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In ch 10 -13 Paul answers criticism from certain Jews claiming to be Christians who had infiltrated the church and set themselves up as apostles of Christ. By denouncing Paul they hoped to win the Corinthians over to their teaching. So serious is the situation that Paul is forced to give a strong personal defense and launches a vigorous counter attack on his opponents.
The False Apostles.
1,2. I myself, Paul, appeal to you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ--I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away!-- I ask that when I am present I need not show boldness by daring to oppose those who think we are acting according to human standards.
Paul makes a personal plea to the church to take action against these false apostles. As their "father" in Christ (1 Cor. 4:15) he appeals to them by the "meekness and gentleness of Christ". The words denote a "mild and gentle friendliness". Christ dealt gently and compassionately with sinners without making light of their sin. Paul was accused of being "humble when with you, bold when away". Now he is humble when away but warns that if they reject his appeal he will use his authority sternly when he next comes to Corinth.
His opponents accused Paul of not wielding true apostolic authority. They favored leaders who acted like great men, ordering others about. Paul's demeanor demonstrated how Christ dealt gently and bore long with those whom He sought to save. Paul's gentleness among the Corinthians was no more a sign of weakness in him than it was in Christ.
Paul's opponents accused him of "walking according to the flesh", meaning that he had no Divine power, no God given authority - that he was a self made apostle. They tried to bring him down to their level so that they might exalt themselves above him. They said that Christ did not speak through him (2 Cor. 13:3) and that he acted under his own impulse and authority.
Paul responds by explaining his ministry, comparing it with the mission of a soldier; using words such as: waging war, weapons, destroying strongholds, taking captives and punishing disobedience (court martial).
The Soul Winner's Warfare.
3. Indeed, we live as human beings, but we do not wage war according to human standards.
Being sent by His heavenly commander to wage a spiritual war, the soldier of Christ is equipped with resources that are not of this world. He is endued with the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8). To wage war according to "human standards" or "the flesh" is to carry out ministry using only human resources without any divine power.
4,5. For the weapons of our warfare are not merely human, but they have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ.
Paul does not here identify the weapons which are "filled with divine power" but he does so elsewhere. It is through the proclamation of the Gospel that divine power is released (Rom. 1:16 ; 1 Cor. 1:17-18).
As the Gospel is communicated, strongholds are pulled down. In Roman times a "stronghold" was a fortification built to defend a city from the entering of enemy forces. By "pulling down strongholds" Paul refers to teh way in which the Gospel destroys all arguments which the soul uses to protect itself from an invasion of God's love; leaving it bare before God, owning up to its guilt and helplessness.
People may put up many strongholds against the knowledge of God. "Every high thing" denotes high towers used for such defense - these are swept away by the Gospel. Intellectual arguments and all opposition to the truth, whether of human or Satanic origin, are patiently overcome by the faithful preaching of the Gospel.
When Paul preached the Gospel, he did not rest at merely proclaiming it but reasoned with his hearers in an effort to break down the false barriers they had thrown up and win them to the truth (Acts 19:8).When every argument is broken down, "every thought" can be "taken captive to obey Christ". Paul's aim was not only to demolish arguments but bring their thoughts (hearts) under Christ's Lordship. He wanted not just converts but disciples, following the Lord Jesus, obeying and serving Him (Matt 28:19-20).
6. We are ready to punish every disobedience when your obedience is complete.
In any time of war there may be the need for a court-martial; and so Paul says "we are ready to punish every act of disobedience when your obedience is complete." A court-martial is for those who fail to obey and for those who collaborate with the enemy. The situation at Corinth was serious. "False apostles, servants of Satan" (2 Cor. 11:13-15) had infiltrated the church and the Corinthians were guilty of giving them their ears and welcoming them to their hearts. These men were trying to steal their hearts not only from Paul but from Christ (2 Cor. 11:3). They preached a different Gospel (2 Cor. 11:4) The complete obedience Paul wanted was a rejection of these men and their message and a return the true gospel and hence its messenger.
True Spiritual Authority.
7. Look at what is before your eyes. If you are confident that you belong to Christ, remind yourself of this, that just as you belong to Christ, so also do we.
Paul's critics claimed that he was not a true servant of Christ. He might claim authority, but he really had none. In presence and speech he did not fit (as they saw it) the part of an apostle.
Firstly, says Paul, look at the obvious. Even if his opponents were servants and apostles of Christ (he denies this later in 2 Cor.11:13-15) he is equally so, for it is an undisputed fact that he and his colleagues had founded the church in Corinth.
8. Now, even if I boast a little too much of our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for tearing you down, I will not be ashamed of it.
The false teachers claimed that Paul was bossing the church around. In boasting of his supposed authority he went too far. No doubt they used his disciplinary letter to illustrate their claims. "Even if I did boast of my authority," says Paul, "I would not be put to shame, for I do have the authority which I claim to have." This authority was given to Paul and his coworkers that they might fulfill their tremendous responsibility to build up the Church; it was not to pull others down. Their use of authority in commanding and disciplining church members was in order that they might live according to Christ's teaching (Matt. 28:20).
