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Bible ancient-futurenetThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

2 Corinthians 10:1-6

Paul Defends His Ministry

10 I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away!— I beg of you that when I am present I may not have to show boldness with such confidence as I count on showing against some who suspect us of walking according to the flesh. For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, 6 being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s entreaty to the Corinthians to give generously to the fund for the church in Jerusalem.

The final four chapters of 2 Corinthians — 10 through 13 — are about dealing with the false teachers in the church in Corinth who are lobbing false and damaging accusations against the Apostle. These chapters are about spiritual warfare.

John MacArthur says that Paul must root them out before they ruin the Corinthians’ church (emphases mine):

He knew that there w[ere] still some glowing embers from the fire of accusation against him and in some little places, in some corners they were ready to be fanned into flame at the first opportunity. He knew there were false teachers still there.

Still hiding in the congregation were some rebels who were ready to again start up the revolution. He also knew what anybody knows who’s ever dealt with slander, that it is extremely difficult – it is extremely difficult – to clear your name. Once it goes to the wind, it’s almost impossible to get it all back. The lies had been propounded against him with great cleverness, with great subtlety, with great intensity, and with great effectiveness. They had been spread and far and wide through a conspiracy that could not be undone easily or quickly.

There still were false teachers in the church. There still were those who believed them. They had just been pressed underground by the general repentance of the congregation. There were rebels then waiting for the first opportunity to assert themselves. In the meantime, they would war some guerilla warfare behind the scenes, some terrorist activity, picking their spots here and there to repeat their lies in appropriate times and places.

The poison that was underground would no doubt seep to the surface occasionally, and furthermore, this had gone far and wide and many people were asking the good folks at Corinth to explain all of this, and they needed to be armed with as much information about the integrity and credibility and authority of Paul as possible, and thus does he pen 2 Corinthians.

Now, in the final section, he directs his words at those remaining rebels, that recalcitrant minority still entrenched there. That group that’s poisoned under the surface, those troublemakers who for the moment are silent, those false teachers hiding in the wings, as it were, those people ready to assert themselves again at the appropriate moment, those remaining rebels. The minority apart from the majority who repented are the direct objects of what he says in chapters 10, 11, 12, and 13. It’s very important – very important – that he deal with that.

Titus will be delivering 2 Corinthians to the congregation, but it will take Paul some time afterwards to return to the city. Paul wants the Corinthians to handle the bulk of the controversy by the time he arrives. Otherwise, he will deal with the renegades himself in a spiritually forceful way:

Titus will take this letter to them, and it’ll be about two and a half months after they get this letter that he will come for his third visit. So he is giving them a couple of months to deal with this issue and for the people who are still disloyal to repent so that when he comes there, they don’t face this great soldier. He’s coming to fight if fighting is necessary. And that is exactly how he opens the whole section, talking about warfare and weapons and fortresses and bringing them down. It is a warfare perspective. This is his battle plan. If he has to fight, he will fight.

In the first verse, Paul asserts his apostolic authority by referring to himself in three ways: ‘I, Paul, myself’. He says that he encourages the Corinthians through the Christlike example of meekness and gentleness. He ends that verse with some sarcasm, noting that the congregation thinks he is weak when in their presence and bold when he is far away from them.

Matthew Henry’s commentary points out that whereas in the beginning of 2 Corinthians, Paul spoke of himself and Timothy, he now speaks of himself only:

We find, in the introduction to this epistle, he joined Timothy with himself; but now he speaks only for himself, against whom the false apostles had particularly levelled their reproaches

Some translations include the word ‘Now’ before ‘I, Paul, myself’.

MacArthur explains that this is only to denote this final section of four chapters. MacArthur also explains why Paul feels the need to reassert his authority:

“Now” signifies the introduction of the final section. Then he says, “I, Paul, myself” – this is of great importance. It is of significant importance. What had been questioned was his authority. What had been questioned was his right to speak for God. What had been questioned was his message, his gospel, his apostleship. His credentials were under attack and dispute. His authority was under attack and dispute. His apostleship was under assault.

