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Bible kevinroosecomThe 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 10:7-12

7 Look at what is before your eyes. If anyone is confident that he is Christ’s, let him remind himself that just as he is Christ’s, so also are we. For even if I boast a little too much of our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you, I will not be ashamed. I do not want to appear to be frightening you with my letters. 10 For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account.” 11 Let such a person understand that what we say by letter when absent, we do when present. 12 Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.


Last week’s post opened 2 Corinthians 10, the beginning of four chapters containing Paul’s defence of his ministry and his discourse against the false teachers in the church in Corinth.

We will find out more about these interlopers in the coming weeks, but John MacArthur gives us a summary of their casting aspersions on Paul as well as what they were teaching, something to appeal to every Corinthian in one way or another (emphases mine):

First of all, the purveyors of this error were from outside the church. In other words, it wasn’t members of the church, people in the church who had been instructed by the apostle Paul and who had come up understanding the faith as it was articulated by Paul and written by him. These were outsiders who were unknown to the congregation – unknown. That’s very important to the false teachers, obviously, because nobody knows the reality about their life, nobody knows the reality about their fruit, nobody knows the reality about their background. And everybody knows that all experts are from out of town.

So they were unknown and that covered a lot of ground because nobody knew anything about them and they could pass themselves off in any way they wanted. They claimed superior apostolic authority to Paul. That is, they claimed to be the true apostles of Christ’s. In fact, they deserved the terms of Paul who called them sarcastically “super apostles.” They claimed to be the primary ones, the priority ones, the premier apostles. They claimed a superior authority to Paul.

Further, they claimed to be true Jews who represented the religion of Jesus Christ. They claimed that Paul, obviously – obviously he was a Jew, but they claimed that he was not the true Jew who truly represented the true religion of the Messiah. Now, they preached, to borrow the terms of chapter 11 verse 4, another Jesus. They had another twist and slant on Jesus but they said this is the true Jews representing the true religion of the true Jesus. They taught elements of Jewish legalism. Maybe some of the Mosaic ceremonies, maybe circumcision, they were enamored by those externals.

They claimed to be Hebrews. They claimed to be Israelites. They claimed to be descendants of Abraham, as chapter 11, verse 22 indicates. And so they came with these claims, with some form of Judaism. But beyond that, they also mingled with it some mysticism, elements of Gnosticism, elements of a superior knowledge, a higher knowledge, a secret knowledge, which they held in an elevated way, transcending what people normally knew.

So they were outsiders claiming to be apostles with authority, claiming to be true Jews who truly represented the true religion of Jesus Christ. They mingled Jewish legalism with mysticism and Gnosticism, that’s forms of mystical elevated knowledge. And they also brought counterfeit letters of commendation. You remember back in chapter 3, they criticized Paul because he didn’t have any letters, he didn’t have any letters of commendation. They had forged some, whatever the appropriate forging would be, to get them the credibility they needed. They did. And so they came with their commendations.

Furthermore, they adopted the popular sophistry and rhetoric of the culture. They knew the Greeks were literally enamored with rhetoric, that they fell down in a dead faint, as it were, over great oratory. And so they adopted the popular philosophy, sophistry – that’s wisdom – and rhetoric of the culture, which made them very popular to the Greeks. Also, they were Libertines, that is they were antinomian in emphasis, they had little regard for purity – little regard for purity. They were literally committed to immorality and sensuality and apparently led some of the Corinthians to do the same, as chapter 12, verse 21, indicates.

And all of these things I’m telling you can be seen in various parts of this letter. So they were antinomian, libertine, and yet they had ceremonial Judaism, some mysticism mixed in, sophistry, rhetoric to move the people, and they were in it for the money.

Paul tells the Corinthians to look at what is before them, saying of the false teachers that if they say they are of Christ, so is Paul, using the ‘royal “we”‘ (verse 7).

MacArthur says that Paul is addressing not only the errant members of the congregation but also the false teachers:

in chapters 10 to 13, he addresses himself to the false apostles and their followers. He is speaking more directly here to the false teachers and those who followed them. Earlier, he had been addressing the church, now he fires directly at the false teachers and those who have joined their mutiny.

