A. Does Paul walk according to the flesh?
1. (1) Paul pleads with the Corinthians.
Now I, Paul, myself am pleading with you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—who in presence am lowly among you, but being absent am bold toward you.
a. Now I, Paul, myself am pleading with you: Paul introduces this chapter with a change of tone. Some have even thought that 2 Corinthians 10 through 13 really make up a different letter that was added to the end of 2 Corinthians 1 through 9. This isn’t likely, but it does show that Paul is changing gears as he ends the letter.
i. “Having now finished his directions and advices relative to the collection for the poor, he resumes his argument relative to the false apostle, who had gained considerable influence by representing St. Paul as despicable in his person, his ministry, and his influence.” (Clarke)
b. Pleading with you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ: In these next few chapters, Paul will get a little “rough” with the Corinthian Christians. Yet he does it all in the meekness and gentleness of Christ.
c. Who in presence am lowly among you, but being absent am bold toward you: Here, Paul reveals a matter of great contention between him and the Corinthian Christians. They said that Paul seemed reserved in person but very bold in his letters.
i. The Corinthians criticized Paul as if he were a dog that barked loudly, but only at a distance. They accused him of backing down in any face-to-face confrontation.
d. Who in presence am lowly among you, but being absent am bold toward you: How can the same person be in presence lowly and bold toward you at other times? Isn’t this contradictory? It isn’t a contradiction at all. Those who can’t see that boldness and lowliness can be found in the same person don’t know the life of Jesus very well.
2. (2) Paul hopes that the Corinthians will change their attitude towards him and his credentials as an apostle so that he may come to them in gentleness, not severity.
But I beg you that when I am present I may not be bold with that confidence by which I intend to be bold against some, who think of us as if we walked according to the flesh.
a. I intend to be bold against some: Some reminds us that we shouldn’t think that all the Corinthian Christians had a bad opinion of Paul. It may have been merely a vocal minority.
b. Who think of us as if walked according to the flesh: This is another aspect of the accusations made against Paul by some of the Corinthian Christians. They said he was a man who walked according to the flesh.
i. He is accused of this because of the perceived contradiction between his gentleness and his severity.
c. In the following section, Paul will defend his apostolic authority. It is important to see how vital Paul’s sense of apostolic authority was to him. Today, the idea of apostolic authority is cheapened by many of those who claim to be “apostles.”
3. (3-6) Does Paul minister according to the flesh?
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled.
a. For though we walk in the flesh: Paul will admit that he walks according to the flesh in the sense that we all do. He is a flesh and blood human being, and he struggles with the same things the Corinthian Christians struggled with. However, Paul wants to make it clear that he does not war according to the flesh.
b. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal: When Paul fought, his weapons were not material but spiritual, suited for spiritual war.
i. The carnal weapons Paul refuses were not material weapons such as swords and spears. The carnal weapons he renounced were the manipulative and deceitful ways his opponents used. Paul would not defend his apostolic credentials with carnal weapons others used.
ii. In Ephesians 6, Paul lists the spiritual weapons he used: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the gospel, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit. To rely on these weapons took faith in God instead of carnal methods. But truly, these weapons are mighty in God for pulling down strongholds.
iii. The Corinthian Christians tended to rely on and admire carnal weapons for the Christian battle:
· Instead of the belt of truth, they fought with manipulation.
· Instead of the breastplate of righteousness, they fought with the image of success.
· Instead of the shoes of the gospel, they fought with smooth words.
· Instead of the shield of faith, they fought with the perception of power.
· Instead of the helmet of salvation, they fought with lording over authority.
· Instead of the sword of the Spirit, they fought with human schemes and programs.
iv. Jesus relied on spiritual weapons when He fought for our salvation. Philippians 2:6-8 describes this: who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. This kind of victory through humble obedience offended the Corinthian Christians because it seemed so “weak.” The carnal, human way is to overpower, dominate, manipulate, and out-maneuver. The spiritual, Jesus way is to humble yourself, die to yourself, and let God show His resurrection power through you.
v. “Apart from a mighty awakening and revival in the church, we are fighting a losing battle because we are resisting on carnal levels.” (Redpath)
vi. Our spiritual weapons are scorned by the world but feared by demonic powers. When we fight with true spiritual weapons, then no principality or power can stand against us. “As the spittle that comes out of a man’s mouth slayeth serpents, so doth that which proceedeth out of the mouths of God’s faithful ministers quell and kill evil imaginations, carnal reasonings, which are the legion of domestic devils, that hold near intelligence with the old serpent.” (John Trapp)
c. Pulling down strongholds: Strongholds in this context are wrong thoughts and perceptions, contradicting the true knowledge of God and the nature of God. These strongholds are expressed in arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God.
