2 Corinthians 10:1-18
M. Paul's Defense of his Apostolic Authority - 10:1-13:14
1. obedience and discipline - 10:1-6
a. appeal - vv. 1-2
1) prelude - v. 1
Here Paul is responding to criticisms (1) of his preceding visit, when he was perceived to be "timid" or "meek," and (2) of his follow-up letter (the "Severe Letter," now lost), in which he was charged to be "bold". He alludes to this again in v. 10. Evidently, his enemies used this to demonstrate that Paul was fickle, unstable, and not to be trusted. Says Clements:
"It is clear that Paul has been accused of being a cowardly bully who is very good at writing domineering letters. They said that in person he was a craven weakling, an ineffectual wimp. But he had megalomaniac pretensions: a timid puppy who barked like a 'bold' rottweiler from behind the fence! 'His letters are weighty and forceful,' they said, 'but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing' (10:10)" (165).
Despite the fact that he has been charged with being "bold" and "authoritative" only in his letters (cf. v. 10), Paul refuses to take the bait and blast them with apostolic commands. Rather he appeals, using language that is deeply personal and emotional. Also, instead of appealing to the majestic and irresistible authority of the risen and exalted Christ, he grounds his appeal in the Lord's meekness and gentleness. He points to those two characteristics of Jesus that portray him as slow to take offense, willing to bear reproach, and self-sacrificing. These, Paul says, are my model for ministry. These, Paul says, are the spirit in which I make my appeal.
2) purpose - v. 2
Make no mistake, however; Paul fully intends to be as "bold" as he must in order to put things right when he finally arrives. The words "with which I propose to be courageous" could more accurately be rendered "with which I dare to be courageous." The point is this: "Far from flaunting his authority by rushing into disciplinary action, Paul envisions the prospect as a dare that cannot be avoided, not a challenge to be encountered with relish" (Carson, 36).
The word "flesh" is generally used by Paul in one of three ways: (1) as a neutral reference to the physical body; (2) as a pejorative reference to the fallen, sinful nature; or (3) as a reference to the standards of excellence as the world judges excellence. Here he has in mind this third notion. Their accusation against Paul is that he is unimpressive, ineffective, a third-rate orator who is not sufficiently worthy to warrant remuneration, and inexperienced in visions and revelations which are the hallmark of spirituality (as they define it). Thus, in their minds, one who walks "according to the flesh" is manifestly devoid of the power of the Spirit.
b. denial - vv. 3-4a
See also Eph. 6:11-17; 1 Tim. 1:18; 2 Tim. 2:3-4; 4:7.
1) in the flesh (sphere), yes - v. 3a
2) according to the flesh (source), no - vv. 3b-4a
See Rom. 8:9; Gal. 2:20. NIV - “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does." I.e., we live and minister in flesh and blood bodies, but we repudiate the standards and values of the world; we do not utilize its tactics or schemes to achieve our goals.
c. affirmation - vv. 4b-5
1) the nature of his weapons - v. 4b
Our weapons have divine power, not human/worldly/fleshly power. Lit., dunata to theo, which can be taken one of four ways:
· made powerful by God; or,
· divinely or supernaturally powerful; or,
· powerful in God's perspective; or ,
· powerful for God.
In any case, on any view, our weapons work! They are divinely effective. They get the job done because God works in/through them.
What are our weapons? Since our adversaries are spiritual, so, too, must our weapons be spiritual. E.g., truth, righteousness, faith, assurance of salvation, the Word of God, prayer, praise, etc. What are the world's weapons that Paul repudiates? Human ingenuity and wisdom, showmanship, flash, charm, powerfully persuasive personalities, eloquence devoid of the spirit. Carson elaborates:
"The contrast Paul is drawing must not be overlooked. He is not comparing, say, tanks, rifles, and missiles with prayer, fasting, and preaching. The fleshly or worldly side of the contrast depends on the interpretation of 2 Corinthians 10:3-4a - worldly weapons in this context are the kinds of tools of the trade relished by the intruders: human ingenuity, rhetoric, showmanship, a certain splashiness and forwardness in spiritual pretensions, charm, powerful personal charisma. Such weapons they will not find in Paul's arsenal, so they think him inferior; but Paul responds by openly disavowing such weapons. He would not want to defend himself on that score, for his weapons are of an entirely different sort. They are spiritual weapons, and they are divinely powerful (or powerful in God's perspective or for his service)."