In so doing, in chapters 10 to 13, he forms a strong and unarguable defense of his apostleship so that the Corinthians will trust him. And all future people who question that can read this letter and know that this indeed is a man sent from the Lord Jesus Himself.

By telling them to look at what is before their eyes, Paul intends for them to look more deeply rather than superficially:

Let’s see how he begins in verse 7. “You’re looking at things as they are outwardly.” Now, that Greek phrase could be translated two different ways. The translators of the New American Standard have chosen to translate it as an indicative; that is to say, to translate it as a present fact, you are looking at things as they are outwardly. Your problem is you’re looking at things superficially. Your problem is you’re looking on the surface, it’s a fleshly point of view. Can’t you go a little deeper would be the meaning if it is indeed an indicative.

But it is more likely that the Greek here is an imperative, and an imperative means it is a command. And if it is a command, then you take the same Greek words and you would translate it this way: Look at what is obvious, look at what is right in front of your face, face the facts, look at the evidence, see the reality, see what is right before you, look what’s under your nose, that kind of thing. I would lean toward the fact that it is indeed an imperative for this reason if no other reason, the verb here blepete, a form of blepō, to see, or to look, blepete is often used by Paul and almost always when he uses it, he uses it as an imperative.

He does so in 1 Corinthians 8:9, 10:12, 10:18, 16:10. He does so in Galatians 5:15, Ephesians 5:15, Colossians 2:8, and Colossians 4:17. Most commonly, he uses it in an imperative sense. And so in that sense, it would be translated like this: Look at what is right there before you, look again at the evidence right in front of your nose. How can you go rushing after a false teacher? How can you join this mutiny against me? How can you believe that these are the true apostles of Christ and I’m a false apostle? Look at the facts. That’s what he’s saying.

Paul asserts that the false teacher in question here is only claiming he is of Christ; he has no apostolic track record, whereas the Apostle does:

… it says in verse 7, “If anyone is confident in himself.” It’s his own personal opinion. Oh, that’s weighty. It’s his own personal conviction, is it? It’s his own personal claim, is it? Yes, that’s all there was. There was just that. There was no record of churches built. There was no record of converts. There was no record of a Damascus Road experience. There was no record of personal communion with Jesus Christ. And no people to testify to the reality of that. There was no Ananias to talk about blindness and being healed of blindness and being sent to preach to the gentiles.

There was no Barnabas going around to say the power of Paul was evident in great miracles and proclamation of the truth. There were no believers here, there, and everywhere in churches who could speak to the validity of that claim. There was nothing but the claim. And so confidently and self-assertively, this guy stands up and says he is Christ’s and you ask him why and he says, “Because I said so.” Confident in himself, claiming for themselves.

Now, what does he mean here when he says that he is Christ’s? Well, first of all, he would mean that he’s a Christian, truly related to Christ. Secondly, it could also mean – and Paul doesn’t distinguish, so we have to take the widest possible look. It could also mean that he had a unique earthly relationship with Jesus Christ. It could also mean that he is Christ’s in the sense maybe that the Christ party, referred to in 1 Corinthians, said “I am of Christ.” He had some personal earthly relationship to Christ. Thirdly, it certainly meant that he had an apostolic commission from Christ.

And fourthly, it probably had a mystical Gnostic tone and meant that he had some elevated secret knowledge of the glorified Christ. We don’t know which of those, but my best guess is, since Paul doesn’t tell us, it’s probably a mix. He would say he’s a Christian, with a very unique and special relationship with Jesus Christ, having received a commission as a true apostle of Jesus Christ, and enjoying some elevated mystical secret knowledge about Christ.

The whole point of these false claims was to discredit Paul completely, adding in slander against him:

Whatever they were claiming for themselves, they were disclaiming for Paul. They were supplanting him, so that’s obvious. They were inferring that Paul, since they claimed he was a deceiver with a wicked, hidden life of secret shame, full of lust and sin, a man who preached lies and did it for money, they would be saying Paul’s not a Christian, Paul has no real personal earthly relationship with Jesus Christ, Paul has no commission or apostolic authority, and Paul certainly doesn’t have the elevated secret higher knowledge of the glorified Christ.

