Paul's 2nd Letter to the Corinthians and Paul's Letter to the Ephesians

December 4, 2014

Tom Lowe

The Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians


            IV.    Authority of Paul’s Ministry. (10:1–13:10).                         

                     A.   The Defense of the Apostle. (10:1–18).

Lesson IV.A.1:By His Attitude. (10:1–6).


2nd Corinthians 10:1-6 (NKJV)


1 Now I, Paul, myself am pleading with you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—who in presence am lowly among you, but being absent am bold toward you.

2 But I beg you that when I am present I may not be bold with that confidence by which I intend to be bold against some, who think of us as if we walked according to the flesh.

3 For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh.

4 For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds,

5 casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,

6 and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled.





Paul’s message in the last four chapters of 2nd Corinthians is obvious: The Corinthians had better shape up before his next visit. Clearly chapter 10 introduces a drastic change of tone in 2nd Corinthians from conciliatory to severe. In the first nine chapters, Paul was careful to congratulate the Corinthians for their obedience to his latest directives (2:5-11; 13:2, 5).


Because of this drastic change of tone, some commentators have asserted that the last four chapters of 2nd Corinthians are in reality the “severe letter” spoken of in 7:8. Even though this theory has gained popularity, there are other ways to explain the change in tone. First, Paul may have been using the time-honored strategy of complementing a person before criticizing him or her. In 2nd Corinthians, Paul first commended the Corinthians for their obedience to his recent instructions so they would be open to changing their behavior in other areas. The commendation would prepare them to accept the more harsh aspect of what he had to say: for example, the fact that on his next visit he would discipline those who oppose his authority (see 2 Cor. 13:1-3). Another way to explain the change of tone is to assume that there was an extended pause in the writing of 2nd Corinthians at 10:1. During this pause, Paul received distressing news of what was occurring in Corinth, and he appropriately addressed those issues with a more severe tone.


In any case, it is clear that the first nine chapters of 2nd Corinthians have a cautious and measured tone that points to an uneasy relationship between Paul and the Corinthians. Paul had to explain the intent of what he was saying (3:1-2; 5:12-14; 7:3-4), had to defend his recent travel plans (1:17), and had to beg for the Corinthian’s affections (6:11, 12; 7:2). Although Paul and the Corinthians had been reconciled to a certain extent (see 7:7; 12-16), there were persistent problems in their relationship. Whatever the exact cause of Paul’s change of tone in chapter 10, it is obvious that certain difficulties in the Corinthian church deserved a more harsh tone. Paul had already cautiously defended his authority (3:1-6), his ministry (5:19-21), and his integrity (8:20). He had already commended the Corinthians for their hospitality (7:13) and their eagerness to give (9:2). At this point in 2nd Corinthians, Paul was ready to warn the Corinthians to change their ways (11:3-4, 12-14; 13:5).





1 Now I, Paul, myself am pleading with you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—who in presence am lowly among you, but being absent am bold toward you.


Although most of the Corinthian congregation sided with Paul (which is evident from 7:8-16), a persistent minority continued to slander him. (This group of critics may have been associated with the repentant slanderer of 2:5-11, but no one knows for certain.) The group challenged Paul’s integrity by pointing out that he was bold in his letters but timid in person—in other words, reluctant to exercise any authority when he visited them. Paul’s critics saw this as deceitfulness and an indication that Paul truly didn’t possess the spiritual authority he claimed. Chapters 10 through 13 are Paul’s direct response to his critics in Corinth.


Rarely did Paul use his own name in the middle of a letter (for the exceptions, see Colossians 1:23; Philemon 1:19). Paul commonly identified himself at the beginning and end of his letters (see 1 Corinthians 1:1; 16:21; Colossians 1:1; 4:18; 2 Thessalonians 1:1; 3:17). But he identified himself at this point in 2nd Corinthians because his own reputation and the truth of what he preached was under attack. Paul’s opposition would say of him: “He’s not an apostle. Just look at him. He’s a tent maker. He is just an ordinary man.” Well, that’s true, he was an ordinary man, but he happened also to be an apostle. He was nothing special to see. He wasn’t a somebody. He was just an ordinary fellow making tents, but he happened to be an apostle, and the Lord made him very special—he used him to write most of the books of the New Testament.


