The Foundations of Paul's Apostolic Authority
Text and Exposition
7“You are looking at things as they are outwardly. If anyone is confident in himself that he is Christ’s, let him consider this again within himself, that just as he is Christ’s, so also are we. 8 For even if I boast somewhat further about our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you, I will not be put to shame, 9 for I do not wish to seem as if I would terrify you by my letters. 10 For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his personal presence is unimpressive and his speech contemptible.” 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.”
7 Τὰ κατὰ πρόσωπον βλέπετε. εἴ τις πέποιθεν ἑαυτῷ Χριστοῦ εἶναι, τοῦτο λογιζέσθω πάλιν ἐφʼ ἑαυτοῦ, ὅτι καθὼς αὐτὸς Χριστοῦ, οὕτως καὶ ἡμεῖς. 8 ἐάν [τε] γὰρ περισσότερόν τι καυχήσωμαι περὶ τῆς ἐξουσίας ἡμῶν ἧς ἔδωκεν ὁ κύριος εἰς οἰκοδομὴν καὶ οὐκ εἰς καθαίρεσιν ὑμῶν, οὐκ αἰσχυνθήσομαι. 9 ἵνα μὴ δόξω ὡς ἂν ἐκφοβεῖν ὑμᾶς διὰ τῶν ἐπιστολῶν· 10 ὅτι, Αἱ ἐπιστολαὶ μέν, φησίν, βαρεῖαι καὶ ἰσχυραί, ἡ δὲ παρουσία τοῦ σώματος ἀσθενὴς καὶ ὁ λόγος ἐξουθενημένος. 11 τοῦτο λογιζέσθω ὁ τοιοῦτος, ὅτι οἷοί ἐσμεν τῷ λόγῳ διʼ ἐπιστολῶν ἀπόντες, τοιοῦτοι καὶ παρόντες τῷ ἔργῳ.
“With Paul’s spiritual perspective fully developed in his war metaphor above, he points out the Corinthian’s apparent failure to see things for what they truly were. They had only seen things on the surface and thus have missed the real danger of these false apostles and their hidden anti-Pauline agenda. Here Paul responds by laying down foundational truths about his apostolic authority. Paul was authorized and commissioned by Christ in whom he saw himself engulfed and fully identified. Paul’s purpose in the church is also parenthetically stated as designed for the church’s edification and not destruction. With Paul’s integrity brought into question, he demonstrates the consistency of his character by maintaining the highest level of integrity. Paul is the same person on paper as he is when present. Paul is in no way dismayed by the false teachers, he does however fear that the church still needs to get things in order before he comes to deal with those who were unsettling the Corinthians.”
We can begin to think about Paul’s apostolic authority and the entire sphere of Christian leadership by asking the bigger question of what role are God’s leaders, apostles, prophets, (and for our time) pastor/teacher etc. — what purpose do such offices and positions of leadership play in God’s redemptive purpose and what organic connection might there be for their relevance in God’s dealings with His people today versus in past dispensations? We can consider two crucial points from a prophetic and redemptive perspective. We can take Jeremiah’s prophetic message as our basis for developing the answers to these theological and redemptive historical questions:
First, is the presence of destructive shepherds among God’s covenant people.
As a nation, Israel had long looked to its religious leaders and institutions for divine counsel and guidance; but in the course of time, those who remained faithful to the Lord were marginalized and even maligned (cf. Amos 7.12; Mt. 23.37). The people’s teachers, (false) prophets, priests, rulers and shepherds had grown dull spiritually. All of these various types of leaders were meant to pastor or shepherd the people by teaching them the Law and about their covenant obligations. Regrettably, they no longer cared about the “old paths” (Jer. 6.16) and sought to synchronize their spirituality with the beliefs and cultural norms of the nations which at their very core were idolatrous. Jeremiah calls down the sins of Israel precisely for these sorts of compromises taking aim particularly at the “shepherds” of Israel for their lack of spiritual perception and discernment:
Jeremiah 10:21 21 “For the shepherds have become stupid And have not sought the Lord; Therefore they have not prospered, And all their flock is scattered.”
Jeremiah 12:10 10 “Many shepherds have ruined My vineyard, They have trampled down My field; They have made My pleasant field A desolate wilderness.”
The whimsical nature of false teachers who are not committed to the Word of God:
Jeremiah 22:22 22 “The wind will sweep away all your shepherds, And your lovers will go into captivity; Then you will surely be ashamed and humiliated Because of all your wickedness.”
Second, is the promise of faithful shepherds among God’s covenant people.
With the desolation caused by the apostate shepherds came the promise of faithful shepherds who would faithfully teach God’s people the knowledge of God. They will care for every member of God’s flock:
Jeremiah 3:15 15 “Then I will give you shepherds after My own heart, who will feed you on knowledge and understanding.”
Jeremiah 23:4 4 “I will also raise up shepherds over them and they will tend them; and they will not be afraid any longer, nor be terrified, nor will any be missing,” declares the Lord.”
