2 Corinthians 10:1-18

Submitted by admin on Tue, 2009-11-24 12:50.

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Starting with a solemn, “I myself, Paul,” the apostle appealed to the Corinthians with “the mildness and kindness of Christ” (the gentle and kindly, forbearing, or humane spirit that the Son of God manifests). He did not issue commands but entreated them as a loving brother. It appears that he referred to himself in the language of his detractors when he spoke of himself as being humble or lowly while with the Corinthians but bold toward them when absent. (10:1; compare verse 10.)

Paul did not want to be bold toward the Corinthians, making them feel the full weight of his apostolic authority as one who administered severe discipline. So he entreated them to take the required action so that he would not need to use boldness or to assume an authoritative bearing toward those who regarded him as “walking according to the flesh,” or as conducting himself and handling matters as would one who is governed by human weakness and flawed human standards. Although Paul had confidence in his being bold and considered acting daringly (not holding anything back) when dealing with his detractors, his desire was that the Corinthians would take corrective measures so that this would not be necessary. (10:2)

From the standpoint of being subject to human weaknesses and living as a human, Paul could speak of himself (and also of his fellow workers) as “walking in the flesh.” The warfare that he waged against error and its proponents, however, did not prove to be of a fleshly kind. It was not characterized by the weaknesses or flaws of fallen human nature. (10:3)

The weapons used in this conflict also were not fleshly, not being flawed and weak. These implements are described as being “powerful to God.” This could mean that they are powerful from God’s standpoint, that their power comes from him, or that they are powerful in advancing his cause. They serve to break down “strongholds,” which strongholds could denote the kind of error that has become strongly entrenched. (10:4)

In waging spiritual warfare, Paul demolished the “reasonings,” views, or opinions that conflicted with God’s ways, exposing them as worthless and injurious. All that is “high” and raised up “against the knowledge of God” could apply to everything that defiant humans and the powers of darkness have exalted as a bulwark against what God has revealed to be his will and purpose. In other letters, Paul mentioned the “doctrines of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1) and the conflict believers have with the powers of darkness. (Ephesians 6:12) Communities of believers were not immune to the introduction of corrupting influences and ideas, requiring defensive action. The apostle fought hard to triumph over all wrong thoughts, reducing them to the helpless state of captives in subjection to Christ. These thoughts would be obedient to Christ in the sense that they, like bound captives, would be deprived of all power to do harm. (10:5)

Those who were responsible for introducing pernicious error among believers could not be allowed to continue exerting their corrupt influence. The apostle told the Corinthians that he was prepared to punish every disobedience, taking action once the obedience of the community of believers proved to be complete. Paul must have been confident that the majority of the Corinthians would demonstrate themselves to be fully submissive to God’s ways, requiring that he undertake punitive action only against those who presumptuously exalted their own views above the truth God had revealed through his Son. (10:6)

A literal reading of the apostle’s next words is, “Look at things according to the face.” This could mean that Paul wanted the Corinthians to look at matters in the correct light or as things really were. (10:7) Translators have variously rendered the expression. “Look at what is before your eyes.” (NRSV) “Look at what confronts you.” (NAB) “You must look at the facts before you.” (NCV) “Look facts in the face.” (REB) “You judge by appearances.” (CEV) “Take a close look at yourselves.” (CEV, footnote)

The person who “trusts in himself” that he is “of Christ” or belongs to him would be one who displays an arrogant spirit that is focused on self. (Compare Luke 18:9.) A number of manuscripts refer to the individual as trusting in himself to be Christ’s “servant.” Paul admonished anyone who thus trusted in himself to think again and then added what he should consider, “As he [belongs to] Christ, so also [do] we” (meaning the apostle). No believer had any basis for assuming a proud attitude as if he were the only one who belonged to Christ. (10:7)

