Accusation of Weakness.* 1Now I myself, Paul, urge you through the gentleness and clemency of Christ,* I who am humble when face to face with you, but brave toward you when absent, 2* a I beg you that, when present, I may not have to be brave with that confidence with which I intend to act boldly against some who consider us as acting according to the flesh. 3For, although we are in the flesh, we do not battle according to the flesh,* 4for the weapons of our battle are not of flesh but are enormously powerful, capable of destroying fortresses. We destroy argumentsb 5and every pretension raising itself against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive in obedience to Christ, 6and we are ready to punish every disobedience, once your obedience is complete.c
7d Look at what confronts you. Whoever is confident of belonging to Christ should consider that as he belongs to Christ, so do we.* 8e And even if I should boast a little too much of our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for tearing you down, I shall not be put to shame. 9* May I not seem as one frightening you through letters. 10For someone will say, “His letters are severe and forceful, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.”f 11Such a person must understand that what we are in word through letters when absent, that we also are in action when present.g
12* Not that we dare to class or compare ourselves with some of those who recommend themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.h 13But we will not boast beyond measure but will keep to the limits* God has apportioned us, namely, to reach even to you. 14For we are not overreaching ourselves, as though we did not reach you; we indeed first came to you with the gospel of Christ. 15We are not boasting beyond measure, in other people’s labors; yet our hope is that, as your faith increases, our influence among you may be greatly enlarged, within our proper limits, 16so that we may preach the gospel even beyond you, not boasting of work already done in another’s sphere.i 17j “Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord.”* 18For it is not the one who recommends himself who is approved,* but the one whom the Lord recommends.k
* [10:1–13:10] These final chapters have their own unity of structure and theme and could well have formed the body of a separate letter. They constitute an apologia on Paul’s part, i.e., a legal defense of his behavior and his ministry; the writing is emotionally charged and highly rhetorical. In the central section (2 Cor 11:16–12:10), the apologia takes the form of a boast. This section is prepared for by a prologue (2 Cor 11:1–15) and followed by an epilogue (2 Cor 12:11–18), which are similar in content and structure. These sections, in turn, are framed by an introduction (2 Cor 10:1–18) and a conclusion (2 Cor 12:19–13:10), both of which assert Paul’s apostolic authority and confidence and define the purpose of the letter. The structure that results from this disposition of the material is chiastic, i.e., the first element corresponds to the last, the second to the second last, etc., following the pattern a b c b’, a’.
* [10:1–18] Paul asserts his apostolic authority and expresses the confidence this generates in him. He writes in response to certain opinions that have arisen in the community and certain charges raised against him and in preparation for a forthcoming visit in which he intends to set things in order. This section gives us an initial glimpse of the situation in Corinth that Paul must address; much of its thematic material will be taken up again in the finale (2 Cor 12:19–13:10).
* [10:1–2] A strong opening plunges us straight into the conflict. Contrasts dominate here: presence versus absence, gentleness-clemency-humility versus boldness-confidence-bravery. Through the gentleness and clemency of Christ: the figure of the gentle Christ, presented in a significant position before any specifics of the situation are suggested, forms a striking contrast to the picture of the bold and militant Paul (2 Cor 10:2–6); this tension is finally resolved in 2 Cor 13:3–4. Absent…present: this same contrast, with a restatement of the purpose of the letter, recurs in 2 Cor 13:10, which forms an inclusion with 2 Cor 10:1–2.
* [10:2b–4a] Flesh: the Greek word sarx can express both the physical life of the body without any pejorative overtones (as in “we are in the flesh,” 3) and our natural life insofar as it is marked by limitation and weakness (as in the other expressions) in contrast to the higher life and power conferred by the Spirit; cf. note on 1 Cor 3:1. The wordplay is intended to express the paradoxical situation of a life already taken over by the Spirit but not yet seen as such except by faith. Lack of empirical evidence of the Spirit permits misunderstanding and misjudgment, but Paul resolutely denies that his behavior and effectiveness are as limited as some suppose.
* [10:3b–6] Paul is involved in combat. The strong military language and imagery are both an assertion of his confidence in the divine power at his disposal and a declaration of war against those who underestimate his resources. The threat is echoed in 2 Cor 13:2–3.
* [10:7–8] Belonging to Christ…so do we: these phrases already announce the pattern of Paul’s boast in 2 Cor 11:21b–29, especially 2 Cor 11:22–23. For building you up and not for tearing you down: Paul draws on the language by which Jeremiah described the purpose of the prophetic power the Lord gave to him (Jer 1:9–10; 12:16–17; 24:6). Though Paul’s power may have destructive effects on others (2 Cor 10:2–6), its intended effect on the community is entirely constructive (cf. 2 Cor 13:10). I shall not be put to shame: his assertions will not be refuted; they will be revealed as true at the judgment.
* [10:9–10] Paul cites the complaints of some who find him lacking in personal forcefulness and holds out the threat of a personal parousia (both “return” and “presence”) that will be forceful, indeed will be a demonstration of Christ’s own power (cf. 2 Cor 13:2–4).
* [10:12–18] Paul now qualifies his claim to boldness, indicating its limits. He distinguishes his own behavior from that of others, revealing those “others” as they appear to him: as self-recommending, immoderately boastful, encroaching on territory not assigned to them, and claiming credit not due to them.
* [10:13] Will keep to the limits: the notion of proper limits is expressed here by two terms with overlapping meanings, metron and kanōn, which are played off against several expressions denoting overreaching or expansion beyond a legitimate sphere.
* [10:17] Boast in the Lord: there is a legitimate boasting, in contrast to the immoderate boasting to which 2 Cor 10:13, 15 allude. God’s work through Paul in the community is the object of his boast (2 Cor 10:13–16; 2 Cor 1:12–14) and constitutes his recommendation (2 Cor 3:1–3). Cf. notes on 2 Cor 1:12–14 and 1 Cor 1:29–31.
* [10:18] Approved: to be approved is to come successfully through the process of testing for authenticity (cf. 2 Cor 13:3–7 and the note on 2 Cor 8:2). Whom the Lord recommends: self-commendation is a premature and unwarranted anticipation of the final judgment, which the Lord alone will pass (cf. 1 Cor 4:3–5). Paul alludes to this judgment throughout 2 Cor 10–13, frequently in final or transitional positions; cf. 2 Cor 11:15; 12:19a; 13:3–7.