The new covenant minister therefore, fulfills a prophetic role. It is his task to be one of those shepherds which will faithfully feed God’s sheep (John 21.15-17) and protect the flock from destructive false teachers who seek to lead God’s people into idolatry. This is what Paul was. Every true shepherd is a man of God that leads the new covenant people of God with the Word of God to the glory of God. As Paul continues to defend this new covenant authority as God’s apostle, he points out three foundational truths about his apostleship.
1.) PAUL’S IDENTITY IN CHRIST
7“You are looking at things as they are outwardly. If anyone is confident in himself that he is Christ’s, let him consider this again within himself, that just as he is Christ’s, so also are we.”
This section in Paul’s apostolic defense begins with a controversial construction in the Greek text which leaves the interpreter with two main exegetical options. The difficultly surrounds the Greek word “to see” (βλέπετε). The word can be taken either as an indicative or as an imperative. Either Paul is pointing out their failure to see things as they really are and thus commanding them “to look” at things as they are in truth (βλέπετε as imperative). Or Paul is pointing out the fact that they were looking at things merely on an external level— “you are looking” (βλέπετε) so NASB. The decision is not easy. The imperative view has the strongest exegetical evidence to commend itself. Paul uses the term “to look” most often in the imperative form (1 Cor. 1.26; 8.9; 10.18; 16.10; Gal. 5.15; Eph. 5.15; Phil. 3.2 (x3); Col. 2.8; (4.17).
However, if the indicative is in view, Paul may be connecting his thoughts with the prepositional phrase, “as they are” literally “according to face” (Τὰ κατὰ πρόσωπον) and his earlier reference to warring “according to the flesh” v.2. If that is the case, then what the Corinthians were doing was “according to” (κατὰ) external things (Τὰ). Paul’s opponents, have already been accused of external show i.e. seeking to influence the church through external displays of religiosity. This letter has a number of indictments condemning the false teachers for outward shows of religious authority as inauthentic proofs of their ministry:
By letter of human commendation:
2 Corinthians 3:1 1 “Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some, letters of commendation to you or from you?”
By claiming legalistic righteousness:
2 Corinthians 11:15 15 “Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds.” (probably seeking to be justified by the works of the law (cf. Gal. 2.16ff.).
By their zeal for Christ:
2 Corinthians 11:23 23 “Are they servants of Christ?—I speak as if insane—I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death.”
By ethnic pedigree:
2 Corinthians 11:22 22 “Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I.”
It was through the show of external factors that Paul’s opponents sought to commend themselves as “servants of Christ” and thus that they were “in Christ” (Χριστοῦ εἶναι). However, Paul was just as adamant that he too was, not only saved, but authorized by Christ as an ambassador of Christ (cf. 5.20). Paul calls on the Corinthians and their opponents to consider Paul’s apostolic claims because they were of equal and greater force than his opponents, “let him consider this again within himself, that just as he is Christ’s, so also are we” (τοῦτο λογιζέσθω πάλιν ἐφʼ ἑαυτοῦ, ὅτι καθὼς αὐτὸς Χριστοῦ, οὕτως καὶ ἡμεῖς).
Paul’s conversion was owing to Christ (Gal. 1.15-16), his call to the ministry was owing to Christ (1 Tim. 1.12-17), his authority in the church was owing to Christ (1 Cor. 1.17; Col. 1.28), his teaching and knowledge of the gospel was likewise authorized by Christ:
Galatians 1:11–12 11 “For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. 12 For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.”
Paul’s identity in Christ went further than his calling to ministry, it engulfed every area of his life because he was a Christian:
Galatians 2:20 20 “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”
2.) PAUL’S PURPOSE IN THE CHURCH
8“For even if I boast somewhat further about our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you, I will not be put to shame,”
If a true shepherd must be one that has his identity in Christ, his purpose must be to edify and strengthen Christ’s church as well. The opponents claim to be “in Christ” was certainly connected to ministerial authority for here Paul makes the obvious connection, “if I boast somewhat further about our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you, I will not be put to shame.” The difference between what the false teachers are doing with their supposed authority deals with the well being of the church and not with preeminence of the teachers themselves. Self seeking shepherds will only destroy and harm the church (cf. Jam. 3.16). Paul distinguishes his authority from theirs in two ways.
Paul’s authority differed first in that it was given to him by “the Lord” (ὁ κύριος); and second his authority was for the purpose of edifying the church “for building you up” (εἰς οἰκοδομὴν) and protecting the church from harm, “not for destroying you” (οὐκ εἰς καθαίρεσιν ὑμῶν) (cf. 13.10). Returning to Jeremiah for a moment, commentators have pointed out the possible echoes back to Jeremiah 1.10 as a Paul’s building up/destroy contrast (cf. Hughes, p.360-361). Jeremiah was given a commission to bring down false teachings and idolatrous practices of the nations and build up God’s people who are called later the planting of the Lord:
Jeremiah 1:10 10 “See, I have appointed you this day over the nations and over the kingdoms, To pluck up and to break down, To destroy and to overthrow, To build and to plant.”
