As we come to chapter 10 of this epistle, we need to be reminded again of who the players are. We have the majority of the Corinthian church, and they are on Paul’s side—even though a number of them had just recently been brought back to Paul’s side by means of his “severe letter.” In the opposite corner were the false teachers, who had instigated the rebellion in the first place. And then we likely have to budget for regular members of the church who were more entangled by the false teachers than others had been, and who were still not reconciled to Paul. The first nine chapters of this letter were directed to those on Paul’s side, and here at chapter 10, Paul moves to the necessity of church discipline. Something has to be done about those who are continuing to disrupt the unity of the congregation. It was now time to discipline those who refused to repent of their stubborn opposition.
“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: 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. For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) 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; And having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled” (2 Corinthians 10:1–6).
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
Paul begins with a deeply ironic statement. He knew that his enemies said that he was no great shakes in his public speaking, and he acknowledges that this was true, but only in part. He pleads by the meekness and gentleness of Christ, knowing that he, an unpolished speaker, could still write a very tough letter (v. 1). In verse 2, he says “don’t make me come back there.” He pleads with them to make any personal boldness from him unnecessary. Because if that happens, he is going to unload on those who maintained that Paul walked “according to the flesh” (v. 2). He acknowledges that he has a physical body, but he doesn’t fight that way, he does not war “after the flesh” (v. 3). In contrast, his weapons are not carnal and earthly, but rather mighty through God for the toppling of citadels (v. 4). He has the ability to throw down “imaginations,” to throw down “high pride that is anti-God,” and to take “every thought” the prisoner of Christ (v. 5). And verse 6 makes it plain that he is talking about doing all of this at the upcoming congregational meeting (v. 6). When the Corinthian church submits, he will discipline any remaining outliers.
EXEGESIS AND APPLICATION
When we are studying Scripture, we must understand the difference between exegesis (what the original readers understood by it) and application (what we intend to do with it). There should be a great deal of overlap between the two, but they do not map on to one another perfectly. Here is an example. When Paul tells Timothy to take a little wine for his stomach and frequently ailments (1 Tim. 5:23), exegesis tells us that Timothy had frequent digestive ailments and that Paul told him that wine should help. One application could be a modern Christian taking a little wine for stomach trouble, which would be a great deal of overlap, but another application could be to quote this verse in a debate with a teetotaler. This would be a legitimate application, even if Paul had never imagined the existence of teetotalers.
We should learn this distinction because Paul’s language here in this passage is high rhetoric indeed, and hence can easily be applied to the cosmic forces of unbelief—Darwinism, postmodernism, atheism, relativism, and the universities that house them. And because we do encounter imaginations there, and high unbelief, and disobedience to Christ, it is a legitimate application. But the exegesis requires us to apply this language to a looming showdown with false teachers at Corinth.
WHEN FALSE TEACHERS STRUT
In the Greek world, any rhetorician worth his salt would be anything but humble. But Paul was following Christ, who was gentle and lowly of heart (Matt. 11:29), and this meant that his humility was one of his qualifications. The “some” of v. 2 are most likely the false apostles of (2 Cor. 11:5,13-15), and their carriage was magnificent, and their ability to command large honoraria was significant. Their spirit was measured by the size of the speaking fee they could draw down. Some things really haven’t changed. They were trained in public speaking, and were both confident and charismatic. They were polished, and knew just when to slap the thigh. They were splashy, and knew how to put on a show. Paul answered them with gospel—straight no chaser (2 Cor. 4:2-6).
STRAIGHT NO CHASER
The humility and weakness that was characteristic of Paul’s ministry is the kind of humility and weakness that will conquer the world. Blessed are the meek, for what? For they will inherit the earth (Ps. 37:11; Matt. 5:5). The foundation of this great spiritual cathedral will be anchored to the cornerstone of our Lord having been nailed naked to a pole, and there suffering the indignity of a criminal’s death. There was no doubt still dried spittle on His face. That is how God glorified the name of Christ (John 12:28), and by so doing glorified His own name.
Satan had shown the Lord the kingdoms of this world, and all their glory (Matt. 4:8), and the Lord turned away from it. He was not turning away from glory—He was turning away from that kind of petty glory. He was rejecting a tinsel glory. He was refusing the thin glory of gold foil. He was turning down the superficial honor that comes so easily to superficial apostles.
It is so easy for us to slip back into the respectable mentality that made these false apostles so attractive. The cross was one of the most excruciating instruments of torture ever devised, and we make it into fine silver jewelry. The jewelry is fine, so long as we don’t forget what it means. A cross on the steeple is something we are going to have, but may we never turn it into a sophisticated brand. We have many hymns that sentimentally refer to Calvary. But that name comes from the Latin word for skull, calvarium—because in English the Lord died on Skull Hill. Golgotha is the Aramaic name for the same thing, so no refuge for us there. And the glory is that the cross of the Lord Jesus was the tent peg of God, driven into Sisera’s head.