By the humility and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you— I, Paul, who am “timid” when face to face with you, but “bold” toward you when away! 2 Corinthians 10:1
Paul begins this section by speaking of the humility and gentleness of Christ, but before he ends these next chapters, he appeals to them almost with thunder, lightning and storm. The Greek for humility is prautēs and for gentleness is epieikeia. “Prautēs... is an interesting word. Aristotle defined it as the correct mean between being too angry and being never angry at all. It is the quality of the man whose anger is so controlled that he is always angry at the right time and never at the wrong time…” 1 Epieikeia is defined as “that which is just and even better than just.” 2 The word involves fairness and graciousness.
Here we probably see some of the criticism that was leveled against the apostle from the Judaizers. They had probably made fun of Paul because he was so “timid” in person but so “bold” in his letters. Perhaps they had mistaken his gentleness for timidity. They were no doubt doing all they could to ridicule him and disqualify his ministry. It is rare that the apostle uses his own name in the middle of a letter. The other exceptions are Colossians 1:23 and Philemon 1:19. He probably uses his name here because his reputation and ministry are under attack.3
Paul is now finished with instruction concerning the offering for Jerusalem, so he launches an attack against the false apostles who had done so much in efforts to destroy his ministry and bring his great work in Corinth to naught. There is clearly a change in tone for these last four chapters. Some scholars have thought that these chapters may have originally belonged to the “severe letter” that was spoken of earlier (cf. 2 Cor. 2:3-4; 7:8-12). Other scholars have different explanations. Some have felt that Paul paused his dictation, and in the meantime heard more disturbing news from Corinth, which he here addresses. Others think he may have reserved his criticism to the end of his letter, or that he is now addressing only the troublemakers in the church. Some think the whole thing is overblown and that the apostle often had abrupt changes in mood.4 In the end, we really do not know why these last four chapters are so different from the rest of the letter.
“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” (10:2). The false apostles or Judaizers were apparently accusing Paul of acting out of lowly, base of fleshly motives (cf. 1 Cor. 1:17; 4:3).5 Paul sincerely hoped that the Corinthians could get their problems straightened out before he came to them. The apostle certainly did not walk in the flesh but he walked in the Spirit and urged all believers to do the same (Gal. 5:16).
WARFARE IN THE SPIRIT
For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 2 Corinthians 10:3
Several versions translate this as “walk in the flesh” (NAS, ESV, NKJ) rather than “live in the world.” The Greek word for flesh is sarx here. Barclay says that it can speak of the body in the physical sense, or it can speak of that fallen human nature, which has become a bridgehead for sin.6 Obviously, we all live in the flesh as human beings but as Christians we must not live according to the world and the lusts of the flesh.
Although we live and walk around as fleshly human beings we are able through the Holy Spirit to conduct warfare in the spiritual realm. It is unfortunate today that many Christians are trying to fight the devil in the fleshly realm with fleshly weapons. Redpath says, “Apart from a mighty awakening and revival in the church, we are fighting a losing battle because we are resisting on carnal levels.” 7 We need to discover our vast store of spiritual weapons. These include the word of God, prayer, the gifts of the Spirit, the blood of Christ, the power to bind and loose and many other mighty spiritual weapons. The Bible says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12).
The Greek term for waging war used here is strateuometha. It is from this word that we get the English “strategy.” Obviously, waging war took a great deal of strategy, especially in the early days before the advent of modern communications. Yet, the war we wage in the Spirit is directed by the Lord himself and there is no lack of strategy or communication.
“The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds” (10:4). In the previous verses we gave a general description of our weapons. Let us be more specific as we look at Ephesians 6:14-18. First of all we must put on the belt of truth. It holds everything together and even keeps our sword in place. Then we must have the breastplate of the Lord’s righteousness to protect our heart and other vital organs. Afterward, there is the matter of having our feet properly shod with the gospel. This no doubt has to do with walking in the word of God and being prepared with the gospel. We certainly need the shield of faith in place so that Satan’s fiery darts can be stopped. Next is the helmet of salvation, that wonderful mind-protector that will keep us from evil thoughts. We certainly don’t want to forget the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Last of all we need to keep praying in the Spirit with all kinds of spiritual prayers.
