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Paul Defends His Ministry


I myself, Paul, appeal to 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!— 2I ask that when I am present I need not show boldness by daring to oppose those who think we are acting according to human standards. 3Indeed, we live as human beings, but we do not wage war according to human standards; 4for the weapons of our warfare are not merely human, but they have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments 5and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ. 6We are ready to punish every disobedience when your obedience is complete.

7 Look at what is before your eyes. If you are confident that you belong to Christ, remind yourself of this, that just as you belong to Christ, so also do we. 8Now, even if I boast a little too much of our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for tearing you down, I will not be ashamed of it. 9I do not want to seem as though I am trying to frighten you with my letters. 10For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.” 11Let such people understand that what we say by letter when absent, we will also do when present.

12 We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another, and compare themselves with one another, they do not show good sense. 13We, however, will not boast beyond limits, but will keep within the field that God has assigned to us, to reach out even as far as you. 14For we were not overstepping our limits when we reached you; we were the first to come all the way to you with the good news of Christ. 15We do not boast beyond limits, that is, in the labors of others; but our hope is that, as your faith increases, our sphere of action among you may be greatly enlarged, 16so that we may proclaim the good news in lands beyond you, without boasting of work already done in someone else’s sphere of action. 17“Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” 18For it is not those who commend themselves that are approved, but those whom the Lord commends.

Having finished his exhortation, he now proceeds partly to refute the calumnies with which he had been defamed by the false apostles, and partly to repress the insolence 740740     “L’insolence et audace;” — “The insolence and audacity.” of certain wicked persons, who could not bear to be under restraint. Both parties, with the view of destroying Paul’s authority, construed the vehemence with which he thundered in his Epistles to be θρασοδειλίαν — (mere bravado,) 741741     “Vne hardiesse d’vn vanterau;” — “The boldness of a braggadocio.” Θρασοδειλία is a compound of θράσος (boldness) and δείλια (timidity.) because when present he was not equally prepared to show himself off in respect of appearance, and address, but was mean and contemptible. “See,” said they, “here is a man, that, under a consciousness of his inferiority, is so very modest and timid, but now, when at a distance, makes a fierce attack! Why is he less bold in speech than in letters? Will he terrify us, when he is at a distance, who, when present, is the object of contempt? How comes he to have such confidence as to imagine, that he is at liberty to do anything with us?” 742742     Qu’il pense auoir toute authorite sur nous;” — “That he thinks he has entire authority over us.” They put speeches of this kind into circulation, with the view of disparaging his strictness, and even rendering it odious. Paul replies, that he is not bold except in so far as he is constrained by necessity, and that the meanness of his bodily presence, for which he was held in contempt, detracted nothing from his authority, inasmuch as he was distinguished by spiritual excellence, not by carnal show. Hence those would not pass with impunity, who derided either his exhortations, or his reproaches, or his threatenings. The words I myself are emphatic; as though he had said, that however the malevolent might blame him for inconstancy, he was in reality not changeable, but remained uniformly the same.

1. I exhort you. The speech is abrupt, as is frequently the case with speeches uttered under the influence of strong feeling. The meaning is this: “I beseech you, nay more, I earnestly entreat you by the gentleness of Christ, not to compel me, through your obstinacy, to be more severe than I would desire to be, and than I will be, towards those who despise me, on the ground of my having nothing excellent in external appearance, and do not recognize that spiritual excellence, with which the Lord has distinguished me, and by which I ought rather to be judged of.”

The form of entreaty, which he makes use of, is taken from the subject in hand, when he says — by the meekness and gentleness of Christ Calumniators took occasion to find fault with him, because his bodily presence was deficient in dignity, 743743     “Auoit bien peu de dignite et maieste en apparence;” — “Had very little dignity and majesty in appearance” and because, on the other hand, when at a distance, he thundered forth in his Epistles. Both calumnies he befittingly refutes, as has been said, but he declares here, that nothing delights him more than gentleness, which becomes a minister of Christ, and of which the Master himself furnished an example.

Learn of me, says he, for I am meek and lowly.
My yoke is easy and my burden is light.
(Matthew 11:29, 30.)

The Prophet also says of him,

His voice will not be heard in the streets:
a bruised reed he shall not break, etc. (Isaiah 42:2, 3.)

That gentleness, therefore, which Christ showed, he requires also from his servants. Paul, in making mention of it, intimates that he is no stranger to it. 744744     “Il n’est pas nouueau a la pratiquer;” — “He is no stranger to the practice of it.” “I earnestly beseech you not to despise that gentleness, which Christ showed us in his own person, and shows us every day in his servants, nay more, which ye see in me.”