MacArthur points out that, for now, Paul is not denying this false teacher’s claim of being of Christ but asserts his own authority:

Now, Paul at this point does not deny their claim, he simply refers to it. “If anyone is confident in himself that he is Christ’s,” he doesn’t deny that. He doesn’t say, “Well, he’s not.” He will say that over in chapter 11, verses 13 to 15, he’ll say that very clearly. But for the sake of argument, he says, “If we’re just going to compare personal claims here, if we’re just going to compare personal claims, if anyone is confident in himself that he is Christ’s, let him consider this again. Let him rethink this within himself, that just as he is Christ’s, so also are we.”

While in our times, referring to ourselves as the royal ‘we’ is not considered appropriate, MacArthur explains that Paul was too humble to use the pronoun ‘I’ too often:

he uses the editorial plural because he’s humble, doesn’t like to refer to himself as “I.” The only claim he’s making here is if we’re going to base this on personal conviction, and he says it’s his personal conviction that he is Christ’s, he’s certainly not going to be able to deny my personal conviction, if all we’re doing is comparing personal convictions.

Paul goes on to say that if he boasts of his own authority too much, he will not be ashamed of it because the Lord bestowed it upon him to edify the Corinthians, not destroy them, meaning their faith (verse 8).

MacArthur explains:

he’s saying if because of this debate and my need to defend myself, I have to say more about my authority than I care to say and more than I’ve already said because you keep asking, if this thing is still a problem and I am forced to say more, and say more, no matter what I say, I will never be put to shame for saying it. You want more about my authority, I’ll say more, and I never have to be ashamed of saying it. Why? Because I’ll never have to eat my words. I will never have to eat my words.

Paul’s claims for his authority were restrained by his humility. But if, for the sake of defending himself, he has to say more, he will say more. And no matter how much more he says, he’ll never go too far. It’ll never be just an empty boast, like the false apostles. It’ll never be just blowing hard. It’ll never just be swelling words, as Peter called them. If he has to say a lot more about his authority, he’ll never have to be ashamed because he has that authority. He’ll never have to be ashamed of his claims. And if they force him to a greater defense, he’ll never be ashamed of that defense.

Why? One great reason, verse 8, “Because the Lord had given him that authority for building you up.” No matter what I say, you have the evidence for it, it built you up. You want to know whether someone is a true messenger? Ask if they built a church. Ask if they built up the church, strengthened the church, made the church spiritually strong, sound, solid, mature, unified. I mean what did they need more than this? I mean they asked the question, “Is Paul the authoritative messenger from Christ?” Well, ask one question: Did he build – Did God use him to build the Corinthian church? True teachers build churches. They build lives.

The false teachers must have told the congregation that Paul was purposely terrifying them with his letters. Paul refutes that claim, saying that is not his intention (verse 9).

MacArthur gives us the Greek word that Paul uses:

Interesting verb, ekphobein. Phobeō is the Greek verb to fear, and we get from it phobia. Adding ek on the front intensifies it and it’s a good translation, “to terrify,” that’s what it means. There are some who would want to terrify people into submission, to rule them by fear. Paul says, “No, I do not wish to seem as if I would terrify you by my letters, that’s not my goal. Strong, yes, because I must confront sin.” He had to be firm, he was firm. And he could be as firm as anybody. And actually, they had responded to that firmness.

In verse 10, he repeats what he said in the chapter’s first verse, referring to another false claim from the interlopers:

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!—

Verse 10 also includes the false teachers’ comment about his humble physical appearance as manifesting weakness. From that, we can deduce that they were perhaps taller and better attired. Moreover, in their eyes, Paul probably lacked what we would call charisma.

MacArthur says:

The power of the truth came with force and conviction through his letters, and they were right about it, and they didn’t try to deny it because it was obvious. Hard to deny, so they didn’t. They’re subtle. But after that necessary concession to the greatness of his letters, look at what they said: “But his personal presence is unimpressive and his speech contemptible.” This is a real dig against the apostle’s person. What do they mean by this when they say his personal presence is unimpressive? Are they talking about his looks? Are they saying he’s kind of homely or ugly? …

Obviously, they don’t think he’s an imposing figure physically. But that’s really not what the idea is. They may have – that may have been implied in it, that he wasn’t anything to look at, but what was beyond that was his presence they were talking about, his persona, his aura, his demeanor. He just lacked the kind of electricity and charisma and personal charm that commanded attention and commanded respect and drew people to him. He didn’t have that …