Paul no doubt spent a lot of time in prison just studying the armor of the soldiers to whom he was chained. It was probably the best armor in the world, since the Romans used it in conquering the known world. It was light and flexible and allowed the Roman soldier to have a great deal of maneuverability. In Christ we now have the best armor in the world. Long ago the prophet Isaiah said, “‘no weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and this is their vindication from me,’ declares the LORD” (Isa. 54:17).
The apostle assures us that, as soldiers of the Lord, we have now been given the power to demolish spiritual strongholds. These strongholds include the proud arguments, rebellious ideas, exalted philosophy, deviant scientific concepts and so forth. In Proverbs 21:22 it is written, “One who is wise can go up against the city of the mighty and pull down the stronghold in which they trust.” Utley says, “There is a series of things mentioned in 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 which Paul attacks: 1. destruction of fortresses (ochurōma) 2. destruction of speculation (logizomai) 3. destruction of every lofty thing (huphōma) 4. taking captive every thought (noēma).” 8
There are many strongholds in our world today and these defy the Christian to come near them. From the top of these strongholds the ungodly heap scorn on the Christians and their faith. Certainly we cannot deal here with all the strongholds that threaten us, but let us quickly look at three of the major ones.
The first, and possibly the most important, is pseudo-philosophy. The Greeks were in love with philosophy but they never found the knowledge of God (Acts 17:23). Today we are heirs of their pseudo-philosophy, which is often based on human pride. We must understand that the so-called wisdom of this world is foolishness to God (1 Cor. 3:19). Yet, today this pseudo-philosophy is overwhelming the church. The basis of much of it is found in René Descartes, who came up with the idea, “I think, therefore I am.” Essentially, his idea shifted reality to the mind.9 Now, people say that if they think something is true, then it is true. Several French postmodern philosophers jumped on this bandwagon and have virtually destroyed truth in our society. Even in the church today we have millions who feel that what they think is “truth,” although it may have no connection with the Bible or reality.
According to recent surveys, some seventy percent of Americans today no longer believe in the existence of absolute truth. These also would no longer have respect for the Bible.10 This sad situation is reflected in Romans 1:25: “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator…”
The second stronghold we should deal with is that of Pseudo-Science. We run into this stronghold daily. In fact, the whole Darwinian pseudo-science complex is almost a “sacred cow” in our society. In this modern pseudo-science there is absolutely no room for God or for the supernatural. Today, for any person in the sciences to suggest that there is a supernatural cause for the universe, it is tantamount to committing professional suicide.
Yet, strangely, it was Christians who first began to make advances in science. It was in the bosom of Christian theism that science began and it flourished nowhere else. These were people like Nicholas Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton, Robert Boyle, John Wilkins, Roger Cotes.11 They were great scientists but at the same time great Christians. Today several famous scientists have almost forsaken science and are moving rapidly into the realm of mythology.
The last stronghold we should consider is that of Pseudo-Psychology. Much of this false psychology began with the work of Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) and his emphasis upon counseling and psychotherapy. In his work, Freud greatly emphasized the sexual drive and this accorded him much fame. In the book Freudian Fraud, research psychiatrist Doctor E. Fuller Torrey says that Freud was deep into the occult. He consulted soothsayers and was extremely interested in psychical research, even taking cocaine in the process.12 Today, much of his theory has been disproved. We need to understand that Freud, Jung, Rogers, Maslow and other leading psychologists were avowed enemies of Christianity. They were in fact seeking to replace the pastor’s role of simple Bible counselor. They were happy to replace sin with syndrome and have everyone blame their problems on others.
