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Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.

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Friday, May 5, 2017

2 Corinthians (10:1-18) (Lesson 21)

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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)

Established November 2008                                                       Published Weekly on Friday

This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men (and women) to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  (1Timothy 2:3-4)

2 Corinthians (10:1-11)                                                      (Lesson 21)

Welcome back to our internet Bible study known as HBS, for short.  For those of you who have just joined us, we’re currently studying Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian church.  We just completed our study of chapters 8 & 9, one literary unit in my opinion, where Paul preaches a sermon to those saints on the subject of charitable giving in this dispensation.   He also addressed the matter of their charitable contribution to the impoverished Jews in Judea which was late in coming, and yet he boasted of their readiness to fulfill this promise (9:1).

Paul was exceptional when it came to raising funds for this righteous cause for many reasons; one of those is he never used the word “money” once.  All he did was ask the gentile churches in Macedonia and Achaia to assist the Judean saints, i.e. “to step up to the plate,” no pun intended, and these folks were more than eager to help.  This book says the troubled Corinthian church was first in line with the desire to do it (8:10), the churches at Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem (Romans 15:26), the churches of Macedonia, that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality.  For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord (8:1-2; 9:6-8).

Paul’s instructions on charitable giving are found in 1 Corinthians 16:1-4 and they are crystal clear as are his directions to ensure the money would arrive safely at its destination.  The reason for these approved men from each gentile church to accompany this gift to Jerusalem is two-fold.  The amount of money collected from all these churches had to be a considerable sum– that’s one.  Paul had enemies within the church itself and Jewish antagonists from out of town – that’s two.   Therefore, these consecrated church delegates would protect the contribution from theft during the long journey to Jerusalem while also shielding Paul from any false accusations of dishonesty.  The Apostle Luke probably represented the church at Philippi, so at least 9 men went on this mission not counting Paul (Acts 20:1-4; Romans 15:30-31).

Introduction to chapter 10

Having completed the subject of the Believer’s responsibility to give graciously and generously in chapter 9, Paul now begins to defend himself of the false charges brought against him by some of the Believers in Corinth and the Jewish intruders from out of town.  Paul is under attack from three fronts, counting Satan.  So Paul defends his integrity, his ministry, and his apostolic authority.  He’s about to show he has a right to regard himself as called and sent by God as His apostle (2 Corinthians 1:1).

Please open your Bible at 2 Corinthians 10:1.

Paul Describes Himself

2 Corinthians 10

1: Now I, Paul, myself urge you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ – I who am meek when face to face with you, but bold toward you when absent! 

2: I ask that when I am present I need  not be  bold with the confidence with which I propose to be courageous against some, who regard us as if we walked according to the flesh.

The time had come for Paul to deal with the folks who opposed him.  He doesn’t do this seeking revenge but because they were attempting to destroy his reputation which in turn was undermining his ministry of righteousness (2 Corinthians 3:9).  Sometime during his stay at Ephesus, he made a trip to Corinth to help solve some of the problems there (2 Corinthians 12:14, 13:1).  This was the painful and less than beneficial visit which prompted the writing of the sorrowful/severe letter.  After this visit men began working hard at destroying Paul’s reputation.  This letter records some of this conflict. 

Below is a list of the criticisms made against Paul which came from two fronts. 

First, the Corinthians charged Paul with being fickle.  This came about because he changed his travel plans, telling them one thing and yet doing another (2 Corinthians 1:17, 2:1-4).  They also accused Paul of running scared.  They also said he lacked the proper credentials (2 Corinthians 3:1-4, 5).

Second, Paul is being criticized by a group of legalizers and Judaizers who were eroding his apostolic authority at Corinth by claiming he does not measure up to the standards one would expect of a genuine apostle (2 Corinthians 12:11-13).  He presents no letters of recommendation (2 Corinthians 3:1-3) or preach the gospel for pay as a legitimate evangelist would (2 Corinthians 2:17, 11:7).  They accused him of being an ineffective speaker, evidenced by his inability to reach his own countrymen (2 Corinthians 3:12-18, 11:6).  They said he lacked charisma (2 Corinthians 10:10) and he didn’t perform any miracles (2 Corinthians 12:12).  Finally, they accused Paul of being a bold and terrifying talker in his letters, but a weakling in person (2 Corinthians 10:10).

