Paul’s Apostolic Authority. 2 Cor. 10, 1-18.

Paul does not care to use his authority with severity: V.1. Now I, Paul, myself beseech you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ, who in presence am base among you, but, being absent, am bold toward you; v.2. but I beseech you that I may not be bold when I am present with that confidence wherewith I think to be bold against some, which think of us as if we walked according to the flesh. V.3. For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh, v.4. (for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds,) v.5. casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ, v.6. and having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled. While Titus had brought encouraging news from Corinth with regard to the case of church discipline and the continued willingness of the Corinthian Christians to take part in the collection for the poor at Jerusalem, his report was less favorable in so far as it represented the Judaizing teachers, the opponents of Paul, still dangerously active. We find, therefore, that the tone of the apostle’s discourse is decidedly altered in this last section of his letter. While his devotion to the Corinthian congregation is still apparent, he finds himself compelled to resort to stern commands, not unmixed with irony and sarcasm. While he still shows the tendency to deal tenderly with the members of the congregation, he is determined to use all severity against those that attacked his authority.

It is an urgent appeal which Paul addresses to the Corinthians: I myself, Paul, entreat you, by the humility and gentleness of Christ. He places his person in the foreground, and deliberately so; he makes the authority which he has received the issue for which he is contending. Therefore he drops the plural number, in which he commonly included also his fellow-workers, and places himself, singly, in opposition to these false teachers. He still entreats or beseeches, though he might well have commanded. And he does so by the meekness, or humility, and by the gentleness, or lenity, of Christ. The spirit of Christ, which was always benign and gentle, slow to anger and eager to forgive, lived in the apostle and actuated him in this trying situation. With some tinge of sarcasm he includes the saying which the opponents had spread concerning him: Who, indeed, before your face am humble among you, but, being absent, am daring toward you. That was the sneering speech to which the Corinthians had given ear, since his personal enemies had construed the weakness with which he came to Corinth as cowardice, as a lack of confidence and courage, v.10.

So Paul repeats his appeal: But I beg you, lest I, being present, show daring courage with the confidence with which I am minded to he bold against some that think of us as though we walked according to the flesh. By using the word “beg” or “pray” the apostle here indicates his growing earnestness; he pleads with them to consider well their course of thinking and acting. For if they continue to listen to the detractors of his good name, nothing will be left for him to do but to show courage and severity in dealing with the situation, on the basis of that confidence which seems required under the circumstances. He will find himself compelled to be resolute, to step forth boldly against certain men in their midst. These men he characterizes as calumniators, since they intimated, in giving their opinion of Paul and the other true teachers, that Paul’s behavior and course of conduct was not governed solely by spiritual considerations, but that weakness, fear of men, the desire to remain in the good graces of all men, and other carnal motives were the ruling factors.

Paul’s answer to these insinuations is brief, but emphatic: For though walking in the flesh, yet we do not wage war according to the flesh. Paul was indeed living here on earth, in the body of this weak flesh, with all the sinful infirmities with which this instrument is obliged to battle always. But his conduct as apostle is not according to the dictates of a weak and sinful nature. And, what is more, although he does indeed engage in a warfare, his whole ministry in its numerous conflicts with the various hostile powers being a battle against evil, yet he is not governed by fleshly considerations, as his enemies intimate, being themselves animated by them. The situation rather is this: For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but powerful through God for the destroying of fortifications. This is added by way of parenthesis, to explain the fact of waging war. In the spiritual warfare which must be carried on by the Church of Christ and by every believer, not only actual physical, political power is excluded, but incidentally every weapon which trusts in mere human ability, intellect, and power, and is actuated by any carnal motive, the love of honor, of riches, of influence, and others. Such weapons the Church of Christ and the individual preacher will never make use of; they do not belong to the armor of the soldiers of Christ. Our instruments of warfare are rather such as receive their extraordinary power from God, through His almighty strength, Eph. 6, 11-18. With these weapons, among which the Word of God stands first, as our armor, all the fortifications and strongholds of the adversaries, especially those that are intended to obstruct the progress of God’s cause and the work of salvation, are overthrown and utterly destroyed, such as heathen idolatry, Pharisaic self-righteousness and hypocrisy, Greek pride of wisdom, Rome’s many heresies, and the host of modern enemies of Bible-truth.

The apostle now continues the thought of v.3: Casting down reasonings and every lofty wall erected against the knowledge of God, and leading captive every thought into the obedience of Christ. The reasonings of human wisdom are the very centers of the enemy’s force, because they are unalterably opposed to the revealed Word of God. The Gospel is not a summary of doctrines which can be reasoned out: although not an irrational system, it is above and beyond the capacity of human reason. Therefore all reasonable philosophies must be discarded if the Word of the Gospel is to find entrance into the heart. Thus, also, every high place, every human speculation, that is erected against the knowledge of God, as revealed in Scriptures, must be broken down and removed. Of the enemy’s wall one stone after the other must be pulled down, no matter how hard he strives to maintain his ground. The military figure of destroying prominent fortresses or strongholds, of razing the walls of hostile cities, is continued also in the words: And leading captive, subjecting, every thought into the obedience of Christ. Instead of permitting reason to usurp authority and to master the Word of God, the intellect, the reason of man must, in all things, be guided by the revealed truth of the Lord. It is only when human reason, through the power of the Spirit in the Word, is made subject to the obedience of Christ and defers in everything to revealed truth, that it in reality can apply its powers, chiefly in the service of Christ, direct or indirect. Reason, enlightened by the knowledge of God, does not attempt to penetrate into the secrets of God’s essence, finding its delight rather in unfolding the beauties and powers of the Gospel and of the revelation of God in all its particulars.

