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II Corinthians 10-13    Listen Podcast

Bold by letter, but not in person (II Corinthians 10:1-11)

1 Now I, Paul, myself am pleading with you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—who in presence am lowly among you, but being absent am bold toward you.
2 But I beg you that when I am present I may not be bold with that confidence by which I intend to be bold against some, who think of us as if we walked according to the flesh.
3 For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh.
4 For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds,
5 casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,
6 and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled.
7 ¶ Do you look at things according to the outward appearance? If anyone is convinced in himself that he is Christ’s, let him again consider this in himself, that just as he is Christ’s, even so we are Christ’s.
8 For even if I should boast somewhat more about our authority, which the Lord gave us for edification and not for your destruction, I shall not be ashamed—
9 lest I seem to terrify you by letters.
10 “For his letters,” they say, “are weighty and powerful, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.”
11 Let such a person consider this, that what we are in word by letters when we are absent, such we will also be in deed when we are present.

In verse 1, Paul compares his demeanor to that of Christ—"lowly" (Greek: "tapeinos" means humble). He explains in verses 2-3 that the world uses an incorrect measure of boldness when they simply make that determination based upon an overwhelming personal presence. "Bold by letter, but not in person" - that's apparently the accusation leveled against Paul by some in the Corinthian church (verse 10). Their expectations were that a person like Paul should have a dominating presence about him in public. But recall I Corinthians 2:4-5 (see notes), " And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God."

Paul also points out that he doesn't use traditional weapons (i.e. fancy, powerful, persuasive speech); he relies on the power of God. You gotta love the metaphor of verse 4 when Paul says, "For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds," The Greek word for "strong hold" (ochuroma) is the word used to describe a military fortress and was rarely used figuratively; this is its only usage in the New Testament. In other words, through the power of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, he is able to disassemble false doctrine i.e. the "arguments" (Greek: logismos - logic or conventional reasoning) of verse 5.

Actually, Paul continues with this "warfare" metaphor down through verse 6.

Don't miss the point here! Paul wants them to realize that persuasive speaking does not equal sound doctrine. When the carnal mind reasons without direction from the Holy Spirit, false doctrine often is the result - especially when it is accompanied by persuasive speech. Sound doctrine brings "every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ." In other words, sound doctrine doesn't wander out of the bounds of the clear teaching of God's Word. We are also reminded of Hebrews 4:12 (see notes), "For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." does a Believer walk in victory day after day? As we embrace the Word of God as our weapon under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, daily victory is the norm - not the exception.

A familiar metaphor begs to be used here: "Don't judge a book by its cover." Paul says in verse 7, "Do you look at things according to the outward appearance?" It's all about substance - not personal appearance. His letters would seem to "terrify" (verse 9), but his presence not so much. So much is the contrast that he addresses the perception in verse 10 that while his letters are powerful, his physical attributes appear weak, and his speech appears "contemptible" i.e. worthless.  Paul then explains in verse 11 that he practices what he preaches...or writes, and that consistency (whether in person or by letter) demonstrates the power of God.

Not a self promoter (II Corinthians 10:12-18)

12 ¶ For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.
13 We, however, will not boast beyond measure, but within the limits of the sphere which God appointed us—a sphere which especially includes you.
14 For we are not overextending ourselves (as though our authority did not extend to you), for it was to you that we came with the gospel of Christ;
15 not boasting of things beyond measure, that is, in other men’s labors, but having hope, that as your faith is increased, we shall be greatly enlarged by you in our sphere,
16 to preach the gospel in the regions beyond you, and not to boast in another man’s sphere of accomplishment.
17 ¶ But “he who glories, let him glory in the LORD.”
18 For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends.

In verse 12, Paul emphasizes that he's not into self promotion as others may be. He measures his success by the spreading of the Gospel message, pointing out that he was the first to take the message of Christ to the Corinthians, and he was pleased to be used as God's vessel to do so. Therein lies his authority to rebuke and counsel these Corinthians. In verse 18 he explains that it is God who does the rewarding when he says, "For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends."

