2. Corinthians 10 – Paul defends his position
Read or listen the Second Epistle to the Corinthians - chapter 10 online (ESV, Bible Gateway)
Brave when away, weak when present? – 2 Cor. 10:1-6
Bible scholars have given a great deal of thought to why Paul uses much more severe language at the end of his letter than in chapters 1-9. There are several models to explain it:
The majority of contemporary scholars believe that Second Corinthians is a compilation of two separate letters. Chapters 10-13 would be the lost "Letter of Tears" (cf. 2 Cor. 2:1-4). Speaking against this explanation is the fact that Paul's "Severe Letter" had already gone to Corinth (compare verses 1 and 10 and 2 Cor. 7:8-9).
Others think that when the letter was being dictated – which probably lasted for weeks, in any case several days – Paul had received new bad news about Corinth. It is presumed that he responded to this nasty news at the end of the letter.
It has also been suggested that Paul's own "signature” starts at the beginning of chapter ten (cf. Gal. 6:11). For some reason – bad news being the most likely cause – it would eventually have expanded to four chapters.
It is clear that in Corinth there were both those whom Paul – and Titus during his visit (2 Cor. 7:5-7) – had won back to the right path as well as those who still opposed Paul. It could be that the first part of the letter, chapters 1-9, was written for those who had already repented and chapters 10-14 for those who had not yet done so.
We do not know for sure why Paul changes his style. Maybe it’s just that some things were already all right and some not. First Paul wanted to talk about happier things and so win over the Corinthians. Only at the end does he bring up the painful issues.
Paul had been accused of being harsh in his letters but weak when present (verses 1 and 10). Apparently, in the background there was Paul’s quick visit to Corinth (2 Cor. 2:1-4). It had failed, and Paul’s opponents had won. Paul states that as an apostle of the Lord, he can act boldly and hard even face to face (verse 2), but he hopes that he will not have to do it, but that the Corinthians will voluntarily submit to the true gospel. Love cannot be forced. Coercion always leads to the path of the law. Paul hoped that the gospel could create true joy.
In many of his epistles, Paul points out that even as an apostle he is only a sinner (Rom.7:14-25; Gal. 2:20-21). Nevertheless, he did not want to try to promote the kingdom of God by worldly means (verse 4). In Ephesians 6 (verses 10-17, see also 2 Cor. 6:7), Paul describes the weapons of spiritual warfare in more detail.
From verses 4-6 we could conclude that Paul’s opponents were supporters of some kind of philosophy. It is worth remembering, however, that even in 1 Corinthians 2:1-10, that is, before the "new apostles" came to Corinth, Paul spoke of the contradiction between the cross of Christ and human wisdom. We do not get detailed information about what Paul’s opponents taught, but Paul saw that the new path would not lead to heaven.
Paul had been accused of excessive humility (verse 1). Paul accuses his opponents of pride (verse 5). Christ was humble and gentle (verse 1, Matt. 11:28-30), so the path chosen by Paul was closer to the example of Christ.
All Christians are in Christ – 2 Cor. 10:7-11
The beginning of verse 7 can be translated in several ways. New International Version: “You are judging by appearances”, New Living Translation: “Look at the obvious facts”, English Standard Version: “Look at what is before your eyes”.
Paul’s opponents claimed to be closer to Christ than Paul (verse 7). Paul reminds his readers that every Christian is in Christ. Even the slightest faith is enough – compare Jesus' parable of the mustard seed (Matt. 13:31-32). In our time it is often claimed that Christians are divided into different groups in their relation to the Holy Spirit. Here, too, Paul saw only one option: all Christians have the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:9). When we have Christ, we have everything. If we do not have Christ, we have nothing!
The mission of the apostle was not to tear apart the church, but to build it (verse 8, 2 Cor. 12:19). Paul's opponents did just the opposite.
Apparently, Paul’s opponents were skilled speakers. Fluent or persuasive speaking was valued in the Greek culture. Unfortunately we do not have any reliable information about Paul’s appearance, his talent in speaking, etc.
Different people like different preachers. There is no one right way or style to preach the gospel. Paul does not get tired of emphasizing that it is the content and not the form that is the most important thing in the preaching of the gospel (Gal. 1:6-9).
The fact that Paul did not charge a salary or a fee for proclaiming the gospel made some people think that his proclamation was worthless. Sometimes we encounter such thinking also in mission fields, where it is customary to pay for religious rites. Once someone is used to paying for religious rites, he or she may ask if free grace can be good.
Verse 7 may refer to the "Christ Party" mentioned in 1 Corinthians 1:12, but it may just as well be only a reference to those who boasted of their own spirituality.
God-given mission – 2 Cor. 10:12-18
Paul’s opponents bragged about what, in fact, Paul had initiated. It was Paul who had founded the church in Corinth (Acts 18:1-8).
In verses 14-16, Paul speaks of his own vision for work. On the road to Damascus, God had called him to be an apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15-16). Paul had put this vision into action. He had always seen it as a matter of honour to work only where the gospel had not yet been preached (Rom. 15:20-21). When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he felt he had completed his work in the territory of present-day Greece, and he was already planning to work in new areas, far in the west, in Spain (i.e., present-day Spain and Portugal, Rom. 15:22-24). But before leaving for the west, Paul wanted to take the gift gathered by the Gentile churches to the Jerusalem church to ensure that the connection between Christians of pagan background and those of Jewish background would not break (Rom. 15:25-26, 2 Cor. 9). Paul had in mind to put things right also in Corinth before leaving for the far west. It is understandable that if things had remained unclear in Corinth (and Galatia) the fate of those congregations would have worried the apostle.
Paul therefore had a God-given authority to work in Corinth (verse 18). But what about Paul’s opponents? Did they recommend themselves (verse 12)?
There are two main points in missionary work: reaching new people with the gospel and teaching the converts. It is clear that a church grows faster if people are invited to the church when some another church has already done the groundwork. But such is not only regrettable competition among Christians, but it also means that those who have not yet heard the gospel are forgotten.
It seems that Paul's opponents accused Paul of cowardice: "After a short visit that went badly, he doesn't even dare to come to Corinth to defend himself!" However, Paul had his own schedule – or, in fact, the schedule God gave him; at the right time (verse 2) he would come to Corinth.
At the meeting of the apostles (Acts 15:1-29, Gal. 2:6-10) it had been decided that Paul would be responsible for the Gentile mission, and James, Peter, and John for the Jewish mission. Of course, this division was not entirely strict, as a synagogue of the Jews was usually where Paul began his work in a new city (Acts 17:1-3, 10-12, 16-17, 18:1-4). So, the division was about the focus in their work.
Although Paul's opponents were Jewish Christians (2 Cor. 11:22), it did not in itself mean violating the decision of the apostles’ meeting: after all, Peter had apparently also visited Corinth (1 Cor. 1:12). The objective of the decision made at the meeting was that no harm would be done to another's work and that there would be no wrong kind of competition. That is exactly what Paul's opponents had done.
We easily overestimate ourselves and our accomplishments, "I'm the only one who is something, others are nothing!" (cf. Gal. 6:3) That is why we should not take ourselves (verse 12) as our measure but God (verse 18). The only thing we can boast about till the very end is God and his grace (verse 17). Nothing else will stand in our lives. In ourselves, there is nothing that will stand. All we can bring to God is our sin.
If Paul's example had been followed in church history, the gospel would have spread much more effectively.
Paul did not want to argue, but he could in no way accept the exchange of the true gospel for a lie. (Gal. 5:1-6). Paul was not defending himself but God’s plan of salvation.