From the exhaustive treatment of giving and receiving according to Christ which filled the two preceding chapters, the apostle turns to vindicate the authority given him in the Lord. This Satan had been bringing into question among the Corinthians, not merely to discredit the servant, but thereby to undermine the testimony and separate the saints from Him whose grace and glory were interwoven with it most intimately.
In the beginning of the epistle, now that they had begun to judge themselves in God's sight truly, if as yet imperfectly, he could open his own heart and speak of his ways and his motives which had been so basely misconstrued; he had just alluded to his authority enough to indicate his possession of it with calmness of spirit but also unwillingness to exercise it with severity. He even appeals to God as a witness upon his soul that it was to spare them, not through fear or levity or any other unworthy reason, he had not come as yet to Corinth, but with marvellous tact and gracious skill he binds up, with his explanation of what had been misunderstood, the divine certainty we enjoy in Christ by God's word and the power of the Spirit given to us. And then, just touching on the case of discipline which Satan had used and was still seeking to use to separate the Corinthians from the apostle, not only in judgment but in affection and in the mutual confidence which springs from it, he lets them know how that an evangelistic door, even opened to him in the Lord, failed to turn his loving heart from themselves at this critical juncture; but spite of all, he thanks God for always loading him in triumph in Christ, as in an ancient procession of victory where sweet spices were being burnt, harbinger of death to some of the captives and of life to others. This gives occasion to the admirable setting forth of the gospel of the glory of Christ, the ministration of the Spirit in an earthen vessel in contrast with that of the law which false teachers would ever mingle with it, and to the manifestation of the superiority of life in Christ over all that can obscure, menace, hinder or destroy, which runs through 2 Corinthians 3 - 2Co_6:10. Thence he returns to his relations with the Corinthian saints, but not without exhortation to keep them clear of every association of Satan, flesh and world, inconsistent with Christ.
After this, to the end of 2 Corinthians 7, he freely speaks of what had tended to make a practical breach between him and them. Then in true grace and wisdom he who took nothing for himself from the saints at Corinth proves how his heart beat freely toward them by informing them of the grace displayed in Macedonia notwithstanding their well-known and deep poverty in liberally contributing to the poor saints in Judea, and by giving the Corinthians an opportunity of proving the genuineness of their love, especially as they had begun a year ago but had not yet given effect to it; a work in which Titus shared the gracious desires of the apostle, not only as to the help itself for the suffering poor but also that the saints in Corinth should not fall behind their boasting about them. But therein he manifests with equal strength the avoidance of all reproach on the part of those engaged with himself in administering the relief, and the manifold blessing of such liberality, and God's delight in it, whether one thinks of the saints that give or of the saints that receive through His grace who is Himself the unspeakable gift of God.
The apostle did not love to speak of himself or even of his authority, high as it was and most surely conferred by the Lord. But there was a necessity for the Corinthians as for the Galatians; but here he reserves it for and pursues it to the close of the epistle; whereas there he could not but begin with it, the call being yet more urgent.
"But I myself Paul entreat you by the meekness and gentleness of the Christ, [I] who according to appearance [am] mean among you but absent am bold toward you - but I beseech that present I may not be bold with the confidence with which I count to be daring against some that count of us as walking according to flesh. For walking in flesh we do not war according to flesh. For the arms of our warfare [are] not fleshly but powerful with God to the pulling down of strongholds, pulling down reasonings and every height that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and leading captive every thought unto the obedience of Christ, and being in readiness [or ready] to avenge every disobedience when your obedience shall have been fulfilled." (Vers. 1-6.)