This hard section of 2nd Corinthians (chapter 10-13) begins with kind and gentle words, but by using these words Paul was in no way conceding anything to his opponents: He did have the authority to command, and he is conscious that he is now going to say some things that are going to hurt. Yet Paul consciously refused to use his authority in any overbearing manner, because he wanted his converts to trust the Lord, and not the servant; so he deliberately “played down” his own authority and ability. Instead of commanding, he asked. Because he refused to act authoritatively, his opponents accused him of being timid and cowardly.


Jesus Christ was Paul’s model in the approach he took here. Although Jesus possessed complete heavenly authority, He came to this earth as a servant (Philippians 2:5-11). Instead of commanding obedience and respect, Jesus simply asks for people to believe in Him. He didn’t raise His voice to defend Himself. Our Lord may not have been striking in personal appearance, and He did not look as different as the artists would have us believe. He didn’t walk around with a halo around His head. He was meek and lowly, and that should be the badge of His followers. That is the fraternity pin of believers. Following Christ’s example, the Apostle Paul, who possessed full authority from Jesus (2:17; 5:19), merely pleaded with the Corinthians. In this way Paul was showing them Christ’s gentleness and meekness. The Greek word for “gentleness” has the idea of “lenience”—like that of a benevolent judge being lenient on the guilty. By using that word Paul is saying at the very beginning of his stern letter that he is not carried away by personal anger, but is speaking with the strong gentleness of Jesus Himself. He already had shot down any idea that he was trying to be a “lord” over their souls (see 1:24).


The other word is “meekness,” which is even more illuminating, for it speaks of friendliness and cheerfulness. The gentleness of Christ sprung His meekness. It means consideration for others, the charitable judgment that does not transfer hatred of evil to those who do it. It comes from the Greek word that the Greeks themselves defined as “that which is just and even better than just.” In other words, Paul wasn’t going to act like a harsh and overbearing judge. The man who has meekness is the man who knows that, in the final analysis, the Christian standard is not justice, but love. By using the word Paul is saying that he is not out for his rights and to insist on the letter of the law; but is going to deal with this situation with that Christ-like love which transcends even the purest of human justice.


The Corinthians failed to realize that true spiritual power is in “meekness and gentleness,” not in “throwing weight around.” A meek man will feel the wrong, and feel it bitterly, but it doesn’t create savage anger in his soul against the wrongdoer; for he is not thinking of himself, and is not susceptible to ruffled feelings or wounded pride. If Paul was a weakling, then so was Jesus Christ; for Jesus exhibited both meekness and gentleness: “All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves” (Matt. 11:23). The word “humble” was the taunt of men who did not consider humility a virtue. The Scriptures portray Jesus as a humble person, however, our Lord could also be stern and even angry when the occasion demanded it (see Matt. 15:1-2; 23:13-33; Mark 11:13-33; John 2:13-16). Paul’s very attitude in these opening verses disarmed his opponents. He was warning them in a loving way, “Please don’t force me to come and show you how bold I can be!”



2 But I beg you that when I am present I may not be bold with that confidence by which I intend to be bold against some, who think of us as if we walked according to the flesh.


Now we have come to that section of the letter which is very hard to understand—for the simple reason that we are only hearing one side of the argument. We are hearing only Paul’s reply. He is saying to them that they should not think of him as “walking according to the flesh” because he made tents, and his hands got dirty, and he sweat a lot as he worked. But this is the way they had evaluated him. We do not know accurately what the charges were that the Corinthians levelled against him; we have to deduce them from the answers which Paul gives. For instance, it is clear from what the apostle says here that the Corinthians had charged Paul with being bold enough when not face to face with them but a pretty poor person when there with them. They are saying that when he is absent he can write things that he doesn’t have the courage to say in their presence. But that is not the case, for here is Paul’s claim that he would never write anything that he is not prepared to say to their face. He had showed great courage many times, even when facing death.


Here Paul explained why he was writing this letter. He was hoping and praying that when he came, everything would be in order in the church: “Now we pray to God that you do nothing wrong, not that we may appear to pass the test, but that you may do what is right, even though we [may appear] to fail” (2 Cor. 13:7). Paul had already said that he wasn’t writing to condemn them: “I don't say this to condemn you, for I have already said that you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together” (2 Cor. 7:3). Instead, he was writing so that when he came to Corinth, he wouldn’t have to be bold. Paul didn’t want to spend his time disciplining the wayward members of the Corinthian church when he could be building them up and encouraging them: “This is why I am writing these things while absent, that when I am there I will not use severity, in keeping with the authority the Lord gave me for building up and not for tearing down” (2 Cor. 13:10). This was the same reason that Paul had postponed his visit to Corinth in the first place: “In fact, I made up my mind about this: not to come to you on another painful visit. For if I cause you pain, then who will cheer me other than the one hurt?” (2 Cor. 2:1-2). He wanted to give the Corinthians enough time to deal with the difficulties in their church on their own.


