Notes on 2 Corinthians 10:7-12

2 Corinthians 10:7‑12  •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 9
Sum is the way the apostle sets forth beseechingly the authority he had received in the Lord against the detraction of adversaries who were even yet exercising a poisonous influence over the saints. Nothing was farther from him than the fleshly, vacillating, and tortuous policy they attributed to him. But these are the common tactics of the enemy. The first to brand others with lack of spirituality, fidelity or even integrity, are those who are themselves guilty in these very respects, and spend their breath in a restless endeavor to imbue all they meet with their own surmisings; until they seem at last not only to believe their every impression, but to be satisfied that rancor is true love and invective nothing but faithfulness to Christ. The apostle, after showing that it is one thing to walk in flesh, another to walk according to it, declares that we do not war according to flesh. The arms of our warfare, powerful as they are with God to overthrow flesh's strongholds, are of small value in carnal eyes. The apostle insists on all being reduced to the obedience of Christ, and readiness to avenge every disobedience when their disobedience should have been completed. What are we here for if not for that obedience? Yet grace and wisdom would first deal with what most openly and seriously dishonors God; and then, when conscience answers to the word, would look for more, yea for all that is pleasing in His sight. God is in the assembly, His dwelling, His holy temple (however men may forget or fritter down the solemn fact), and surely there to give efficacy to His own word and will, as He then was to vindicate by His power the authority of His servant when undermined or denied.
“Do ye look on things according to appearance?1 If any one hath trust in himself that he is of Christ,2 let him of3 himself consider this again, that even as he [is] of Christ, so also we.4 For even5 if I should boast somewhat more abundantly of our authority which the Lord gave6 for building up and not for your overthrowing, I shall not be ashamed; that I seem not as, it were to terrify you by letters: because his letters, saith one,7 [are] weighty and strong, but the presence of the body weak and the speech contemptible. Let such an one consider this, that such as we are in word by letters when absent, such also in deed when present. For we dare not class or compare ourselves with some of those that commend themselves; but they, measuring themselves among themselves and comparing themselves8 with themselves, are unintelligent [or misunderstand].” (Vers. 7-12.)
It seems clear that Paul had nothing in presence or action, any more than in rank or position, to attract the fleshly or worldly mind. So we see elsewhere that the heathen who were struck by the miracles wrought called Barnabas Zeus, and Paul Hermes. Some of the Corinthians indulged in similar depreciation. They could not understand an apostle of such mean appearance, and a style of speech so little suitable to an ambassador of Christ. In this last respect they were much more fastidious than the Lycaonians who felt the force of Paul's words. External manner had an egregious over-value in Achaian eyes. The apostle at once brings in Christ, who reduces all men, and all things, to their true level. “Do ye look on things according to appearance? If any one hath trust in himself that he is of Christ, let him of himself consider this again, that even as he [is] of Christ, so also we.” He first puts himself with others, as simply “of Christ;” for such self-assertion as his detractors indulged in was no guarantee, no reflection, of Christ. And very cutting is his appeal: trust, confidence, in self, what is the worth of it? And if they had no more in this respect to brag, on what plea could they deny Paul's relationship to Christ? Paul gloried in Him and in nothing else, unless it were in His cross or that which answers to it. But he goes farther. “For even if I should boast somewhat more abundantly of our authority which the Lord gave for building up and not for your overthrowing, I shall not be ashamed; that I seem not as it were to terrify you by letters.” Now he quietly, but with firmness, lets them know how much more he might have put forward his apostolic authority. He had not talked, we may be sure, of the blindness he had inflicted on Elymas; he had written in his first epistle of delivering the incestuous offender to Satan, as well as of coming with a rod for the refractory in general. But he had not come, and these vain men treated the warning as vain words. But the Lord gave not in vain the function of acting as His spiritual right hand on earth, though its prime aim was for blessing, not punishment. Still the hand that can wield the trowel can use the scourge; and it were better to fear for their own bold irreverence than to put him to the proof, whether the Lord was with him now.
The apostle's call was to build up, not to cast down; and love it is which builds up. But there was opposition to the Lord quite as much or more than to Paul in questioning the authority given him. And in order to sap and destroy it, advantage was taken of his words and ways to impute fickleness, vacillation, and untruthfulness, as we gather from the first chapter; lack of moral courage when present and despicable weakness in person and ministry as we see here, aggravated by the heroic style of his letters when absent; craft, guile, and self-seeking as it would seem from chapter 12. Ill will never did lack material for disparaging the person, character, office and work of a servant beyond all example used, kept, and honored of the Lord. If he refrained then from saying more, as he easily might and naturally would, of his authority in and from the Lord, it was that he might not seem as if he would frighten them by his letters. And this because his letters, said one, are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence weak and his speech of no account. Such was the carping of his adversaries or of one in particular. We can understand it well. Neither spirituality nor unworldliness nor faithfulness vaunts itself nor seeks to lower others; but flesh betrays thereby its pretensions and its party-spirit.
There were various parties in the Corinthians, and some who strove to stand clear in grace and truth; but of all this schismatic activity the Christ-party, I should gather, was the most obstinate. Certainly we have no allusion in the second Epistle to any other; but there appears to be a trace that the spirit of those who said, “I am of Christ,” claiming a peculiar and exclusive connection with Him, was not yet exercised. The root of this error is judged in chapter v., especially verse 16. We can readily understand how it might creep in among men boasting of having seen, heard, and perhaps followed the Lord in the days of His flesh. Here the apostle bids the man who is confident in himself that he is of Christ of himself to think this again, that even as he is of Christ, so is Paul. How simple is the truth, how destructive of airy dreams which would misuse oven Christ to flatter self! Nor is anything so holy or humble as the faith which cleaves to Him. Similarly of his authority from the Lord, as of his relationship to Him, he bids such a detractor think (ver. 11) that “such as we are in word by letters when absent, such also in deed [we will be] when present.”
It was the adversaries who had nothing to boast but words or manners, show or position. When he came, the apostle would know not the word of those puffed up, but the power; but he desired earnestly that it might be, through self-judgment on their part, a visit in love and in a spirit of meekness. But their state might compel him to use a rod, as it did to speak of himself when he would rather discourse only of Christ. Their boastfulness about themselves, their alienation from him, went along with real evil and error in some who misled them, with whose vaulting ambition he deals afterward. For the present he contents himself with this severe rebuke: “For we dare not class or compare ourselves with some of those that commend themselves; but they, measuring themselves by themselves and comparing themselves with themselves, are unintelligent.” With this clique of self-satisfied men the apostle did not venture (he severely says, though with courtesy) to rank or compare himself and brethren like him; but he retires with a Parthian shaft, for he lets them know that to measure or compare themselves thus is the reverse of that intelligence on which they most plumed themselves.