i. This reliance on carnal methods and the habit of carnal thinking is a true stronghold. It stubbornly sets down deep roots in the heart and mind, and it colors all of our actions and thinking. It is hard to let go of the thinking that values the things and ways of this world, but God’s power really can break down these strongholds.
ii. In Paul’s native land of Cilicia, some fifty years before he was born, Roman armies destroyed many rocky fortresses to defeat the pirates who had taken refuge in those strongholds. Perhaps Paul saw the ruins and thought of the battle needed to conquer those fortresses.
iii. Redpath writes of a practical way to battle with spiritual weapons and break down a stronghold: “When the thought comes and the person is reported to have said what he has said, and the unkindness has been passed over to us, and the criticism has been made, whereas carnality would say, ‘Counterattack!’ spirituality recognizes that nothing that any person could ever say about any one is really one hundredth part as bad as the truth if he only knew it. Therefore, we have no reason to counterattack, but one good reason to submit and to forget.”
iv. Praise God, strongholds can be pulled down! Clarke recounts with wonder one stronghold pulled down in history: “In like manner the doctrines of the reformation, mighty through God, pulled down – demolished and brought into captivity, the whole papal system; and instead of obedience to the pope, the pretended vicar of God upon the earth, obedience to Christ, as the sole almighty Head of the Church, was established, particularly in Great Britain, where it continues to prevail. Hallelujah! The Lord God Omnipotent reigneth!” (Adam Clarke)
d. Arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God: Carnal and worldly ways of thinking and doing are arguments against the mind and methods of God. They want to debate God, saying they have a better way. They exalt themselves against the knowledge of God. They think of themselves as smarter, more sophisticated, more effective, more powerful than God’s ways. Carnal, worldly minds think they know more than God does!
i. We must remind ourselves that Paul speaks to carnal, worldly thinking among Christians. He isn’t talking about the world here but the Corinthian Christians. They were the ones with the strongholds in their minds and hearts. They made the arguments against God’s mind and methods. They held on to every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God. We miss it entirely if we think the love of manipulation, the image of success, smooth words, the perception of power, lording over authority, and human schemes and programs are just problems among unbelievers. Paul dealt with this heart and mind in the church.
ii. “For nothing is more opposed to the spiritual wisdom of God than the wisdom of the flesh, and nothing more opposed to His grace than man’s natural ability.” (Calvin)
e. Bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ: To battle against this carnal way of thinking and doing, our thoughts must be brought captive and made obedient to Jesus.
i. When we start to think in this carnal way, we must stop our thoughts, take dominion over them in Jesus, and not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. (Romans 12:2)
ii. Paul’s first application is towards the carnal, worldly thinking of the Corinthian Christians that made them despise Paul and his “weakness,” doubting his apostolic credentials. But Paul’s principle has a much broader application. We are not helpless victims or recipients of our thoughts. We can choose to stop our thoughts and bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. Thoughts of lust, thoughts of anger, thoughts of fear, thoughts of greed, bitter thoughts, evil thoughts – they are part of every thought that may be and must be brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.
iii. Someone might object: “I don’t want my thoughts to be captive to anyone. I don’t want my thoughts to be captive to Jesus. I want my thoughts to be free.” This is wrong on at least two points. First, you belong to someone, and ultimately we either serve Jesus or Satan. Second, if you are a Christian, you are a purchased possession of Jesus Christ. You belong to Him. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 puts it this way: Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.
f. And being ready to punish all disobedience: Paul was ready to confront the Corinthian Christians and to pull down the strongholds among them if they would not do it themselves.
i. Many commentators think the phrase to punish all disobedience is taken from the Roman military court. Paul says, “We are all soldiers together in this battle, and I am ready to bring in some discipline among these troops.”
ii. When your obedience is fulfilled: Paul sees no point in coming to confront disobedience until those who have obeyed Jesus have made up their mind to do so. He will give time for those who want to renounce carnal weapons to do so. Then he will come to punish the disobedience of those who will not renounce those carnal weapons.
iii. “Herein the apostle hath set a rule and a pattern to all churches, where are multitudes that walk disorderly; not to be too hasty in excommunicating them, but to proceed gradually; first using all fair means, and waiting with all patience, for the reducing them to their duty, who will by any gentle and fair means be reduced; and then revenging the honour and glory of God only upon such as will not be reclaimed.” (Poole)
4. (7) The Corinthian Christians had a carnal reliance on outward appearances.