Who in presence He repeats this, as if in the person of his adversaries, by way of imitating them. 745745     “En contrefaisant les propos qu’ils tenoyent de luy;” — “By imitating the speeches that they uttered respecting him.” — See volume 1, p.65. Now he confesses, so far as words go, what they upbraided him with, yet, as we shall see, in such a way as to concede nothing to them in reality.

2. I beseech you, that I may not be bold, when I am present. Some think, that the discourse is incomplete, and that he does not express the matter of his request. 746746     “Et le sens seroit, Ie vous prie, afin qu’il ne faille point vser de hardiesse;” — “And the meaning would be, I beseech you, in order that I may not have occasion to use boldness.” I am rather of opinion, however, that what was wanting in the former clause is here completed, so that it is a general exhortation. “Show yourselves docile and tractable towards me, that I may not be constrained to be more severe.” It is the duty of a good pastor to allure his sheep peacefully and kindly, that they may allow themselves to be governed, rather than to constrain them by violence. Severity, it is true, is, I acknowledge, sometimes necessary, but we must always set out with gentleness, and persevere in it, so long as the hearer shews himself tractable. 747747     “Docile et traittable;” — “Teachable and tractable.” Severity must be the last resource. “We must,” says he, “try all methods, before having recourse to rigor; nay more, let us never be rigorous, unless we are constrained to it.” In the mean time, as to their reckoning themselves pusillanimous and timid, when he had to come to close quarters, he intimates that they were mistaken as to this, when he declares that he will stoutly resist face to face the contumacious 748748     “Aux rebelles et obstinez;” — “The rebellious and obstinate.” “They despise me,” says he, “as if I were a pusillanimous person, but they will find that I am braver and more courageous than they could have wished, when they come to contend in good earnest.” From this we see, when it is time to act with severity — after we have found, on trial being made, that allurements and mildness have no good effect. “I shall do it with reluctance,” says Paul, “but still I have determined to do it.” Here is an admirable medium; for as we must, in so far as is in our power, draw men rather than drive them, so, when mildness has no effect, in dealing with those that are stern and refractory, rigor must of necessity be resorted to: otherwise it will not be moderation, nor equableness of temper, but criminal cowardice. 749749     “Couardice ou nonchalance;” — “Cowardice or indifference.”

Who account of us. Erasmus renders it — “Those who think that we walk, as it were, according to the flesh.” The Old Interpreter came nearer, in my opinion, to Paul’s true meaning — “Qui nos arbitrantur, tanquam secundum carnem ambulemus;” — (“Those who think of us as though we walked according to the flesh;” 750750     Wiclif (1380) renders it: “that demen” (i.e., judge) “us as if we wandren aftir the fleisch.” Tyndale (1534,) Cranmer (1539,) and Geneva (1557,) read as follows: “which repute us as though we walked carnally.” Rheims (1582) — “which thinke us as though we walke according to the flesh.” — Ed. ) though, at the same time, the phrase is not exactly in accordance with the Latin idiom, nor does it altogether bring out the Apostle’s full meaning. For λογιζεσθαι is taken here to mean — reckoning or esteeming. 751751     “The sense is, ‘I entreat, I say, that I may not have to be bold when I am present, with that confidence, wherewith I intend to be bold against certain, who regard me as walking after the flesh,’ i.e., guided by worldly principles. There seems to be a paraniomasia in λογίζομαι and λογιζομένους, which, if introduced into English, may perhaps be best expressed by reckon.” — Bloomfield.Ed. “They think of us,” says Paul, “or they take this view of us, as though we walked according to the flesh.”

To walk according to the flesh, Chrysostom explains to mean — acting unfaithfully, or conducting one’s self improperly in his office; 752752     Nec satis recte (ut opinor) Chrysostomus κατὰ σάρκα perinde exposuit, acsi accusaretur Apostolus eo nomine quod Spiritu Dei non duceretur, sed pravis carnis affectibus;” — “Nor is it altogether with propriety, in my opinion, that Chrysostom has explained κατὰ σάρκα, as if the Apostle were accused on this ground — that he was not led by the Spirit of God, but by the depraved affections of the flesh.” — BezaEd. and, certainly, it is taken in this sense in various instances in Paul’s writings. The term flesh, however, I rather understand to mean — outward pomp or show, by which alone the false Apostles are accustomed to recommend themselves. Paul, therefore, complains of the unreasonableness of those who looked for nothing in him except the flesh, that is, visible appearance, as they speak, or in the usual manner of persons who devote all their efforts to ambition. For as Paul did not by any means excel in such endowments, as ordinarily procure praise or reputation among the children of this world, (Luke 16:8,) he was despised as though he had been one of the common herd. But by whom? 753753     “Mais qui estoyent ceux qui le mesprisoyent ainsi?” — “But who are those that despised him thus?” Certainly, by the ambitious, who estimated him from mere appearance, while they paid no regard to what lay concealed within.

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