Paul was not able to confront these people face-to-face because circumstances did not permit this.  Remember, Paul wrote this letter while he was in northern Greece, probably Philippi.  But here’s the thing, he writes this letter knowing they’re going to read it themselves or they’re going to hear it being read in the church, so he begins by saying, “I, Paul, myself urge you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ.   

There’s usually another thing, of course, and in this case it’s this his antagonists assumed where there was meekness there’s weakness but we all know what happens when people assume – they usually arrive at the wrong answer.  Paul wasn’t weak by any stretch of the imagination he was a man of many strengths.  But Paul imitated Christ so they may have assumed he was meek/weak, when in truth Paul is actually demonstrating humility while seeking another’s individual’s highest good (1 Corinthians 10:24, 13:4-8; 1). 

Contrastingly, Paul’s opposition was up to no good; evidenced by their behavior and their own words in attacking Paul and the gospel.   The Judaizers clearly demonstrated they were pushing their own program and while trying to accomplish this they trampled all over Jesus’ teachings re: the Greatest Commandment and sacrificial love (Matthew 22:36-40; John 13:31-38; Romans 5:8; Galatians 6:2). 

Once again, the Lord Jesus Christ gives the world an example of sacrificial love at the Cross (Romans 5:8).  But in retrospect His example began long before this event.  Scripture informs us He assumed the role of a house servant and washed the disciple’s feet, including the feet of Judas – the night He was betrayed (Matthew 26:14-39; John 13:1-17).  It goes on to say, in His agony, while hanging on the Cross, Jesus looked down and saw the Roman soldiers gambling for His clothing, He heard the criminals beside Him  arguing, the religious leaders stood below Him mocking Him, and the crowd was blaspheming Him, yet Jesus looked up to His Father in heaven and said, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34; John 19:23-24; Matthew 27:41-43, 44)  I don’t see any weakness there… I do see Jesus Christ demonstrating sacrificial love for all, so they might live.    

As for Paul, there wasn’t anything meek or weak about his character or his ministry either.  He entered the cosmopolitan city of Corinth relatively unknown.  He proclaimed the truth of God’s Gospel there despite the Jewish opposition, their hatred, and the paganism he encountered everywhere he preached Christ crucified.  And by the grace of God he established the largest gentile church in a city known all over for its debauchery and moral depravity (Acts 18).   

I who am meek when face to face with you, but bold toward you when absent! (v1b).  This personal evaluation of our Apostle Paul may have something to do with that sorrowful/severe letter (2 Corinthians 1:9-11).  Paul’s critics were saying he wrote scary letters but wasn’t bold enough (man enough) to travel to Corinth to face them; this is why he kept changing his travel plans. 

I ask that when I am present I need not be bold with the confidence with which I propose to be courageous against some (meaning my antagonists) – Paul is asking these Believers to reconsider what they’ve heard from these disrupters of the faith.  Paul thought the best plan was to put a hold on any return trips to Corinth until there had been some significant changes in the hearts of some.    

It wasn’t Paul’s style to be bold; he preferred to be gentle.  I remember my mother saying, “You can attract more bees with honey than with vinegar.”  This was mom’s way of saying, “Stop complaining.  It repels people; it doesn’t attract them.”  People are drawn to optimistic people, people who wear a smile and not a frown.  Our Apostle Paul was an encourager.  But some of the Corinthians and the legalizers were accusing Paul of acting from the lowest, base human motives, i.e. the flesh.  While Paul freely admits he is in the flesh, he’s aware of his mortal body, its temporal needs, its imperfections, and frailties, he strongly asserts he is not acting fleshly or from fleshly motives, so their actions and words are based on false assumptions (2 Corinthians 1:17, 2:17, 4:3, 7:2, 10:3-4). 

Verse 3:

3: For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the fleshthe people attacking Paul were judging him in light of human terms and human motives; a.k.a human standards; “making it up as they go along” (Romans 3:5; 1 Corinthians 9:8, 15:32; Galatians 1:11, 3:15; Ephesians 4:14).  Believers have and are motivated by a much different standard – the revealed Word of Truth; the Old Testament, Jesus Christ, and the New Testament (John 1:17). 

In verses 3-6 Paul uses a series of war metaphors to illustrate the struggle between the Believer and spiritual wickedness (Romans 7, 8:3-11).  The Greek word for war in verse 3 is Strateuomai (pronounced: strat-yoo’-om-ahee), Verb, Strong’s Greek # 4754, meaning:  to contend, fighting like a soldier in a war; figuratively – to engage in spiritual warfare (1 Corinthians 9:7; Timothy 2:4). 

