Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Image of a Warrior: 2 Corinthians 10

In Summary:

2 Corinthians 10 continues Paul’s defense of his work and his role as an apostle of Christ. He is dealing with a spectrum of accusations and here actually presents some of them. For example, v. 10 lets us know that Paul was accused of being “unimpressive” in person, that he was hard to listen to (or, perhaps, too easy to listen to and not lofty and elevated). He talks about his work, and does so to contrast what were apparently self-promoters in the church.

That’s a challenge to deal with, because the simplest way for Paul to shut them down is to point out how awesome he is, rattle off the fullness of his credibility. He could have demolished a bad argument or two, but in the end, he would have looked a bit more like a jerk and less like an apostle. That’s self-defeating: let me prove I’m a better Christian by shouting you down and shutting you up. It may seem reductionist, but that’s worth considering: is that the argument you are making?

This is not Paul’s point. Now, I think it’s worth noting that he’s wrestling with two different issues here. First, there are those who are pseudo-apostles, trying to make a living preaching a Gospel they do not really believe. They are working to fit the mold of roving sage, just as the many philosophies of the Greco-Roman World had. They could talk the talk, but the life was not quite there. It may have been a virtuous life, but it was a dead life as well. They were impressive, though, and that made life a bit tougher for Paul. The missionary that flies coach/standby always looks a bit more disheveled when they show up to preach than the guy who stepped off his private jet, though. Paul was in a similar situation: he looked a bit more worn because he was not using his resources to look good or travel in luxury. He certainly did not need his own multi-million drachma personal transportation, either. Jesus walked until He needed a colt to fulfill His Word; Paul was much more interested in being like Jesus than anybody else.

The second group was a bit tougher to straighten out. Some of the other Apostles, from the original Twelve, were also traveling and preaching. And, because they had walked with Jesus, they were often received in high honor. It is likely, given the other references to “I follow Peter…” and other mentions of the Apostles in both Corinthian letters, Paul is dealing with the church getting a bit too fanboy of some of these Apostles and comparing Paul to them. It’s not fair to do so—Peter or John can talk about being in storms that were stilled, seeing the 5,000 fed. And Paul does not want to outdo those. He just needs the church to listen to the Word of God instead of becoming idolaters of Apostles. We have trouble with this, too, because we take our heroes of the faith and make them untouchable. Yet all of them were human. They suffered, they struggled—Lottie Moon had bad days; Dietrich Bonhoeffer had some odd theology; the Venerable Bede wasn’t always venerable! 

Paul, then, is trying to assert the validity of his ministry without taking a shot at Peter, but also nudging aside impostors. No wonder he had some trouble!

In Focus:

The verses I need to focus on the most right are 2 Corinthians 10:3-4, so let’s go there. Paul goes straight to the heart of many of our problems: we walk around in the flesh. Our lives are lived in the body, in a sin-soaked world, surrounded by troubles and internally challenged by our old sin nature. We walk around in the flesh. That is the reality now just as it was then. 

But we do not war according to the flesh—we do not go into conflicts driven by winning the way the flesh wins. (Check Ephesians 6 if you want to know if he’s consistent.) We war with weapons designed to fight the spiritual battles around us. Paul is highlighting that we are not always going to look like we are rightly equipped, but the standard is the spiritual issue.

He goes on, and in verse 5 brings forward taking every thought captive for Christ. The war, ultimately, is about self-control so that the glory of God shines through us and others see the grace of Christ. The matters at hand are far more important than true and false apostles, but come all the way back to the Creator of All. If someone is truly an apostle, then see Jesus shine through them.

In Practice:

Well, I wish this were easy. But it’s not. My first tendency is to war according to the flesh, because my enemies are in the flesh. Sometimes they are outside of the church, and I just want to rise up and force my way onto the world rather than winning the world to Christ. Sometimes, my enemies are within the church, and I’d like to use a bit of aggressive negotiation to bring them to my way of thinking. I get short, snappy, angry, and question the salvation and humanity of my opponents. But that is the way of the world—see the modern political climate and realize just how dreadful that is when brought into the church!

And, finally, I do war with myself as if the problem is merely flesh. As if I can correct myself with earthly means when the problem is spiritual rot. The solution is to live growing in obedience to Christ, not to merely discuss my own wretchedness.

It is far better practice to advance obedience to Jesus than to attempt to flatten the flesh. He is a big enough God to clear His own space.

In Nerdiness: 

I’m so far out of the habit that I’m struggling to do this whole thing, much less catch nerd notes…

1. Fortresses=ὀχύρωμα=ochyroma and this means…”fortresses.” Is he talking about spiritual powers? Or just deeply dug-in sinful responses in our lives? Great question….

2. Paul’s reference to “regions beyond” in v. 16 suggests he wanted to travel past Greece. This could be Italy, though in Romans he references a desire to go to Spain. 

3. Note the challenges to Paul’s rhetoric: that he writes aggressively but speaks calmly. But is that not sometimes necessary? Clarity in print can be mistaken as harshness.

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