Conversely, you can't help but notice the implications of these verses regarding others who promote themselves "beyond measure" (Greek: "ametros") What is the correct measure? That's found in verses 1-11 - results that yield changed lives. However, those who promote themselves "beyond measure" do so based upon eloquent oratories that stir their audience. They seek to make that their basis of comparison, "comparing themselves among themselves" (verse 12). Ministering the Gospel is the measuring stick (verses 14-16). Leave the commendations to God, while giving God the glory for one's accomplishments (verse 17).

Paul and the false apostles (II Corinthians 11)

1 Oh, that you would bear with me in a little folly—and indeed you do bear with me.
2 For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.
3 But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.
4 For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it!

Paul begins his comments regarding false apostles by pointing out his special relationship with these Corinthian Believers. Paul uses a marriage metaphor in verse 2: His desire is to present these Corinthians to Christ as a "chaste" (Greek: hagnos - pure) virgin i.e. without having been corrupted by false doctrine. He had led them to Christ by presenting them with "the simplicity that is in Christ." However, just as Satan "deceived" (Greek: "exapatao" means to mislead or deceive) Eve, he fears that these Corinthians are in danger of being deceived by those who preach "another Jesus."

Oh...don't let the word "jealous" bother you in that passage. The Greek word, "zelos" doesn't hold exactly the same connotation as does its English translation. It's meaning conveys a strong desire or fervent mind toward another. Paul means to demonstrate with this powerful word his intense desire that they should remain faithful to the truth of the Word of God. Paul expresses his concern in verse 4 that they might be deceived.

5 ¶ For I consider that I am not at all inferior to the most eminent apostles.
6 Even though I am untrained in speech, yet I am not in knowledge. But we have been thoroughly manifested among you in all things.
7 ¶ Did I commit sin in humbling myself that you might be exalted, because I preached the gospel of God to you free of charge?
8 I robbed other churches, taking wages from them to minister to you.
9 And when I was present with you, and in need, I was a burden to no one, for what I lacked the brethren who came from Macedonia supplied. And in everything I kept myself from being burdensome to you, and so I will keep myself.
10 As the truth of Christ is in me, no one shall stop me from this boasting in the regions of Achaia.
11 Why? Because I do not love you? God knows!
12 ¶ But what I do, I will also continue to do, that I may cut off the opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the things of which they boast.

Paul's concern here is that the gifted speakers are many times able to disguise their error with eloquent speaking and boastings of their accomplishments. ELOQUENT SPEAKING IS NOT AN INDICATOR OF SOUND DOCTRINE! Notice what Paul says about his own speaking abilities in verse 6, "Even though I am untrained in speech, yet I am not in knowledge. But we have been thoroughly manifested among you in all things." The Greek word he uses for "untrained" there is "idiotes," pronounced "id-ee-o´-tace." That's the word from which we get our English word "idiot." Let's face it; Paul did not consider himself to be a good orator. I'm reminded of the preaching experience Paul had in Acts 20:7-12 (see notes). In Troas, as Paul was preaching, a young man dozed off and fell to the ground from a third-story window...and lived to tell about it. Though not a powerful orator, Paul had this: he knew and experienced the power of God in his life.

In verse 5 Paul is probably speaking of the apostles back in Jerusalem when he refers to the "chiefest apostles." He is not accusing them of being these false apostles. However, he is pointing out that he (as well as they) is able to warn the Corinthians against going after these false apostles. In verses 7-12 Paul seems to indicate the lack of appreciation of Paul's ministry on the Corinthians' part because he did not require financing from them. He appears to be saying that people just don't tend to appreciate that for which they do not pay. As a matter of fact, to emphasize his point, he uses an extreme word "sulao" (translated "robbed") to describe the money he received from other churches while ministering to the Corinthians. While only used one time in the New Testament, ordinarily that word means to "take by force." I'm certain they got the picture from his statement there.

Incidentally, the reference to "Achaia" in verse 10 is a reference to the churches established in Greece.

13 For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ.
14 And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light.
15 Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works.

