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Second Corinthians, chapter 10, part 2

Jun 01, 2018

2 Corinthians 10:9, 10 says,

9 for I do not wish to seem as if I would terrify [ekphobeo, “frighten”] you by my letters. 10 For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his personal presence is unimpressive, and his speech contemptible.”

It sounds as if Paul was more of a writer than a public speaker. Perhaps Paul’s detractors were somewhat biased as they searched for evidence to discredit his teachings. Yet Paul was more concerned with truth and divine inspiration than in his manner of presentation. This suggests that Paul was not tall, young, and handsome, nor did he have a powerful voice. Having little emotional appeal, he had to rely upon his knowledge of the word, which did not appeal to everyone.

Nonetheless, Paul could be quite eloquent, as we see from his preaching in Lystra. In Acts 14:11, 12 we read,

11 When the multitudes saw what Paul had done, they raised their voice, saying in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have become like men and have come down to us.” 12 And they began calling Barnabas, Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker.

No doubt Barnabas was tall and impressive in appearance, so the people thought he was an earthly manifestation of Zeus, the king of the gods. Paul they called Hermes (also known as Mercury), the chief messenger of the gods, who was reputed to be eloquent.

But on that occasion, Paul had just healed a man who was “lame from his mother’s womb, who had never walked” (Acts 14:8). Those who witnessed this miracle were impressed and were in no mood to criticize Paul. Perhaps they would have considered him to be an impressive speaker regardless of what he said or how he said it.

On the other hand, Paul’s critics in Corinth were looking for things that they could use to criticize Paul. Being motivated by carnal animosity, they we prone to nitpick and focus upon form and style rather than face the truth of Paul’s words.

The God of Measure (Boundaries)

2 Corinthians 10:11 gives Paul’s response to his critics,

11 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.

Paul says that he lives by his own teachings. He is consistent. He does not act one way when ministering in the Corinthian church, while acting in another way when writing to them from afar. Paul may be better at writing letters than at giving a speech, but such differences are only superficial and do not mean that he was acting as a different person.

2 Corinthians 10:12 says,

12 For we are not bold to class or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves; but when they measure [metreo, “measure, set forth boundaries,” or metaphorically, to set a standard”] themselves by themselves, and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding.

Paul did not want to compare himself with his critics or with anyone else. Jesus Christ is the only true standard by which all men ought to be measured. Paul’s critics were setting up a carnal standard that suited themselves. In doing so, they showed that they were “without understanding.”

The Greek word invoked a picture of a man measuring out a parcel of land and setting boundaries. Metaphorically speaking, metreo also referred to the idea of setting moral boundaries or laws that serve as a standard by which men measure right and wrong. Paul’s critics were establishing a petty standard of measure when they criticized Paul’s lack of poise and eloquence.

Paul continues in 2 Corinthians 10:13,

13 But we will not boast beyond our measure, but within the measure of the sphere which God apportioned to us as a measure, to reach even as far as you.

The Emphatic Diaglott reads,

13 But we will not boast respecting unmeasured things, but according to the measure of the rule which the God of Measure [metreo] assigned to us, to reach even to you.

Hermes was the Greek god of measure. Paul’s “God of Measure,” of course, is the God of the Bible, whose laws established the boundaries of sin and righteousness. As Paul wrote this, it seems unlikely that he was recalling the time when the people of Lystra had called him Hermes. However, it is of interest that Hermes was not only the messenger of the gods. He was also the god of boundaries and the one who set boundaries. So it is curious that Paul used the term metreo, from which we today derive the word meter.

Trespassing Boundaries

Paul continues in 2 Corinthians 10:14,

14 For we are not overextending [hyperekteino, “to extend beyond the prescribed boundaries”] ourselves, as if we did not reach to you, for we were the first to come even as far as you in the gospel of Christ; 15 not boasting beyond our measure, that is, in other men’s labors [kopos, “labor, trouble, toil”], but with the hope that as your faith grows, we shall be within our sphere, enlarged even more by you.

In other words, Paul said that he was not violating God’s boundary (law) by “boasting beyond our measure.” He had the right to defend himself and to deny the accusations. Had he violated his boundaries, he would have trespassed and infringed upon “other men’s labors.”

The Greek word translated “labors” is kopos, which seems to have a double meaning. Paul did not want to steal the labor (property) of others, but he also did not want to take for himself their troubles. Paul’s hope was that these fleshly disputes might fade away as their faith grew. In other words, Paul considered this dispute to be rather childish. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:11,

11 When I was a child, I used to speak as a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.

Paul continues in 2 Corinthians 10:16,

16 so as to preach the gospel even to the regions beyond you, and not to boast in what has been accomplished in the sphere of another.

Here Paul continues the theme of boundaries. He implies that if we grow up into spiritual maturity and learn God’s boundaries, we will then know when God wants us to go “to the regions beyond you” to preach the gospel. Paul was led by the Spirit to go to the places where he had been, and up to that point in time God had set boundaries for his ministry. Yet he understood that the boundaries that God had presently set for him were temporary and that God would later send him “far away to the Gentiles” (Acts 22:21).

Proper Boasting

Paul concludes in 2 Corinthians 10:17, 18,

17 But he who boasts, let him boast in the Lord. 18 For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends.

In other words, there is a proper way to boast which does not cross the boundary set by the divine law. To commend one’s self crosses that line. But to “boast in the Lord” is to commend God and advocate serving Him.

So Paul loosely quotes Jeremiah 9:24, which, along with the previous verse, says,

23 Thus says the Lord, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches, 24 but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the Lord.

In other words, our boast should be that we personally know the true God who is full of love, justice, and righteousness. If we know Him, then He will commend us. In fact, if we look at the story of Job, we see where God boasted to Satan about Job. Job 1:8 says,

8 And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.”

This is said to be the way in which Job’s troubles began, so perhaps we may not want to hope that God boasts about us! Nonetheless, if He does so, and if we find ourselves afflicted as a result, we know that it is because “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God” (Romans 8:28).


This is part 23 of a series titled "Studies in Second Corinthians." To view all parts, click the link below.

Studies in Second Corinthians


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Category: Teachings
Blog Author: Dr. Stephen Jones