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"Mighty Through God"
2 Corinthians 10:1-11
Wednesday AM Bible Study
November 5, 2008
This morning, we begin a new division of Paul's second letter to the Corinthians—the division in which he defends his spiritual authority toward the Corinthian believers.
There were other times in the Scriptures in which Paul made reference to his apostleship (Galatians 1:1, 11-12; Ephesians 3:1-13). But in the case of the Corinthians, he was defending that apostleship against some who were calling it into question, and who where claiming to be more authoritative than himself. Chapters 10-13 contain his defense against these 'false apostles' (11:13). In the later half of chapter 10 (vv. 12-18), Paul makes the case that his spiritual authority is a charge that he humbly acknowledges to have been entrusted to him by Christ. But in the first half of this chapter (vv. 1-11), Paul begins by strongly asserting that authority
I. PAUL'S MEEK MANNER (vv. 1-2).
A. Paul speaks emphatically at the beginning of this new section—literally saying, “Now myself—I—Paul am pleading with you . . .” He draws attention to himself in his appeal to the Corinthians in defense of his authority; and the reason for his doing so is shown to us in the way he then cites the thing that he had been accused by the false apostles of doing. They had said that he was “lowly” (or “humble”) before them in bodily presence; but “bold” toward them through his letters when “absent” from them. To some measure, this was true; but Paul's defense was that he was following the example of the Lord Jesus (see Isaiah 42:3 with Matthew 12:20; and Matthew 11:29). He spoke to them, not in the manner in which he once displayed when he persecuted the church (see 1 Timothy 1:13), but “by the meekness and gentleness of Christ”.
B. But Paul makes it clear that this was not because he was trying to project one image in person and another by letter—as if he were relying on “fleshly” tactics to persuade the Corinthians. He had clearly exercised bold authority (even from a distance) when he needed to (see 1 Corinthians 5:3-5); and he appeals to the Corinthians not to make it necessary for him to be “bold with that confidence by which” he “intended to be bold against some.
C. Paul's example is instructive. Servants in Jesus' church do not represent their Lord rightly when they immediately resort to “bold” harshness with God's people. True servants of God are not afraid to be “bold” when they need to be—but only as a last resort. Their ordinary manner is to “be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition” (2 Timothy 2:24-25).
II. PAUL'S MIGHTY WEAPONRY (vv. 3-6).
A. When God's servants must use boldness however, they don't simply use human 'bully tactics'. Paul asserted that, though he and his co-workers “walk in the flesh” (that is, though they live and move and operate in a body of flesh), they did not “war according to the flesh” (that is, they do not rely on merely human resources and principles). Rather, the “weapons” he and his co-workers relied on were “not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds". They operated “not by might or by power”, but by God's Spirit (Zech. 4:6)—even in a fleshly body; so that “the excellence of the power may be of God” (2 Corinthians 4:7).
B. The sorts of “strongholds” that Paul spoke of were the kinds that were then being set up by the false apostles against Paul and his co-workers. They consisted of such things as “arguments” (that is, ungodly philosophies), or “every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God” (that is, arrogant positions of opposition against God and His call to holiness). These are products of spiritual forces, and not merely of “flesh and blood”; and so, because true spiritual warfare is against such spiritual forces (Ephesians 6:12), the weapons against them must be spiritual—so that the result would be that of “bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (see Philippians 2:10- 11).
C. Note that Paul and his co-workers didn't use these spiritual weapons against God's people. He was only ready to “punish all disobedience” when the Corinthian's “obedience was fulfilled”; and only then, against those who stood in opposition to the Corinthians' obedience to Christ.
III. PAUL'S CONFIDENT USE OF AUTHORITY (vv. 7-9).
A. Paul's opening words in verse seven can be translated either as a rhetorical question, or as a statement of fact. In either case, the Corinthians—under the influence of the false apostles—had tended to view Paul and his co-workers strictly on the basis of “outward appearances”. The false apostles had said that they were of Christ; but so did Paul. The only difference was that Paul could offer much more evidence of the validity of the claim (3:2; 12:12; 1 Corinthians 9:2).
B. Therefore, Paul was not afraid to “boast” of his spiritual authority—even more than the false apostles were willing to boast of theirs (see 11:16-33). He was willing to do this because he was assured that his authority was given to him by the Lord (Ephesians 3:7). He was hesitant to do so, because the authority was not given to him for the cause of “destruction” but “edification”; and he didn't want—as he had been accused of doing— to “terrify” anyone with his letters.
C. A servant in Christ's church doesn't parade his spiritual authority. He doesn't use it to bring people down under him. Rather, he uses it to lift them up and edify them. But he does so confidently, because he is assured that its source is Christ.
IV. PAUL'S PROMISED POWER (vv. 10-11).
A. The accusation made by the false apostles against Paul was that his letters are “weighty and powerful”—and as anyone who has read them knows, this is certainly true. “But”, they also argued, “his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible”. It may be that Paul simply didn't follow the rules of speaking that were ordinarily admired in Greek orators (see 1 Corinthians 2:1-5). But it may also be that his bodily condition, over the many years of beatings and trials, truly made him a relatively unimpressive sight in the eyes of men.
B. But because Paul didn't rely on “carnal” weapons, and because the people of God ought not to look merely on “outward appearance”, he was able to warn those who said this to “consider” that he and his co-workers would be—in deed and while present—what they appeared to be in letter while absent. He wrote with the authority of God; and he promised to act with the power of God when he came, if he needed to.
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The servants of God's people don't trust in the impression that their outward appearance may or may not give. Rather, they rely on the power of God to work in and through them. Thus, even the weakest of people in man's sight can be the mightiest of servants in God's hand.
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