2 Corinthians 10

Defense of Paul’s Apostolic Authority
2 Corinthians 10:1 – 13:6
Defense of Apostolic Authority. In the next few chapters, Paul vindicates his apostolic authority. As with the Galatians, the Corinthians were under the powerful influence of evil workers, who wanted to turn them from the truth, and separate them from the apostle Paul. The apostle did not want to speak about himself, but the Corinthians had made it necessary. He gives the most complete defense of his apostolic authority that we have in the New Testament, followed by the defense in Gal. 1-2. The difference between Galatia and Corinth was that there had been a turning with the Corinthians, while Paul still stood in doubt of the Galatians. Accordingly, Paul defends his apostleship at the beginning of Galatians, but saves it for the end in 2 Corinthians. Paul’s apostleship was different from the twelve in that it was not conferred to him by Christ on earth. Rather, Paul received his apostleship from a risen, glorified Christ. He could speak of himself as “an apostle, not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead” (Gal. 1:1). He stresses that he did not get his authority from Jerusalem, nor from the twelve, but directly from the ascended Christ. Therefore, in 2 Corinthians 10-13 we do not find Paul presenting the commendation of the twelve as the proof of his apostleship, although he certainly had their fellowship (Gal. 2:9), rather he presents the signs of a true apostle in patience, power, and knowledge. We can take a lesson from this, although there are not apostles today. Our ministry should get its moral weight from our character, not from man’s ordination.
– Defense of Paul’s Apostolic Authority 2 Corinthians 10:1 – 13:10
– Apostleship Established by Effectiveness in Ministry 2 Corinthians 10
– Power to Use the Scriptures to Effect Spiritual Change 2 Corinthians 10:1-6
– Power to Exercise Discipline In Spite of a Weak Appearance 2 Corinthians 10:7-11
– Power to Fulfill Present Duties and Open New Frontiers of Service 2 Corinthians 10:12-18
– Apostleship Established by Christian Conduct 2 Corinthians 11
– Always Directed their Hearts to Christ (a Husband) 2 Corinthians 11:1 – 12:6
– Never was a Financial Burden to the Corinthians 2 Corinthians 11:7-15
– He had Suffered for the Truth 2 Corinthians 11:16-33
– Apostleship Established by Supernatural Knowledge & Power 2 Corinthians 12
– He had been given Special Visions and Revelations 2 Corinthians 12:1-10
– He had Performed Signs and Wonders beyond Other Apostles 2 Corinthians 12:11-12
– Assurance that Paul Had Not and Would Not Be a Burden 2 Corinthians 12:13-19
– Fears Concerning the Corinthians’ State upon Arrival 2 Corinthians 12:20-21
– Apostleship Established by the Corinthians’ own Salvation 2 Corinthians 12:13 – 13:10
– Paul would be Unsparing of Evil upon Arrival 2 Corinthians 13:1-2
– Self-examination: The Final Proof of Paul’s Apostleship 2 Corinthians 13:3-5
– Paul’s Desires Concerning His Arrival 2 Corinthians 13:6-10
Apostleship Established by Effectiveness in Ministry
2 Corinthians 10

Power to Use the Scriptures to Effect Spiritual Change (10:1-6)