This is a cutting criticism, and it tells us a little bit about how they handled their leadership. What they intended to say was that he was weak and they were strong. He was indecisive and they were decisive. He was reluctant to take action, and they took action swiftly. He didn’t want to deal with issues, and they deal with issues. In other words, he doesn’t have the persona, he doesn’t have what it takes to take charge, to compel people’s allegiance. He can’t lead a noble movement. He doesn’t draw people to himself. He doesn’t demand their respect. They don’t follow his leadership. He doesn’t have what it takes to wield the sword of leadership with power and authority.

Paul refutes that attack by saying the false teacher concerned should know that the Apostle will do in person what he says he will do by letter; he is a man of his word (verse 11).

Paul ends this section by saying that he would not dare to compare himself with those choosing to praise themselves, saying that they are without understanding, meaning unwise (verse 12).

Matthew Henry explains:

He plainly intimates that they took a wrong method to commend themselves, in measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, which was not wise. They were pleased, and did pride themselves, in their own attainments, and never considered those who far exceeded them in gifts and graces, in power and authority; and this made them haughty and insolent. Note, If we would compare ourselves with others who excel us, this would be a good method to keep us humble; we should be pleased and thankful for what we have of gifts or graces, but never pride ourselves therein, as if there were none to be compared with us or that did excel us. The apostle would not be of the number of such vain men: let us resolve that we will not make ourselves of that number.

MacArthur summarises what constitutes a true man of God, one in Christ:

… really the summum bonum of the whole discussion is that the true man of God is known not only by his relation to Christ, his impact on the church, his compassion for people, his disdain for worldly methods, and his integrity, but by his humility – by his humility.

MacArthur also notes that Paul was willing to work within the limits that God set for him:

God had given him a specific call and commission to fulfill, and he was content to be there and to do that. He was called to preach the gospel in the gentile world in unreached regions and there to found churches and build leaders and that’s exactly what he did, and he was completely content to do it. In fact, he was overwhelmed at the privilege.

He didn’t need to be the Savior of the whole wide world or the pastor of the whole wide world. He didn’t need to be worldwide famous. He didn’t need to go beyond God’s plan. So he says we don’t boast beyond our measure. We don’t talk about things that haven’t happened that aren’t true. And we stay within the sphere which God apportioned to us as a measure. That’s where we labor.

MacArthur notes that this was also what Jesus did in His ministry, never going beyond His Father’s will:

Jesus had no problem allowing the Father to limit His ministry. Let me tell you how it was limited. First of all, it was limited by God’s will. Jesus said in John 5 He came to do the Father’s will. That’s it, nothing more, nothing less. He came to do “not my own will but the Father’s will.” Not only did He come to do the Father’s will but He came to do the Father’s will in the Father’s time. Several times He says, “My hour is not yet come.” It’s another way to say the time isn’t right.

I only do the Father’s will, only in the Father’s time, and, thirdly, only to the Father’s people. He said, “I am not come but for the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” And even among the Jews it narrowed down and He said to the Jews, “I am not come for those that are well but those that are sick. I am only come to those among the Jews who know they’re sinners and are looking for a physician for the soul.” He came to do God’s will in God’s timing with God’s people and those among God’s people who saw their sin.

And He came also limited to God’s message. He never got involved in other issues. He preached always the Kingdom, always the Kingdom, the sphere of salvation, which sinners can enter through Jesus Christ and have their sins forgiven and the promise of eternal life. That was His message. Even after His resurrection, for forty days He spoke of things pertaining to the Kingdom.

He was limited to God’s will, God’s time, God’s people, God’s message. He was even limited to God’s plan, and God’s plan was that the gospel would go through the world, starting with Jesus and twelve men. He spent most of His life and most of His time with the twelve. One of them a traitor, reduced to eleven. God’s plan was a deep and abiding relationship built with eleven men who would turn the world upside down. That’s a very narrow approach. Limited to God’s will, God’s time, God’s people, God’s message, God’s plan, such precision is frightening to those who want no limits on the sphere of their influence.

Paul discusses those limits as he continues his discourse.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 10:13-18

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