The tone of Paul's letter changes so much here that some scholars believe the rest of the material in 2 Corinthians is from a separate letter. Other scholars conclude that Paul received some new information about the Corinthian church just before writing this section, or that he chose to save the boldest part of his writing for the end of the letter.
He begins to urge change to come about in the Corinthians, though he urges them with an attitude of gentleness and meekness. When the word "meek" is used in the New Testament, it doesn't imply "weakness" as it might in English. In the original Greek, the word for meekness describes a grounded emotional state. One that accepts the way God is dealing with oneself in both good and bad times. A state in which one is angry when appropriate and contained when anger is not appropriate. In the New Testament, meekness is a virtue that displays considerable maturity and strength of character.
Paul says that he is meek toward the Corinthians in person and more direct and bold when he is writing to them, though some translations indicate that he is stating the Corinthians perception about him rather than his perception of himself. (v.1)
Paul is urging the Corinthians to make changes among them so that he will not HAVE to be bold with them in person because of some among them who are spreading the idea that Paul is living a life patterned on ungodly habits.(v.2)
The Greek word for "flesh" (sometimes translated as "sinful nature") refers to that which is common to or identified with the corrupt world. Paul acknowledges that he is surrounded by corruption (his own body and the world in which we all live) but he does not wage "war" based on the corrupt patterns and philosophies common to the world. The weapons he uses in his "war", by contrast, are fueled by God.(v.3-4)
So what is this war Paul is waging and who or what is he aiming to destroy? It's a war of ideas. For Paul, the enemies and obstacles in this war are not people. (Ephesians 6:12) The harmful forces in this war include "speculations" (or more literally "imaginations") and ideas that oppose a true knowledge of who God is. The captives Paul is taking and making obedient to Christ are not people but thoughts (more literally "concepts of the mind"). (v.5)
Paul is more than ready to exercise his rightful authority and deal out consequences to those who are damaging the church from within. But he assigns this action to the time when others in the Corinthian church community become obedient. (v.6) Why he says this is unclear, but it may be that he wanted to give them time to correct themselves to avoid any consequences Paul might bring. It may also be that Paul wanted a clear line drawn between those who are loyal to Paul's teaching and those who are not, since the influence against him in the Corinthian church may have left the church in directionless chaos.
The issue of loyalty and the Corinthian's perception of Paul may seem petty at a glance. It may seem vain that Paul would want to defend his reputation as much as he does. But keep in mind that during this time, scripture was still being written and Paul was one of a very small group that was given authority by God to speak on behalf of Jesus. The Corinthian's loyalty to Paul should not be compared to a modern day Christian's loyalty to a preacher or leader. The appropriate comparison today would be a Christian's trust of and loyalty to the words of the Bible.
There are many things that divide believers that shouldn't. I'd even wager that most division between Christians is based on things that should not cause division. However, a belief in the trustworthiness of the Bible is foundational to any form of Christianity. Unreasonable doubt being cast on the Bible from within a church community (whether from members or leaders) cannot be tolerated and must be addressed.
Note that I said "unreasonable doubt". The Bible continues to stand the test of time and has repeatedly shown that it has no reason to fear even the most in-depth, logical investigation. Doubts based in reason should be expressed and worked through, since they lead to a deeper investigation of truth and will ultimately result in a more firm and reasonable faith. But doubts that are spread divisively, "behind the scenes" without open and reasonable discussion, or that are based on imaginative ideas made appealing by a charismatic delivery, cannot be allowed to spread unaddressed in a healthy community of believers.
Next Week- Perceptions Of Paul
Coffee House Question- Do you know someone who you'd say is "meek" as described above? What example can you give of their "meekness"?