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

December 10, 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.2:By his Authority. (10:7-11).

 

2nd Corinthians 10:7-11 (NKJV)

7 Do you look at things according to the outward appearance? If anyone is convinced in himself that he is Christ's, let him again consider this in himself, that just as he is Christ's, even so we are Christ's.

8 For even if I should boast somewhat more about our authority, which the Lord gave us for edification and not for your destruction, I shall not be ashamed--

9 lest I seem to terrify you by letters.

10 "For his letters," they say, "are weighty and powerful, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible."

11 Let such a person consider this, that what we are in word by letters when we are absent, such we will also be in deed when we are present.

 

 

Introduction

 

Paul continues to answer his critics in Corinth, and we are faced with the same problem we had before; we are only hearing one side of the argument, Paul’s side, and we can only deduce what the criticisms were from Paul’s reply to them.

 

 

Commentary

 

7 Do you look at things according to the outward appearance? If anyone is convinced in himself that he is Christ's, let him again consider this in himself, that just as he is Christ's, even so we are Christ's.

 

Do you look at things according to the outward appearance?

 

The Greek word for “look” is best translated as a command; therefore, these opening words can mean: “Look at what is before your eyes” (RSV), that is, the facts are there, as plain as the nose on your face; look at them. “You are looking at things according to their external appearance”; that is why you accept some intruder’s claim of authority instead of seeing that we have God-given authority to lead you. He bids them to consider the obvious results of his ministry—the men and women brought out of darkness into the light, the conversion of people in whose lives the genuine fruits of the Spirit are manifest. Unlike Paul, the false apostles had founded no churches, and had suffered no persecution for the cause of Christ. Paul could call on his companions and even Ananias as witnesses to the reality of his Damascus road experience; there were no witnesses to verify the false apostles alleged encounters with the risen, glorified Christ.

 

Paul encouraged the Corinthians to adjust their perspective. They had been looking only at the outward appearance of things—listening intently to the false teachers who were boasting of themselves—their own authority (10:12-13), their perfect Hebrew heritage (11:21-22), and their visionary experiences (12:11-12). All of their loud boasts and extravagant displays of power had dazzled the Corinthians so much that they had become blind to the simplicity of the Gospel message that Paul had preached to them in the first place (1 Corinthians 2:1-3).

 

One of the most difficult lessons Paul’s disciples had to learn was that, in the kingdom of God, position and power were no evidence of authority. Jesus warned His followers not to pattern their leadership after that of the Gentiles who loved to “lord it over” others and act important (see Mark 10:25-35). The example we must follow is that of Jesus Christ who came as a servant and ministered to others. Paul followed that example.

 

But the Corinthians were not spiritually minded enough to discern what Paul was doing. They contrasted his meekness with the “personality power” of the Judaizers, and they concluded that Paul had no authority at all. Admittedly, he wrote powerful letters; but his physical appearance was weak, and his speech “unimpressive.” They were judging by the outward appearance and were not exercising spiritual discernment.

 

If anyone is convinced in himself that he is Christ's, let him again consider this in himself, that just as he is Christ's, even so we are Christ's.

 

The false teachers who had infiltrated the Corinthian church were claiming to be teachers of Christ and their purpose was to try to supplant Paul (10:13). Since they were from Judea (11:21-22), their claims may have included some knowledge or acquaintance with Jesus during His ministry on earth. In any case, Paul matched their claim to belong to Christ. The Corinthians would have certainly known about Paul’s personal encounter with Jesus on the Damascus road, the encounter that had changed Paul forever (see Acts 9:1-10).

 

It seems clear that at least some of Paul’s opponents were saying that he did not belong to Christ in the same way they did—that they had a special relationship with Jesus Christ and letters of recommendation from the apostles in Jerusalem. Perhaps they were slamming him for once being the arch-persecutor of the church. Perhaps they claimed special knowledge. Perhaps they claimed a special holiness. In any event they looked down on Paul and glorified themselves and their own relationship to Christ. But nobody has an exclusive claim on Christ; he belongs to the Lord Jesus as much as any man. Whoever the exclusive Christians were, Paul does not deny they belonged to Christ. Therefore, in this verse he can hardly be referring to the false apostles and deceitful workers who transformed themselves into apostles of Christ (11:4). It seems that he is dealing with different adversaries from the Corinthian church, some saved and some unsaved. However, it is not clear from the text who it is or what group he is referring to; so, it can be either the false teachers or some individual or group in the Corinthian church. My personal opinion is that it is all of these.

