Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians didn’t follow his typical pattern, but was filled with a significant amount of information about his call into the ministry and what he felt was his responsibility as a servant of Christ. Paul specifically mentioned his ministry of reconciliation and said, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:16-19). At the heart of Paul’s message of reconciliation was the idea that it is possible for us to be restored to divine favor. The Greek word katallage (kat-al-lag-ay’) “denotes an adjustment of a difference, reconciliation, restoration to favor, especially the restoration of the favour of God to sinners that repent and put their trust in the expiatory/propitiatory death of Christ. Man changes and is reconciled. God does not change. It is translated atonement in Romans 5:11, signifying that sinners are made ‘at one’ with God” (G2643).
Paul indicated that he no longer regarded anyone according to the flesh (2 Corinthians 5:16). What Paul meant by that was that his opinion of people wasn’t based on their outward appearance (G1492). The flesh is often thought of as the physical part of man, but the Greek term sarx (sarx) deals with human nature and is thought of as “the weaker element in human nature…the unregenerate state of men” (G4561). In his defense of his ministry, Paul stated, “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. For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh For the weapons of are warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:2-4). The accusation that Paul and his companions were walking in the flesh was based on their change of plans to come to Corinth after visiting Macedonia (2 Corinthians 1:15-18). The Corinthians thought that Paul was vacillating because he was still angry at them and hadn’t forgiven the sinner that was in their midst (2 Corinthians 2:1-11). Paul explained to them that he was being led to go to Macedonia (2 Corinthians 2:12-13) and his confidence came from his reliance upon Christ. Paul stated:
Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:4-6)
The Greek word that is translated confidence, pepoithesis (pep-oy’-thay-sis) is derived from the word pascho (pas’-kho) which means to suffer and signifies the sufferings of Christ. In certain tenses, pascho means “to experience a sensation or impression (usually painful)” (G3958). Paul’s reference to God making them sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant that was “not of the letter, but of the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:6) was most likely meant to point out that Paul and his companions were being directed by the Holy Spirit to go to certain locations at certain times so that their gospel message could be distributed in an efficient manner. As much as Paul would have liked to go to Corinth as he had planned, he knew that his ministry was dependent on God’s leading for its success (2 Corinthians 4:1-6).
When he arrived in Corinth, Paul said that he did not want to “show boldness with such confidence as I count on showing against some who suspect us of walking according to the flesh” (2 Corinthians 10:2). Paul may have thought it would be necessary for him to show the Corinthians his credentials so to speak. Paul tried to convince the Philippians that it was useless for him to boast of his accomplishments in the flesh. Paul told them:
Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. (Philippians 3:2-8)
Paul said that he counted as loss everything that he had done in his flesh because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ as his Savior (Philippians 3:7-8, emphasis mine). The value Paul placed on his salvation was related to the cost that was associated with Jesus’ sacrifice of his life. Paul described it as the surpassing worth or in the Greek huperecho (hoop-er-ekh’-o) which literally means to over achieve (G2192/G5228). Paul’s claim that he was blameless under the law (Philippians 3:6) meant that he had followed the Mosaic Law perfectly. And yet, Paul said about Christ, “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:8-11).
Paul indicated that he was not walking according to the flesh, but was walking in the flesh (2 Corinthians 10:2-3, emphasis mine) and said, “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:3-4). The warfare that Paul was referring to in this passage was his “apostolic career (as one of hardship and danger)” (G4752). It seems likely that the divine power that Paul was talking about had to do with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, but in order for him to destroy strongholds, Paul had to engage his audiences in what we might think of today as difficult conversations. The Greek word that is translated strongholds, ochuroma (okh-oo’-ra-mah) is used metaphorically in this verse to refer to “those things in which mere human confidence is imposed” (G3794). That could be anything from a savings account to perfect attendance at church. Paul wanted the Corinthians to understand that their mindsets were skewed in their favor and could not be relied upon for spiritual security. Paul said, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete” (2 Corinthians 10:5-6). The Greek word that is translated arguments, logismos (log-is-mos’) “suggests the contemplation of actions as a result of the verdict of the conscience” (G3053). Logismos is derived from the word logizomai (log-id’-zom-ahee) which has to do with the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the sinner’s account. “Imputation has three steps: the collecting of all charges and remissions; the totaling of these debits and credits; the placing of the balance or credit on one’s account” (G3049).