To some it may have appeared that Paul boasted somewhat too much about the authority the Lord Jesus Christ had granted him for the purpose of building up and not for tearing down. By acknowledging this aspect about boasting, the apostle would have implied that he was not in any way inferior to those who trusted in themselves as belonging to Christ. Paul had been divinely called to be an apostle, and his commission included strengthening those who had responded in faith to his proclamation of the message about the Son of God. In relation to the community of believers, Paul’s assigned role was constructive, helping all to grow in faith and not to have their faith undermined. The authority Christ had given him was not of a destructive nature. Paul could say that he was not ashamed of his boasting, for he was no impostor or one who made exaggerated claims about himself and his accomplishments. (10:8)

Based on his apostolic authority, he expressed himself strongly in his letters, but these letters were not meant to frighten the recipients. The ultimate purpose of Paul’s letters would have been to promote the spiritual well-being of believers and not to make them afraid and thereby to tear them down. (10:9)

His detractors claimed that his letters were “weighty and strong” (expressed in an impressive and forceful manner) but that his “bodily presence” proved to be “weak” and his “speech contemptible.” In their estimation, Paul did not amount to anything when it came to his personal bearing, and his speaking lacked eloquence. (10:10)

The apostle warned those who evaluated him in this contemptuous manner, telling them to consider that what he proved to be in his letters while absent he would also be in deed when personally present. (10:11) While looking down on Paul, his detractors rated themselves highly. With apparent reference to some who had an exalted opinion of themselves, he (using the editorial first person plural) spoke of not daring to place himself among them or to compare himself with those who recommended themselves. These individuals measured themselves by themselves and compared themselves with themselves. Their standard for evaluation originated with themselves, and they deemed themselves to be important on the basis of their personal view. This was a faulty measure of true worth, and Paul rightly identified those who rated themselves highly on this basis as knowing nothing. (10:12)

When boasting in the manner that he did, the apostle, unlike his detractors, did not do so beyond measure, exceeding the limit of what he could rightfully claim. Instead, he kept to the measure of “the [measuring] reed” that God had apportioned to him for “measure,” and that measure also reached as far as the Corinthians. The divinely assigned measure appears to designate the apportioned field of operation for Paul as an apostle to the nations. Within this field he labored, and his boasting did not extend beyond the limits of that field. (10:13; see the Notes section.)

Upon coming to Corinth to declare the “evangel of Christ,” Paul had not overreached himself or exceeded his limits as would one who entered someone else’s domain. He was first in proclaiming the good news about the Son of God to the Corinthians and others in the Roman province of Achaia. (10:14)

The apostle did not boast beyond measure “in the labors of others.” He did not arrive in Achaia after the message about Christ had already been proclaimed there and communities of believers had come into existence. Unlike his detractors who came later, he did not boastfully elevate his role beyond what had already been accomplished. But Paul hoped that, as the faith of the Corinthians increased, he would be “magnified among [them] according to our [measuring] reed for abundance.” Increase in the faith of the Corinthians likely refers to the development of a stronger faith. Upon coming to have the desirable measure of faith, the community of believers in Corinth would not have needed the apostle’s special attention, making it possible for him to direct his efforts in proclaiming the message about Christ in more distant regions. (10:15)

His being “magnified” among the Corinthians could mean that they would come to regard him more highly than they had previously. His detractors had cast him in a bad light, and this appears to have affected how a significant number of the believers in Corinth came to view him. If the reference is to his being magnified among the Corinthians, their much higher regard would have been “according to our [measuring] reed for abundance.” So, although abundant in comparison with the former view of him, this higher regard would be within the proper limits. Another possibility is that the “[measuring] reed” could designate Paul’s field of operation, and that he hoped his sphere of labor would be greatly enlarged among the Corinthians. In view of the apostle’s goal to go where the good news about Christ had not as yet been proclaimed, it seems less likely that the meaning would relate to increased activity among the believers in Achaia. On the other hand, their proper view of Paul did have a bearing on their spiritual well-being, for he, as a divinely appointed apostle, had faithfully discharged his commission. (10:15; see the Notes section.)