It seems that Paul physically had nothing of a showy presence, such as men like generally, most of all perhaps Greeks. But besides his was a lowly and gracious bearing which judged self and set it aside, as in everything, so particularly in the delicate task of dealing with others; which did not suit the Corinthian mind, nor seem in keeping with the apostolic office: especially as the apostle could and did to them write severely now and then in his first epistle. His adversaries accordingly took advantage of all this in seeking to aggrandise themselves and to lower the apostle and his teaching. He appears here and elsewhere to take up their words and meet them in the Spirit, as one who had learnt the lesson, if over saint did, of death and resurrection with Christ. He therefore introduces himself, now that they had morally compelled it, with straightforwardness and dignity; and he entreats them by the meekness and gentleness of the Christ, which had as great price in his eyes, as it seemed to have none in theirs. Did detractors tax him with a mean appearance, but withal boldness when absent, that is, in his letters? Well, he says, I beseech that I may not when present have to be bold (θαρρῆσαι with the confidence with which I am (not "reckoned," but) minded, or think to be daring (τολμῆσαι against some that think of us as walking according to flesh. Whatever the energy and fervid zeal and depth of feeling and strength of will found in his natural character, Paul had borne himself among the Corinthians with a self-forgetting humility and the forbearance of active love. It was what he had seen in the Master he served, and this reproduced itself in his adoring heart and in his ways. Let men beware of despising in the servant what was the fruit of the perfection of Christ. But who also so unsparing in his words? Is there the least incongruity? What can be so outspoken as love - the love of Christ? Did Paul find pleasure in blaming his "beloved sons" in the faith? It was and must be due to their state if he came with a rod, or in love and the spirit of meekness. So far from liking to censure, as enemies insinuated, he beseeches that he may not when present have to exercise his authority with a power withering to those who opposed the Lord and sought to cloak their own carnality under such an imputation against him. Revelling in the grace of God for his own soul, it was his deepest grief to see saints misled by Satan, forsaking their own mercies, grieving the Spirit, and putting the Lord's name to disrepute. It was not of Paul to lord it over the faith of any; he was a workman, and a fellow-workman, of their joy. And it was his joy far more than theirs. But he was servant in all he had received of the Lord Jesus, and responsible to use his authority where requisite. And as he had spoken out in his letter, so he would act when present; but he would rejoice if no such need arose. For he sought not himself, nor his things, not theirs, but them.
"For walking in the flesh we war not according to flesh." All who live here below can say the former; how few, the latter - at least as the apostle could. But it was because the weapons of his warfare were not fleshly but mighty "with" God, "before," "according to," or "for," Him.* Flesh prides itself on its own resources within which it entrenches itself against God, who works in His children when dependent, least of all in His own when independent. The enemy was seeking to bring back again fleshly wisdom, which like all that is of the first man attracts nature and exalts itself against the knowledge of God, for this is inseparable from Christ, and from Christ dead and risen. If we war not according to flesh, it must be by pulling down reasonings and every high thing exalted (or exalting itself thus) and leading captive every thought unto the obedience of the Christ. This is the object and effect of dependence, as wrought by the Spirit of God. For there is nothing harder to man than contentedness with being nothing; nor does aught hinder the obedience of Christ more than subtle self-seeking.
* It is the dative which admits of all these shades, of which it is not easy to decide which is best.
We may see in the first how the apostle employed those arms with God to the overthrowing of strongholds, whatever the reasoning or the high thing that was lifted up against the knowledge of God. Take their fleshly zeal for Paul, Apollos, or Cephas: he brings in Christ and His cross to judge its roots, declaring that the former were but ministering servants through whom they themselves believed and as the Lord gave to each; and in fact all theirs, and they Christ's and Christ God's. It was a carnal corruption of their privileges. Take their worldly ease: with such an unbelieving anticipation of the day when we shall all reign together, he contrasts the apostles set by God as the last appointed to death, despised, suffering, and become as the world's offscouring until now. Take their appeal to law courts: he confronts the indignity of saints, who are to judge the world and angels, prosecuting suits one against another before the unjust. Take their laxity about temple feasts: he shows that their boasted intelligence about the vanity of idols was exposing them to Satan's snare, and drawing them into communion with demons. Take lastly their denial that the dead rise: he proves that it virtually upsets the resurrection of Christ, and consequently the gospel with all their heavenly privileges and hope. Thus admirably does the former epistle lead captive every thought into the obedience of Christ.