But I myself, Paul, entreat you by the meekness and gentleness of the Christ, who, as to appearance, when present am mean among you, but absent am bold towards you; 2 but I beseech that present I may not be bold with the confidence with which I think to be daring towards some who think of us as walking according to flesh. vv.1-2 Paul now gets very personal, “I myself, Paul”. What Paul takes up next is extremely personal and delicate. He begged the saints that he would not have to be “bold” when he was among them. In the past, whenever present with the Corinthians, Paul was able to conduct himself in a “mean” or quiet way. The name he took upon conversion was Paul, which means “Little”.1 Though he had great apostolic authority, and could have made that abundantly clear (e.g. Acts 13:9-12), he chose instead to take a less dominating role. He followed after the pattern of “the meekness and gentleness of Christ”. The Blessed Savior never used His divine power to enforce His authority. Christ had infinite authority and infinite power, but He chose to come among men with meekness and gentleness… although not weakness. When He returns again, the world will see Jesus in another character altogether. “A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth” (Isa. 42:3). But Paul had learned the meekness and gentleness of his Master, and sought to replicate that in his conduct. However, when absent from Corinth, Paul was bold in his letters. This gave occasion for the Judaizers to attack his character (2 Cor. 10:10). It can be a sign of the flesh when someone is bold from a distance but quiet in public. We see this with the internet today. The comments section on almost any topic descends into bold and caustic bickering. From the written comments you would think the person was very bold, but if you met them in person, you would often find them weak or cowardly in public. This is what Paul was being accused of; of having a heavy pen, but a light hand. However, the reason he was “bold” in letter and “not bold” in presence was that he desired their blessing, not because he was powerless. In fact, Paul had intentions to be “daring” towards the false brethren among them, who thought of the apostle as “walking according to flesh”; i.e. as trusting in human wisdom and human energy. Paul’s detractors accused him of being nothing more than a fleshly individual, using clever arguments and empty threats. When he arrived, Paul would deal with them boldly, but his desire was to be gentle among them.
3 For walking in flesh, we do not war according to flesh. 4 For the arms of our warfare are not fleshly, but powerful according to God to the overthrow of strongholds; vv.3-4 The Weapons. Like all people, Paul walked “in flesh”, in that he was a mere human like everyone else. But although he walked in the natural realm, he did not wage war “according to flesh”, in that he did not accomplish his goals through human energy and wisdom. By saying “the arms of our warfare are not fleshly” Paul is not merely saying that Christian warfare isn’t with physical weapons; e.g. swords, spears, arrows, etc. He is really saying that the means of Christian warfare are not fleshly. We don’t fight the way the world fights. The first epistle is full of examples of Paul’s warfare. To combat the issue of divisions formed around intellectual leaders in Corinth, Paul brought in the cross, and applied its moral significance to the first man. When dealing with the issue of fornication, Paul exposed that they were puffed up, and brought in Christ as our Passover, and the need to walk “unleavened”. When dealing with those who said the dead are not raised, Paul brings in the resurrection of Christ, and shows that the gospel is inextricably linked to resurrection. In everything, Paul, used the Word of God to get to the underlying spiritual issue. The proper weapons are “according to God”. Jesus did the same when tempted by the Devil. The Word of God and prayer are our weapons (Acts 6:4). When used in conflict, they are “powerful… to the overthrow of strongholds”. Strongholds are the deeper spiritual problems behind the outward symptoms. Jericho might be an example of a stronghold. If Paul had tried to deal with the problems in Corinth using clever arguments and great orations, that would have been like attacking a sword with a bigger sword. The strongholds would have remained.
5 overthrowing reasonings and every high thing that lifts itself up against the knowledge of God, and leading captive every thought into the obedience of the Christ; v.5 The Main Objective. Paul aimed to bring down every “reasoning”, “high thing”, and “thought” that exalted itself “against the knowledge of God”. These thoughts are entertained in the minds of men, and some are perhaps introduced by Satan and his emissaries (Eph. 6), and they contradict the Word of God. Paul sought to bring those thoughts into “the obedience of Christ”. This is something we must do for ourselves before we try to help others, as the apostle did. It is not so much obeying Christ, but having the same obedience that Christ had to His Father. He could say, “I do always those things that please him” (John 8:29). Jesus never had a thought that was lifted up against God in rebellion. He as man, though He was the Son of God, lived by the Word of God. He said when tempted, “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God” (Luke 4:4). We must learn “the lesson of not letting your thoughts go above what is written” (1 Cor. 4:6). Then, once we have learned it ourselves, God can use us to bring down the strongholds in the minds of others.
An Example. We have a nice example of this in David’s victory over Goliath. The warfare was primarily psychological and spiritual, consisting of threats and insults against the God of Israel. Goliath’s armor was greater than any “fleshly weapons” Israel had to offer. But David was willing to fight when all others were afraid. Saul tried to put his armor on David, but David refused it in favor of his shepherd’s tools, the “spiritual weapons”. He carried a staff (dependence or prayer), a bag of stones (Christ in the Word of God), and a sling (the power of the Spirit). We cannot fight the flesh with the flesh. Very simply, David slang a stone at the giant, and it sunk into his forehead… the place of thought. The Word of God simply applied in the power of the Spirit of God took down a giant, and won a mighty victory for Israel.
6 and having in readiness to avenge all disobedience when your obedience shall have been fulfilled. v.6 Paul wanted to turn as many as he could – the real believers – to the truth. But once that was done, he was ready to “avenge all disobedience”; i.e. to discipline the false teachers with apostolic judgment. The next section shows that Paul did indeed have the power to discipline those who refused to bow to the authority of Christ. The word “avenge” is not the same as “revenge”… this was not Paul using his power to retaliate against them. He would act for the glory of Christ.

Power to Exercise Discipline In Spite of a Weak Appearance (10:7-12)