Paul was acting like a wise and patient father, sensibly giving the Corinthians time and space to sort out what was right verses what was wrong, what was true verses what was false. Paul didn’t leave them without guidance, however. He sent official representatives, such as Titus, with stern warnings: “I wrote this very thing so that when I came I wouldn't have pain from those who ought to give me joy, because I am confident about all of you that my joy is yours. For out of an extremely troubled and anguished heart I wrote to you with many tears—not that you should be hurt, but that you should know the abundant love I have for you” (2 Cor. 2:3-4). In the end he wanted to give the Corinthians time to mature in the faith on their own. Second Corinthians was Paul’s last warning to the church (see 13:1-5). Within a short time, he was going to visit Corinth. Titus was traveling ahead of Paul to deliver this letter and prepare the Corinthians for Paul’s visit (see 2 Cor. 8:16-24). If the believers didn’t resolve the disputes within their church (see 2 Cor. 13:1) and punish those who continued in sin (see 2 Cor. 13:2) before Paul came, he would do it himself. Titus and the representatives from the Macedonian churches would act as witnesses to all that Paul would do: “For if any Macedonians should come with me and find you unprepared, we, not to mention you, would be embarrassed in that situation” (2 Cor. 9:4).


This verse also clearly identifies Paul’s critics: some people who think that we live by the standards of this world. Apparently, Paul’s opponents in Corinth were accusing him of making decisions and preaching according to worldly standards instead of God’s holy standards. In the first chapter of 2 Corinthians, Paul had already defended his recent travel plans from just such an accusation (see 2 Cor. 1:17).



3 For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh.


Some translate the word “flesh” as “human plans and methods.” With this word, Paul was clearly contrasting human standards with God’s standards. It seems from this that another charge made against the apostle was that he was motivated by human motives alone. Paul’s answer is that both his conduct and his power come from God; God is his guide, and God is his strength. “We walk,” he says, “in the flesh.” That simply means that he is, like anyone else, a human being. So he says, “We do not walk after or according to the flesh.” It is as if he said, “I am a human being with a human body, but I never allow myself to be dominated by purely human motives. I never try to live without God.” A man must live in the body and yet be guided by the Spirit of God. There is yet another school of thought which argues that he uses the word “flesh” in his own characteristic way for that part of human nature which gives a bridgehead to sin.


Paul freely admitted that he was human. He lived in a human body that was susceptible to all kinds of difficulties, oversights and weaknesses. Yet he refused to admit that he waged spiritual war with human plans and methods. As he would do in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul equated the Christian life to a war. This war isn’t “. . . against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens (Ephesians 6:12). This reveals what spiritual warfare is all about. The Christian life is a spiritual battle against spiritual forces aligned against Christ. Fighting this spiritual battle with weapons of this world—with physical strength, worldly strategies, and material wealth—would be foolish. A spiritual battle requires spiritual weapons that can only come from God. Because the Corinthians (led by the false teachers) judged Paul’s ministry by the outward appearance, they completely missed the power that was there. They were evaluating things “according to the flesh” and not according to the Spirit. The Judaizes, like some “great religious personalities” today, impressed the people with their overpowering abilities, their oratorical powers, and their “commendations” from church leaders. Paul took a different approach; for, though he was as human as anyone else, he did not depend on the human but on the divine, the spiritual weapons provided by the Lord. His warfare was not according to the flesh, because he was not fighting against flesh and blood (see Eph. 6:10). You cannot fight spiritual battles with carnal weapons.