But the apostle adds another word which yet more brings out the grace and wisdom which wrought in and by him. "And being in readiness [or, as we say, being ready] to avenge every disobedience when your obedience shall have been fulfilled." (Ver. 6.) He loved the saints, and even more Christ's glory in the church. Therefore he could stay away and be mis-represented, but still wait till the word was brought home by the Spirit. This had been in part at least: the gross evil had been not only got rid of, but the saints in Corinth had been deeply moved in judging their own haughty and insensible state, and were now in danger really of' veering to the opposite extreme of judicial hardness toward the one who had not only sinned without shame but ensnared them also. Grace becomes the church as well as righteousness, yea it should characterise us now as earthly righteousness was looked for in Israel. But grace in the apostle could wait, not with indifference at any time, but in all patience now that conscience was working, till their obedience should be fulfilled, never giving up Christ's title to punish every sort of disobedience, and not merely what was scandalous. He would have them all with himself united for the Lord against every evil thing. The church must renounce Christ if it sit down in quiet acceptance of what denies His name. But grace knows how to hail a little that is of God, and looks for all according to His will in due time, in the solemn judgment of what is repugnant to His nature and word.
Such is the way the apostle sets forth beseechingly the authority he had received in the Lord against the detraction of adversaries who were even yet exercising a poisonous influence over the saints. Nothing was farther from him than the fleshly, vacillating, and tortuous policy they attributed to him. But these are the common tactics of the enemy. The first to brand others with lack of spirituality, of fidelity or even integrity, are those who are themselves guilty in these very respects, and spend their breath in a restless endeavour to imbue all they meet with their own surmisings; until they seem at last not only to believe their every impression, but to be satisfied that rancour is true love and invective nothing but faithfulness to Christ. The apostle, after showing that it is one thing to walk in flesh, another to walk according to it, declares that we do not wax according to flesh. He puts it not as a merely personal question of fact, but as a matter of general christian principle and practice. The warfare of the saint derives its character from Christ. The liberty to which we are called gives no licence for flesh, as if violence or vituperation were consecrated in His service. His name gives no just plea to war according to flesh, but on the contrary reproves such carnality, and ought to awaken suspicion of the end because of the way. The arms of our warfare, powerful as they are with God to overthrow flesh's strongholds, are of small value in carnal eyes. The apostle insists on all being reduced to the obedience of Christ, and on readiness to avenge every disobedience when their disobedience should have been completed. What are we here for if not for that obedience? Yet grace and wisdom would first deal with what most openly and seriously dishonours God; and then, when conscience answers to the word, would look for more, yea for all that is pleasing in His sight. God is in the assembly, His dwelling, His holy temple (however men may forget or fritter down the solemn fact), and surely there to give efficacy to His own word and will, as He then was to vindicate by His power the authority of His servant when undermined or denied.
"Do ye look on things according to appearance?* If any one hath trust in himself that he is of Christ,† let him of‡ himself consider this again, that even as he [is] of Christ, so also we.|| For even§ if I should boast somewhat more abundantly of our authority which the Lord gave¶ for building up and not for your overthrowing, I shall not be ashamed; that I seem not as it were to terrify you by letters: because his letters, saith one,**[are] weighty and strong, but the presence of the body weak and the speech contemptible. Let such a one consider this, that such as we are in word by letters when absent, such also in deed when present. For we dare not class or compare ourselves with some of those that commend themselves; but they, measuring themselves among themselves and comparing themselves†† with themselves, are unintelligent [or without understanding]." (Vers. 7-12.)
* The Latins and some of the Greeks took this as an exhortation, not as a question. Others understand it indicatively.
†Sundry copies as Dp.m. Ep.m. F.G., etc., add δοῦλος "bondman."
‡ ἐφ᾽ ἑ B. L., etc., ἀφ᾽ ἑ almost all others with Greek fathers. Lachmann originally inclined to the first, afterwards to the last.
|| Most cursives with a few uncials support Χριστοῦ "of Christ," as in the Text. Rec.
§ τε even is omitted by B F G, etc., as καί is by the best MS and most versions. A few also read, "I shall boast."
¶ ἡμῖν "to us" Text. Rec., is not in the oldest copies.
** B with the Latin copies give "they say," and so Lachmann, though Tischendorf says that he omits it.
†† The critics strangely differ, as do the copies, in the last phrase, not only as to form, but as to arrangement. The renderings proposed singularly differ also.