Then in verses 4-5 there’s a series of things listed which Paul attacks:

Destruction of fortresses
Destruction of speculations
Destruction of every lofty thing
Taking captive every thought
Let’s start with verse 4:

4: for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses.

The weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh – Paul’s saying the means by which we achieve victory over evil in this world are not of the flesh.  Believers don’t advance their cause the way unbelievers do.  Unbelievers rely on fleshly weapons such as:  beauty, education eloquence, social status, talent, wealth, etc.  But our marching orders come from Head-quarters and our strength comes from God alone (Romans 8:28-31; Ephesians 6:10; Philippians 4:13; Colossians 1:18). 

The type of warfare Paul speaks of here and in 2 Corinthians 6:7 is spiritual warfare.  He wrote the book of Romans from Corinth around this same time and he mentions spiritual warfare there too in Romans 6:13 and in 13:12.  The Apostle Peter in 1 Peter 4:1 writes to encourage Believers to arm themselves in the fleshly struggles against evil. 

I pray y’all are getting the idea this is an important topic.  I did a Bible search and found 31 verses related to spiritual warfare and there’s plenty more.  God wants us to understand we are in a continuous battle with Satan and the powers of darkness.  Satan’s primary goal is to delay, if not deny, the expansion of the kingdom of God’s Son.  He does this by setting up strongholds (I call this kingdom building) in the hearts of men and women to resist the truth of God’s gospel (2 Corinthians 4:1-4).  When he attacks Believers, his standard tactic is to knock them out of the spiritual battle by any means necessary.  His primary weapon is deception.  It worked with the woman in the Garden of Eden and it still works today.  But any one of our sinful activities can be used as a weapon against us, and the evidence of this truth is all around us. 

I watched the news just last week and there stood a local church leader in his jail-orange and handcuffs, under arrest for molesting an underage child in his church.  He stood before the judge looking defeated, discouraged, and disheartened and this is what Satan desires for every Believer.  This minister was knocked out of the battle to win souls for God and his testimony was tarnished before an audience of Believers and unbelievers alike who sat at home just as I was viewing his shame live on television.  He was being judged by some and whether that’s right or wrong it doesn’t matter; the damage is done.  This is why we pay attention to Paul’s warning to be aware of Satan’s schemes (1 Corinthians 10:13; 2 Corinthians 2:11; Ephesians 5:26, 6:10-18)

For the destruction of fortresses – Bible commentators disagree as to the meaning of this comment from Paul.  But if we keep this phrase “between the lines” or in context with what Paul has been saying all along, then Paul explains in verse 5 what spiritual fortresses is. 

In Paul’s native land of Cilicia, about 50 years before his birth, Roman armies under the direct orders of Pompey the Great (106 BC – 48 BC) attacked and destroyed many rocky fortresses and defeated the pirates who had taken refuge in those strongholds.  It’s possible Paul is using this historical event to illustrate the destruction of fortresses in verse 4.  In any event, in their humanness, their carnal-mindedness, the Corinthians tended to admire and rely on carnal weapons for spiritual warfare.  This is evidenced in their behavior patterns.  Two of the carnal weapons they fought with were deceit and manipulation, for instance.

I’m looking at the word fortresses (v4) and “boom” I see it’s plural, meaning more than one stronghold and that fits Paul’s illustration above, which tells us there were more than a few negative issues to overcome.  These were strongly held beliefs that resembled fortified obstacles such as an individual’s long-standing sinful behavior.  Our sins become deeply-rooted problems after awhile, addictions if you will.  Then there’s the general wickedness of the world made even worse by the fact that it is fortified by millions and millions of Christ-rejecting humans.   Idolatry was a big problem.  The Romans had their gods and the Greeks had theirs and this was one more stronghold fortified by the power of the pagan priesthood, their laws, and the people’s narrow-mindedness.   Paul is also addressing the false theology of the false apostles (11:12-13).   

Paul doesn’t mention the weapons he uses for spiritual warfare here but he did once before in 2 Corinthians 6:6-7; he relied on the word of truth and the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left – in the power of God.  These are the divinely powerful weapons used for destroying fortresses and Paul said he we are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God.  That, in a nutshell, defines what the fortresses are. 

