Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
Now I Paul myself beseech you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ, who in presence am base among you, but being absent am bold toward you:
2Co 10:1-18. He Vindicates His Apostolic Authority against Those Who Depreciated Him for His Personal Appearance. He Will Make His Power Felt When He Comes. He Boasts Not, as They, Beyond His Measure.
1. I Paul myself—no longer "we," "us," "our" (2Co 9:11): I who am represented by depreciators as "base," I, the same Paul, of my own accord "beseech you"; or rather "entreat," "exhort" you for your sake. As "I beseech you" (a distinct Greek verb, 2Co 10:2) for my sake.
by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—He mentions these graces of Christ especially (Ps 18:35; Mt 11:29), as on account of his imitation of them in particular he was despised [Grotius]. He entreats them by these, in order to show that though he must have recourse to more severe measures, he is naturally inclined to gentle ones after Christ's example [Menochius]. "Meekness" is more in the mind internally; "gentleness" in the external behavior, and in relation to others; for instance, the condescending yieldingness of a superior to an inferior, the former not insisting on his strict rights [Trench]. Bengel explains it, "By the meekness and gentleness derived by me from Christ," not from my own nature: he objects to understanding it of Christ's meekness and gentleness, since nowhere else is "gentleness" attributed to Him. But though the exact Greek word is not applied to Him, the idea expressed by it is (compare Isa 40:11; Mt 12:19, 20).
in presence—in personal appearance when present with you.
base—Greek, "lowly"; timid, humbly diffident: opposed to "bold." "Am" stands here by ironical concession for "am reputed to be" (compare 2Co 10:10).
But I beseech you, that I may not be bold when I am present with that confidence, wherewith I think to be bold against some, which think of us as if we walked according to the flesh.
2. I beseech you—Intimating that, as he can beseech in letters, so he can be severe in their presence.
that I may not be—that I may not have to be bold, &c.
with that confidence—that authoritative sternness.
I think—I am minded to be.
as if we walked according to the flesh—His Corinthian detractors judged of him by themselves, as if he were influenced by fleshly motives, the desire of favor or fear of giving offense, so as not to exercise his authority when present.
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh:
3. For—Reason why they should regard him "beseeching" them (2Co 10:2) not to oblige him to have recourse to "bold" and stern exercise of authority. "We walk IN the flesh," and so in weakness: but not "ACCORDING TO the flesh" (2Co 10:2). Moreover, though we WALK in it, we do not WAR according to it. A double contrast or antithesis. "They who accuse us of walking after the flesh, shall find [to their cost] that we do not war after the flesh; therefore compel us not to use our weapons" [Alford].
(For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;)
4. A confutation of those who try to propagate their creed by force and persecution (compare Lu 9:54-56).
weapons—for punishing offending members (2Co 10:6; 1Co 4:21; 5:5, 13); boldness of speech, ecclesiastical discipline (2Co 10:8; 2Co 13:10), the power of the word, and of the sacraments, the various extraordinary gifts of the Spirit.
carnal—Translate, "fleshly," to preserve the allusion to 2Co 10:2, 3.
mighty through God—Greek, "mighty to God," that is, mighty before God: not humanly, but divinely powerful. The power is not ours, but God's. Compare "fair to God," that is, divinely fair (Ac 7:20, Margin). Also above (2Co 2:15), "unto God a sweet savor." "The efficacy of the Christian religion proves its truth" [Bengel].
pulling down—As the Greek is the same as in 2Co 10:5, translate, "casting down." Compare Jer 1:10: the inspired servants of God inherit the commission of the Old Testament prophets.
strongholds—(Pr 21:22); namely, in which sinners entrench themselves against reproof; all that opposes itself to Christ; the learning, and eloquence, and philosophical subtleties on which the Corinthians prided themselves. So Joshua's trumpet blast was "mighty" under God to overthrow the walls of Jericho.
Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;
5. imaginations—rather, "reasonings." Whereas "thought" expresses men's own purpose and determination of living after their own pleasure [Tittmann].
high thing—So it ought to be translated (Ro 8:39). A distinct Greek word from that in Eph 3:18, "height," and Re 21:16, which belongs to God and heaven from whence we receive nothing hurtful. But "high thing" is not so much "height" as something made high, and belongs to those regions of air where the powers of darkness ::exalt themselves" against Christ and us (Eph 2:2; 6:12; 2Th 2:4).
exalteth itself—2Th 2:4 supports English Version rather than the translation of Ellicott, &c., "is lifted up." Such were the high towers of Judaic self-righteousness, philosophic speculations, and rhetorical sophistries, the "knowledge" so much prized by many (opposed to "the knowledge of God"), which endangered a section of the Corinthian Church.
against the knowledge of God—True knowledge makes men humble. Where there is exaltation of self, there knowledge of God is wanting [Bengel]. Arrange the words following thus: "Bringing every thought (that is, intent of the mind or will) into captivity to the obedience of Christ," that is, to obey Christ. The three steps of the apostle's spiritual warfare are: (1) It demolishes what is opposed to Christ; (2) It leads captive; (3) It brings into obedience to Christ (Ro 1:5; 16:26). The "reasonings" (English Version, "imaginations") are utterly "cast down." The "mental intents" (English Version, "thoughts") are taken willing captives, and tender the voluntary obedience of faith to Christ the Conqueror.
And having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled.
6. Translate, "Having ourselves (that is, being) in readiness to exact punishment for all disobedience," &c. We have this in store for the disobedient: it will be brought into action in due time.
when your obedience, &c.—He charitably assumes that most of the Corinthian Church will act obediently; therefore he says "YOUR obedience." But perhaps some will act otherwise; in order, therefore, to give all an opportunity of joining the obedient, he will not prematurely exact punishment, but wait until the full number of those gathered out to Christ has been "completed," and the remainder have been proved incorrigible. He had acted already so at Corinth (Ac 18:6-11; compare Ex 32:34; Mt 13:28-30).
Do ye look on things after the outward appearance? If any man trust to himself that he is Christ's, let him of himself think this again, that, as he is Christ's, even so are we Christ's.
7. Do ye regard mere outward appearance (mere external recommendations, personal appearance, voice, manner, oratory of teachers present face to face, such as they admired in the false teachers to the disparagement of Paul, 2Co 10:10; see on 2Co 5:12)? Even in outward bearing when I shall be present with you (in contrast to "by letters," 2Co 10:9) I will show that I am more really armed with the authority of Christ, than those who arrogate to themselves the title of being peculiarly "Christ's" (1Co 1:12). A Jewish emissary seems to have led this party.
let him of himself think this again—He may "of himself," without needing to be taught it in a more severe manner, by "thinking again," arrive at "this" conclusion, "that even as," &c. Paul modestly demands for himself only an equal place with those whom he had begotten in the Gospel [Bengel].
For though I should boast somewhat more of our authority, which the Lord hath given us for edification, and not for your destruction, I should not be ashamed:
8. "For even if I were to boast somewhat more exceedingly (than I do, 2Co 10:3-6) of our (apostolic) authority (2Co 10:6; 2Co 13:10) … I should not be put to shame (by the fact; as I should be if my authority proved to be without foundation: my threats of punishment not being carried into effect)."
for edification … not for … destruction—Greek, "for building up … not for … CASTING DOWN" (the same Greek as in 2Co 10:5): the image of a building as in 2Co 10:4, 5. Though we "cast down reasonings," this is not in order to destroy, but really to build up ("edify"), by removing those things which are hindrances to edification, and testing what is unsound, and putting together all that is true in the building [Chrysostom].
That I may not seem as if I would terrify you by letters.
9. I say this lest I should seem to be terrifying you, as children, with empty threats [Bengel]. Estius explains, "I might boast more of my authority, but I forbear to do so, that I may not seem as if," &c. But this ellipsis is harsh: and 2Co 10:10, 11 confirm Bengel's view.
For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.
10. letters—implying that there had been already more letters of Paul received by the Corinthians than the one we have, namely, First Corinthians; and that they contained strong reproofs.
say they—Greek, "says one," "such a one" (2Co 10:11) seems to point to some definite individual. Compare Ga 5:10; a similar slanderer was in the Galatian Church.
weak—(2Co 12:7; 1Co 2:3). There was nothing of majesty or authority in his manner; he bore himself tremblingly among them, whereas the false teachers spoke with authoritative bearing and language.
Let such an one think this, that, such as we are in word by letters when we are absent, such will we be also in deed when we are present.
11. think this—"consider this."
such will we be—or "are," in general, not merely shall we be at our next visit.
For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.
