2 CORINTHIANS 10
What was the Apostle Paul’s so-called ‘thorn in the flesh’? (2 Corinthians 12:7). This has been debated extensively over the centuries, so I can’t resist adding my own interpretation on the verse. But that’s for later! (Just a ‘teaser’ for now).
The context of today’s chapter is that Paul was being slandered by some sections of the Corinthian church, claiming that he was an ineffective apostle, long on both rhetoric and threat when writing from a safe distance, but weak, lacking persuasion and short on authority when he was physically present. In addition, they claimed, he was not in the same league as an orator compared with the professionally trained local speakers of rhetoric that ‘tickled the ears’ of some of the locals. In ancient Greece, boys began their training in rhetoric at the age of fourteen, and it was seen as the most important aspect of their education. Public speaking was an Olympic event, with the winner attaining national hero status.
In writing 2 Corinthians, then, Paul needed to re-establish his apostolic authority over his ‘children in Christ’ so that they would not continue to be led astray by the populist, easy-on-the-ear teaching of the local heretics. The trouble was that these Corinthian believers – whilst highly intelligent and powerfully-gifted – were naïve and prone to judge by external appearances, rather than by the heart of the matter.
Paul was torn between refusing to fight these heretics by lowering himself to their own methods, but at the same time knowing that his naïve spiritual children were so easily taken in by them. As Christians, “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds… and we take captive every though to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Cor 10:3-5). We are in a battle for the mind when we expose the gospel to the world; we must be relentless in standing up for the truth at every point, chipping away at the walls of error and ignorance that confront us. However, we also need to recognise that pure logic will not turn the heart towards Christ or take captive the will of mankind. It is the simple foolishness of the gospel in the hands of the Holy Spirit that accomplishes that goal.
Paul was happy to boast about what the Lord had done, and what the Holy Spirit had done through Paul. But the dilemma was in how close to ‘sail to the wind’ of outright human bragging that his heretical opponents chose to indulge in. More about that tomorrow!