Verse 5:

5: We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ -

We are destroying speculations – the word speculations in the Greek is Logismos (pronounced:  log-is-mos’), Noun, Masculine, Strong’s Greek #3053, meaning:  thoughts, ideas, opinions, reasonings, philosophies, theories, and concepts. 

These are the strongholds where men and women prefer to hide.  They are ideological forts where they fortify themselves against God, against the gospel, and His truths. 

Speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, every concept, every opinion, every philosophy, every theory, every thought that is raised up against God is a very strong fortress.  In 1 Corinthians 3:20, Paul called them the reasonings of the wise… the worldly wise.  These reasonings are raised up against the knowledge of God and His ways/His will.  Adolph Hitler took Nietzsche’s theory “God is dead,” and used it to drive home his view of an atheistic world saying, “I have freed Germany from the stupid and degrading fallacies of conscience and morality” - just one more example of the fortresses of sinners. 

These fortresses don’t come down easily; you need powerful weapons to overcome them.  This is why Paul’s saying I’m coming to Corinth and when I get there I’ll deal with you disobedient people and these ideologies and opinions that you’ve set up against God and the gospel and I’m going to do it by taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. 

That’s a bold statement, considering the three-prong attack he’s facing.  However, Paul’s confidently saying he’s going to destroy these fortresses and take the people in them captive.  And we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete (v6). 

I think the adage; “Cut the head off of the snake” is a bit too strong to be used here and so does Paul because he chose the word punish, i.e. discipline, or reprove unto repentance.   Paul’s countering the brazen moves of the Judaizers who had captured the minds of the saints in Corinth.  Paul would have them renew their minds (Romans 12:2; Ephesians 4:23); and guard their minds (Philippians 4:7), since, we are involved in a continuous spiritual warfare. 

Let’s look at verse 7.

2 Corinthians 10

7: You are looking at things as they are outwardly.  If anyone is confident in himself that he is Christ’s, let him consider this again within himself, that just as he is Christ’s, so also are we. 

After reading verse 7, it occurred to me this would be a good a time to speak briefly on the topic of gender-neutrality in scripture, even though taking this “bunny-trail” moves us away from our subject material for a brief time.  I know many Believers wonder, “When the Bible refers to men, mankind, brethren, brothers, etc. is it including women?”  Determining whether the word man, brother, etc. includes women comes right down to rightly dividing the passage and then properly interpreting its meaning.  Let’s look at a couple of examples:  In Acts 7:2, when Stephen addresses his audience as “brothers and fathers,” he is not using those terms broadly.  The Sanhedrin body in attendance was comprised of men only. 

Other words in scripture, although masculine, can be used as general terms for both sexes.  For example, man and sons are sometimes used to refer to mankind and children in general.  In Ephesians 4:8, it reads:  When He ascended on high He led a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men.”  The word “men” indicates all mankind; think about this, the Lord did not limit His spiritual gifts to the male population only. 

It was standard practice for the Bible writers to use nonspecific, masculine names in their writings.  That’s how people thought and spoke back then.  For centuries in modern English, they also used generic masculine terms– he was an acceptable substitute for he or she when referring to an unknown person.  However, the western world began to change in the 1970’s.  Today people have grown quite sensitive to this type of language,  calling someone a fireman, for instance, is frowned upon, or worse, it’s called sexist, even if that person is a male.  I don’t get that, but I try not to rock the boat on purpose.  When you read/study your Bible just rightly divide the passage; carefully consider the text and the circumstances surrounding the passage, and there shouldn’t be a problem.   

Let’s get back to Paul; in verse 6 he said we are ready… bearing in mind we’re in an ongoing spiritual conflict, Paul borrows a military expression to convey the message he’s armed, he’s trained, and therefore able to punish all disobedience, using the word of truth and the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left – in the power of God.  But Paul sees no point in coming to Corinth to confront the disobedient until those who have disobeyed the Lord Jesus Christ have had a change of heart and mind bringing about repentance.

And now verse 7:

7: You are looking at things as they are outwardly.  If anyone is confident in himself that he is Christ’s, let him consider this again within himself, that just as he is Christ’s, so also are we. 