This demand, that all should be subject to the apostolic preaching, the apostle followed to that point that he held himself in readiness to avenge all disobedience when the obedience of the Corinthians would have been fulfilled. Not all the members of the Corinthian congregation were obedient to the Gospel as Paul wanted them to be; for the power of the Gospel is not that of an irresistible compulsion. But if there were such as persisted in their disobedience, Paul here declared himself ready to use the extreme measure of avenging the disobedience by excommunication. He expects the whole congregation to complete their obedience to Christ, to be firmly and finally established in their loyalty to the Lord. Should any be found still resisting when he came, their punishment would certainly follow in the way which the Church has ever employed in dealing with such as refused obedience to the Gospel by faith.

Paul’s authority is powerful: V.7. Do ye look on things after the outward appearance? If any man trust to himself that he is Christ’s, let him of himself think this again, that, as he is Christ’s, even so are we Christ’s. v.8. For though I should boast somewhat more of our authority, which the Lord hath given us for edification and not for your destruction, I should not be ashamed, v.9. that I may not seem as if I would terrify you by letters. V.10. For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful, but his bodily presence is weak and his speech contemptible. V.11. Let such an one think this, that, such as we are in word by letters when we are absent, such will we be also in deed when we are present. With this thought, that he will duly avenge all disobedience to his apostolic preaching, Paul returns to the thought of v.1, since his slanderers had construed his leniency and patience as cowardice. He therefore addresses himself to such as listened to the calumniators: Do you look on the things before pour face? They were paying attention to, and judging by, outward appearances, thereby doing him a severe wrong. For it is not a commanding presence and the ability to insinuate oneself into people’s good graces that determine the apostle’s value, but the fact of authority derived from Christ. If there were any such in the congregation at Corinth, Paul wanted them to know that if any one had the certainty, the confidence, that he belonged to Christ, either according to his person or in his office, he should consider the fact which he has been told before once more, he should reason it out within himself, that Paul and his fellow-teachers were just as definitely and certainly disciples and teachers of Christ. So much at least they ought to concede him (with another sarcastic thrust) that he be given a place by their side in the Church of Christ. It was a most effective way of asserting his apostolic authority.

Just as gently and effectively, however, he brings this out in the next sentence: For if I should indeed boast somewhat more abundantly of our authority, which the Lord gave us for edification and not for your destruction, I shall not be brought to shame, in order that I do not seem as if I would scare you by my letters. If his opponents should go so far as to deny him the right even to stand by the side of the Corinthian Christians as a fellow-disciple, this fact might cause him to do what he did not care to do, namely, to boast. But should he be indeed driven to that point, much to his disgust, that he must bring his person forward, that he must insist upon his authority, which, as he reminds his readers, has the object of serving for their building up in faith and knowledge and not for casting them down, he would be fully justified in his confident words. For his purpose in writing in such a severe tone is not to terrify or intimidate them, but to build them up. Even if the power to bind should be applied, its purpose would be the saving of souls, not the destruction and dispersal of the congregation. He was willing rather to bear the rumor that he was cowardly than to apply the authority granted him by the Lord in an unwarranted manner.

But the authority was his, nevertheless, as lie asserts with reference to the reports which were being spread by his enemies, who said that his letters were weighty arid powerful, that he used expressions and made threats in his letters which were important, impressive, forcible. But they advised people not to be intimidated, because his bodily presence was weak and his speech contemptible. They implied that his bodily presence was not commanding, it lacked power, just as his oral instructions had been received with contempt. It seems that, although Paul was an able arid effective speaker, his excessive humility in Corinth had not permitted these facts to appear in the proper nay, and the result was such as to make him appear all but ridiculous in the eyes of his enemies. But Paul’s answer to people of that character is: Let such a one reckon that, such as we arc in word by letters when absent, such are we also in deed when present. It would be an easy matter for him to lay aside his benevolent meekness and to come, in both appearance and speech, as the apostle of the Lord, vested with an authority whose power they would soon feel. He would show them the perfect harmony between his threats and the execution of his words; his personal influence would be found to be fully as important and energetic as that which he had shown in his writings.