The apostle desired to reach areas where the glad tidings about Christ had not been made known, and this would have been in regions beyond Achaia. He would then not be boasting in the “[measuring] reed” of others or in their field of operation. Paul would not be making any claims respecting regions where things had already been prepared or where communities of believers had already come into existence through the labors of others. (10:16)

Paul’s “boasting,” however, was not an inordinate pride based on personal accomplishments. He labored faithfully as a servant of Christ and followed his direction. So the apostle’s boasting was in Christ as his Lord or as a believer who was at one with him and to whom he gave the credit for what he was able to accomplish. Drawing on words found in Jeremiah 9:24, Paul said, “But let the one boasting boast in the Lord.” The apostle did not introduce the words as being a quotation from the holy writings, and they are not the exact words found in Jeremiah 9:24, where the reference is to boasting in knowing YHWH or having a relationship with him. Therefore, it is likely that Jesus Christ is the Lord to whom Paul referred. Believers acknowledge God and Christ in everything they are able to do, and so either one could be understood as designating the Lord in whom they would rightly boast. (10:17)

It is the Lord Jesus Christ whom his Father has appointed as judge, and believers will be called upon to render an account to him. (Acts 17:31; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 2 Timothy 4:1) Therefore, the manner in which individuals recommend themselves (as did Paul’s detractors) did not count. The approved person is the one whom the Lord Jesus Christ recommends or considers faithful. (10:18)


In this chapter (as elsewhere in 2 Corinthians), the first person plural pronouns and verbs are to be understood in an editorial sense as applying to Paul.

For verse 13, the renderings of modern translations are often more explicit than the literal reading of the difficult Greek text (“But we shall not boast [with reference] to unmeasured things, but according to the measure of the [measuring] reed which God apportioned to us by measure, to come also [as far as] you” ). The result has been a considerable variety in the way Paul’s words are interpreted. “We, however, will not boast beyond limits, but will keep within the field that God has assigned to us, to reach out even as far as you.” (NRSV) “But we will not boast beyond measure but will keep to the limits God has apportioned us, namely, to reach even to you.” (NAB) “By contrast we do not intend to boast beyond measure, but will measure ourselves by the standard which God laid down for us, namely that of having come all the way to you.” (NJB) “We won’t brag about something we don’t have a right to brag about. We will only brag about the work that God has sent us to do, and you are part of that work.” (CEV) “But we will not brag about things outside the work that was given us to do. We will limit our bragging to the work that God gave us, and this includes our work with you.” (NCV) “No, we shall not make any wild claims, but simply judge ourselves by that line of duty which God has marked out for us, and that line includes our work on your behalf.” (J. B. Phillips) “As for us, our boasting will not go beyond the proper limits; and our sphere is determined by the limit God laid down for us, which permitted us to come as far as Corinth.” (REB)

As in the case of verse 13, the words of verse 15 regarding Paul’s hope have been variously translated, conveying a variety of different meanings. “Our hope is rather that, as your faith grows, we may attain a position among you greater than ever before, but still within the limits of our sphere.” (REB) “But our hope is that, as your faith increases, our sphere of action among you may be greatly enlarged.” (NRSV) “Yet our hope is that, as your faith increases, our influence among you may be greatly enlarged, within our proper limits.” (NAB) “Our hope is that your growing faith will mean the expansion of our sphere of action.” (J. B. Phillips) “We hope, as your faith increases, to grow greater and greater by this standard of ours.” (NJB) “We are trusting, when your faith has developed, to grow further in your esteem and to continue to grow according to the standard allotted to us.” (NJB, footnote) “We hope that as your faith continues to grow, you will help our work to grow much larger.” (NCV) “But I hope that as you become stronger in your faith, we will be able to reach many more of the people around you.” (CEV)