I Will Not Be Ashamed
2 Corinthians 10:1–18 – 2 Corinthians: A Testimony to Suffering in the Power of God
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost – August 11, 2019 (am)
On what basis do you [commend] something? What is it that makes you agreeable to an idea, or approving of some behavioral pattern, or affirming of a public figure?
I was sitting at a Starbucks yesterday and there was a group at the next table. They’d finished their Saturday morning workout and were talking about life. They seemed to know everyone who came by! They were celebrating vacations, reflecting on college visits with their kids, and talking about a range of other topics, even church. Then they landed on gender issues. They lamented the unfairness of men competing athletically as women, even after hormone treatment. But they [commended] as amazing the courage of some parents they know who, ten years ago, allowed their little boy to go to a six-year-old birthday party dressed as a little girl. I was working on this message at the time. And their dialogue just drove home to me how vulnerable we all are when it comes to evaluating and embracing the values of our age, how susceptible to influence, even in the church, regarding what is [commendable], and who, and why.
Especially on matters like gender identity, the definition of marriage, right to life, etc., it’s most often the church that stands in the crosshairs of this generation as the example people who complicate things, who embody opposition to the [loftier] instincts of our age on issues that exemplify personal liberty or freedom of expression. But also, strangely, it’s often the church that stands opposed to what this world perceives as a more healthy concept of God—that He accepts worship equally from all religions; that He’d never insist on just one way of salvation; that He knows most people are not truly evil; they’re essentially good and worthy of [commendation]; they’re deserving of salvation based on their good intentions and community service.
There are many ways in which different voices in our day can press the church toward twisted or compromised or watered-down concepts of God or the gospel or our salvation. We could spend quite a while this morning identifying them and assessing the impact they’re having. But I bring them to mind today because I believe that will help us identify with the passage we’re looking at here in 2Co.10. The text opens the third and final major section of this letter. As it opens, Paul is once again defending his gospel ministry and methods. But where he has so far been doing so as an essential component in the reconciliation that has already taken place between himself and the majority in Corinth who responded to his call to discipline an erring brother, now he’s turning his attention toward those who remain unrepentant—who have been swayed by outside voices and are still listening to the accusations that Paul is not a true apostle, that his ministry lacks the presence and power of the Spirit, that his speech lacks polish and persuasive force, and that his refusal of financial support proves that he knows all this (cf. 11:1-11). So, there is a discernible change in tone from here on out. Where Paul had been mainly describing his authority in an already resolved dispute up until now, here he begins exercising it in an unresolved dispute. Let’s follow along—two sections: one assertion and one question
Paul Begins His Appeal to the Unrepentant in Corinth
We’re going to distill the whole of c.10 in this section. And I think the best way to do that is with six summary statements.
Paul insinuates the false assertions being made about him.
He’s doing this already in the opening verse: 1b I, Paul, myself entreat you…—I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away! That’s what they were saying about him. He writes [tough] letters, but he’s a [weakling] when he [shows up] (10). And his ministry is more of the flesh than of the Spirit—he [walks] according to the flesh (2b). Whatever their reasons, this is what those outside voices wanted the Corinthian church to believe about the Apostle Paul. And more will follow (c.11).
Paul reassures the Corinthians that these are not true.
I love the way Paul does this. We might be in the flesh but we’re not [of it], he says: 3 For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. And you can count on that! 8 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. The authority the Lord [has given] for building up [the Corinthians] has proved itself in Paul’s life and ministry in all the ways he’s mentioned already in this letter. The very fact that the Corinthians have embraced saving faith and are being changed by it, from one degree of glory to another (3:18), is proof of its legitimacy, so he’s not in the leased ashamed of it! (cf. Rom.1:16) 13 [Still, he] will not boast beyond limits, but will boast only with regard to the area of influence God assigned to [him]…. He’s not going to claim more gospel fruit than he’s borne. This is key, because this is just what the false apostles in Corinth were doing (11:5, 13; 12:11-12). This church had been formed through Paul’s ministry (12:12). Now they were claiming he was a farce and they were the real deal. Not so!