Paul again makes reference to the notion that his writing abilities seem to surpass his speaking abilities. In this chapter he combats false teachers, whom he describes as Satan's people in verses 13-15. They look right and sound right, but they are not right. There's an important lesson here. All cults contain an element of truth. It is very, very, very, very important that Believers are not fooled into embracing a cult because of that element of truth rather than the complete truth. It doesn't matter how right it may seem; if it denies one or more of the fundamentals of our faith, it's wrong! These are non-negotiable principles from God's Word that may not be compromised.

What are the fundamentals of our faith?

Where does such a list as this come from? I'll admit, I've gleaned these fundamental doctrines from the body of scripture and simplified their statement as much as possible. There are many other very important doctrines, but these are the ones that are widely held to be breakers...fundamentals of our faith. It's difficult (if not impossible) to have spiritual fellowship with someone who denies one or more of these.

In verses 13-15 Paul blasts the false apostles - they look good, but they are evil. Sometimes we can be too careful in political correctness when it comes to identifying outright error in doctrine. Kind and gentle is nice when appropriate, but failure to identify real evil or false doctrine can lead to the spiritual destruction of many. Please indulge me while I repeat, ELOQUENT SPEAKING IS NOT AN INDICATOR OF SOUND DOCTRINE! Here's the scary part: These false teachers disguised themselves as "apostles of Christ" (verse 13) just as Satan is able to disguise himself as "an angel of light" verse 14. The scary result is in verse 15; these false apostles appear to many as "ministers of righteousness." Many politicians succeed in getting elected to office with a smiling face, fancy speech and good looks even though their values do not reflect those of their constituency. It's sad, but many people are easily fooled by cosmetics.

16 ¶ I say again, let no one think me a fool. If otherwise, at least receive me as a fool, that I also may boast a little.
17 What I speak, I speak not according to the Lord, but as it were, foolishly, in this confidence of boasting.
18 Seeing that many boast according to the flesh, I also will boast.
19 For you put up with fools gladly, since you yourselves are wise!
20 For you put up with it if one brings you into bondage, if one devours you, if one takes from you, if one exalts himself, if one strikes you on the face.
21 To our shame I say that we were too weak for that! But in whatever anyone is bold—I speak foolishly—I am bold also.
22 ¶ Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I.
23 Are they ministers of Christ?—I speak as a fool—I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often.
24 From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one.
25 Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep;
26 in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren;
27 in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness—
28 besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.
29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation?
30 ¶ If I must boast, I will boast in the things which concern my infirmity.
31 The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying.
32 In Damascus the governor, under Aretas the king, was guarding the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desiring to arrest me;
33 but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and escaped from his hands.

Paul refers to his comments in this chapter with the same Greek word in verses 1, 17 and 21; that Greek word, "aphrosune" is translated "folly" in verse 1 and "foolishly" in verses 17 and 21. Interestingly, the word is only used one other time in the New Testament (Mark 7:22, see notes). While the word sometimes means speaking without knowledge as a fool does, it also was a first-century identifier of boasting - bragging on oneself. From the same root, "aphron" is used in verse 16 and 19 (translated "fool") to identify one who does this boasting. That's the context in which Paul is using it here.

Two Greek words are used in verses 17 and 18 that are worth noting, the verb "kauchaomai" and the noun "kauchesis." These words refer to boasting. These Corinthians had a tendency to go after teachers without substance who were eloquent at tooting their own horns. Since the Corinthians had fallen prey to such boasting, Paul takes this opportunity to set the record straight - the basis of his comment in verse 18, "Seeing that many boast according to the flesh, I also will boast." So...we see some uncharacteristic-for-Paul speech in this chapter where he cites his own accomplishments, sacrifices and hardships in the course of his ministry.

As far as physical dominance, Paul points out in verse 21 that he is too weak for that. However, if you have respect for those who have gone through ministry hardships, Paul's resume is exhaustive in that arena. His background is Jewish - a plus (verse 22), and his hardships beginning with verse 23 through the end of the chapter are...well...seemingly unbearable for most...including 8 beatings and 3 shipwrecks. He even makes reference to his narrow escape in a basket over the city wall (verse 33) recorded by Luke in Acts 9:23-25 (see notes). In other words, these false apostles never paid the price that Paul did to spread the Gospel. Yet, to point all of this out to the Corinthians seems like the boasting of a fool to Paul...but obviously necessary.