7 Do ye look at what concerns appearance? If any one has confidence in himself that he is of Christ, let him think this again in himself, that even as he is of Christ, so also are we. v.7 Paul was really dealing with the most serious division in Corinth, the Christ-party. They were of Jewish background and had seen or touched Jesus on earth. They thought themselves a cut above the rest, saying “I of Christ” (1 Cor. 1:12). Paul completely sets aside their claims to a higher spirituality in 2 Cor. 5:16, showing that our relationship with Christ is in the new creation. Paul’s claim to Christ was far higher than theirs, because he was an apostle commissioned by the ascended Christ. They were looking at the outward appearance (man always does, 1 Sam. 16:7), and were making a false judgment. These detractors were making a false claim to apostolic authority, but it was all based on natural judgment. Paul’s connection to Christ was on another plane altogether, and above the natural realm.
8 For and if I should boast even somewhat more abundantly of our authority, which the Lord has given to us for building up and not for your overthrowing, I shall not be put to shame; 9 that I may not seem as if I was frightening you by letters: 10 because his letters, he says, are weighty and strong, but his presence in the body weak, and his speech naught. vv.8-10 Paul could certainly boast of the authority given to him, but he knew that it was given “for building up and not for your overthrowing”. He could have, for instance, elaborated on his power to smite Elymas the magician with blindness (Acts 13:9-12), or to deliver Hymenaeus and Alexander to Satan, that they might be taught by discipline not to blaspheme (1 Tim. 1:20). Not to mention the fact of the fornicator in their own midst being delivered unto Satan. But Paul’s intention wasn’t to frighten them by letter. That would only encourage his detractors, who accused him of being bold in letter, and weak in presence. 
11 Let such a one think this, that such as we are in word by letters when absent, such also present in deed. v.11 But for Paul’s detractors, they were duly warned that this time, when Paul arrived, he would carry himself toward them in the same boldness with which he wrote. Though he did not want to, he would use a rod if they compelled him.
12 For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves; but these, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves with themselves, are not intelligent. v.12 Paul and his companions would not “dare” to stoop down into the fleshly competition exhibited by his detractors. They were “measuring themselves by themselves”… a very bad idea. These false teachers were trying to bring in Judaistic principles, and it should be noted that the law occupies one with self. This is the doctrinal root of the comparing and competition. The same will be true of us, if we lose sight of our acceptance in Christ, and the grace wherein we stand. For brethren to compare themselves with others, and despise another, or else covet another’s gift or ability is a serious problem. If we do this, Paul says we are “not intelligent”. If we had any spiritual intelligence at all, we would see that comparing ourselves by ourselves cannot raise us above ourselves.

Power to Fulfill Present Duties and Open New Frontiers of Service (10:13-18)

13 Now “we” will not boast out of measure, but according to the measure of the rule which the God of measure has apportioned to us, to reach to you also. v.13 Paul takes the same word “measure” as in v.12 and applies it differently. Here it is used as a measure or boundary given by God. Paul was being accused, by his detractors in Corinth, of meddling in business that wasn’t his, and of going beyond his proper sphere of ministry. Paul defends his involvement with Corinth, stating that “the measure of the rule which the God of measure has apportioned to us” reached to Corinth. In other words, Paul’s care for the Corinthians was well within the scope or purview given to him by God. Paul was given the “the gospel of the uncircumcision” (Gal. 2:7)… he was made “a preacher, and an apostle, (I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not;) a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity” (1 Tim. 2:7). The Corinthians were Gentiles, and as such were well within Paul’s measure, and in v.16 we will see that it was not by a narrow margin, but it was within his scope to go to regions beyond Achaia!
14 For we do not, as not reaching to you, overstretch ourselves, (for we have come to you also in the glad tidings of the Christ;) 15 not boasting out of measure in other people’s labours, but having hope, your faith increasing, to be enlarged amongst you, according to our rule, yet more abundantly 16 to announce the glad tidings to that which is beyond you, not to be boasting in another’s rule of things made ready to hand. vv.14-16 It was not a stretch for Paul to minster among the Corinthians, or to use his power for their blessing. Paul would not boast “out of measure in other people’s labours”. He had not usurped another’s efforts in Corinth… he had brought the gospel to Corinth in the first place! It was Paul’s detractors that had usurped Paul’s efforts, taking credit for his work (e.g. 1 Sam. 13:3-4). The Judaizers had no commission from Christ. Paul had suffered all the danger and persecution of begetting them through the gospel (1 Cor. 4:15), and now others were swooping in to commandeer it. Once Paul passed on in his journeys, the false teachers came in and began to turn the Corinthians against Paul. The first epistle had a profound effect on the true believers in Corinth, but the Judaizers then doubled down their attacks. Paul wanted to be enlarged among the Corinthians “according to our rule” (or boundary), and once that work was complete in Macedonia and Achaia, to open new frontiers in the regions beyond Corinth; i.e. Italy and Spain. Paul’s “rule” went far beyond Corinth! He wanted the Corinthians to have a part in that blessed work. We need to fulfill the responsibility God has given us, and not go beyond. We need to labor out of a sense that God has given it to us to do. If we can serve with a sense that it is a burden from the Lord, we will be able to press forward in spite of detractors (e.g. 1 Sam. 17:28-29).
17 But he that boasts, let him boast in the Lord. 18 For not “he” that commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends. vv.17-18 Even in the work the Lord has given to us, there is no room for boasting in ourselves. If we boast, it should be “in the Lord”, because the Lord is the One who gives the increase. Rather than commend ourselves, let us labor as unto the Lord, knowing that His commendation is all that matters (John 5:44). In the day of review and reward, it will not be our brethren whose commendation counts, but the Lord’s.
  1. Hole, F. B. Notes on 2 Corinthians. Scripture Truth Publications, 2007.
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