Paul exposes what his accusers are doing.
They [commend] themselves (12). They measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another (12). They are without understanding (12). They’ve lost sight of (or never knew) the true measure of faith. Their eyes aren’t fixed on Jesus! They’re just sustaining a competition amongst themselves. They’re believing that they not only measure up to Paul but surpass him! I remember playing basketball against guys like this in parks or at the YMCA in the city. They’d boast about any good move they made as if they were playing in the NBA. And they’d scream about any foul. But if a truly elite player showed up, the difference was immediately clear! Same here. These false apostles could boast when Paul wasn’t around. But this church wasn’t formed under their ministry! That’s what Paul is clarifying in vv.14a, 15a, 16b. He’s not the one boasting about others work as though he accomplished it. They are. And as for the Corinthians, they needed to see this! (7) They needed to [open their] eyes and see the difference!
Paul talks a little tough (like my dad used to do).
He doesn’t do it with swagger but with style. And the net result is that you get the point! 2 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. This is where it introduces the idea that some think his work reveals more flesh than Spirit. But even as he brings it up, he puts them on notice that he won’t just let that go. They will answer for it! I remember my father asking me why I kept putting him in the place where he had to apply discipline. Good question! Then (6), as Paul talks about how he wages war against those who oppose, or seek to one-up, his gospel, he says he’s quite ready to punish every disobedience (6) that lingers. And he’ll repeat this again later on (12:21; 13:1-2, 10). They really shouldn’t be messing around with Paul.
Paul alerts the Corinthians to the way he does things.
More of this passage supports this statement that any of the other five. Paul opens by assuring the Corinthians that he’s speaking to them with the meekness and gentleness of Christ (1a). They’re mistaking his [humility] (timid [NIV, NLT]) for [weakness]. But what Paul is displaying the character of Christ, patiently awaiting their repentance. Some even say he’s re-enacting Jesus’ ministry: [meek] and [gentle] in his first coming, but coming again in power, promising judgment (cf. Hafemann 393). [Paul doesn’t] want… to be frightening them with [his] letters (9), nor is he communicating differently with them by letter than he does [in-person] (11). But it was through his ministry that God saved the Corinthians (14b) and he wanted to see that work increase, be greatly enlarged (15b). He wanted to see their issues resolved, perhaps even so that they could support him as he moved on to new places where the gospel hadn’t yet been [preached] (16a [Garland 456-7]).
Those are most of the places where Paul alerts the Corinthians to the way he does things. But vv.4-5 are the favorites of many. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 5 We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ. That’s compelling! It’s the favorite spiritual warfare passage after Eph.6. These are the theme verses for a number of Christian apologists who defend the faith against [false ideas] and arguments. And they’re deserving of the attention they receive. But what Paul is doing here is explaining with a pithy efficiency how his ministry is not at all of the flesh, but entirely of the [Spirit]. He’s telling the unrepentant minority in Corinth that if they persist in rejecting God and the gospel by rejecting him, they will indeed be [punished] with the [disobedient]. By their teaching and the influence they’re trying to wield, they’re making themselves the objects of Paul’s warfare. Theirs are the arguments and lofty opinions that are being raised against the knowledge of God. So, they can either embrace the knowledge of God in repentance and faith (7:10), or they can stand before Him in judgment (5:10).
We’ll say more about vv.4-5 in the next section, but first let’s address the final summary statement.
Paul alerts the Corinthians to what they should do.
Two things: 1) boast only in the Lord (17), and 2) [commend] only what He commends (18). V.17 is drawn from Jer.9, a grievous lament by God for all the evil in Judah (Jer.8:1-9:22), for their uncircumcised heart (Jer.9:25-27). But in between these two portions is Judah’s only hope: 23 Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, 24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” Paul explains what he means: 18 For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends. We have nothing that commends us except what the Lord of steadfast love and justice and righteousness purposes to do in/through us. It’s clear what He purposed to do in/through Paul. But these other guys reject that and are only commending themselves (12). Their boasts, and their work, are empty.
The Corinthians can’t follow them! They need to look at what is before [their] eyes (7) and recognize who’s truly commissioned by God (2:17). Their own faith confirms it! (3:1-3)
What Appeal Does this Passage Make to Us Today?
This passage is opening our eyes to the difference between who and what the Lord commends versus what others want to believe He commends. Paul has been drawing attention to the fact that the evidence that his message and ministry are commended by God is seen in the changed lives of the Corinthians, a work only God can do. These others are discrediting Paul, and at the same time altering the gospel (cf. 11:4) he preached, through which God saved the Corinthians! The Corinthians need to open their eyes and recognize this! (7) The integrity and truth of the gospel itself is at stake here!
The standards by which these guys were testing Paul and finding him wanting were the standards of their age, not the standards of God’s Word and His work. Paul needed to be more eloquent and persuasive. He needed be more assertive and quit changing his plans. He surely needed to start receiving money for his work or no one would ever take him seriously!
But it wasn’t just these methods. As we’ll see in c.11, the message of these false apostles also differed from Paul’s. Paul calls it a different gospel [than] the one [they] accepted. Paul says that these guys are [proclaiming] [a different] Jesus! And the Corinthians are [receiving] a different spirit from their preaching than the one [they] received when Paul preached (11:4). These are arguments and… lofty [opinions] that are being raised up against the knowledge of God in Corinth (5). These are the strongholds (Pro.21:22, cf. Kruse 169) that Paul is [destroying] through his [divinely powered] weapons of the true gospel and the transformed life of the Spirit it accomplishes.
And this is where we begin to hear one of the clearest appeals from this passage in our day. Where do we encounter arguments and lofty [opinions] that are seeking to reshape our understanding of the clear gospel and the uncompromised proclamation of it in word and deed? Where do we encounter [deceptive reasoning (l-n)] or [calculated considerations (WSDNT)], [exaggerated evaluations (l-n)] [rising up] against the knowledge of God, arguments or opinion that forms an obstacle to the emancipating knowledge of God contained in the gospel of Christ crucified and therefore keeps people in oppressive bondage to sin (Harris 513).
We hear it in the false ideas about God, Christ, the gospel, the authority of Scripture that are arising all the time in our day, seemingly at an ever-increasing rate. We hear it each time someone begins a sentence with My God…, then completes it with an affirmation that disagrees with any aspect of God’s self-revelation in Scripture, or with His gospel clearly proclaimed there, or with the walk of obedience to which His people are faithfully called and enabled by His Spirit. Each time we hear that a loving God would endorse a certain pattern of life that His Word clearly and lovingly forbids, we’re encountering a new expression of the same arguments and lofty [opinions] that Paul was warring [against] in Corinth.
And we take up that war! We take up that defense of God and the gospel! We take it up with the same meekness and gentleness of Christ that is as firmly rooted in the truth, and as fiercely protective of it, as were Jesus and Paul themselves! We take up this war because this God and His gospel are this world’s only hope of salvation. We also press on to take every thought captive to obey Christ (5)—every word, every deed, every day! There is no thought in our minds that God or the gospel or the walk of obedience are any different in our day than they have ever been throughout all the ages when our great and glorious God was making them known to us through the revelation of His Word, and then through His eventual giving of His Spirit!
The calling of this passage is to continue on proclaiming the God of the gospel and living the truths revealed in His Word by the power of His Spirit! War against any invasion of this world’s [deceptive reasoning (l-n)]. Never let your attention be drawn away from the awe-inspiring gospel, the amazing work of the Lord on behalf of the redeemed that is entirely and exclusively worthy of our boast (17). It is only what and who the Lord commends that truly matter (18), regardless of how flattering [commendations] from others might feel. It is only what and who the Lord commends that are finally approved by Him, regardless of what this world wants to affirm about their God. Such arguments and lofty [opinions] are commended only by those who hold them, not by the God Who judges them.
Let us now come to the Table of the Lord and remember the glorious work of salvation accomplished for us.