THE BATTLE FOR CHURCH LEADERSHIP IN CORINTH
Chapter 10 – PAUL DEFENDS HIS MINISTRY
This chapter begins the final arc of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. In this arc, chapters 10 to 13, Paul addresses the rebellious Christians in Corinth who refuse to respect his leadership and prefer the Super Apostles instead.
In chapter 10, Paul starts to answer the accusations that were being thrown at him. The first of this is regarding his seemingly different attitudes in his letters and person. In this chapter, Paul also starts to compare himself to the Super Apostles and thereby teaching us the difference between a godly leader and a worldly leader.
I. PAUL’S CHANGE OF TONE (v1-3)
“I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away!—I beg of you that when I am present I may not have to show boldness with such confidence as I count on showing against some who suspect us of walking according to the flesh. For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh.”
In this passage, we can notice Paul’s change of tone. From his melodramatic tone in chapters 1 to 7, he is now speaking with a serious and convicting tone. This is proof that he is now talking to a different set of audiences. And this is no other than the rebellious Christians in Corinth.
In this short passage, we can immediately see the first two accusations to Paul: his seemingly different attitudes in his letter and person and the accusation that he is “walking in the flesh.”
In the first accusation, the rebellious Christians refuse to take Paul’s letter seriously because they noticed that the way he speaks in his letters is not the way he behaves in person. In-person, Paul is shy and meek. But in his letters, (specifically 1 Corinthians and the missing third letter), Paul is very bold and striking. Because of this, the Corinthians considered Paul like a dog who only barks when afar. They saw this as an act of false authority. It means he doesn’t really mean his teachings in his letters for he cannot say it to their faces. This topic will be explored more later (v10).
The second accusation is about him being worldly. Because they think Paul behaves differently in his letters and person, they also began to think that he is a hypocrite. That he is not the godly leader that he claims to be. Now, this is a very serious accusation. In his answer, Paul denied that he is walking in the flesh (but admits that he does literally). Usually, this metaphor means that one is living a worldly life. But in this context, it refers to the worldly ways of leadership. The rebellious Corinthians accuse Paul of not leading them in a godly manner. To disprove, Paul brought up the concepts of worldly and godly weapons to defend himself.
II. WORLDLY WEAPONS vs GODLY WEAPONS (v4-6)
“For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.”
In the New Living Translation (NLT), verse 4 is translated as:
“We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments.”
In this verse, Paul claimed that they use “God’s mighty weapons” and not “worldly weapons.” The worldly weapons refer to the worldly ways of leading. These are manipulation, deceitfulness, smooth words, deceptive appearances, false promises, and any crooked ways of leading to abuse of people. When he said this, Paul is also probably referring to the Super Apostles who employed these worldly weapons to stir the Corinthians away from Paul. So on the other hand, Paul is claiming that he uses God’s mighty weapons. In context, this refers to the Biblical standards of leadership. In particular, Paul described the godly weapon as something related to one’s control over his thoughts. Paul said they “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” Because of this passage, Paul defines the Godly Weapon as the ability to resist negative and sinful thinking and the ability to take every thought captive to obey Christ. It is the ability to control and discipline one’s thoughts and fill his mind with only Christlike thoughts.
As he ends this passage, Paul gave them a warning that he is not a different person when he is in their presence and when he is not. And to prove this, he warned them that he is ready to punish those who will remain disobedient.
III. DON’T JUDGE BY APPEARANCE! (v7)
“Look at what is before your eyes. If anyone is confident that he is Christ’s, let him remind himself that just as he is Christ’s, so also are we.”
In the other translations, for example, NKJV (New King James Version), this verse is translated as:
“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.”
This is another accusation and attack on Paul. The rebellious Corinthians were discriminating against Paul because of his unimpressive physical appearance. The Bible does not describe Paul’s appearance but according to some historical books, Paul is old, bald, small, with crooked legs, and weak stature. Because of this, the rebellious Corinthians further looked down on him. It is also possible that they compared him to the Super Apostles who were said to have impressive appearances. This is why Paul taught them that they shouldn’t judge people because of their outward appearances. In his reasoning, he implored them to look upon themselves (this is a sarcastic way of saying that they judge others as if they look good themselves). According to Paul, if they think they belong to Christ despite their appearance, then so they are. Christ doesn’t accept anyone because of their looks. In the eyes of God, everyone is beautiful for everyone is made by God and was made in His image (reference verses: Gen. 1:26; 1 Samuel 16:7).
