A. After a six month break, we come back to our series on 2Corinthians.
B. Why did Paul write this letter to the church at Corinth? What was going on in his life and the church’s which made him think he should write this letter? What was he trying to accomplish by writing this letter?
1. When we talk about these kinds of questions, we’re talking about the occasion of the letter.
C. I have entitled this series, Paul’s Most Underappreciated Epistle because
1. The occasion for this letter is more thoroughly explained — and is much more important to the interpretation of the letter than Paul’s other letters.
2. You don’t really need to know the occasion for Romans or Ephesians or Colossians or 1Timothy, or even 1Corinthians.
3. That means it takes a little more work to figure out what’s going on. It’s not as easily accessible.
4. But if you don’t know the occasion of 2Corinthians, you won’t understand a lot of what’s in it.
5. But if you do understand the occasion, it is filled with treasures you can’t find anywhere else.
6. That’s why it is underappreciated. And that’s why, as we restart our series with a new section of this letter, we go back and remind ourselves of the occasion for the letter.
D. But this time, to do so, let’s zoom in from way above.
1. Christ came into the world, and when He began His public ministry , one of the very first things He did was call 12 men to be His disciples, to declare His gospel and carry on His ministry after He was gone.
2. For 3 years He was with them almost constantly, training them, teaching them, dialoguing with them, rebuking them, showing them how to live and how to love.
3. On the night before His death, as He was with them – washing their feet, instituting the Lord’s Supper, talking to them about the HS He would send after He was gone, and taking them to Gethsemane to pray – He also warned them that one of them was to betray Him.
4. After His death and resurrection, He revealed Himself to them and for 40 days continued to teach them and prepare them. During this time He gave them the Great Commission, containing a summary of their assignment to go into all the world as witnesses of the resurrection: proclaiming the gospel, making disciples, baptizing, and teaching.
5. During the 10 days between His ascension into heaven and their reception of the HS on Pentecost, the disciples replaced Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus, with Matthias, bringing the number of apostles of Christ back up to twelve (Acts 1:15-26).
6. About five years later, Jesus revealed Himself to the staunchest enemy of His young church, a man named Saul, or Paul, calling him to be a 13th apostle, the apostle to the Gentiles (Ac.9:1-19).
7. Paul began to preach the gospel, then went to work with Barnabas in the church at Antioch. That church then sent them both to the Gentile world to preach Christ as the first missionaries.
8. On Paul’s second missionary journey, this time without Barnabas, Paul preached the gospel in Corinth, spending a year and half getting a church started there in that great city of Greece.
9. However, during his third missionary journey, while Paul was in Ephesus, he received several reports from Corinth that trouble was brewing in the Corinthian church.
10. To address these issues he wrote a letter (mentioned in 1Cor.5:9-11), and then the letter we call 1Corinthians. Further reports led Paul to visit Corinth, a visit which went downhill fast.
11. So Paul left. After this unfortunate visit, Paul wrote a severe letter to the Corinthians (another letter which is lost to us, but mentioned in 2Cor.2:3-5, 9; 7:8). The general aim of this “severe letter” was to provoke the Corinthian church to discipline a man, who was at the heart of the trouble against Paul (2Cor. 2:6, 9; 7:12), and to stop supporting this man and his fellow Judaizers.
12. After sending the severe letter off with Titus, Paul became increasingly anxious about how the Corinthian church would respond to this letter, and so he crossed the Aegean Sea to find Titus on his way back. Titus gave Paul generally good news about the Corinthian response (2Cor.2:12ff.).
E. This is when he penned 2Corinthians, his most personal and self-revealing letter.
1. Paul spends most of the early part of the letter defending the severity of his previous letter and working toward a positive relationship with them (2:14–7:3), and rejoicing in their demonstration of loyalty to him during Titus’s visit (7:4–16).
2. Paul then presses them to fulfill their commitment to generously participate in his collection for the poor in Jerusalem (8:1–9:15). We covered this section in January and February.
3. But then something happens as Paul begins chapter 10, which we begin to look at today.
a. First, his orientation switches from past to future. Up till now he has been dwelling on what has happened in the past. Now he begins to focus on his upcoming visit and their need to prepare.
b. Secondly, he unexpectedly switches from a friendly, positive mode to soldier mode.
(1) Up to this point, he has been more tender & more open-hearted than any other place in Bible.
(2) But beginning in chapter 10, he goes after the false apostles quite fiercely (10:2, 7, 12, 15; 11:5, 12:11), referring to them as fools, as false apostles, as deceitful workers, as ministers of Satan masquerading as ministers of God (11:13–15), accusing them of seducing the Corinthians as Satan did Eve (11:2–3), and of preaching another Jesus/Spirit/gospel (11:4).
F. 2Corinthians 10:1–2 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!— 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.
A. Since there was such a contrast between the sweet, friendly Paul they knew face to face and the fiery, bold Paul who wrote the severe letter, his adversaries in Corinth began to say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his presence is weak, and his speech of no account.” – 2Cor.10:10
1. In other words, they were accusing him of being weak and wimpy, of being a coward.
B. This is what Paul begins to respond to in 2Cor.10:1-2. He warns them that those who continue to oppose him will find him quite bold and confident when he visits them again.
III. Now there are three parts of this passage I’d like to reflect on:
A. “I entreat you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ”
1. These words mean: kindness, humility, tenderness, tolerance, patience.
2. Christ came in meekness and gentleness.
a. He says this Himself in Matthew 11:28–30, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
b. Matthew 12:19–20 tells us that Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of Is.42:1-3, “He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench.”
c. This is the most shocking thing about Jesus. because of human rebellion and pride you expect Him to come with anger & fearsomeness. But He doesn’t. Instead He comes with grace and compassion, with meekness and gentleness.
3. And Paul manifested this Christ-like lowliness/humility in his dealings with the Corinthians.
4. But some claimed that what Paul was really portraying was his weakness and cowardice.
5. And Paul spends a lot of the next four chapters of 2Corinthians explaining and defending his “weakness,” culminating in that great statement: “I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2Cor.12:9–10
6. Some people just have no time for weakness or humility. They have no respect for someone who is “gentle and lowly in heart.” They love strength and confidence and toughness and victory.
a. “Leaders need to be strong.” And we see in Paul’s words here that there is a time to be strong.
b. But it is the exception, not the rule.
7. Paul, who in his former days led with a sword, was reluctant to pull rank and exercise his authority as an apostle.
a. We see this in Philemon 8–9 “Though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you.” (See also 2Cor.1:23-24; 8:8.)
8. Paul operated this way because he was imitating Jesus (1Cor.11:1).
a. Jesus said, “I am gentle and lowly in heart.”
b. And He warned about the overuse of authority (Mt.20:25-28).
9. This is why we regularly recite the beatitudes together, to pound this truth into our minds: that in the economy of God, the qualities we want to strive for are to be poor in spirit, and meek, and merciful, pure in heart, to mourn and to hunger and thirst for righteousness, to be a peacemaker and to accept persecution.
10. Sadly, many Christians have embraced a kind of strength/confidence which the world admires, deeming it Christian. But it is not Christian. And that’s one reason we must listen to 2Corinthians.
B. The jolting shift from the meekness of his previous visits to the boldness of his future visit
1. “I beg you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ, that when I visit you I won’t have to show the boldness and confidence I’m afraid I might have to show against some who oppose us.”
a. This isn’t inconsistent with what we’ve just talked about.
b. Paul doesn’t want to use this kind of boldness when he comes.
c. He is writing them in meekness and gentleness in hopes that he won’t have to.
2. In this also Paul is being Christ-like, for though Christ is meek and merciful, if people reject His kindness and spurn His grace, He eventually brings severe judgment.
a. We see this in Rev.6:15–17, when the kings of the earth and the rich and the powerful, and everyone else, hide themselves in caves and among the rocks, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”
b. He is a lamb, but that doesn’t mean He can’t be fearsome!
3. There is a kindness and a severity in the way God deals with people – Rom.11:22.
a. He is kind to us even in our sin. But if we rebuff His many kindnesses, He’ll eventually be severe.
b. “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” James 4:6
4. And so there must be both kindness and severity in the way we deal with others.
a. However, these are not equal tools. Kindness is the rule, severity is the exception. Kindness is always tried first. And we must be slow to anger, just as the Lord is to us, and leave wrath to Him.
b. Severity is dangerous and must only be used in extraordinary cases and with great prudence.
C. Paul’s description of his adversaries as those “who suspect us of walking according to the flesh”
1. Paul uses many different ways to describe those who are opposing him at Corinth. Here is refers to them as those “who suspect us of walking according to the flesh.”
2. There’s an enormous difference between Spirit-Christianity and Christianity which is by the flesh, between Spirit-Christianity and merely-human Christianity.
3. There is plenty in the Bible about Christianity which is merely human:
a. Paul accuses his opponents of this in this very letter – 2Corinthians 11:13–15 “Such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.”
b. Rev.2:2-5 “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. 3 I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.”
(1) There were a number of commendable things about the church in Ephesus: toil, patient endurance, intolerance of those who are evil, discernment: tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false, bearing up for my name’s sake, not growing weary, hating the works of the Nicolaitans, which Christ also hates.
(2) And yet still they were missing the very heart of the matter. In a sense all the rest of it was worthless since they had lost their love for Jesus.
(3) Not just disappointment. Not just “You missed something.” But threatened removal.
c. The parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25:1-13, where 5 virgins are a part of the fellowship of those who are waiting for the returning of the Lord, and yet have no oil in their lamps.
d. James 2:14-26 talks about those whose faith is alive and those whose faith is dead. See 2Pet.2 too.
4. This what the conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus was about in John 3:3-6, “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”
a. You see, it’s not a miracle for someone to be a Christian in the human way, any more than it is a miracle for someone to be Mormon or Muslim.
b. And when people fall away from the Christian faith, they’re falling away from the human Christian faith not the Spirit-produced Christian faith.
c. When someone thinks they’ve tried Christianity and found it empty or a waste of time or ultimately harmful, it wasn’t the Spirit Christianity which they tried, but merely the human.
5. We all need to be alert to the possibility of people doing Christianity merely humanly.
a. A sociologist would look at the situation and say both sides are Christians, they just have vicious disagreements over the details of what they believe.
b. The sociologist doesn’t ask which is true Christianity and which is the counterfeit because the sociologist is looking at both sides as mere religious movements – i.e. as merely human.
6. Even more importantly, we all need to be alert to make sure our faith is not merely human.
a. Many people live their whole lives thinking they are eternally safe only to discover it’s not true.
b. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:21-23)
c. The true Christian faith is not just believing in God, not just agreeing with Christian teachings, not just identifying as a Christian, but knowing God, walking with God, living in God and God living in us.
7. But there’s another danger here as well. This need to be discerning between true Christian faith and false Christian faith – between faith which operates by the Spirit and faith which operates by the flesh – can lead us to falsely judge brothers or sisters in Christ. It can be turned into a tool to use against anyone we don’t want to listen to or don’t get along with.
a. And so, sadly, it is not uncommon to hear believers speak of other professing believers as if they are not true Christians, of judging other people as less spiritual than them, looking down on other Christian groups, as if “We are the true Christians, everybody else is just playing a game.”
b. CMR: demonization of the other side
c. I’ve been accused of this many times. Story of Subway with LP
8. The enemies of Paul were claiming that Paul’s faith was merely human.
a. If there ever was someone who was a Christian by the power of God and not by the flesh, it was Paul. Paul was the number one enemy of Christ and Christ just conquered him, just subdued him to Himself, and then called him to bring the gospel to the Gentiles.
b. And yet, these imposters, these scam-artists claimed that Paul’s apostleship and ministry was all a scam, all of the flesh, not of the Lord.
c. If someone can accuse the apostle Paul of operating by the flesh, then it is possible for anyone to be falsely accused of operating by human power & ingenuity rather than by the power of the HS.
9. On what grounds did they accuse Paul of walking according to the flesh?
a. Paul being ordinary — thinking that real Christian leaders have pizzazz and enthusiasm
b. 1Cor.2:1,3 I, when I came to you, brothers, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom...I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling.
c. As a speaker, Paul was unimpressive: 2Cor.10:10 They say, “His speech [is] of no account.”
10. The continuing accusation of Paul’s fleshliness
a. Paul is still the lightning rod of the Christian church today. It’s his writings which are the focus of the ire of not only unbelievers, but of many who call themselves believers but find some things in the Bible objectionable.
b. It’s his teachings on marriage and sexuality, it’s his teachings on gender roles, it’s his teachings on predestination and the sovereignty of God which fly in the face of modern notions and which are simply unacceptable to so many people.
c. If Paul walked according to the flesh, then that means His letters are merely human and not divinely inspired.
IV. Conclusion: I’ve reworked the passage
A. I, Jesus, myself entreat you, by My meekness and gentleness, I beg of you that when I come again, I will not have to show the boldness and severity which I will have to show against those who accuse Me of being anything less than I am, and who accuse My faithful servants who wrote My word of speaking the words of man and not the words of God.