as much as he.
You are looking only on the surface of things – RSV treats this as an imperative: ‘Look at what is before your eyes,’ ie, ‘Look at what is patently obvious.’ Such is how the verb ‘blepete’ is used elsewhere in Paul’s letters.
2 Cor 10:8 For even if I boast somewhat freely about the authority the Lord gave us for building you up rather than pulling you down, I will not be ashamed of it.
The authority the Lord gave us – ‘The apostles were agents of God’s revelation of the truths that would become the Christian rule of faith and life. As such, and through Christ’s appointment of them as his authorized representatives, (2 Cor 10:8 13:10) the apostles exercised a unique and functional authority in the infant church. There are no apostles today, though some Christians fulfill ministries that are in particular ways apostolic in style. No new canonical revelation is currently being given; apostolic teaching authority resides in the canonical Scriptures, of which the apostles’ own writings are the core and the key. The absence of new revelation does not, however, put the contemporary church at any disadvantage compared with the church of apostolic days, for the Holy Spirit interprets and applies these Scriptures to God’s people continually.’ (Concise Theology)
2 Cor 10:9 I do not want to seem to be trying to frighten you with my letters.
2 Cor 10:10 For some say, “His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing.”
‘Following Paul’s denunciation of contemporary rhetoric in preaching for theological reasons. (1 Cor 1:17-2:5) See JEM “1 Cor 1:17” his rhetorically minded opponents made a stinging critique of his oratorical abilities or lack of them. (2 Cor 10:10) While conceding his letters were “weighty and strong” in rhetorical presentation, they said he failed as a public orator because he lacked “presence,” that is, a beautiful body and a pleasant-sounding voice with appropriate gestures to match. His physical appearance was weak (tradition says he had crooked legs, a long nose and eyebrows which met, Acts of Paul and Thekla) and his voice lacked timbre. (2 Cor 10:10 11:6) Not preaching like a public orator, he called himself a “layperson” (i.e., a person trained in oratory but not making use of it). However, as the Corinthians well knew from his letters, he could use rhetoric with devastating effect (e.g., his skillful use of the device of the covert allusion in 1 Cor 4:6-13).’ (DPL)
2 Cor 10:11 Such people should realize that what we are in our letters when we are absent, we will be in our actions when we are present.
2 Cor 10:12 we do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.
2 Cor 10:12-18. Evidently, the visiting ‘apostles’ were making comparisons within their group and between themselves and Paul. They had travelled, it seems, from Palestine. Paul had been in the Aegean area for a number of years.
Paul responds, v13, by refering to the agreement made in Jerusalem some ten years earlier that James, Peter and John should labour amongst the Jews, while Paul and Barnabas would evangelise the Gentiles, Gal 2:7-9. He confines his boasting to this territory. His opponents, on the other hand, have gone too far in their boasting, v14, for they boast of work undertaken by others, ie Paul, in territory not their own, ie Gentile territory.
In any case, says Paul, such comparisons are futile, v13, and self-commendation is pointless, v18, for it is only the Lord’s approval that counts. Self-commendation comes in the form of letters of recommendation, 3:1-3, appeal to ecstatic gifts, 5:11-13, or missionary zeal, 10:12-18. ‘Those modern ministers who seek proof of their true ministry in the miraculous and the extraordinary are really Paul’s opponents, not Paul’ (Barnett).
2 Cor 10:13 We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the field God has assigned to us, a field that reaches even to you.
2 Cor 10:14 We are not going too far in our boasting, as would be the case if we had not come to you, for we did get as far as you with the gospel of Christ.
2 Cor 10:15 Neither do we go beyond our limits by boasting of work done by others. Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our area of activity among you will greatly expand,
2 Cor 10:16 so that we can preach the gospel in the regions beyond you. For we do not want to boast about work already done in another man’s territory.
2 Cor 10:17 But, “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”
The quotation is from Jer 9:24.
2 Cor 10:18 For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.