Dr. Hans Eysenck in his research has noted, “On the whole, psychoanalysis treatment ranks slightly worse than those who receive no treatment at all.” 13 Today even many leading people in the psychoanalysis industry are labeling it as a fraud, an industry that is based on profit. We can now see all of it as a sinister attempt to replace Christianity, the church and the Bible.
TAKING CAPTIVE EVERY THOUGHT
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. 2 Corinthians 10:5
Clearly, the Judaizers were capturing the minds of the Corinthian believers and they were obviously using the sophistry, or wisdom of this world, to do their work. Today, we can demolish such arguments and pretensions. We are given spiritual power to do it. However, on the practical level, we need to add knowledge to our faith (2 Pet. 1:5) and learn at least some basics about the false ideas that are floating around today. It may take a trip or two to the library and we may need to check out some introductory books on subjects like philosophy, science and psychology. Some good books are listed in our footnotes.
Today we have a world full of reasoning, opinion, speculation, false ideas, and so forth. All this must be brought into submission under Christ. We must realize that “Not even a thought is outside the sphere of obedience claimed by Christ” 14
“And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete” (10:6). Barnes says here, “The idea seems to be, that Paul was ready to inflict discipline when the church had showed a readiness to obey his laws, and to do its own duty.” 15 There may be more involved here than meets the eye. In Psalm 149:6-9, it is written of God’s saints: “May the praise of God be in their mouths and a double-edged sword in their hands, to inflict vengeance on the nations and punishment on the peoples, to bind their kings with fetters, their nobles with shackles of iron, to carry out the sentence written against them— this is the glory of all his faithful people. Praise the LORD.”
It seems very clear in the Book of Revelation that God’s redeemed will have a part in the judgment of this earth and even in the judgment of angels (1 Cor. 6:3). It is said of the redeemed: “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:10). Unfortunately, today the saints have become heaven-centered while so much of the Bible is earth-centered. God is going to renew this earth and apparently his saints will have a great role to work with Christ in accomplishing this. There is much hidden here but enough is revealed that we should take careful note.
PAUL’S AUTHORITY FOR BUILDING UP THE CHURCH
You are judging by appearances. If anyone is confident that they belong to Christ, they should consider again that we belong to Christ just as much as they do. 2 Corinthians 10:7
Since we live in the natural world it is easy for us to look upon things from a natural point of view. The Corinthians were beginning to look at Paul like that. However, we need to be informed that God does not look at things that way. It is well-known that Paul in the Latin means “little,” but Paul in God’s eyes was a spiritual giant. Once the prophet Samuel looked at a man in the natural sense but God corrected him saying, “…Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7).
Barclay tells a story that well illustrates these points:
William Wilberforce was responsible for the freeing of the slaves in the British Empire. He was so small and so frail that it seemed that even a strong wind might knock him down. But once Boswell heard him speak in public and afterwards said, “I saw what seemed to me a shrimp mount upon the table, but, as I listened, he grew and grew until the shrimp became a
In their pride, the Corinthians had allowed into their fellowship some false apostles who were no doubt very impressive in the flesh but who were extremely dangerous in the spirit. Earlier, the Galatian church was almost overwhelmed by a similar thing. We need to stop and think how impressive these people were. They were from Jerusalem; they were Jews; they no doubt had flawless credentials; they may have even seen Jesus; they undoubtedly had impressive connections with Jerusalem leaders (probably not Peter or James); and they looked with scorn upon Paul as someone who didn’t do too well in Jerusalem. After all, he was not one of the original disciples of Jesus, and he had even persecuted the church.