2) the purpose of his weapons - vv. 4c-5
What can our weapons do? They destroy "fortresses" (NASB) or "strongholds" (NIV). See Prov. 21:22.
To what do "fortresses/strongholds" refer? Verse 5 gives the answer:
· First, "arguments" (NIV) or "speculations" (NASB) = lit., thoughts, plans, intentions. Cf. 2 Cor. 2:11; 4:4; Rom. 1:21; l Cor. 3:20. He is saying that his/our weapons "destroy the way people think, demolish their sinful thought patterns, the mental structures by which they live their lives in rebellion against God" (Carson).
· Second, "every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God" (NASB), "every pretension that sets itself up against the kingdom of God" (NIV). I.e., every arrogant claim, every haughty or prideful thought, every pompous act that forms a barrier to the knowledge of God; i.e., every argument used to rationalize sin and unbelief and delay repentance.
In sum, our warfare is aimed at dismantling and tearing down the sinful reasoning and rationalizations which are strongholds by which the mind fortifies itself against the gospel. The ultimate outcome is the "taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ," i.e., ideas/notions/plans are taken over and transformed as they come into a new allegiance.
Barnett suggests that, given the context, the "weaponry" Paul has in mind might refer to "his disciplinary ministry to them at the time of the second [painful] visit and through the 'Severe Letter'" (464). On this view, the "destruction of fortresses" and the "pulling down" of speculations refer to his victory over the person who wronged him (cf. 2:6; 7:12) and those in the congregation who have undermined his apostolic authority. This interpretation, however, is generally regarded as too narrow and restricted to contain Paul's language.
Arnold (Three Crucial Questions) argues that "the critical thrust of the passage is directed against christological heresy. . . . Therefore, in its original context, demolishing strongholds refers to changing wrong ideas about Christ in the minds of believers who have been influenced by demonically inspired teaching" (54-55).
[Two additional issues:
First, some have misinterpreted and misapplied this text as if it spoke of cosmic level spiritual warfare (i.e. territorial demons). "Strongholds" and "high and lofty things" have been taken as referring to demonic spirits. But the enemies in view are ideas and arguments and philosophies and excuses that are antithetical to the kingdom and glory of God.
Yet, again, who is behind these thoughts? Who inspires them? See Eph. 2:1-3; 4:17-19 ("darkened" by whom?); 2 Cor. 4:4 (how are they blinded if not by being deceived with philosophical and religious lies?); Acts 26:18; l Tim. 4:1-2.
Second, contextually Paul is talking about "strongholds" in the lives/minds of those in the Corinthian church who were resistant to his apostolic authority. But do ordinary Christians today have them too? Yes. Such intellectual/philosophical/moral enemies to the kingdom of God don't automatically disappear when we get saved.
A stronghold is "a mindset impregnated with hopelessness that causes us to accept as unchangeable something we know is contrary to God's will" (Silvoso). Or again, strongholds are negative patterns of thought that cripple our ability to obey God and thus breed feelings of guilt and despair.
They are burned into our minds either through repetition over time (such as occurs in an abusive, incestuous relationship) or through a one-time traumatic experience. The solution is in experiencing the truth of Rom. 12:1-2 and Eph. 4:20-24. (l) Fill your mind with God's Word (memorize Scripture). (2) Affirmations of your Christian identity. 3) Phil. 4:8. (4) Challenge every negative/destructive thought the instant it enters your mind; evaluate it in light of the Word.]
d. promise - v. 6
Who are those whom Paul is ready to punish? Three options: (1) those Corinthians who insist that Paul "walks according to the flesh" (v. 2); (2) those guilty and still unrepentant of sexual misconduct, to whom he will later refer in 12:21 and 13:2; or (3) the "super apostles" or "false apostles" who are corrupting the Corinthians' understanding of the gospel and loyalty to Christ? Probably (1) is correct.