So, where have you been, Paul? (II Corinthians 12:1-10)

1 It is doubtless not profitable for me to boast. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord:
2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a one was caught up to the third heaven.
3 And I know such a man—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—
4 how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.
5 Of such a one I will boast; yet of myself I will not boast, except in my infirmities.
6 For though I might desire to boast, I will not be a fool; for I will speak the truth. But I refrain, lest anyone should think of me above what he sees me to be or hears from me.
7 ¶ And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.
8 Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me.
9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

In the continuation of listing his apostolic credentials from the preceding chapter, Paul sees a need to cite an occasion that marks a turning point in his life - a miraculous direct revelation from God. Of course each direct revelation from God is miraculous, but the setting of this one is worth noting; it takes place in Heaven. Incidentally, the same Greek words defined in chapter 11, "boast" and "fool" (see above) are used here.

You may recall Acts 14:19 (see notes) regarding Paul, "Then Jews from Antioch and Iconium came there; and having persuaded the multitudes, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead." What happened after that? He got up and walked away. When Paul says in verses 2-3 that he visited Heaven, but he does not know whether he was dead or in a trance, I think he's probably talking about this occasion in Acts 14:19 (see notes); the time frame fits. Anyway, he visited Heaven; how's that for apostolic credentials? And just to keep him from being overly boastful about his trip, he was given a "thorn in the flesh" to keep him humble. I think there is no question that this "thorn in the flesh" was an eye ailment. Paul tells the folks at the church in Galatia in Galatians 4:15 (see notes), "What then was the blessing you enjoyed? For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your own eyes and given them to me." I can imagine that being pummeled in the head with large stones could very well cause a problem with one's eyes. Paul was told that rather than being healed, grace would be manifested in his life instead.

This is an instance of trial, not chastisement in Paul's life. For an explanation of trial, click below to read these two articles on the issue:

It is important to understand that trial is indicated here in verse 7 when Paul refers to "a messenger of Satan to buffet me." That's the nature of trial; it comes from Satan, but is monitored and tempered by God, as depicted in Job 1 (see notes) - our Biblical primer on the nature of trial. On the other hand, chastisement comes from God. If that's not clear to you, do go back and read the two articles listed above this paragraph. Notice verse 8; Paul requested relief from God on three separate occasions, but was told by God in verse 9, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." That just goes to show you; you don't know what environment will facilitate your greatest successes in ministry, but God does. In Paul's mind, great eyesight was important in his ministry. From God's perspective, real focus was only possible through his impaired eyesight. Paul understood and declares in verse 10, "Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong."

I should have taken your offerings (II Corinthians 12:11-21)

11 ¶ I have become a fool in boasting; you have compelled me. For I ought to have been commended by you; for in nothing was I behind the most eminent apostles, though I am nothing.
12 Truly the signs of an apostle were accomplished among you with all perseverance, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds.
13 For what is it in which you were inferior to other churches, except that I myself was not burdensome to you? Forgive me this wrong!
14 ¶ Now for the third time I am ready to come to you. And I will not be burdensome to you; for I do not seek yours, but you. For the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children.
15 And I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I am loved.
16 ¶ But be that as it may, I did not burden you. Nevertheless, being crafty, I caught you by cunning!
17 Did I take advantage of you by any of those whom I sent to you?
18 I urged Titus, and sent our brother with him. Did Titus take advantage of you? Did we not walk in the same spirit? Did we not walk in the same steps?
19 ¶ Again, do you think that we excuse ourselves to you? We speak before God in Christ. But we do all things, beloved, for your edification.
20 For I fear lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I wish, and that I shall be found by you such as you do not wish; lest there be contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, backbitings, whisperings, conceits, tumults;
21 lest, when I come again, my God will humble me among you, and I shall mourn for many who have sinned before and have not repented of the uncleanness, fornication, and lewdness which they have practiced.