But now the people, the church in general, have reaffirmed that, and they have reaffirmed that he is the apostle who speaks with integrity and authority, and so having had that reaffirmation, he does just that here and says, “I, Paul, myself urge you.” He puts himself right in the place of authority. It is his authority as an apostle of Jesus Christ with which he speaks. He doesn’t have to get his authority somewhere else, he doesn’t have to have some kind of papers or credentials given to him as the false apostles had said he did. He can stand and speak for himself as the apostle of Jesus Christ, the founder of the Corinthian church, the spiritual father of all the believers that were there.

He was the spokesman of God with the gospel of Jesus Christ. He asserts the authority that they now have affirmed is genuinely his. He does not have to go beyond himself. He doesn’t have to look somewhere else for the authority. And it’s very important that he affirms that so that his words come with authority as his threats come with authority and so will his presence come with divine authority. He will confront the remaining rebels. He has the right to do that. He is the authoritative apostle of Jesus Christ.

MacArthur explores Paul as a soldier for Christ:

before he comes wielding this apostolic authority he says this, “I, Paul, myself beg you,” parakaleō, “I beg you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ.” I am begging you to end this rebellion. I am begging you to be reconciled. I’m begging you for real peace. He has no desire to see blood spilled. He has no desire for an open conflict. He gets no satisfaction out of carnage. He is patiently compassionate. He has waited in patience. He is going to wait some more. He’s going to send a letter, he’s going to wait a few months more to give them opportunity to repent.

Oh, how like God that is. And isn’t that what he says? “I beg you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ.” A great soldier is not vicious. He is not full of venom and vitriol and hate. He is not full of anger. He is not full of rage. A great soldier is not full of revenge. He is first and first of all a man of compassion. He is a man of meekness and gentleness.

MacArthur explains what ‘meekness’ actually is, and it’s not weakness. It’s controlled power, something that one keeps in check:

By the way, the word “meekness” refers to the humble and gentle attitude which expresses itself in the patient endurance of offenses. It means you’re free from anger, free from hatred, bitterness, desire for revenge when wrongly treated. It means humble and gentle in the midst of unfair treatment. And the word “gentleness,” almost a synonym. First word is prautēs, the second is epieikeia. It means, when applied to someone in authority, it means leniency. Leniency. It refers to a patient submission in the midst of mistreatment, in the midst of injustice, in the midst of disgrace, without anger, without malice, without revenge. And even though you have the power to retaliate, you don’t. That’s what it means.

And no one more characterized that kind of attitude expressed in those two words than Christ, and he says it, the meekness and gentleness of Christ. No one was more powerful than Jesus Christ and yet no one had a better harness on that power. No one had that power under control better. That’s an oft-used definition for prautēs, power under control. No one was more powerful, no one had greater judgment capability than Jesus and yet no one had it under greater control. He took the almighty power of God to bring about a retaliation on sin and kept it in check and instead exercised patience and endurance.

Paul says, “I want to be like my Lord. I want to be as patient, as gentle, as meek, I want to hold my power in check, my authority in check. Even though you’ve mistreated me and maligned me and turned against me, I have no anger, no bitterness, no malice. Even though you have disgraced me and shamed my name and shamed the Lord and shamed the gospel, I want to be patient with you.” That’s the character of a great soldier. He doesn’t look at the first opportunity to blow someone away; he considers that as the last possible choice.

However, the Corinthians misunderstood Paul’s demeanour. They thought he was weak instead of meek. He knew that and turned that against them with sarcasm:

Sadly, they saw his compassion as weakness. They put the spin on his compassion, his tenderness, his patience, his endurance, his kindness as weakness. And Paul refers to that when he says in verse 1 – he identifies himself, “I, Paul, I who am meek when face to face with you, but bold toward you when absent,” that is sheer sarcasm. He is simply repeating their accusation. This is sarcasm.