2. personal obedience and apostolic commission - 10:7-18
a. Paul's personal consistency - vv. 7-11
1) their claim of superiority over Paul - vv. 7-8
a) a superior relationship with Christ - v. 7
The NASB renders the opening words of v. 7 - "You are looking at things as they are outwardly." More likely this is a command, "Look at what is before your eyes," i.e., look at the existence of the church in Corinth. Paul is pointing to the fact of the church to support his claim that his ministry is truly "of Christ".
What is this claim on their part, expressed in the words: I am "Christ's", with the implication being: "And Paul, you aren't!" Surely they were not merely claiming to be Christians, for there is no indication they accused Paul of not being a Christian. Some suggest they were claiming to have had an earthly relation to Jesus. But in v. 7b Paul claims to have no less a relation to Him, and we know Paul had no personal relationship with Jesus until after the ascension. Is it a claim to have received a special commission from Jesus? But that is a claim made only by the "super apostles" whom Paul does not address until chp. 11. Here is dealing with "insiders" who are critical of him because of his feeble previous visit and his frightening ("Severe") follow-up letter. The likelihood is that they were claiming some special, ongoing relationship with Christ, perhaps saying so with a tilt of the head and an elitist tone in their voice . . . something to the effect: "I am Christ's man!"
b) a superior authority from Christ - v. 8
Even apostolic "authority" was designed by God for the edification or building up of the body, not its tearing down. In other words, says Paul: "The Lord didn't commission me to demolish churches but to build them. So why do you criticize me for failing to do what the Lord has not called me to do?"
2) their charge of duplicity in Paul - vv. 9-10
In effect, Paul is charged with putting up a literary false front: "He tries to intimidate you in his letters, using bold and authoritative language, only because he is too weak in person to get his way and to win you over." Or perhaps they are accusing him of deliberately putting on two faces: one in person, another in writing.
Clearly, the Corinthians were disappointed with Paul's physical presence (his appearance?) and his rhetorical skills (was he a mediocre public speaker?). Barnett points out, however, that given the context of vv. 1-11 their primary criticisms "were directed at his unimpressive attempts to discipline the morally wayward during the recent visit (cf. 13:2; 12:21; 10:1-2), and the dispatch, instead, of a letter when they were expecting a return visit (1:15-2:3).
3) a warning from Paul - v. 11
"Fine," says Paul. "You can believe that if you want to. But I assure you that when I come to Corinth I will be just as strong and authoritative in my personal presence as you perceive me to have been in the Severe Letter I wrote."
b. Paul's apostolic commission - vv. 12-16
It is virtually impossible to defend oneself without exposing oneself to the charge of self-commendation. Paul's opponents in Corinth made the former necessary, and then accused him of the latter.
1) measuring oneself by oneself - v. 12
Paul is being openly sarcastic. He says, "These people set up their own conduct as a standard of excellence and then find their conformity to it eminently satisfying and reassuring. These people are charter members of their own mutual admiration society!" Paul will, in fact, classify and compare himself with these intruders later on (11:21-12:13). But he will do it in a radically different and surprising way. He will point to his superiority in ministry through a display of weakness.
2) ministering within divinely established boundaries - vv. 13-16
The "measure" apportioned to Paul is most likely a reference to his commission from God to take the gospel to the Gentiles (Gal. 1:16; 2:7-10) as well as a reference to the "missionary council" held in Jerusalem at which it was agreed Paul would go to the Gentiles and Peter to the Jews. See Rom. 15:17-20.
c. the proper sphere of Christian boasting - vv. 17-18
See Jer. 9:23-24.
"Let us therefore, leaving off all other things, aim exclusively at this --- that we may be approved by God and may be satisfied to have His approbation alone, as it justly ought to be regarded by us as of more value than all the applauses of the whole world" (Calvin, 138).