Although he had brought them the message of salvation, suffered for them and had become their father in the faith, they began to see him only in the natural. Early church tradition is not too complimentary of Paul’s natural appearance. Barclay says:
…A description of Paul’s personal appearance has come down to us from a very early book called The Acts of Paul and Thecla, which dates back to about A.D. 200. It is so unflattering that it may well be true. It describes Paul as “a man of little stature, thin-haired upon the head, crooked in the legs, of good state of body, with eyebrows meeting, and with nose somewhat hooked, full of grace, for sometimes he appeared like a man and sometimes he had the face of an angel.” A little, balding, bandy-legged man, with a hooked nose and shaggy eyebrows— it is not a very impressive picture, and it may well be that the Corinthians made great play with it. 17
Some of the Corinthians may have sneered at Paul, but if he was really a false apostle, then their own Christianity was built upon a false foundation. If they considered themselves Christians, then they certainly had to consider Paul one.18
“So even if I boast somewhat freely about the authority the Lord gave us for building you up rather than tearing you down, I will not be ashamed of it” (10:8). We have seen Paul use the word “boast” a number of times and he will continue to do so. We talked about this in 1:13-14, how it was not vain boasting, but was more like outspoken confidence. We pointed out in 7:14, how boasting about friends was always acceptable in antiquity.19 The Judiazers were tearing down the Corinthian church for their own selfish purposes but Paul was intent on building it up.
In 1 Corinthians 3:9-11, Paul says: “For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building. By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” Paul considered the church as God’s building and himself as a master-builder. He laid the foundation in Jesus and they were to build upon it. However, through the influence of the Judaizers they were no longer building on that foundation.
NOT IN WORD, BUT IN DEED AND IN TRUTH
I do not want to seem to be trying to frighten you with my letters. For some say, “His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing.” 2 Corinthians 10:9-10
“A basic rule of ancient letter writing was that one’s letters should be appropriate to one’s personality when present, because letters in some sense communicated one’s presence. Philosophers who failed to be consistent in this manner were typically attacked verbally.” 20 The apostle had not been trained in Greek rhetoric. “Paul was not eloquent, as Apollos was (Ac 18:24), but he treated his lack of eloquence as an asset in his ministry (1 C. 1:17; 2:1, 4f.).” 21 He probably was not the greatest preacher, but he surely had the greatest message the Gentile world had ever heard. Still, on one occasion a young man listening to the apostle dozed off and fell out of a third story window (Acts 20:9). Paul freely admitted the lack of his rhetorical abilities (1 Cor. 1:17; 2:1-5; 2 Cor. 11:6). 22
The apostle had lived with the Corinthians for a year and a half as he ministered the gospel. We wonder how they could have forgotten so much in such a short time. There is the old adage that “familiarity breeds contempt.” Someone has added, “but only among contemptable people.” They had been seriously led astray by the false Jerusalem apostles. Although many had commented on Paul’s speech and appearance, we should remember that the natives at Lystra thought he was a god and started to worship him (Acts 14:12). Perhaps some of the animosity arose from contempt rather than actuality.23
“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” (10:11). The Corinthians were certainly forgetting that Paul was a man with great apostolic authority. Poisonous serpents did not harm him (Acts 28:3-6). He could command powerful spirits and they would quickly obey (Acts 16:16-18). He could rebuke a false prophet and call down blindness upon him (Acts 13:6-12). Two thousand years later, as we read of the spiritual power of Paul, we Christians should stand in awe of him.
COMPARING OURSELVES WITH OTHERS
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 Corinthians 10:12
One of the biggest problems with young people is the practice of comparing themselves with others. Many youth run around with inferiority complexes because they have compared themselves with others, who seemingly have many more talents. This, of course, is futile. We should all rather take a look at our God-given uniqueness and the gifts and calling we have received from God. We should then compare ourselves with Christ. Wiersbe says, “Sometimes those who are growing the most feel like they are less than the least.” 24
It seems that the Judaizers were doing this very thing – comparing themselves with themselves and gloating about their supposed, but greatly mistaken, importance. They had looked upon themselves as a society of self-approved saints. However, Paul looked solely upon Christ for his approval.