Paul appeals to the work actually done by him as apostle: V.12. For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves; but they, measuring themselves by themselves and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise. V.13. But we will not boast of things without our measure, but according to the measure of the rule which God hath distributed to us, a measure to reach even unto you. V.14. For we stretch not ourselves beyond our measure, as though we reached unto you; for we are come as far as to you also in preaching the Gospel of Christ, v.15. not boasting of things without our measure, that is, of other men’s labors, but having hope, when your faith is increased, that we shall be enlarged by you according to our rule abundantly, v.16. to preach the Gospel in the regions beyond you, and not to boast in another man’s line of things made ready to our hand. V.17. But he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. V.18. For not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth. The outstanding feature of Paul’s ministry was that, unlike his arrogant opponents, he had confined himself to the work with which he had been charged and had riot meddled in the affairs of others. With a fine display of irony he writes: For we do riot venture to assume the same dignity, to number ourselves or compare ourselves with certain ones that commend themselves. He simply does not possess the courage to class himself with the people that are so highly satisfied arid well pleased with themselves: his timidity would not permit him to place himself in the same line, on the same level. But he immediately points out the foolishness of his enemies’ position: But they, measuring themselves by themselves and comparing themselves with themselves, are not wise. The weakness of their position is shown by the fact that they have no standard by which to measure their accomplishments in a proper manner; they know no measure but their own opinion, and therefore their smug self-satisfaction is bound to reach a false judgment. So Paul leaves them in the folly of their self-adulation; any effort in their behalf seems wasted from the outset.

In sharp contrast he says of himself: But we shall not boast beyond measure or without the application of a proper standard, but according to the measure of the rule which God has apportioned to us for a measure, to reach even to you. Unlike his opponents, who had no standard, no criterion, to guide them but their own self-satisfaction, which prevented their obtaining a proper judgment of things, Paul had a definite rule and sphere of activity, by and in which he could gauge his performances in his ministry. He had a sphere of influence, an official duty, assigned to him by God A certain territory had been apportioned to him to labor in, and for the work performed in this sphere he did not look for praise based upon imaginary excellence, but such as was given according to the standard set by the Lord. It was thus, by that arrangement of God, that Paul’s measure extended even to Corinth, at that time the extreme western limit of Paul’s preaching. Thus he was not building upon another man’s foundation, Rom. 15, 20, he was not expecting praise for work which he had not performed himself, 1 Cor. 3, 10. And so far as Corinth was concerned, the Lord Himself had confirmed him for the ministerial work in that city in a very unusual manner, Acts 18, 9. 10.

This thought is carried out in further detail in the next verses: For not as though we reached not unto you do we stretch ourselves beyond our measure. When Paul came to Corinth and did his missionary work in that city, he was not presuming upon rights and arrogating to himself a field which did not belong to him. That fact would have rendered his boasting vain and blamable, namely, if the Lord had not given him this field to work in. But as things stood in reality, Paul came as far as unto the Corinthians in the Gospel of Christ, and he came as the first missionary that labored in their midst, the Gospel of Christ being the element in which he moved and the message he delighted to proclaim. So Paul was right in maintaining that he was not boasting beyond measure, that is, in other men’s labors, a possibility which he always avoided with the greatest care, Rom. 15, 20. And so he also had the hope, that, when their faith had grown, or in the measure in which their faith was growing, he would be magnified in them, that is, he would be given proper credit for the labor which he had done for the Lord in their midst. And not only that, but he would also be assisted by their growing congregations, with their growing faith and lore, to accomplish further and more important results. With their growing faith and the corresponding increase of his power to perform his duties he would be able to press on and enlarge the sphere of his labors, to preach the Gospel in regions even beyond them, where it was as yet unknown, in Western Greece, in Italy, in Spain. At all times, then, he would not boast of things prepared for his hands in another’s line, he had no intention, as his opponents had done, of appropriating to himself the fruits of other men’s labors and thus of arrogating to himself an unearned reputation for greatness. This statement also took away all the glory from his enemies, as though they were indispensable in Corinth, for the congregation was in Paul’s apostolic care and was being prepared without the lack of any gift of mercy.

In conclusion, Paul reminds the Corinthians of the prophetical saying: But he that boasts, in the Lord let him boast, Jer. 9, 24. That is the general rule in the Church. There may be times and circumstances when glorying becomes a necessity, but it should never be done in such a way as unduly to put forward the boaster’s own person. All glory belongs to God alone and must be given to Him at all times. For not he that commends himself is approved, but he whom the Lord commends. Any Christian that parades himself and his own attainments in the Church; any preacher that proclaims himself and not Jesus Christ the Lord, will find himself censured instead of praised. Only he that has received the testimony of the Lord as a faithful minister, as had Paul, chap. 3, 1-3, may feel that he had the proper credentials from the Lord. ”God lauds and praises only those that reject all praise given them, and direct it to God, that do not want people to see their works, but want nothing but that their Father in heaven be praised, whose name they love. For that reason God lauds and honors them in return.” 31)

Summary. Paul entreats and begs the Corinthians not to force him to use severity, since his apostolic authority is real and powerful and his mission is entrusted to him by the Lord.