IV. PAUL DEFENDS HIS MINISTRY (v8-11)
“For even if I boast a little too much of our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you, I will not be ashamed. I do not want to appear to be frightening you with my letters. For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account.” Let such a person understand that what we say by letter when absent, we do when present.”
This is the part where Paul defends his ministry, particularly the accusation that he acts differently in his letters. First, Paul states that “what we say by letter when absent, we do when present.” Paul immediately explains that he is not a different person in his letters. He wants them to understand that whatever he is telling them to do in his letters, he also does it in person. Yes, his tone of speaking may be different, but this is probably because Paul is not good at speaking (according to him) and is much better at writing. Regardless, he is telling them that their accusation is false. In addition, Paul states that he has the authority over them and a sign that he is truly a servant of God is that his authority builds them up and does not tear them down. In other words, his ministry blesses them. This is an echo of Jesus’ teaching that a leader will be identified by his “fruits” (results, influence, or impact). A good leader will produce good fruits while a bad leader will produce bad fruits.
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” – Matthew 7:15-20
Because Paul’s ministry has built the Corinthians up, then that is proof that Paul’s leadership and ministry are good and godly.
V. THE RIGHT AND WRONG MEASURES OF MINISTRY (v12-16)
A. The Wrong Measure of Ministry (v12)
“Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.”
In this passage, Paul compares the right and wrong ways of measuring one’s ministry (since he already brought up the idea of judging by one’s fruits).
In verse 12, Paul states that bad leaders measure their ministry by self-exaltation and by comparing themselves with others. These are the kinds of leaders who are too self-centered and only care for their glory. They compare themselves with each other because they either want to be the best or are checking if they are still ahead of others. This is a very wrong and very sick way of doing ministry. This is not the leadership that Jesus modeled to us. This is the total opposite. According to Jesus:
“And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slaves of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Mark 10:42-45
B. The Right Measure of Ministry (v13-16)
“But we will not boast beyond limits, but will boast only with regard to the area of influence God assigned to us, to reach even to you. For we are not overextending ourselves, as though we did not reach you. For we were the first to come all the way to you with the gospel of Christ. We do not boast beyond limit in the labors of others. But our hope is that as your faith increases, our area of influence among you may be greatly enlarged, so that we may preach the gospel in lands beyond you, without boasting of work already done in another’s area of influence.”
According to Paul in this passage, the right way to measure one’s ministry is by his “area of influence.” This refers to how one’s mission field grows. Paul said that he doesn’t boast in something that he didn’t work in or was a part of (this is an attack on the Super Apostles who took over Corinth which was Paul’s ministry field). He only measures the ministry that God has entrusted to him and has worked on. If one’s area of influence is growing (thereby opening new opportunities) then that is the true proof that one’s ministry is being blessed by God. It is about what God does in and through us. This is why in the end, Paul said that we can and should only boast in the Lord.
VI. THE LORD’S COMMENDATION (v17-18)
“‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’ For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.”
In this powerful last line, Paul reveals that since it is about God’s working, then none of us can boast about our ministry success. To summarize, bad leaders are those who are too self-centered and worldly. They care about themselves and seek personal glory. On the other hand, good leaders are those who produce good fruit and whose area of influence grows to allow more opportunities to share the gospel. They never seek personal glory nor boast about their achievements. As Paul states here, “Let the one who boasts, boasts in the Lord.” It’s all about God.
Lastly, Paul gave wisdom that it is wrong to commend, praise, or exalt ourselves. Paul said that that doesn’t count for much. If one wants the praise that truly matters, then we should seek the praise that comes from God. A true godly leader won’t seek to be praised by men, but by God alone (Gal. 1:10). His life goal is to hear this from God:
“Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’” – Matthew 25:21
May we all strive to hear this from God as well.
God Bless!! 🙂