It seems clear that Paul had nothing in presence or action, any more than in rank or position, to attract the fleshly or worldly mind. So we see elsewhere that the heathen who were struck by the miracles wrought called Barnabas Zeus, and Paul Hermes. Some of the Corinthians indulged in similar depreciation. They could not understand an apostle of such mean appearance, and a style of speech so little suitable to an ambassador of Christ. In this last respect they were much more fastidious than the Lycaonians who felt the force of Paul's words. External manner had an egregious over-value in Achaian eyes. The apostle at once brings in Christ, who reduces all men and all things to their true level. "Do ye look on things according to appearance? If any one hath trust in himself that he is of Christ, let him of himself consider which answers to it. Bathe goes farther. "For even if I should boast somewhat more abundantly of our authority which the Lord gave for building up and not for your overthrowing, I shall not be ashamed; that I seem not as it were to terrify you by letters." Now he quietly, but with firmness, lets them know how much more he might have put forward his apostolic authority. He had not talked, we may be sure, of the blindness he had inflicted on Elymas; he had written in his first epistle of delivering the incestuous offender to Satan, as well as of coming with a rod for the refractory in general. But he had not come, and these vain men treated the warning as vain words. But the Lord gave not in vain the function of acting as His spiritual right hand on earth, though its prime aim was for blessing, not punishment. Still the hand that can wield the trowel can use the scourge; and it were better to fear for their own bold irreverence than to put him to the proof, whether the Lord was with him now.
The apostle's call was to build up, not to cast down; and love it is which builds up. But there was opposition to the Lord quite as much or more than to Paul in questioning the authority given him. And in order to sap and destroy it, advantage was taken of his words and ways to impute fickleness, vacillation, and untruthfulness, as we gather from the first chapter; lack of moral courage when present and despicable weakness in person and ministry, as we see here, aggravated by the heroic style of his letters when absent; craft, guile, and self-seeking, as it would seem from 2 Corinthians 12. Self-will never did lack material for disparaging the person, character, office and work of a servant beyond all example used, kept, and honoured of the Lord. If he refrained then from saying more, as he easily might and naturally would, of his authority in and from the Lord, it was that he might not seem as if he would frighten them by his letters. And this because his letters, said one, are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence weak and his speech of no account. Such was the carping of his adversaries or of one in particular. We can understand it well. Neither spirituality nor unworldliness nor faithfulness vaunts itself nor seeks to lower others; but flesh betrays thereby its pretensions and its party-spirit.
There were various parties in the Corinthians, and some who strove to stand clear in grace and truth; but of all this schismatic activity the Christ-party, I should gather, was the most obstinate. Certainly we have no allusion in the second Epistle to any other; but there appears to be a trace that the spirit of those who said, "I am of Christ," claiming a peculiar and exclusive connection with Him, was not yet extinguished. The root of this error is judged in 2 Corinthians 5, especially verse 16. We can readily understand how it might creep in among men boasting of having seen, heard, and perhaps followed the Lord in the days of His flesh. Here the apostle bids the man (who is confident in himself that he is of Christ) of himself to think this again, that even as he is of Christ, so is Paul. How simple is the truth, how destructive of airy dreams which would misuse even Christ to flatter self! Nor is anything so holy or humble as the faith which cleaves to Him. Similarly of his authority from the Lord, as of his relationship to Him, he bids such a detractor think (ver. 11) that "such as we are in word by letters when absent, such also in deed [we will be] when present."
It was the adversaries who had nothing to boast but words or manners, show or position. When he came, the apostle would know not the word of those puffed up, but the power; but he desired earnestly that it might be, through self-judgment on their part, a visit in love and in a spirit of meekness. But their state might compel him to use a rod, as it did to speak of himself when he would rather discourse only of Christ. Their boastfulness about themselves, their alienation from him, went along with real evil and error in some who misled them, with whose vaulting ambition he deals afterwards. For the present he contents himself with this severe rebuke: "For we dare not class or compare ourselves with some of those that commend themselves; but they, measuring themselves by themselves and comparing themselves with themselves, are unintelligent." With this clique of self-satisfied men the apostle did not venture (he severely says, though with courtesy) to rank or compare himself and brethren like him; but he retires with a Parthian shaft, for he lets them know that to measure or compare themselves thus is the reverse of that intelligence on which they most plumed themselves.
Another thing forgotten by his adversaries the apostle here introduces. The sphere of work is not a question of human choice or judgment, but of the divine will. There were those who slighted the labours of Paul, and their fruit at Corinth; but as he had not entered on that field of his own will, so he had toiled in the face of difficulty and with signal blessing guaranteed for his encouragement from the first.