True wisdom always has meekness attached to it. My wife and I remember a scholar who once visited our Galilee Study Center. This man had three doctorates but he was so meek that he almost made others ashamed. True wisdom and true meekness make a person a servant, not a lord. This interesting story is told from America’s Revolutionary War days:
In the United States, years ago, a party of soldiers was trying to pull out a wagon that was stuck in the mud. The Corporal in charge was urging them on. But the wagon was very heavy and the mud was very thick. A passer-by stopped to talk to the corporal. The corporal complained to him: “They give me six men only to do the work of ten,” “Why don’t you lend your men a hand yourself?” asked the stranger. The corporal looked shocked, “But, I’m the Corporal,” he said. The stranger said no more; he took off his coat and set his shoulder to one of the wheels of the wagon. With this help, the soldiers managed to get the wagon out of the muck. As he put on his coat, the stranger turned to the corporal. “When you need help again, Corporal, call on the Commander-in-Chief,” he said. He was none other than George Washington himself, the first President and Commander-in-Chief of the army of the United States of America.25
The Judaizers had great pride in themselves. Yet, “It was not the Judaizers who had come to Corinth with the gospel. They, like the cultists today, arrived on the scene only after the church had already been established…” 26 They felt so highly among themselves, yet they were really parasites living off the work of others. Meyer says, “Any child could have destroyed Raphael’s brush, but in his hand it painted immortal pictures… It is comparatively easy to build on foundations laid by another Christian worker, and to win away his converts. Such conduct is mean and cowardly.” 27
“We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the sphere of service God himself has assigned to us, a sphere that also includes you” (10:13). Paul would boast only in the area God had assigned to him, and that included Corinth. The Greek word for sphere of service is the word kanonos. This word means a rod, a measuring rule or a limit.28 The false apostles had come all the way from Jerusalem and they had encroached on the legitimate field assigned to Paul. This was in violation of the concordat mentioned in Galatians 2:1-10, and this concordat predated their arrival and work at Corinth. 29
This picture can also include that of an athletic contest where runners are assigned different lanes.30 As the word kanon developed, it came to include the areas assigned to bishops in the early church. Ultimately, it became a designation for the works of sacred Scripture (canon).
“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” (10:14). Obviously, God could have directed Paul to go to other places instead of Corinth. The Corinthians should have been delighted that he came to their town. Today, we in the west should be delighted that Paul, even with much suffering and many trials, crossed into Europe, making it possible for the gospel to come to us. God could have sent it initially to the Far East and left us out.
TO THE REGIONS BEYOND
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 sphere of activity among you will greatly expand, so that we can preach the gospel in the regions beyond you. For we do not want to boast about work already done in someone else’s territory. 2 Corinthians 10:15-16
Paul was a man on the move. His burning desire was to preach the gospel in those far-away areas that had never heard it. As Macgregor said: “Paul was haunted by the regions beyond. He never saw a ship riding at anchor or moored to the quay but he wished to board her and carry the good news to the regions beyond. He never saw a range of hills blue in the distance but he wished to cross it and to carry the story of Christ to the regions beyond.” 31 He felt he had a priestly duty to preach the gospel to the Gentiles and present them as an offering to God (Rom. 15:16). It was his heart’s desire to make it all the way to Spain (Rom. 15:24) before he finished his course. It is likely that he accomplished this.
The apostle desired that the Corinthian work could stabilize and expand in order that his future work elsewhere would have a firm and solid base. Paul, unlike the false apostles, was not willing to build on another’s foundation (Rom. 15:20). We can imagine how difficult it would have been to found new churches while at the same time seeing his work in the former churches crumble to pieces. Ideally, the older churches were to help in the ministry to the newer ones.
“But, ‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.’ For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends” (10:17-18). Here Paul is paraphrasing Jeremiah 9:24. He is assuring us that safe way to boast is to boast in the Lord Jesus. Such a boast will never end in disappointment (Prov. 29:25; Rom. 10:11). In this section Paul has been forced to boast because of the evil work of the false apostles. Long ago Chrysostom said, “Paul is modest, but not to the point where he neglects to tell the truth about himself.” 32