You are looking at things as they are outwardly - the Corinthian saints were analyzing and criticizing Paul on a fleshly/worldly level or by using the false teachers’ standards.  They valued themselves on their outwardly advantages such as their superiority in personal appearance, their rank, manners, and speaking ability as compared to Paul.  Paul reproved them for this judgment.  The Greeks placed a high value on these things, but Paul in his letters states none of these attributes constitute any real evidence that people who possessed them were sent by God and here’s why. 

If anyone is confident in himself that he is Christ’s, let him consider this again within himself – these folks were claiming to be followers of Jesus Christ by appointment, which means they were probably the false apostles.  Paul’s saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover” or “judge a person by their outward appearance.”  It’s best to think again, or as he said, “let him consider this again because Paul is Christ’s too and with greater evidence to substantiate his apostolic claim. 

The Lord God at one time led the nation of Israel symbolized by a cloud by day and a pillar of fire at night.  They didn’t move unless He said, “Go” (Exodus 13:17-14:29).  But the time came when the Israelites wanted to be like the gentile nations around them.  They demanded an earthly king of their own and the LORD permitted them to have their king along with all the baggage.  Saul was chosen.  He was handsome; he was strong, and tall.  Today he’d be a good presidential candidate based on those credentials.  The T.V. camera would “love him,” as they say – and so would the populace. 

But what does this book say about this individual?  He had a few good years, but then he turned from the LORD and it was straight down-hill from there.  He failed God and he failed the people.  Then God sent the prophet Samuel to anoint one of Jesse’s sons.   He found his first-born son, Eliab, and said, “Surely the LORD’s anointed is right here (1 Samuel 16:6).  But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).  7 more sons of Jesse passed before Samuel but none of these were selected.  Finally, the youngest son, David, who was absent because he was off tending their flock of sheep was sent for.  He was the one God wanted, so Samuel anointed him with oil signifying him as the next king of Israel; and a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14).  God taught the people a valuable lesson here, but it’s overlooked even today.

Let’s look at verses 8-11.

2 Corinthians 10

For even if I boast somewhat further about our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you, I will not be put to shame for I do not wish to seem as if I would terrify you by my letters.  For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his personal presence is unimpressive and his speech contemptible.”  Let such a person consider this, that what we are in word by letters when absent, such persons we are also in deed when present (v8-11).

Paul’s authority commenced the moment he met the risen Lord on the Damascus Rd (Acts 9:15-16; Romans 1:5; Galatians 2:9).  He boasts here not because he’s an apostle, and they are not, but as the bondservant of Christ and the steward of God’s mysteries (1 Corinthians 4:1), Paul was called to build up the Body of Christ or God’s one, Church, and to destroy all human strongholds, in order to save some (Romans 11:13; 1 Corinthians 9:19).    

I will not be put to shame for I do not wish to seem as if I would terrify you by my letters in other words, Paul is going to speak up because the false apostles started this spiritual war and it had to be addressed.  It’s not just because Paul’s character and reputation were under direct attack.  The main issue was the gospel, Jesus Christ Himself, was under attack and Paul couldn’t ignore the problem any longer. 

Again, reference is made here of Paul’s writings to the Corinthians and somebody, but it’s likely more than one person remarked he wrote scary letters while away.  We know this because of what Paul wrote:  For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong…”  

A few lessons ago I mentioned the friends of the world don’t take kindly to having their faults put under the spotlight; they usually rebel when that tactic is used.  When a person, like Paul, tries to help by shining the Light of truth on their sinful behavior, they retaliate and that’s what we’re seeing here.  Paul’s opponents went on the offensive attacking his character saying, “but his personal presence is unimpressive (weak – KJV) and his speech contemptible.”  

Whether you use the Bible translators’ word unimpressive or weak, the thing you must realize is neither term describes Paul.  The word weak denotes infirmity of body, sickness, or disease (Luke 10:9; Acts 4:9; 1 Corinthians 11:30).  Here it represents a false charge brought against Paul.  Paul admits he is not an eloquent speaker like Apollos (1 Corinthians 1:17; 2 Corinthians 11:6).  He did say the message of truth he preached was from Christ Jesus (Galatians 1:11-12) though.    

The false apostles accused Paul of writing strong letters, but of having a weak personal presentation.  Paul responds to this by saying, Let such a person consider this, that what we are in word by letters when absent, such persons we are also in deed when present.  That reminds me of something my parents used to tell us kids when we were fussing and fighting in one part of the house and they were in another, “Don’t make me come over there…!”

(To be continued)

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