The problems at Corinth were so severe, Paul had never wanted to receive financial support from them. This later became a sticky point with the congregation there. If he's an apostle, why is he not supported by the ministry at Corinth like an apostle? Paul expresses to them the reasons he did not accept financial support from them. He also defends his claim to apostleship in his previous letter to the Corinthians in I Corinthians 9 (see notes). He stresses that he's not in the ministry for the money. Perhaps those ministers who spend more time raising money than preaching the truth of the Word should read these comments of Paul. He wasn't opposed to taking money for his ministry, but he insisted that it be given by people who were right with God and in the proper spirit of giving (see notes on II Corinthians 9:6-15). Paul deals with an apparent accusation beginning in verse 16 - that he surreptitiously received money from them through messengers (i.e. Titus). So that there is no misunderstanding, he says in verse 19, "...But we do all things, beloved, for your edification."

So...what will be the state of the church there when Paul finally is able to come? We see in verses 20-21 that his prognosis is not good. He fears that he will find them in the same spiritual state of disarray by which they had been characterized. He anticipates the necessity of a spiritual house cleaning when he arrives.

Some final warnings (II Corinthians 13:1-10)

1 This will be the third time I am coming to you. “By the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established.”
2 I have told you before, and foretell as if I were present the second time, and now being absent I write to those who have sinned before, and to all the rest, that if I come again I will not spare—
3 since you seek a proof of Christ speaking in me, who is not weak toward you, but mighty in you.
4 For though He was crucified in weakness, yet He lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, but we shall live with Him by the power of God toward you.
5 ¶ Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified.
6 But I trust that you will know that we are not disqualified.
7 ¶ Now I pray to God that you do no evil, not that we should appear approved, but that you should do what is honorable, though we may seem disqualified.
8 For we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth.
9 For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. And this also we pray, that you may be made complete.
10 Therefore I write these things being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness, according to the authority which the Lord has given me for edification and not for destruction.

Paul had been direct and severe in his correction of the Corinthians in the church there. There were some who questioned his authority to do so as we see in his words of verse 3, "since you seek a proof of Christ speaking in me..." In verse 5 Paul asks them to examine their salvation experience. He points out that Believers have Christ dwelling within in the form of the Holy Spirit. Romans 8:9 (see notes) says, "But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His." So he asks them to examine the presence of the Holy Spirit in their own lives. If they had been saved, the Holy Spirit's presence would be there. Otherwise, they are "disqualified" (Greek: "adokimos" means unapproved or worthless).

You may recall from I Corinthians 3 (see notes) that Paul's estimation of their spiritual condition was that they were carnal Christians - Believers who were not allowing themselves to be controlled by the Holy Spirit within. It appears that he throws in this challenge for self analysis of their spiritual condition before God to make a point. In I Corinthians 3 he was dealing with their divisions regarding spiritual leadership - basically the same problem they are still facing here some time later. In verse 6, Paul appeals to their good sense when he says, "But I trust that you will know that we are not disqualified." In verse 7 we see that there was some mention from them that Paul was "disqualified." When Paul prays for their "perfection" in verse 9, he uses the Greek noun "katartisis" - meaning "to furnish completely." He uses the verb form of that word down in verse 11 when he says, "Become complete."

Final words of encouragement (II Corinthians 13:11-14)

11 ¶ Finally, brethren, farewell. Become complete. Be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.
12 ¶ Greet one another with a holy kiss.
13 ¶ All the saints greet you.
14 ¶ The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

And finally, the admonition for harmonious Christian living among the Corinthians. Here are the ways Christians interact with one another when they are led by the Holy Spirit. Paul concludes this letter with these encouragements. So. how do you put into one sentence what Paul desired to see in those Corinthian Believers?

Here's your summary of desired attributes for those Believers in verse 11:

The result? "...and the God of love and peace will be with you." Can't you just all get along?

Incidentally, verse 12 raises the interest of people regarding the nature of the "holy kiss." We don't know much about the exact procedure in the first century, but it is clear that it was a special greeting ordinarily reserved for family members. According to Charles Ryrie's reference Bible, "The 'holy kiss' was an expression of Christian love and was apparently restricted to one’s own sex." Let it suffice to say that one's greeting of a fellow Believer should be with the same affection as a family member.