Everyone needs approval, applause even. But from whom?
Paul’s “severe letter” (lost to us) moved the Corinthians to repent of allowing the so-called “super apostles” visiting Corinth to disdain Paul (7:7). But they were still in Corinth, their anti-Paul rhetoric still demeaning Paul and his gospel.
“Now I, Paul, plead with you. I plead with the gentleness and kindness that Christ himself would use, even though some of you say I am bold in my letters but timid in person. I hope it won’t be necessary, but when I come I may have to be very bold with those who think we act from purely human motives” (2 Corinthians 10:1,2, New Living Translation).
Paul refuses to hit them with apostolic commands. Instead, he appeals to the Corinthian church, not with the authority of the risen Christ, but “with the gentleness and kindness that Christ himself would use”. This is his ministry model.
His detractors say he’s bold in writing, timid in person. But he’s ready, if need be, to be bold in the face of those who think his motives are just like the rest of the world (literally, “according to the flesh/according to the sinful nature”).
We are human (literally, “in the flesh”) but we don’t wage war (“soldier, fight”) with human plans and methods (“according to the flesh” or “sinful nature”). We use God’s mighty weapons (“our weapons are divinely powerful”), not mere worldly weapons, to knock down the Devil’s strongholds (literally, “for the pulling down of strongholds”. With these weapons we break down every proud argument that keeps people from knowing God. With these weapons we conquer their rebellious ideas, and we teach them to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5, New Living Translation).
D.A. Carson, (theologian and research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) observes . . .
“Worldly weapons in this context are the kinds of tools of the trade relished by the intruders: human ingenuity, rhetoric, showmanship, a certain splashiness and forwardness in spiritual pretensions, charm, powerful personal charisma. Such weapons they will not find in Paul’s arsenal, so they think him inferior; but Paul responds by openly disavowing such weapons. He would not want to defend himself on that score, for his weapons are of an entirely different sort. They are spiritual weapons, and they are divinely powerful (or powerful in God’s perspective or for his service).”
Paul’s weapons, then, must be the gospel of Jesus Christ, truth, righteousness, humility, etc. These are the weapons Paul uses to fight a spiritual battle, to “demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (ESV).
The NLT interprets “strongholds” to be the “Devil’s”. But Carson says that these “strongholds” are “the way people think, their sinful thought patterns, the mental structures by which they live their lives in rebellion against God.”
And Sam Storms (Pastor, Bridgeway Church, Oklahoma City) interprets “every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God” (NASB) to mean “every arrogant claim, every haughty or prideful thought, every pompous act that forms a barrier to the knowledge of God; i.e. every argument used to rationalize sin and unbelief and delay repentance.”
Paul proclaims that his weapons conquer all this.
“And we will punish those who remained disobedient after the rest of you became loyal and obedient. The trouble with you is that you make your decisions on the basis of appearance. You must recognize that we belong to Christ just as much as those who proudly declare that they belong to Christ “ (2 Corinthians 10:6,7, New Living Translation).
“Punish” seems a strong word for the apostle who is pleading with “the gentleness and kindness that Christ himself would use”. However, here he is probably warning the Corinthians who are still adamantly insisting that Paul is “walking according to the flesh.” “Those who proudly declare that they belong to Christ” are probably proclaiming to have a special relationship with Christ (spurred on by the “super apostles”?) that Paul doesn’t have. Moreover, Paul charges they are judging “on the basis of appearance”—Paul literally falling short in that category. However, Paul argues, “ . . . we belong to Christ . . . ”
“I may seem to be boasting too much about the authority given to us by the Lord. But this authority is to build you up, not to tear you down. And I will not be put to shame by having my work among you destroyed. Now this is not just an attempt to frighten you by my letters. For some say, “Don’t worry about Paul. His letters are demanding and forceful, but in person he is weak, and his speeches are really bad!” The ones who say this must realize that we will be just as demanding and forceful in person as we are in our letters. Oh, don’t worry; I wouldn’t dare say that I am as wonderful as these other men who tell you how important they are! But they are only comparing themselves with each other, and measuring themselves by themselves. What foolishness!” (2 Corinthians 10:8-12, New Living Translation).
Paul admits he may sound boastful about his authority; but he’ll not be ashamed of it. The Lord authorized him to build up the church and he won’t let his work be destroyed no matter what! He’s not trying to frighten them by his bold letters. But let it be known: when he comes he’ll be just as bold in person!
Paul mocks the “super apostles” who are demeaning him. They make their own behavior the standard, then tell each other how wonderful they are! They’re nothing but fools.
“But we will not boast of authority we do not have. Our goal is to stay within the boundaries of God’s plan for us, and this plan includes our working there with you. We are not going too far when we claim authority over you, for we were the first to travel all the way to you with the Good News of Christ. Nor do we claim credit for the work someone else has done. Instead, we hope that your faith will grow and that our work among you will be greatly enlarged. Then we will be able to go and preach the Good News in other places that are far beyond you, where no one else is working. Then there will be no question about being in someone else’s territory. As the Scriptures say, “The person who wishes to boast should boast only of what the Lord has done.” When people boast about themselves, it doesn’t count for much. But when the Lord commends someone, that’s different!” (2 Corinthians 10:13-18).
In answer to his detractors, Paul will boast, but only about the work God has assigned to him. He had brought the gospel of Christ all the way to Corinth. Now believers existed together where before there were none. He claims credit for his work, no one else’s (an obvious dig at the “super apostles”). His wish is that the Corinthians will become a firm base from which he can take the gospel to others who’ve not heard. Through it all, his boast is not in himself, but in what the Lord has done through him. The ESV translation of 10:18 fittingly concludes Paul’s thought: “For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.”
Paul makes it glaringly clear: he’s not living for people’s approval; he doesn’t care to gain their applause. He is living for the Lord. He has, in other words, an audience of One.
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Our take-away is this simple question . . .
For whose applause are we living?