Abraham was the first person to have Christ’s righteousness imputed to him. It says in Genesis 15:6 that Abraham “believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” Paul’s defense of his ministry was built on this principle and Paul emphasized that he had to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Paul was most likely concerned about the contradiction and/or dilution of spiritual truth. God’s word is often contrary to the things that we hear from our government officials and the media. The implication of taking our thoughts captive is that we are able to control the mindsets that govern our behavior and can reject the negative thought patterns that keep us from doing God’s will. Obedience to Christ involves a submission to God’s will by allowing our lives to be under his control (G5218). The Greek word that is translated disobedience in 2 Corinthians 10:6, parakoe (par-ak-o-ay’) has to do with “the mind and will both wavering” (G3876). “Primarily, parakoe, means ‘hearing amiss’ (para, ‘aside,’ akouo, ‘to hear’), hence signifies ‘a refusal to hear.'” Paul’s comment, “when your obedience is complete” (2 Corinthians 10:6) was most likely meant as a figurative reference to the the process of sanctification. The Greek word pleroo (play-ro’-o) means “to fill one’s heart, to take possession of it” (G4137).
The priests in the Old Testament were consecrated to God so that they could do the work that was assigned to them without any wavering. During the ordination of Aaron and his sons, a ram was killed “and Moses took some of its blood and put it on the lobe of Aaron’s right ear and on the thumb of his right hand and on the big toe of his right foot. Then he presented Aaron’s sons, and Moses put some of the blood on the lobes of their right ears and on the thumbs of their right hands and on the big toes of their right feet” (Leviticus 8:23-24). The blood symbolized consecration and by placing it on the ears of Aaron and his sons Moses was designating that the priests were consecrated in order to “hearken to the word and commandments of God” (Keil and Delitzsch Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament). Leviticus 10:1-2 shows us that consecration didn’t guarantee obedience to God. It states:
Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them. And fire came down from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD.
The unauthorized fire that Nadab and Abihu offered was something that was outside the law of God (H2114). Therefore, it was something that was done according to their flesh, meaning that they weren’t listening or paying attention to what God told them to do. Moses explained to Aaron, “This is what the LORD has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’ And Aaron held his peace” (Leviticus 10:3). Being near to God involves entrance into his presence as well as being actively and personally involved with him (H7126). In order to be sanctified, God has to be separated from anyone or anything that is not dedicated to him. Nadab and Abihu’s disobedience demonstrated their lack spiritual discernment and made it clear that they had not submitted themselves to God’s will as a result of being ordinated into the priesthood.
Jesus made the same comment several times in order to emphasize the importance of listening to what he had to say. After he told the parable of the sower, Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Mark 4:9). Jesus probably wasn’t talking about having physical ears because that would have meant he was directing his comment to pretty much everyone in the crowd. It seems likely that there was a spiritual component to Jesus’ instruction. The prophet Isaiah’s commission from the Lord included some distinction about the spiritual aspect of hearing God’s voice. He said:
And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” And he said, “Go, and say to this people:
“‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
Make the heart of this people dull,
and their ears heavy,
and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.” (Isaiah 6:8-10)
Isaiah’s message pointed out that hearing is connected to understanding and seeing is connected to perception in the spiritual realm. The Lord suggested that making the people’s ears heavy would prevent them from being able to hear him. The Hebrew word that is translated heavy, kabed (kaw-bade’) is related to being weighed down by something and seems to be associated with the burden of sin (H5313). Another form of the word kabed “bears the connotation of heaviness as an enduring, ever-present quality, a lasting thing. Used in a negative but extended sense, the word depicts sin as a yoke ever pressing down upon one” (H3515).
Paul instructed the Corinthians to, “Look at what is before your eyes. If anyone is confident that he is Christ’s, let him remind himself that just as he is Christ’s so also are we. For even if I boast a little too much of our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you, I will not be ashamed” (2 Corinthians 10:7-8). Paul acknowledged the fact that the Corinthians had a right to be confident as a result of their relationship to Christ, but he also cautioned them to not go too far with it because of the authority that had been given him to oversee their church. The Greek word that is translated authority, exousia (ex-oo-see’-ah) comes from the meaning of “‘leave or permission,’ or liberty of doing as one pleases…the right to exercise power” (G1849). Paul indicated that his authority was given to him so that he could build up the church (2 Corinthians 10:8) and that his area of influence entitled him to certain privileges because God had assigned it to him (2 Corinthians 10:13). What Paul seemed to be getting at was that his confidence was not a threat to the Corinthians because he was being directed by God to help them grow in their faith. The important thing that Paul wanted the Corinthians to understand was that a person’s subjective mental estimate or opinion about something may be right or wrong since it always involves the possibility of error, but God is not subject to error. Therefore, Paul concluded, “it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom God commends” (2 Corinthians 10:18).