Do you look at things according to the outward appearance? If anyone is convinced in himself that he is Christ’s, let him again consider this in himself, that just as he is Christ’s, even so we are Christ’s.
a. Do you look at things according to the outward appearance? Paul diagnoses the problem with the Corinthian troublemakers. They are looking only at the outward appearances, and by outward appearances, Paul was weak and unimpressive.
i. By outward appearance, it seems Paul was indeed unimpressive. This is a description of Paul from an early Christian writing, perhaps from about the year 200: “A man of small stature, with a bald head and crooked legs, in a good state of body, with eyebrows meeting and nose somewhat hooked.” (Cited in Kruse) If this description of Paul is even remotely correct, he had nothing like magnetic good looks.
ii. “Since Paul excelled in none of those endowments which ordinarily win praise or reputation among the children of this world, he was despised as one of the common herd.” (Calvin)
iii. But they knew Paul only on an outward, surface level. The people who criticized Paul and said that there were “two Pauls” – one reflected in his letters and one evident in person – really didn’t know Paul except on a surface level.
b. Just as he is Christ’s, so we are Christ’s: Paul is saying, “If you claim to belong to Jesus, look at yourself. You may not be mighty in outward appearance, yet you belong to Jesus. Well, so we are Christ’s as well.”
i. None of us want to be judged on mere outward appearance. We often want people to see our heart. Yet the Corinthian Christians would not grant to Paul what they wanted for themselves.
ii. Paul doesn’t say that it is wrong to test an apostle’s credentials but that the Corinthians used the wrong test. They judged only by outward appearance.
5. (8-11) Paul’s view of his authority as an apostle.
For even if I should boast somewhat more about our authority, which the Lord gave us for edification and not for your destruction, I shall not be ashamed; lest I seem to terrify you by letters. “For his letters,” they say, “are weighty and powerful, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.” Let such a person consider this, that what we are in word by letters when we are absent, such we will also be in deed when we are present.
a. Even if I should boast somewhat more: It seems that Paul is uncomfortable writing about his own authority. This is because he is a humble, godly man. He uses boast here in an exaggerated, almost sarcastic sense to show he would prefer not to talk about his own authority; it feels like “boasting” to him. Paul realizes how much better it would be if the Corinthian Christians would just recognize his authority so that he wouldn’t have to boast somewhat more about it.
b. Which the Lord gave us for edification and not for your destruction: Paul recognizes that Jesus grants authority in the church for one reason. He does it to build the body of believers up (edification), not to tear it down (destruction).
i. This is true of every level of authority God has granted. In the church, in the home, in the workplace, and in government, God has established levels of authority and submission. He did this to build up, not to destroy.
c. Lest I seem to terrify you by letters. “For his letters,” they say, “are weighty and powerful, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.” Paul’s despisers among the Corinthian Christians felt they had “evidence” against him. The “evidence” was that Paul seemed to be tough in his letters but weak and unimpressive in person. So they used this as “evidence” to despise him as weak and two-faced.
i. Their great mistake was in relying only on outward appearance. Paul’s despisers said, “his bodily presence is weak,” only looking at his appearance. They also said of Paul, “his speech [is] contemptible,” hearing only the style and presentation of his sermons, not the message itself.
ii. Paul’s humility and complete reliance on the power of God instead of the power of his own personality, coupled with his strong letters, were being used against him. They said Paul was like a dog that barks like crazy at a safe distance but is a coward when confronted face to face.
iii. From what we know of Paul’s ministry in the book of Acts, it seems hard to understand why anyone would say of him, “his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.” But Paul may have been quite ill during his time with the Corinthian Christians, and his condition may have made him appear this way.
iv. At the same time, whether Paul’s weakness in bodily presence and speaking ability was temporary or permanent, it didn’t bother Paul. He knew that when he was weak, it gave God’s power all the more opportunity to work.
d. Let such a person consider this: Paul writes to his despisers with perfect clarity. “If you want the ‘tough’ Paul, you will get him. I will come to you with all the authority I have shown in my letters.” If the Corinthian Christians knew how serious Paul was, they would have received this as a solemn warning.
i. The troublemakers among the Corinthian Christians probably wanted a consistently gentle Paul, whom they felt they could freely despise and push around. However, if they would not change, they would get a consistent Paul – but a consistently severe Paul.
B. Wrong and right measures of ministry.
1. (12) The wrong measure of ministry.
