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Paul’s Defense of His Ministry February 8, 2012

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on 2 Corinthians 10.

Summary: Paul begins by appealing to the Corinthians on account of the meekness and gentleness of Christ; apparently his opponents are describing him as lacking courage when present – yet acting boldly when absent. He begs them to act so that when he arrives, he will not have to act as he has resolved and defy his opponents, since they assume that he is governed by his sinful nature. That is false, as even though he lives in his body, he does not combat error by relying on human nature. His means of battling error are not inherently human – God regards them as mighty, as they enable Paul to pull down the convictions of his opponents; human reason – which is opposed to God’s wisdom – will be defeated, and every product of human reason must submit to the teaching of Christ. He is prepared to punish those who corrupt the Gospel – yet he will not act until it is clear where the Corinthians stand on this issue.

Paul then asks his opponents if they take pride in external advantages; if they claim a special relationship with Christ, they should realize that he also has a special relationship with Christ. This stems from the fact that Christ has given him authority to promote the holiness of the Corinthian church – and not to defeat his opponents; thus, he does not need to apologize for his self-boasting. Now he asserts that he is not acting as a paper tiger by writing to them in an authoritative tone. Indeed, his opponents assert that his letters are impressive and severe, yet he acts feebly and speaks mildly in their presence. Yet he assures them that when he is present, his actions will support his words.

Now Paul cannot bring himself to place himself by the false teachers, as they rely on self-praise; they discard the opinions of others and claim their successes for themselves. Yet his self-boasting is not immoderate; he will only claim the gifts and labors that God has given him – and he founded their church. He is not boasting inappropriately, as he has preached the Gospel in the region that includes Corinth. He refuses to claim that which does not belong to him; instead, he hopes to work with the Corinthians so that he can preach the Gospel far beyond Corinth. He will not take credit for the fruits that result from those regions where others have preached the Gospel. Paul concludes by stating that believers should seek God’s approval – instead of resting on self-approval or the praises of others.

Thoughts: Verses 4 and 5 show that Paul relied on God’s power to combat the error-filled doctrines taught by the false teachers. Hodge offers some intriguing thoughts on this point:

A rationalistic Christian, a philosophizing theologian, therefore lays aside the divine for the human, God’s wisdom for human wisdom, the infinite and infallible for the finite and fallible. The success of the Gospel depends on its being presented not as our word but as God’s Word; not as something to be proved, but as something to be believed.

This got me thinking about Christian apologetics and whether Hodge would have approved of modern-day apologists. Well-read apologists must constantly guard against the tendency to rely solely on human wisdom in making their points, especially when citing examples from science, literature or history. We must remember that in the end, even apologists must acknowledge the centrality of faith in Christianity – which highlights the supremacy of the Gospel. Ravi Zacharias speaks often of how his faith informs his work; we, too, must celebrate the role of the Gospel in bridging the gulf between human wisdom and God.

Verse 10 indicates that Paul’s opponents in Corinth focused on his feeble actions and mild speaking in their presence. Hodge offers some enlightening thoughts on this point:

This passage, probably more than any other, has given rise to the impression, in keeping with a tradition neither very ancient nor well supported, that Paul was small in stature, weak, and unattractive in his personal appearance. The words used here, however, even supposing that this language of his enemies expressed the truth, do not necessarily imply this. The phrase probably refers not to his personal appearance but to his deportment.

Interestingly, I had read a commentary on this verse that seems to validate what Hodge is refuting in the above quote. The issue, then, is whether Paul was really “small in stature, weak, and unattractive in his personal appearance.” I am eager to ask Paul about this when I get to heaven. On a related note, it would be interesting to determine if believers gravitate towards pastors who are tall, handsome and well-spoken. Perhaps Christians are influenced by these factors during their “church-hopping phase,” though that is a topic for another day.

The latter part of this passage focuses on the false teachers’ claims regarding their gifts and the fruits of their labors. Hodge offers some pertinent thoughts in his commentary on verse 13:

The false teachers set no limits to their boasting; self-conceit and not facts determined the character and amount of their assumptions, and therefore their claims were inordinate. Paul expresses his determination to limit his claims to his actual gifts and labors…His boasting was neither immoderate, nor based on what others had done. He invaded no man’s sphere of labor. His settled purpose was to preach the Gospel where Christ had not been named, and not to build on another man’s foundation (Romans 15:20).

First – in a direct application to modern-day believers – we should be careful when making our assessment of the gifts that God has given us. It is natural to be conceited and assume that we have a plethora of gifts, yet that is usually not the case. For example, at one point I thought that I possessed the gift of encouragement – yet experience has shown me otherwise. Second – in an indirect application to modern-day believers – the question of “who led someone to Christ” can be difficult to answer. More often than not, a believer’s journey to a saving relationship with Christ is marked by the work of many other believers. If one of those believers claimed that only they had led the first believer to Christ, that would be a case of improper boasting.

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