4 For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds,


Paul says here that he is equipped to deal with (pull down) and to destroy all the plausible clevernesses of human wisdom and human pride. There are walls of resistance in the minds of people, and these walls (like the walls of Jericho) must be pulled down. What are these mental walls?” Reasonings that are opposed to the truth of God’s Word, and pride of intelligence that exalts itself. Once the walls in the mind have been torn down, the door in the heart can be opened. Paul was not attacking intelligence, but intellectualism, the high-minded attitude that makes people think they know more than they really do: “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited” (Rom. 12:16). Paul’s attitude of humility was actually one of his strongest weapons, for pride plays right into the hands of Satan. The meek Son of God had far more power than Pilate (see John 19:11), and He proved it. Paul used spiritual weapons to tear down the opposition—prayer, the Word of God, love, and the power of the Spirit at work in his life. He did not depend on personality, human abilities, or even the authority he had as an apostle. However, he was ready to punish the offenders, if necessary, once the congregation had submitted to the Lord. In the last analysis it is not subtle cleverness which is most effective but simple sincerity and love and the truth.


According to Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, God’s mighty weapons are faith, truth, righteousness, the Gospel message, and the Word of God. The Holy Spirit equips Christians for the struggle and provides the weapons they need (see 2 Cor. 6:6; Eph. 6:10-20).


Worldly weapons—wealth, fame, and political might—may wield some power on the earth, but they are useless in Spiritual battles. Trickery and deception may be effective with other people, but only truth will achieve success in the spiritual realm.  Cynicism may protect a person from betrayal, but only faith in God will empower a believer in his or her spiritual struggles. A willingness to show disdain for conventional morality might gain someone a following in this world, but only persistently following God’s righteous ways will assure victory in the spiritual realm.



5 casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,


Paul speaks of bringing every intention into “captivity” to “Christ.” Christ has an amazing way of capturing what was pagan and subduing it for His purposes. Jesus never wants to take our own qualities and abilities and characteristics from us. He wants to take them and to use them for Himself. His invitation is to come to Him with just what we have to offer and He will enable us to make a finer use of ourselves than ever before.


Paul didn’t consider the mighty Roman armies and the extraordinary wealth of the Roman emperor as the true strongholds ofevil (see Prov. 21:22 for an allusion to strongholds). Instead, he saw the strongholds of evil as being proud arguments against Christianity, and rebellious ideas. The world of ideas is the real battleground for God and the devil. In Greek the words for “proud argument” connotes logic or reasoning that attempts to divert people from the Gospel. Rebellious ideas in Greek is “high things raised up.” The wording recalls the story of Babel, where people attempted to build a high tower to celebrate their own greatness (see Gen. 11:1-9). Paul described these “high things” as being raised up “against the knowledge of God.” Paul wasn’t referring to a tall building here, but to every complex theory or philosophy that blocks people from knowing the truth about God and worshipping Him. Those false philosophies that divert glory from God and hide the truth are the devil’s strongholds. Just as an army would attack a fortress, so Christians must take apart and defeat these false and evil arguments.


In Corinth, where advances in Greek Philosophy are held in high esteem the believers were tempted to evaluate the Gospel with the various tools of Greek philosophy. In an earlier letter, Paul had already told the Corinthians that the Gospel would appear to be foolishness to those who saw the world through lenses of secular Greek philosophy: “For the Jews ask for signs and the Greeks seek wisdom” (1 Cor. 1:22). Paul had experienced this himself. When he had presented the Gospel to the philosophers who gathered in Athens, they had responded with insults and taunts: “When they heard about resurrection of the dead, some began to ridicule him. But others said, ‘We will hear you about this again’” (Acts 17:32). To these philosophers the Gospel was pure foolishness.





6 and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled.


This verse spells out what this divine arsenal would mean to the Corinthian church. Paul wouldn’t hesitate on his next visit to use those spiritual weapons entrusted to him to punish those who remained disobedient. Charles Spurgeon maintained that “Faith and obedience are bound up in the same bundle. He that obeys God, trusts God; and he that trusts God obeys God.”


But notice how Paul attached a condition to his exercising of his authority. He would not do so until the rest of the Corinthian believers recommitted themselves to be obedient to the Gospel. According to Titus’s recent report, the majority of the Corinthians had already done this. They had been filled with godly sorrow about the recent problems in their church and had taken the necessary steps to reconcile themselves to Paul (see 2 Cor. 7:7-13). From the way Paul carefully defended his ministry in this letter (see 2 Cor. 1:12-18; 3:1-5; 5:11-17), it is clear that there was still a rebellious minority in the church. At the end of this letter, Paul promised to deal sternly with this minority on his next visit. Paul couldn’t stand by and watch these “false apostles” (see 2 Cor. 11:13) mislead the church anymore.



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