With the preceding context still in view, Paul was a Jeremiah like prophet who was sent to destroy the false worldviews of his opponents and build up i.e. strengthen the devotion of the church to the gospel (11.3). Paul has done this by seeing their faith grow (10.15), by imparting to them knowledge in everything pertaining to the gospel (11.6), by financially supporting himself and not being a burden to the church (11.7-8), also through his love for them (11.11), and in the context of his weakness i.e. his continual suffering and sacrifice; the things he suffered on their behalf and on behalf of all the churches (11.29). When setting before the church the depth of his sacrifice in ministry, Paul brings God in as his witness:
2 Corinthians 11:30–31 30 “If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness. 31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, He who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying.”
Paul’s authority was given to him by God himself for the purpose of strengthening the church and brining about greater obedience of faith (2 Cor. 13.10; cf. Rom. 1.7). Yet, in boasting about his “authority” (τῆς ἐξουσίας) he was completely confident that he would not be “put to shame” (οὐκ αἰσχυνθήσομαι) since his ministry was also marked by an indomitable consistency and integrity.
3.) PAUL’S CONSISTENCY IN THE MINISTRY
9“for I do not wish to seem as if I would terrify you by my letters. 10 For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his personal presence is unimpressive and his speech contemptible.” 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.”
If a true shepherds is he who has been swallowed up in Christ and seeks only the edification of the church; he must also be a person of consistent integrity— he does not say one thing and do another. It was in the face of charges leveled against him that Paul makes his integrity known. His opponents were charging him with being abusive with his letters; this is something Paul adamantly rejects. Verse 9 expounds on Paul’s authority in v.8 and drives home the point that he was not sent to them to “destroy” (καθαίρεσις) them and tear them down here cast in terms of his letter writing. The reason Paul wrote his letters to Corinth was not to cause grief (cf. 2.1-4) but to cause growth (cf. 10.15):
2 Corinthians 13:10 10 “For this reason I am writing these things while absent, so that when present I need not use severity, in accordance with the authority which the Lord gave me for building up and not for tearing down.”
Paul’s opponents had three distinct strategies for tearing Paul’s reputation apart. They attacked his letter writing for being heavy handed, they attacked his physical appearance (lit. “the presence of his body” ἡ δὲ παρουσία τοῦ σώματος) as “unimpressive” (ἀσθενής), and they attacked his speech as being “contemptible” (ἐξουθενέω). With these words, they built up a straw man only to knock him down in front of the church hoping they could win the allegiance of the church and take Paul out. They accused Paul of being heavy handed, they accused Paul of being weak (ἀσθενής), and they accused Paul of lacking rhetorical skills. And by undermining the weightiness of his letters, they were hoping to take the sting out of Paul’s authority so that the church would no longer respect Paul’s apostolic authority thereby taking the church away from the gospel itself.
Those who had been causing Paul trouble in Corinth had been around for some time, probably at least two years. Paul had previously written about these imposters in his first letter. Paul would come to find out just how full of “hot air” they really were and in essence he would “call their bluff”:
1 Corinthians 4:19–21 19 “But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I shall find out, not the words of those who are arrogant but their power. 20 For the kingdom of God does not consist in words but in power. 21 What do you desire? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love and a spirit of gentleness?”
If the gospel would have taken any root in our lives it would have had to changed our lives and created within us a new found love, holiness, and power to live lives of purity and devotion to Christ. This is precisely the “power” Paul’s arrogant adversaries lacked— the power of a changed life:
“…the contrast is between mere words or rhetorical artistry, and the power fo God to change lives and destinies.” (Roy E. Ciampa & Brian S. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians, PNTC; p.195).
Unlike his opponents, Paul had a consist life of true gospel power i.e. a life transformed by the gospel. Here his integrity is what is at stake. Paul insists that what he writes is what he lives, “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.” (10.11). Obviously these folks had not had a face to face encounter with Paul before. They took Paul for a weak and inadequate minister possibly because he refused to engage in popular philosophy and dramatic eloquence. In weakness and with much trembling; Paul preached “Christ crucified” (cf. 1 Cor. 2.1-5).
They had mistaken certain aspects of Paul’s idiosyncrasies as opportunities to malign his apparent weakness. Yet, for Paul he was quite comfortable in his weakness since there was a Christological analogy between his suffering and Christ’ (Col. 1.24):
2 Corinthians 13:2–4 2 “I have previously said when present the second time, and though now absent I say in advance to those who have sinned in the past and to all the rest as well, that if I come again I will not spare anyone, 3 since you are seeking for proof of the Christ who speaks in me, and who is not weak toward you, but mighty in you. 4 For indeed He was crucified because of weakness, yet He lives because of the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, yet we will live with Him because of the power of God directed toward you.”
It was not through the power of polished rhetoric or the magnetism of a celebrity personality that God was going to display his power and accomplish His work; rather it was through proclaim the power of the gospel through weakness and suffering that God would be glorified among his true shepherds— those who would lead His sheep into truth and rest (Ezk. 34.15).