 

Here Paul challenged those who were doubting his authority to consider carefully the evidence for Paul’s own relationship to Jesus. First, the undeniable change in people who believed in the message he preached (3:1-5); second, the integrity with which he faithfully presented the Gospel message (4:1-5); third, the hardships he had endured for the cause of Christ (6:3-10; 11:23-29); and finally, the fact that Christ Himself had commissioned him to be an apostle to the Gentiles (1:21-22; 5:20-21; 6:1-2; 10:8; 12:2-4).

 

 

8 For even if I should boast somewhat more about our authority, which the Lord gave us for edification and not for your destruction, I shall not be ashamed—

 

It appears that they accused Paul of making boastful claims of having authority in an area in which his authority did not run. No doubt they said that he might try to be the master in other churches, but not in Corinth. His blunt answer is that Corinth is well within his sphere of authority for he was the first to bring them the good news of Jesus Christ.

 

Paul feels that there is something improper about such boasting as he now feels driven to do. More than once in chapters 10-13 he shows his embarrassment at having to assert his authority and underline his achievements. The expression “somewhat more” reflects this uneasiness. But even if he boasts more than he should, he “shall not be ashamed,” because he will tell the truth about his past and he will be able to do what he threatens. Like Jesus, who is the stern judge of stubbornly unresponsive men, yet who came not to judge but to save, Paul can defeat opposition and punish disobedience (10:5-6); nevertheless his real mission is to call men to faith and salvation.

 

Although Paul’s opponents had portrayed him as weak and powerless, Paul reminded the Corinthians that he did possess God-given authority (see 1:21-22; 5:20-21). False teachers were encouraging the people to ignore Paul, but he maintained that what he had written in his letters was to be taken seriously. Paul possessed the authority from the Lord to exhort the Corinthians, but he refused to exercise that authority in an unscriptural manner. Although he would not boast of himself or compare himself to other preachers, he would boast about the Lord and the authority Jesus had given him to preach the Gospel that saves (see 10:12-13, 17-18; 1 Corinthians 1:31).

 

Unlike the false teachers who had come to Corinth, Paul knew the limits of his authority (compare with 10:13-14). He wasn’t given the authorization to pull down the church. His mission was to build up the church throughout the world; and it requires much more skill to build than to destroy. Furthermore, it takes love to build up (1 Corinthians 8:1); and the Corinthians interpreted Paul’s love and meekness as a sign of weakness. When Paul had first visited Corinth to preach the Gospel, he was faithful to his mission. He had built the Corinthian church on the Gospel truths relating to Jesus (1 Corinthians 3:9-13); see also Acts 18:4-6). Paul’s mission was constructive, not destructive.  That is why he had hesitated to visit them. Paul was afraid that his visit would cause more pain than was necessary (1:23-24; 12:19-21). The test which Paul advised Christians apply to their conduct in the church was whether it tended to build up or destroy the body. Pride, hostility, scorn, and uncharitableness, disintegrate the fellowship instead of building the members together for a habitation of God through the Spirit.

 

The difference between Paul and the Judaizers was this; Paul used his authority to build up the church, while the Judaizers used the church to build up their authority. Paul had been given authority in connection with the churches he established, while the false teachers were exercising an authority among the Corinthians they had never received from the Lord. And far from edifying the Corinthian church, the false apostles had brought confusion, divisiveness, and turmoil. They showed that their authority did not come from the Lord, who seeks only to build his church (see Matthew 16:18), not tear it down.

 

 

9 lest I seem to terrify you by letters.

 

In other words, if the apostle was to boast of his God given authority, he does not want the Christians to think he is trying to scare them. That would be playing into the hands of his critics. Apparently Paul’s critics at Corinth had attacked his letters as not only being hard to understand (see Paul’s defense of the straightforwardness of his letters in 1:13) but also written to frighten them. Paul’s last letter to the Corinthians had been harsh. Paul had even cried over it (2:3-4). The letter was necessary, however, since Paul had to work through some troublesome situations in the church. For one thing, his opponents in the church were accusing Paul of not being a true apostle; for, if he were a true apostle he would show it by using his authority. On the other hand, if Paul had “thrown his weight around,” they would have found fault with that. No matter what course Paul took, they were bound to condemn him. This is what always happens when church members are not spiritually minded, but evaluate preachers from a worldly point of view.

 

But their accusation backfired. If Paul was not an apostle, then he was a counterfeit and not even a believer. But if that were true, then the church at Corinth was not a true church. Paul had always made it clear that nobody could separate his authority and his personal life—“Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, in the holiness and sincerity that are from God. We have done so not according to worldly wisdom but according to God's grace. For we do not write you anything you cannot read or understand. And I hope that, as you have understood us in part, you will come to understand fully that you can boast of us just as we will boast of you in the day of the Lord Jesus” (2 Corinthians 1:12-14). If he were a deceiver, then the Corinthians were the deceived!