"We however will not boast as to things".* unmeasured, but according to the measure of the rule which God distributed to us, a measure to reach as far even as you. For we do not,† as though not reaching unto you, overstretch ourselves, for even as far as you we advanced in the gospel of Christ, not boasting as to things unmeasured in another's toils, but having hope, while your faith increaseth, to be enlarged among you according to our rule unto abundance, to preach the gospel unto the [quarters] beyond you, not to boast in another's rule as to things made ready. But he that boasteth, in the Lord let him boast; for not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth." (Vers. 13-18.)
* The singular is in D F G, and in several Latin copies.
† Lachmann strangely follows the Vatican (B), etc., in omitting the first and objective negative, which necessitates an interrogative force "For do we overstretch," etc.
The saving grace of God widely as it goes forth, even to all, falls nevertheless under the ordering hand of God who has His will about the sphere as well as the character of His service.
Others might boast immoderately. This is natural to the flesh, especially in vain minds. But the apostle laboured as he lived in the fear of God. Not a thought crossed him of displaying abilities; he was a servant, a bondman, of Jesus Christ; and so to him it was no question of liking or disliking, but of doing the work assigned to him, "according to the measure of the rule which God distributed to us, a measure to reach even to you."
In truth as all the christian life is meant to be a matter of obedience, so in particular the work of the Lord; else will it speedily degenerate into vain glory or slighting others, and often better men than our. selves. So certainly it was here. The Lord had not called them as he did Paul to Corinth. They at their ease had followed where Paul had wrought with constant self-denial, and not outward labours only but deep exercise of soul; a labour in which grace alone could sustain by the Holy Ghost in continual dependence on the Lord. And the Lord had rejoiced his heart with much people, even in that corrupt city, brought to the knowledge of Himself. This was a work of divine power and goodness; but some had risen up or entered in since the apostle's departure, whose worldly spirit depreciated the work, and claimed superior power. If Paul had begun, they were the men to finish. Was he not indeed too ready to begin and leave his work incomplete as he roved from place to place? For their part they preferred the chiefs who stayed and reared a statelier edifice, as in Jerusalem. This they now strove to do at Corinth.
Such vapouring the apostle simply and thoroughly disposes of by the great truth that God apportions the sphere of labour. Those who venture on an enterprise of the sort without God, must not wonder if their service be without His honour and blessing. Happy the man who is wont to look to God, not only for his soul and in his walk, but also in his work. Nor does God fail to vouchsafe His guidance in this as in all things where His servants wait on Him. It was a. new language doubtless to the self-exalting men of Corinth, jealous of the power and authority of the apostle. Power belongs to God, but He loves to use it in and by those who walk by faith; and now was the fitting time and place to make known the secret to the saints. It was "according to the measure of the rule which God dealt to us, a measure to reach as far even as you." There was no overstraining in the apostolic word or work, as though not reaching to the Corinthians; "for even as far as you we advanced in the gospel of Christ." None could deny this. The apostle had traversed many lands, planting the standard and proclaiming the good news of Christ in them all. He had done so as far as Corinth to the joy of many hearts. Let others boast then of lengths without measure; he and those like-minded would not boast of anything of the sort, more especially if it were taking advantage of other men's toils, which he was careful to avoid. "But having hope, while your faith increaseth, to be enlarged among you according to our rule unto abundance."
Thus admirably does the apostle rise above the pettiness of human conceit or pride in divine things, nowhere more offensive than there, on the one hand laying bare those cheap pretensions which turned to selfish account the toil of others; on the other, cherishing confidence in the grace of God that the faith He had given would grow and thus afford him an opportunity of being enlarged as he says among them, instead of being chilled and straitened by having to deal with serious and growing evils. For thus would he be set free in fact and in spirit to preach the gospel unto the quarters beyond them, instead of boasting in another's rule as to things made ready. This his adversaries were doing, as we have seen, and as the apostle here says quietly, but none the less cuttingly.
But the Christian has a just ground of boasting There is One in whom we may and ought to boast, not self, but the Lord. So said the prophet of old, when the Jews were either glorying in idols or distrustful of Jehovah, who was laying bare their vanity and punishing their departure from Himself. So repeats the apostle now to the saints at Corinth. To glory in the Lord is due to Him and good for us; to glory elsewhere is a danger as well as a delusion. It connects more or less immediately with self; and not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth.