2 Corinthians 10
1Now I, Paul, myself urge you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ--I who am meek when face to face with you, but bold toward you when absent!
2I ask that when I am present I need not be bold with the confidence with which I propose to be courageous against some, who regard us as if we walked according to the flesh.
Paul is going to spend some time defending his authority and apostleship. He writes boldly to the Corinthians, but when he is with them, he speaks mercifully and gently. This certainly contributed to why he didn’t want to visit them as per his initial plan given that he might have had to be bold to their faces. He hopes that when he is present with the Corinthians that he doesn’t have to be bold with the courage and directness that he might have to be if some reject his reproof and spurn his authority as an apostle. Some treat him as if he is weak, fleshly, and without the authority from the Lord, but such is wrong.
3For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh,
4for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses.
5We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,
6and we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete.
Just because Paul is a mere man does not mean he fights on mere physical terms. He didn’t rely upon his fleshly attributes or human strengths to accomplish spiritual ministry, but his strength and confidence was in the Lord. He understood that he fought a spiritual battle against the spiritual fortresses of the enemy, and thus victory was only possible through the strength and grace of Christ. Since the war was spiritual, the weapons of battle must also be spiritual, namely prayer, the Spirit of God, and the Word of God. These are the means by which the devil is stopped in his tracks. He doesn’t fear mere man, but he does fear Christ. He is defeated as sound doctrine is fought for and contended for. Mere human wisdom, speculations, and supposed “lofty” understanding which is nothing but lies and human arrogance must be displaced with the truth of God’s Word. When these deceptions of man and of the devil are raised up in an attack against the Lord, these need to be brought down with the truth of God’s Word. Every thought that is wrong must be challenged so that God’s people think rightly and then live accordingly. Wrong theology leads to wrong living, whereas right doctrine leads to obedience. Thus, Paul’s purpose in coming is to see that the church as a whole is living obediently and in accordance to the truth, and if there are any in opposition, it is God and His Word which must put them in their place. Once it was clear who was going to follow Christ, then those who rejected sound doctrine were to be disciplined by being put out of the fellowship. This purging was for the good and preservation of the church, and this honored Christ because He demands obedience.
7You are looking at things as they are outwardly If anyone is confident in himself that he is Christ's, let him consider this again within himself, that just as he is Christ's, so also are we.
8For even if I boast somewhat further about our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you, I will not be put to shame,
9for I do not wish to seem as if I would terrify you by my letters.
10For they say, "His letters are weighty and strong, but his personal presence is unimpressive and his speech contemptible."
11Let such a person consider this, that what we are in word by letters when absent, such persons we are also in deed when present.
There were some among the Corinthians that didn’t value or respect Paul’s God-given authority as an apostle simply because his personal presence wasn’t all that impressive. His letters were strong, heavy, powerful, well-written and authoritative, but when these false teachers met Paul, they feared him not at all. He certainly didn’t have anything about him that appealed to their natural mindset of what a powerful person should look like or act like. Thus, they despised him and ridiculed his speaking ability as if it was nothing. They cared not at all for what he said in person because they thought they should be able to set the rules. Yet Paul wanted any who thought this or said this to realize that he is one and the same as the person who writes the letters. God’s authority is with him, and he must be respected as an apostle. It doesn’t matter what he looks like or how he speaks as much as that he is the same Paul who writes the letters. He is the same Paul who was called and commissioned of God. Thus, he must be listened to and respected. Some were thinking merely outwardly as if they could evaluate who was to be taken seriously just by how they looked or carried themselves.
Just because a person at Corinth claimed to be a believer didn’t mean that they were an apostle. Paul would have to give reason for his authority so that none would have grounds to reject his authority or to persuade others to do so. He would not be ashamed for having to defend his credibility, for his commissioning was for their edification. He was called not to shame them, destroy them, or terrify them but to encourage them. Yet, if some refused to listen, he would defend his apostleship.
12For we are not bold to class or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves; but when they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding.
13But we will not boast beyond our measure, but within the measure of the sphere which God apportioned to us as a measure, to reach even as far as you.
Paul didn’t brag about himself unnecessarily or in a way that compared himself to others. He wasn’t trying to compete with others for recognition or notoriety. To compare oneself with another is a relative measure that may or may not have any truth attached to it whatsoever, and to do so demonstrates a lack of understanding. Paul refused to boast beyond what was true before the Lord so that he did not lie or exaggerate to make himself look good. Paul would only defend himself within the boundaries of what God had done for him and called him. God had called him to bring the gospel to Corinth, and within his God-given calling, Paul would defend his authority. He would not use any other natural means which would appeal only to a natural mindset. Paul chose to go with what was true and absolute, rather than relative and of men.
14For we are not overextending ourselves, as if we did not reach to you, for we were the first to come even as far as you in the gospel of Christ;
15not boasting beyond our measure, that is, in other men's labors, but with the hope that as your faith grows, we will be, within our sphere, enlarged even more by you,
16so as to preach the gospel even to the regions beyond you, and not to boast in what has been accomplished in the sphere of another.
Paul has a right to claim authority on the basis that he was the one who brought the gospel to them in the first place in Christ. This is not boasting beyond measure or taking credit for what others have done. He was there from the beginning, preaching the gospel to them, and he has been faithful to shepherd them to continue to grow in faith. As they grow, Paul is blessed to reap spiritually, which serves more to show that he indeed has a right to speak authoritatively to these spiritual children. As the church grows through Paul’s ministry, he can take a certain responsibility in what has happened, though not taking credit for what others have done in their sphere of ministry.
17But HE WHO BOASTS IS TO BOAST IN THE LORD.
18For it is not he who commends himself that is approved, but he whom the Lord commends.
Boasting that exalts self and one’s own ability apart from God’s grace is despicable and blasphemous. God is a jealous God, demanding all glory, and to boast in ourselves is to steal glory from God that is rightfully His. But we have the right to glory, boast, and celebrate what God has done in and through us and in the world around us. We can always be confident in the Lord and praise Him because of what He does and because of His sufficiency and grace. Yet we should never commend ourselves as if we deserve glory because of our own fleshly strength, but we should praise the Lord for being our strength (Philippians 4:13). Commending ourselves is meaningless because our judgment is fallible, particularly if we evaluate our achievements based upon comparisons to others. The only evaluation that matters is God’s, and He will approve those who live by faith and operate by His strength and by the power of His grace.