9,10. I do not want to seem as though I am trying to frighten you with my letters. For they say, "His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible."
The false teachers claimed that in his letters Paul was blusteringly threateningd what he had no authority to perform. His enemies maintained that "his letter are weighty and strong but his bodily presence is weak and his speech amounts to nothing." In other words, Paul is all talk. While Paul's letters were imposing, he lacked the signs of authority desired by the false teachers.
Perhaps his opponents made something of his physical ailment that was never healed. "That proves he is not a man of faith and power" they said. They might have referred to his small and weak stature. They certainly asserted that he lacked a "commanding presence". Without any display of authority or charisma, Paul did not fit their idea of a "spiritual superman", which is what they thought they were.
In claiming that his "speech was of no account" they did more than despise his simple style of speaking. Paul spoke the Word of God. Why did they feel this to be of "no account"? It is because they could not (or would not) receive the truths of God's Word. "What's all the point of this talk, talk, and Bible study?" is the complaint of the natural man who cannot receive the things of the Spirit of God, and so is unable to rightly value the Word of God (1 Cor. 2:14). "What good is it doing?" they asked. It wasn't doing them any good, for it was not mixed with faith in the hearers (Heb. 4:2).
11. Let such people understand that what we say by letter when absent, we will also do when present.
Just because Paul chose not to make a show of authority does not mean that he was without it. Insecure kings constantly display their force. Kings who rule in the fear of God, feeling teh security of their God given authority are more prone to show care for their subjects. No one should mistake a friendly attitude in church leadership for a lack of authority
The Qualifications of a True Apostle.
12. We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another, and compare themselves with one another, they do not show good sense.
Paul now takes the offensive. His opponents put themselves forward as self made apostles. He was not one of them, for his apostolic ministry came from God (Gal. 1:1 ; Eph. 1:1). In chapter 11 Paul lists some of the things which the false teachers claimed commended them as spiritual greats. They measured themselves against each other to claim this greatness. Gill points out that a dwarf measuring himself against a smaller dwarf can claim to be a giant! These men were without understanding for they did not know the ways of the Lord. The Lord sends His own messengers and it is His call alone that makes a man an apostle.
Of the false teachers' claims Kruse writes "The triumphalist nature of (their claims) should be noted. There is no room for.. weakness, suffering, persecution and imprisonment which were often Paul's lot and which Jesus said would be the experience of those who followed him. The bearer of Christ's authority also shared the experience of Christ's weakness, even while the power of God was working through him." (See 2 Cor. 13:4).
13,14. We, however, will not boast beyond limits, but will keep within the field that God has assigned to us, to reach out even as far as you. For we were not overstepping our limits when we reached you; we were the first to come all the way to you with the good news of Christ.
Unlike the false teachers whose boasts were empty, Paul could boast of actual work done. He had proven himself to be what he claimed to be. The words "our limits" and "assigned to us" describe a specified geographical area" God had given Paul the task of preaching the gospel in Gentile lands (Gal. 2:7-8) It was his responsibility to "reach as far as you". Paul did not go beyond his rights by preaching at Corinth, nor by subsequently teahing those converted under his ministry. Kruse says "Paul bases his right to operate as an apostle in Corinth on two facts: first God assigned him the task of evangelizing the nations second he was the first to evangelize Corinth."
15. We do not boast beyond limits, that is, in the labors of others; but our hope is that, as your faith increases, our sphere of action among you may be greatly enlarged.
Unlike his opponents, Paul does not boast in other men's labours. The Corinthian church, which the false apostles gloried in, was the result of his work not theirs. He hoped that as the faith of the Corinthians grew and the church was established he would be free to concentrate on going further into Europe with the gospel message. He hoped Corinth would be a mother church or center of evangelism from which to reach out to the wider area.
16. So that we may proclaim the good news in lands beyond you, without boasting of work already done in someone else's sphere of action.
Paul's desire was to preach in the area beyond Corinth where Christ had not yet been named. As an apostle, his job was not to build on another man's foundation, but to lay a foundation, planting churches in each town where there were none (Rom. 15:20). (It is of note that whilst Paul did much to build the church in Rome during his later imprisonment, he did not attempt to "plant a church there"; quite simply because there was a church already there). The churches Paul founded would eventually be handed over to ministers and elders who would serve and lead them; the churches were enittled to handle their own affairs, local autonomy being the New Testament pattern.
17. Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.
In quoting Jeremiah, Paul reminds his readers that although we may quite rightly have a sense of accomplishment in our work for the Lord, the true ground for Christian rejoicing is the privilege we have by God's grace of knowing Him (Jer. 9:23-24). We ought not to glory in advantage or accomplishment but in the wonderful fact that we have a living and eternal relationship with Christ (Luke 10:17-20).
18. For it is not those who commend themselves that are approved, but those whom the Lord commends.
Self praise no recommendation. Paul uses "approved" of those who are tried and tested servants of Christ, whose faithfulness and worth have been proved. The evaluation of our life and ministry is a matter for the Lord, not ourselves. Paul's motive was always to try to please the Lord; by implication his opponents had some other motive.
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