12. "We do not presume (irony) to judge ourselves among, or in comparison with, some of them that commend themselves." The charge falsely brought against him of commending himself (2Co 3:1; 5:12), really holds good of the false teachers. The phrase, "judge ourselves of the number," is drawn from the testing of athletes and senators, the "approved" being set down on the roll [Wahl].
measuring themselves by themselves—"among themselves": to correspond to the previous verb, "judge ourselves among them." Instead of measuring themselves by the public standard, they measure themselves by one made by themselves: they do not compare themselves with others who excel them, but with those like themselves: hence their high self-esteem. The one-eyed is easily king among the blind.
are not wise—with all their boasted "wisdom" (1Co 1:19-26), they are anything but "wise."
But we will not boast of things without our measure, but according to the measure of the rule which God hath distributed to us, a measure to reach even unto you.
13. not boast … without … measure—Greek, "to unmeasured bounds." There is no limit to a man's high opinion of himself, so long as he measures himself by himself (2Co 10:13) and his fellows, and does not compare himself with his superiors. It marks the personal character of this Epistle that the word "boast" occurs twenty-nine times in it, and only twenty-six times in all the other Epistles put together. Undeterred by the charge of vanity, he felt he must vindicate his apostolic authority by facts [Conybeare and Howson]. It would be to "boast of things without our measure," were we to boast of conversions made by "other men's labors" (2Co 10:15).
a measure—as a measure [Alford].
to reach—"that we should reach as far as even to you": not that he meant to go no further (2Co 10:16; Ro 15:20-24). Paul's "measure" is the apportionment of his sphere of Gospel labors ruled for him by God. A "rule" among the so-called "apostolic canons" subsequently was, that no bishop should appoint ministers beyond his own limits. At Corinth no minister ought to have been received without Paul's sanction, as Corinth was apportioned to him by God as his apostolic sphere. The Epistle here incidentally, and therefore undesignedly, confirms the independent history, the Acts, which represents Corinth as the extreme limit as yet of his preaching, at which he had stopped, after he had from Philippi passed southward successively through Amphipolis, Apollonia, Thessalonica, Berea, and Athens [Paley, Horæ Paulinæ].
For we stretch not ourselves beyond our measure, as though we reached not unto you: for we are come as far as to you also in preaching the gospel of Christ:
14. "We are not stretching ourselves beyond our measure, as (we should be) if we did not reach unto you: (but we do), for as far as even to you have we come in preaching the Gospel."
Not boasting of things without our measure, that is, of other men's labours; but having hope, when your faith is increased, that we shall be enlarged by you according to our rule abundantly,
15. "Not boasting to unmeasured bounds (that is, not exceeding our own bounds by boasting) of (literally, 'in') other men's labors."
when—"As your faith goes on increasing." The cause of his not yet reaching with the Gospel the regions beyond Corinth, was the weakness as yet of their faith. He desired not to leave the Corinthians before the proper time, and yet not to put off preaching to others too long.
enlarged by you—Greek, "in your case." Our success in your case will give us an important step towards further progress beyond you (2Co 10:16).
according to our rule—according to our divinely assigned apportionment of the area or sphere of our work; for "we stretch not ourselves beyond our measure" (2Co 10:14).
abundantly—Greek, "unto exceeding abundance": so as to exceed the limits we have yet reached (2Co 10:16).
To preach the gospel in the regions beyond you, and not to boast in another man's line of things made ready to our hand.
16. To—that is, so as to preach … beyond you (and) not to boast, &c.
in another man's line of things made ready to our hand—Do not connect "line of things," &c.; but "boast of things," &c. To make this clearer, arrange the words thus, "Not to boast as to things (already made by the preaching of others) ready to our hand in another man's line (that is, within the line, or sphere of labor, apportioned by God to another)."
But he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.
17. glorieth—Translate, to accord with 2Co 10:16, "boasteth." In contrast to his opponents' practice of boasting in another's line or sphere, Paul declares the only true boasting is in the Lord (1Co 1:31; 15:10).
For not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth.
18. (Pr 27:2).
whom the Lord commendeth—to whom the Lord has given as His "Epistle of commendation," the believers whom he has been the instrument of converting: as was Paul's case (2Co 3:1-3).
is approved—can stand the test of the final trial. A metaphor from testing metals (Ro 16:10; 1Co 11:19). So on the other hand those finally rejected by the Lord are termed "reprobate silver" (Jer 6:30).