For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.
a. We dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves: Whoever Paul’s opponents and critics were among the Corinthian Christians, they certainly thought highly of themselves. Paul will not class or compare himself with these carnal, worldly people at all.
i. There are many who are ready to commend themselves; most do not do it publicly but do it privately in their own minds. “They are also full of pride and self-conceit; they look within themselves for accomplishments which their self-love will soon find out; for to it real and fictitious are the same.” (Clarke)
ii. “Oh, pray to be preserved from this perilous pinnacle of self-exaltation. Look into the perfect law of liberty, and draw nigh to God. The nearer we come to God, the more rottenness we find in our bones.” (Trapp)
b. Measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves: This explains why Paul’s carnal Corinthian critics could think so highly of themselves. In their worldly ways of thinking, they simply measured themselves by themselves and only compared themselves among themselves.
i. This means two things. First, it means making yourself the measure of others. Second, it means making others the measure of yourself.
ii. This was wrong for at least two reasons. First, there did not seem to be a lot of really spiritual people among the Corinthian Christians to give a good comparison to. How much of a compliment could it have been to be the most spiritual person among the Corinthians? Secondly, it was wrong because it only measured on a human scale, focused on outward appearance. When we let the Holy Spirit measure us through God’s Word, He measures us on God’s scale, and He looks at the heart.
iii. This needs to be communicated to pastors and church leaders today: Stop measuring yourself by yourselves. Stop comparing yourselves among yourselves. We should not make ourselves the measure of others, feeling we are superior to them if, by outward appearance, we are more successful. On the other side, we should not make others our measure, feeling we are failures if – by outward appearance – they are more successful.
c. Are not wise: This is a simple analysis of the Corinthian approach of measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves. It isn’t wise. It isn’t smart. It isn’t of God.
2. (13-16) The right measure of ministry.
We, however, will not boast beyond measure, but within the limits of the sphere which God appointed us; a sphere which especially includes you. For we are not overextending ourselves (as though our authority did not extend to you), for it was to you that we came with the gospel of Christ; not boasting of things beyond measure, that is, in other men’s labors, but having hope, that as your faith is increased, we shall be greatly enlarged by you in our sphere, to preach the gospel in the regions beyond you, and not to boast in another man’s sphere of accomplishment.
a. Within the limits of the sphere which God appointed us: Paul’s authority in the church was not unlimited. God had granted him a sphere of authority, and that sphere included the Corinthian Christians, especially since he had founded that church (for it was to you that we came with the gospel of Christ).
i. The idea of the limits of the sphere comes from the lanes that were allotted for runners in a race. The Corinthians would recognize this because they loved races and held the famous Isthmian Games in Corinth. Paul is saying, “I’m running in my own lane and not in someone else’s.”
ii. All godly authority has a sphere. It is important for the person in authority to not exercise that authority outside the sphere, and it is important for the person under authority to recognize the sphere of authority they are under.
b. As your faith is increased, we shall be greatly enlarged by you in our sphere: As the Corinthian Christians grew in maturity and in outreach, their church would grow and plant many other churches. This would, by extension, enlarge Paul’s sphere of authority.
c. In other men’s labors… not to boast in another man’s sphere of accomplishment: Why is Paul stressing the point that he has not, and will not, take authority in another man’s sphere? Probably because that is exactly what his opponents among the Corinthian Christians did. They tried to boast in Paul’s sphere of accomplishment.
i. Instead, Paul’s passion was to preach the gospel in the regions beyond. He was not interested in building on another man’s foundation, and did not want to horn in on someone else’s sphere of authority.
ii. “It is base, abominable, and deeply sinful, for a man to thrust himself into other men’s labours, and by sowing doubtful disputations among a Christian people, distract and divide them, that he may get a party to himself… This is an evil that has prevailed much in all ages of the Church; there is at present much of it in the Christian world, and Christianity is disgraced by it.” (Clarke)
3. (17-18) The importance of the Lord’s commendation.
But “he who glories, let him glory in the LORD.” For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends.
a. He who glories, let him glory in the LORD: By using this quotation from Jeremiah 9:24, Paul rebukes the Corinthian Christians who found their glory either in Paul or against Paul. Paul sweeps all that away, showing we should not glory in ourselves, in another, or against another – we should only glory in the LORD.
i. Perhaps Paul wanted to jog their minds to remember the context of his quotation from Jeremiah: Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, nor let the rich man glory in his riches; but let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight,” says the LORD. (Jeremiah 9:23-24) The Corinthian Christians were the types to glory in wisdom, in might, and in riches, instead of glorying in the LORD.
ii. The great thing about glorying in the LORD is that we can always do it. No one is so high that they cannot glory in the LORD. No one is so low that they cannot glory in the LORD. We can all glory in the LORD!
b. For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends: It doesn’t matter how you testify about your own accomplishments. It is what God says about us that matters and will endure.
i. Paul wanted the respect of the Corinthian Christians, but he wanted it for their sake, not his own. He knew they were hurting their own spiritual growth and maturity by rejecting him. But as for himself, Paul was satisfied with the approval that came from the Lord. This is the place where every Christian, and especially every person in ministry, must come to. It is a dangerous thing to commend one’s self or to approve one’s self.
ii. “In the Christian Church, indeed, self-commendation should be viewed with suspicion as a mark of disqualification.” (Hughes)
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission