The exercise of discipline is never an easy matter. Because of the painful nature of the process, there is the temptation to put as much distance as possible between yourself and the person receiving the discipline. Written, as opposed to verbal, communication can be a less directly confrontational route, and hence more appealing. Where the tongue might get away from us in a face-to-face exchange, a letter permits a certain degree of perspective and objectivity. But avoidance of a face-to-face encounter can leave one open to the charge of cowardice—a charge that Paul tackles head-on in chapter 10: I, Paul, who am "timid" when face to face with you, but "bold" when away! Paul is quoting the opposition, as the quotation marks around the terms timid and bold indicate (NIV, Phillips, REB). The word for timid (tapeinos) is commonly used in Hellenistic Greek to indicate a low social status, but it can also refer, as here, to the cringing, subservient attitude that sometimes accompanies humble circumstances. The Living Bible's "afraid to raise his voice when he gets here" catches the thought. But when Paul addresses the Corinthians at a distance (in writing), he becomes "bold." Tharreo (bold) was used earlier to speak of Paul's cheerfulness in the face of death (5:6, 8) and his confidence in the Corinthians (7:16). In this verse it connotes self-confidence or self-assurance of an unwarranted kind. In essence, Paul's critics are saying that he talks big in his letters (e.g., the severe letter) but is weak-kneed in person (e.g., the painful visit).
Indeed, in the minds of Paul's critics to resort to the pen is to live by the standards of this world (v. 2). The phrase is literally "to walk according to the flesh." "Walk" (peripateo) is one of Paul's favorite expressions to describe the Christian life (it occurs thirty-one times). Here it denotes a settled pattern of behavior. This pattern of behavior is described as "flesh," a term that ranges in meaning from what is physical, mortal or human to what is sinful or even sexual in nature. In this context it refers to a purely human way of doing things—which, for Paul's opponents, amounted to a weak way of doing things. They, by contrast, claimed to be spiritual people, boasting of their extraordinary experiences ("visions and revelations," 12:1) and Spirit-empowered ministry ("signs, wonders and miracles," 12:12). This would appeal to a congregation like Corinth, whose members thought they had arrived spiritually (they are "full," "rich," even "kings"—1 Cor 4:8). Paul's critics also asserted that he adopted human strategies of warfare (wage war as the world does, 10:3). Strateuomai means "to advance" with an army or fleet (Liddell, Scott and Jones 1978). His rivals claimed to fight with the armies of the Spirit, while Paul, they maintained, relied purely on ineffective, beggarly methods and resources to carry out his ministry.
Cowardly, weak and ineffectual—not an appealing pastoral portrait by any stretch of the imagination, and one that Paul dismisses out of hand. His introductory statement deserves careful attention. He begins with a warning. Yet it is a warning phrased in terms of a request, rather than a command: I appeal to you . . . that when I come I may not have to be as bold as I expect to be (vv. 1-2). The verb (parakaleo) is one commonly used by someone who has the authority to command but chooses not to.
Paul makes his request by the meekness and gentleness of Christ. At first glance this phrase seems out of sync with the forcefulness of what follows. But then Paul has been accused of "trying to frighten" the Corinthians with his letters (v. 9). So he takes pains to reassure his readers that he approaches them as Christ himself would. The adjectives are close synonyms. Meekness (praytes) is descriptive of a gentle and friendly disposition, as opposed to a rough and hard one (Hauck and Schulz 1968:645-46; compare Mt 11:29, "for I am gentle and humble in heart"). Gentleness (epieikeia; only here and in Acts 24:4 in the New Testament) translates a term that denotes the yielding or forbearing disposition of those in positions of power—the judge who is lenient in judgment and the king who is kind in his rule (Bauder 1976:256; compare Phil 4:5, "let your forbearance [epieikes; NIV `gentleness'] be evident to all"). Paul is gentle and forbearing as he approaches the Corinthians.
Even so, this disposition does little to blunt the sternness of the warning that follows. Next time around Paul will exercise the discipline that he has been avoiding: when he comes, he expects to be bold (v. 2). Although his critics accuse him of being weak-kneed in person, Paul promises that he will be bold, if need be, on his next visit. Two terms describe the kind of boldness he will show. It will be, first, a self-assured boldness (tharresai tepepoithesei)—or, as the Jerusalem Bible translates, "with confident assurance." It will also be a courageous boldness. The verb tolmao (missing in the NIV) means "to exhibit courage or daring" and is used of the confidence proper to those who are sure of their ground (Motyer 1975:365).
Paul's boldness will be directed on his next visit against some who think that he lives by worldly standards. The fact that he does not say "some of you" suggests that he is directing his comments at those who were intruding themselves into the Corinthian community. These meddlers remain unnamed throughout—although their opinions are quite explicitly named. They appear to be itinerant Jewish-Christian preachers who encroached on Paul's territory and claimed credit for his work. They disparaged him for refusing financial support from his churches (1 Cor 9:3-18; 2 Cor 12:13), not carrying letters of recommendation (2 Cor 3:1-3), being unsuccessful in reaching his own people (3:14—4:4) and being an unimpressive speaker (10:10-11). They flaunted their achievements, claiming a superior heritage to Paul's (11:22) and boasting of greater spirituality ("visions and revelations," 12:1; "signs, wonders and miracles," 12:12), knowledge (11:6) and speaking ability (10:10; see the introduction).
The verb translated think (logizomai) appears toice in verse 2. It means "to draw a logical conclusion" from a given set of facts (Eichler 1978:822-23). From the fact that Paul seemed to talk big in his letters yet had refrained from exercising discipline in person, his opponents drew the conclusion that he operated according to fleshly (that is, weak and ineffectual), not spiritual standards.
Paul accepts this estimate, to a point. "We do live in the flesh [en sarki]," he admits (in the world, v. 3). The change in preposition is crucial. His sphere of activity is indeed "the flesh"—the everyday world of human existence with all its limitations, frustrations, trials and tribulations. But while Paul lives out his life in the ordinary, mundane sphere of human existence, this does not mean that he conducts his affairs according to the flesh (kata sarka)—that is, as the world goes about things (by the standards of this world, v. 2). Nor does he wage war according to the flesh (kata sarka—as the world does, v. 3).
During the latter years of the Great Depression, the American people were faced with mobilizing themselves for a second world war. They rationed their butter, meat, gasoline and other basic items. With the money they had left after purchasing the necessities of life, they paid wartime taxes and bought war bonds to provide even more funds for mobilization. They also sent hundreds of thousands of their finest youth abroad. It was a massive effort, involving great sacrifices and a tremendous expenditure of resources (Waldrop 1984:42). Paul pictures himself as involved in a similar war effort. In his case, however, the battle is being fought on a spiritual front. And spiritual warfare requires spiritual weaponry, which Paul readily deploys. What distinguishes his weapons from those of the world can be summed up in one word—power (dynatos). The weapons Paul fights with have divine power and, as a result, can accomplish what the world's weapons cannot (demolish stongholds, v. 4). Paul does not identify these weapons here. But they certainly would include "the Holy Spirit," "sincere love," the true message and divine power (6:6-7). He may also have in mind "truth," "righteousness," "the gospel of peace," "faith," "salvation" and "the Spirit," put forward as the Christian's armor in Ephesians 6:13-17.
Paul's weapons are effective in doing two things. They can, in the first place, demolish strongholds (v. 4). Ochyrwma is a military term for a "fortified place" (Heidland 1967b:590; Malherbe 1983:147). The picture is of an army attacking and tearing down the fortified defenses of the enemy. In the ancient world a prosperous city would build not only a stout wall for its security but also, somewhere inside the wall, a fortified tower that could be defended by relatively few soldiers if the walls of the city were breached by an enemy. Once the stronghold was taken, the battle was over (Carson 1984:47). In ancient times this was commonly accomplished through a variety of siege machines, the most common being battering rams, mobile towers, catapults for throwing darts and the ballistae for throwing stones (Stern 1976). The strongholds that Paul's weapons lay siege to are arguments and every pretension (v. 5). Logismous are reasonings that take shape in the mind and are then worked out in life as action (Heidland 1967a:286; Malherbe 1983:147). Hypsoma epairomenon ("raised ramparts") are human "pretensions" (NIV) or "arrogances" (JB, TEV, REB, NEB, RSV, NRSV) that have built fortresses with high towers aimed at repelling attacks by the knowledge of God (v. 5; Malherbe 1983:147).
Such efforts, however, are to no avail. For Paul's weapons not only can demolish strongholds (v. 4) but can also take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (v. 5). The verb aichmalwtizw means "to take a prisoner of war" (Kittel 1964a:195). Paul pictures human thoughts as captured enemy soldiers. Once a city's defenses had been breached and its fortified places destroyed, conquered soldiers were taken in tow as prisoners of war. In the Roman triumphus, the prisoners were paraded through the streets of Rome (see commentary on 2:14-16). Paul's objective, however, is not to put human reasonings and pretensions on public display but to take captive every thought for obedience to Christ (v. 5).
What does this mean today? We live at a time when the mind is deemphasized and the needs of the individual elevated—so much so that our generation has been dubbed "the me generation." By contrast, Paul affirms that the mind matters. Indeed, it is so crucial that he focuses all his efforts on taking every thought captive and making it obey Christ. Alister McGrath has written that the future of evangelicalism lies in the forging of rigorous theological foundations and intellectual credibility (1995:18). For this to happen, Christ must reign supreme in our minds.
So, far from being the spiritual wimp that his critics in Corinth make him out to be, Paul has at his disposal a divine arsenal, which he will use on his next visit to punish every act of disobedience (v. 6). The term ekdikeo means "to take vengeance for" or "punish" something—the something in this case being disobedience (parakoe). The noun parakoe (literally, "to hear aside") denotes a stubborn unwillingness to hear what is said and to act on it. The Corinthian intruders are primarily in view here—although any lingering dissenters at Corinth are not excluded. Their disobedience is not their unwillingness to bend the knee to Paul's authority but their attempt to subvert the gospel. "I am afraid that . . . your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ," Paul says (11:3).
What the punishment will involve is left unstated. But Paul will be able to carry it out once the Corinthians' obedience is complete. Only with the church as a whole behind him can Paul operate from a position of strength against his critics. But once he has their support, his troops stand at the ready to be deployed (en hetoimo echontes—"will be ready").
This is the reason for Paul's tough talk in his letters. By adopting a stern approach, he hopes to avoid acting as the disciplinarian in person—not because he is intimidated by the Corinthians but because he loves them. We always make the effort to avoid causing grief or pain to those we love. In many ways it is easier to bear hurt ourselves than to watch the suffering of someone we care about. Paul was no different. The severe letter he wrote to the church caused him great distress and anguish of heart (2:4). But he wrote it so that when he was next with them, he might be a source of joy (2:1-3) and love (2:4), rather than a cause of pain.
Click the button below to continue.
Now that you've created a Bible Gateway account, upgrade to Bible Gateway Plus, the ultimate online Bible reading & study experience! For just a few dollars each month, Bible Gateway Plus gives you:
• Access to 40+ study & reference books including the NIV Study Bible, the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, and the MacArthur Study Bible.
• An ad-free Bible Gateway experience.
• A risk-free, 30-day trial—you can cancel any time.
Three easy steps to start your free trial subscription to Bible Gateway Plus.