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2 Corinthians 10:1-11 – Paul’s Responds to Criticism That He Is Weak

Summary

Paul responds to the accusation that his presence and speech do not measure up to the authority that he exercises in his letters.

Analysis

In 2 Corinthians 10-12, Paul engages questions about his apostolic authority in comparison with those leaders who have come to Corinth after he left. In these chapters, Paul alludes to criticisms of his ministry, either by some of the Corinthians, or by the teachers who followed him in Corinth. He says he wants to avoid being drawn into a comparison of himself and those teachers, yet he cannot avoid defending his own ministry and finally, he explicitly compares himself to his opponents and boasts as a self-proclaimed fool in order to highlight the power of God working through him.

Second Corinthians 10:1-11 recalls the contrast introduced in 2 Corinthians 1:17 and taken up again in 5:16 between knowing or acting "according to the flesh" and knowing or acting as part of the new creation. (In the NRSV, the Greek phrase, kata sarka-literally, "according to the flesh"-is translated, "from a human point of view.") Here Paul employs the language alongside a military metaphor to talk about his capacity to defend against the attacks of the opponents. The power on which he calls, like his viewpoint, is not "from a human point of view."

Second Corinthians 10 may be most interesting for the window it offers on one of the criticisms Paul's opponents are making of him. Paul quotes them, "For they say, 'His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.'" (2 Corinthians 10:10). He hints at a similar criticism earlier describing himself as "I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away!" (2 Corinthians 10:1). Paul's letters were a medium through which he continued his ministry to the churches he had founded. As such, he expected them to bear as much authority as his words had when he was living among the people whom he had introduced to Jesus. Someone in Corinth has planted the suspicion that Paul talks (or writes) a stronger leadership game than he actually plays.

In response to the criticism that Paul is authoritarian with the Corinthians even as he remains absent from them, Paul communicates two things: (1) any authority Paul has is not power for its own sake, but is given by the Lord Jesus for building up the Corinthians, and (2) "what we say by letter when absent, we will also do when present" (2 Corinthians 10:11). Later in the letter, Paul will defend himself with a third point, namely, that his weakness, coupled with the results of his ministry in Corinth, points to the power of God at work through him.

2 Corinthians 10:1-11

Paul Defends His Ministry

10I myself, Paul, appeal to you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold towards you when I am away!— 2I ask that when I am present I need not show boldness by daring to oppose those who think we are acting according to human standards.* 3Indeed, we live as human beings,* but we do not wage war according to human standards;* 4for the weapons of our warfare are not merely human,* but they have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments 5and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ. 6We are ready to punish every disobedience when your obedience is complete.

7 Look at what is before your eyes. If you are confident that you belong to Christ, remind yourself of this, that just as you belong to Christ, so also do we. 8Now, even if I boast a little too much of our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for tearing you down, I will not be ashamed of it. 9I do not want to seem as though I am trying to frighten you with my letters. 10For they say, ‘His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.’ 11Let such people understand that what we say by letter when absent, we will also do when present.

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10 February 2011

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