That tells you a little bit about the sternness of this section. You’re never more stern than when you use sarcasm, biting irony. And that’s what he does. They had said about Paul, “He is meek when face to face with you, but, boy, when he goes somewhere he’s real bold.” Look down at verse 10, they said his letters are weighty and strong but his personal presence is unimpressive. You know what they were saying about him? They were saying when he’s here, he’s gutless. He’s a wimp.

Face to face, he’s a coward, he doesn’t have any courage, he won’t face the issue. He’s tapeinos. That word usually is used in the New Testament, I think, everywhere but here as a virtue, but they use it in a derogatory sense, he’s a wimp, he’s a weakling when face to face with you. And you know something? When face to face with them, he was compassionate and he was tender and he had a healthy humility. Listen to 1 Corinthians 2:3, “I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling”

And they said about him, “He’s bold toward you when absent.” Boy, get him behind a pen a few miles away and he gets real fierce. He’s like that squirrelly little frizzy-haired dog behind the gate that barks its head off, and then when you open the gate runs ninety miles an hour in the other direction. He’s fine if he’s protected, if he’s insulated. Get him a distance away and put a pen in his hand and he becomes fierce. Bring him here and he’s weak, he lacks courage.

They were misunderstanding his compassion when he was there. They were misunderstanding his boldness when he was away and they used this to accuse him. This is a very clever accusation, by the way, because no matter what you say, it’s very hard to answer. That’s why this section takes so long and has such complexity to it. I mean if he tries to defend his strength from a distance, that’s a problem because they’ll say, “Oh, yeah, look at that, that’s what we expect.” If he tries to defend his weakness while he was there, they’ll say, “See? We were right, it was true.”

Paul goes on to say that he begs the Corinthians not to make him use his ‘boldness with such confidence’ that he intends using against those who are slandering him, suspecting the Apostle and the believers of ‘walking in the flesh’ (verse 2).

MacArthur explains what Paul is saying:

I’m asking you, folks, to repent. I’m asking you remaining rebels to repent and believe the gospel so that I don’t have to be bold. The word “bold,” literally courageous, tharreō, it’s the word to be courageous. If you want to see my courage, I’ll show it. Don’t force me to display the confrontational courage I can demonstrate if I’m required to do so.

He readily admits to having a warring attitude when called for. And he even starts to sort of crescendo with the idea. He says, “I can be bold with the confidence.” The confidence, literally the word for conviction. I have convictions. I have very strong convictions. And here he is saying I have the courage of my convictions. And if need be, I propose to be courageous. “I propose” means to judge, reckon, to think, to plan. I’ve planned, I’ve reckoned, I propose to be courageous if I need to be, to be bold and courageous about my convictions.

By the way, the second word there, the word translated “to be courageous,” tolmaō, literally means to be daring – to be daring. It’s a very strong term. Tharreō, the earlier word, bold, is the more common word for courage. This is “to be daring.” And what does it mean? To act without fear regardless of consequences. It’s literally to abandon yourself, without regard for personal safety, to disregard any personal safety or preservation.

He says, “Look, you want courage, I’ll show you courage, I’ll show you the courage of conviction that knows no fear.” A synonym for that word “daring” is “fearless.” Fearless. He says I’m resolved that if it’s called for, I will act with whatever aggression is necessary. I will go to battle with whatever force is required, fearlessly, daring to put my life on the line. You want courage, there is courage. And here is the beautiful picture of a tender warrior, a man of immense compassion. But when a fight has to be fought, he’s in the front line fighting it.

Now we come to a well-known verse about spiritual warfare (verse 3), which in the King James Version is more familiar:

3 For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh

This relates to the end of verse 2, wherein the false teachers are accusing Paul of ‘walking according to the flesh’. Paul says that, although he is made of flesh, he has no urge to war after the flesh — to be carnal, or sinful.