 

 

10 "For his letters," they say, "are weighty and powerful, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible."

 

Greece was known for its eloquent and persuasive orators. Corinth, a prominent Greek city at this time, was filled with trained speakers. Apparently, some of the Corinthian believers (perhaps encouraged by the false teachers among them) were judging Paul’s speaking ability. He had already admitted to the Corinthians that he had consciously avoided dependence on rhetoric and human philosophy when he had presented the Gospel of salvation to them (see 1 Corinthians 2:1-3). He wanted the message to speak for itself, unencumbered by such distractions.

 

Paul also pointed out that there was no contradiction between his preaching and his writing. He was bold in his letters because that was what was needed at the time. This does not mean that Paul admitted to being overbearing in his letters. That was what they said about him. How much more would he have enjoyed being able to write with gentleness. But it would not have achieved the desired purpose. And, even when he wrote “weighty and powerful” letters, he wrote from a heart of love. “You had better prepare for my next visit,” he was saying, “because if it is necessary, I will show you how powerful I can be.”

 

Paul does not want his letters to be bold and terrifying and then he himself to appear weak when he was among them. I believe this indicates to us that Paul was not what we would call an attractive man. When people heard Paul, it was obvious to them that he was not preaching to them under his own physical strength or by his eloquence or by his personal magnetism. I think he must have been a weak-looking vessel. Perhaps, as with Samson in the time of the Judges, it was obvious that his strength was not within himself but came from the Spirit of God.

 

It seems that the Corinthians had sunk nearly to the ultimate depths of discourtesy when they taunted Paul about his personal appearance. Their criticism of the impression he had made in Corinth must have been painful, for it implied that his appearance and speech had been anything but imposing. His bodily presence, they jeered, was weak, and he was not a good speaker. It may well be that they were right, for he confesses that when he first faced them, it was with fear and trembling, “I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling” (1 Corinthians 2:3). It is hard to think of Paul as being afraid of his audience, sensitive about his competence in preaching, unsure of himself, and struck with a sense of inferiority. With such fears his work in Corinth in face of hostility and physical suffering was a miracle of grace, through which he learned that God’s strength is made perfect in human weakness.

 

A description of Paul’s personal appearance has come down to us from a very early book called The Acts of Paul and Thecla, which dates back to about A.D. 200. It is so unflattering that it may well be true. It describes Paul as “a man of little stature, thin-haired upon the head, crooked in the legs, of good state of body, with eyebrows, and with nose somewhat hooked, full of grace, for sometimes he appeared like a man, and sometimes he had the face of an angel.” A little, balding, bandy-legged man, with a hooked nose and shaggy eyebrows—it is not a very impressive picture, and it may well be that the Corinthians made him the butt of their jokes.

 

 

11 Let such a person consider this, that what we are in word by letters when we are absent, such we will also be in deed when we are present.

 

In the past, Paul had restrained from disciplining members of the Corinthian church in person. He had warned them to stop sinning (see 13:2) on several occasions and had written letters encouraging them to discipline persistent sinners (see 1 Corinthians 5:1-5). Paul had used these indirect methods to encourage the leaders of the Corinthian church to take charge of the situation and discipline their own members. Paul even had promised to go along with the judgments they made (see 1 Corinthians 1:5; see also 2:6-10). Because his more accommodating approach wasn’t working with the Corinthians, however, Paul assured them that on his next visit he would exercise his authority (13:3-4), punishing those who had not taken his warning to heart earlier (13:1-2). He will take stern measures only if he must, but he has apostolic authority to speak and act; and his words and actions will prove to be consistent. So the Corinthians should change their attitude before he comes and acts.

 

How a Christian uses authority is an evidence of his spiritual maturity and character. An immature person swells when he uses his authority, but a mature person grows when he uses his authority, and others grow with him. The wise pastor, like the wise parent, knows when to wait in loving patience and when to act with determined power. It takes more power to wait than to strike. A mature person does not use authority to demand respect. Mature leaders suffer while they wait to act, while immature leaders act impetuously and make others suffer.

 

The false teachers depended upon “letters of recommendation” for their authority, but Paul had a divine commission from heaven. The life that he lived and the work that he did was “credentials” enough, for it was evident that the hand of God was on his life. Paul could dare to write, “Finally, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus” (Galatians 6:17).

 

Everyone who aspires to be a public speaker or a preacher should know that the cure for timidity is not to recall our own abilities and importance, but to forget ourselves, and that can be done only by thinking of the needs of the people to whom we preach, by realizing that only the Gospel can meet these needs, and above all that it is not by the impressiveness or elegance of our speech that the Gospel breaks through, but by the power of the Spirit of God that is in it.

 

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