MacArthur says this is a play on words from one verse to the next:

Verse 3 is a very interesting verse. He does a little play on words. At the end of verse 2, he reminds them that they had said of him that he walked according to the flesh. And they were speaking of him in the moral sense. To walk in the flesh morally would mean to be corrupt, to be wicked on the inside, to be indecent, immoral, driven by lust and greed and pride …

there’s a very, very careful thing you must note here and that is that this is a play on words in which he moves from the moral to the physical. He does not walk in the flesh morally as they have accused him, but he does walk in the flesh physically, and that’s what he means in verse 2. He’s simply saying I’m human. I’m human.

He denies the accusation that he is corrupt, but he agrees with the reality that he is human. He is not walking in the flesh in the sense that they mean, but he is walking in the flesh in the sense of being a physical human being.

Paul goes on to say that the weapons of his warfare are not those that men use but rather those of divine power that can destroy worldly strongholds (verse 4).

Henry explains the spiritual warfare at work in the ministry:

Here observe, (1.) The work of the ministry is a warfare, not after the flesh indeed, for it is a spiritual warfare, with spiritual enemies and for spiritual purposes. And though ministers walk in the flesh, or live in the body, and in the common affairs of life act as other men, yet in their work and warfare they must not go by the maxims of the flesh, nor should they design to please the flesh: this must be crucified with its affections and lusts; it must be mortified and kept under. (2.) The doctrines of the gospel and discipline of the church are the weapons of this warfare; and these are not carnal: outward force, therefore, is not the method of the gospel, but strong persuasions, by the power of truth and the meekness of wisdom. A good argument this is against persecution for conscience’ sake: conscience is accountable to God only; and people must be persuaded to God and their duty, not driven by force of arms. And so the weapons of our warfare are mighty, or very powerful; the evidence of truth is convincing and cogent. This indeed is through God, or owing to him, because they are his institutions, and accompanied with his blessing, which makes all opposition to fall before his victorious gospel. We may here observe, [1.] What opposition is made against the gospel by the powers of sin and Satan in the hearts of men. Ignorance, prejudices, beloved lusts, are Satan’s strong-holds in the souls of some; vain imaginations, carnal reasonings, and high thoughts, or proud conceits, in others, exalt themselves against the knowledge of God, that is, by these ways the devil endeavours to keep men from faith and obedience to the gospel, and secures his possession of the hearts of men, as his own house or property. But then observe, [2.] The conquest which the word of God gains. These strong-holds are pulled down by the gospel as the means, through the grace and power of God accompanying it as the principal efficient cause. Note, The conversion of the soul is the conquest of Satan in that soul.

Using these divine weapons of spiritual warfare, with all thoughts obedient to Christ, enables Paul to destroy arguments and lofty opinions that oppose the knowledge of God (verse 5).

MacArthur rewords the verse for us:

You want to go to battle? I’ll go to battle, but I’m going to give you a warning, I don’t fight like you. I don’t fight on your level. Life and ministry for Paul was war, it is war for all of us. We don’t have to fight it with human weapons. We are human but we don’t use human weapons. It’s war, it’s always war. We’re all engaged in it. The kingdom of darkness is our opponent, and we are fighting for the truth, the preservation and proclamation of the truth. We are fighting for the honor of Jesus Christ. We are fighting for the salvation of sinners and we are fighting for the virtue of saints. We are engaged in war.

Paul ends by saying that he is ready to fully punish every disobedience to the Gospel whilst recognising full obedience to it in others (verse 6).

Henry explains:

The apostle was a prime-minister in the kingdom of Christ, and chief officer in his army, and had in readiness (that is, he had power and authority at hand) to revenge all disobedience, or to punish offenders in a most exemplary and extraordinary manner. The apostle speaks not of personal revenge, but of punishing disobedience to the gospel, and disorderly walking among church-members, by inflicting church-censures. Note, Though the apostle showed meekness and gentleness, yet he would not betray his authority; and therefore intimates that when he would commend those whose obedience was fulfilled or manifested others would fall under severe censures.

Paul continues the theme in the rest of the chapter.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 10:7-12

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