2 Corinthians 10:1-3, 15-18; 12:14-21 Antique Commentary Quotes

John Calvin
2Co 10:1
Having finished his exhortation, he now proceeds partly to refute the calumnies with which he had been defamed by the false apostles, and partly to repress the insolence of certain wicked persons, who could not bear to be under restraint. Both parties, with the view of destroying Paul’s authority, construed the vehemence with which he thundered in his Epistles to be θρασοδειλίαν — (mere bravado,) because when present he was not equally prepared to show himself off in respect of appearance, and address, but was mean and contemptible. “See,” said they, “here is a man, that, under a consciousness of his inferiority, is so very modest and timid, but now, when at a distance, makes a fierce attack! Why is he less bold in speech than in letters? Will he terrify us, when he is at a distance, who, when present, is the object of contempt? How comes he to have such confidence as to imagine, that he is at liberty to do anything with us?” They put speeches of this kind into circulation, with the view of disparaging his strictness, and even rendering it odious. Paul replies, that he is not bold except in so far as he is constrained by necessity, and that the meanness of his bodily presence, for which he was held in contempt, detracted nothing from his authority, inasmuch as he was distinguished by spiritual excellence, not by carnal show. Hence those would not pass with impunity, who derided either his exhortations, or his reproaches, or his threatenings. The words I myself are emphatic; as though he had said, that however the malevolent might blame him for inconstancy, he was in reality not changeable, but remained uniformly the same.

1. I exhort you. The speech is abrupt, as is frequently the case with speeches uttered under the influence of strong feeling. The meaning is this: “I beseech you, nay more, I earnestly entreat you by the gentleness of Christ, not to compel me, through your obstinacy, to be more severe than I would desire to be, and than I will be, towards those who despise me, on the ground of my having nothing excellent in external appearance, and do not recognize that spiritual excellence, with which the Lord has distinguished me, and by which I ought rather to be judged of.”

The form of entreaty, which he makes use of, is taken from the subject in hand, when he says — by the meekness and gentleness of Christ Calumniators took occasion to find fault with him, because his bodily presence was deficient in dignity, and because, on the other hand, when at a distance, he thundered forth in his Epistles. Both calumnies he befittingly refutes, as has been said, but he declares here, that nothing delights him more than gentleness, which becomes a minister of Christ, and of which the Master himself furnished an example.
Learn of me, says he, for I am meek and lowly.My yoke is easy and my burden is light.(Mat_11:29.) The Prophet also says of him, His voice will not be heard in the streets: a bruised reed he shall not break, etc. (Isa_42:2.)

That gentleness, therefore, which Christ showed, he requires also from his servants. Paul, in making mention of it, intimates that he is no stranger to it. “I earnestly beseech you not to despise that gentleness,which Christ showed us in his own person, and shows us every day in his servants, nay more, which ye see in me.”

Who in presence He repeats this, as if in the person of his adversaries, by way of imitating them.

Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
2Co 10:1
2Co_10:1-18. He vindicates his apostolic authority against those who depreciated him for his personal appearance. He will make his power felt when he comes. He boasts not, as they, beyond his measure.

I Paul myself — no longer “we,” “us,” “our” (2Co_9:11): I who am represented by depreciators as “base,” I, the same Paul, of my own accord “beseech you”; or rather “entreat,” “exhort” you for your sake. As “I beseech you” (a distinct Greek verb, 2Co_10:2) for my sake.

by the meekness and gentleness of Christ — He mentions these graces of Christ especially (Psa_18:35; Mat_11:29), as on account of his imitation of them in particular he was despised [Grotius]. He entreats them by these, in order to show that though he must have recourse to more severe measures, he is naturally inclined to gentle ones after Christ’s example [Menochius]. “Meekness” is more in the mind internally; “gentleness” in the external behavior, and in relation to others; for instance, the condescending yieldingness of a superior to an inferior, the former not insisting on his strict rights [Trench]. Bengel explains it, “By the meekness and gentleness derived by me from Christ,” not from my own nature: he objects to understanding it of Christ’s meekness and gentleness, since nowhere else is “gentleness” attributed to Him. But though the exact Greek word is not applied to Him, the idea expressed by it is (compare Isa_40:11; Mat_12:19, Mat_12:20).

in presence — in personal appearance when present with you.

base — Greek, “lowly”; timid, humbly diffident: opposed to “bold.” “Am” stands here by ironical concession for “am reputed to be” (compare 2Co_10:10).

Albert Barnes
2Co 10:1
Now I Paul myself beseech you – I entreat you who are members of the church not to give me occasion for the exercise of severity in discipline. I have just expressed my confidence in the church in general, and my belief that you will act in accordance with the rules of the gospel. But I cannot thus speak of all. There are some among you who have spoken with contempt of my authority and my claims as an apostle. Of them I cannot speak in this manner; but instead of commanding them I entreat them not to give me occasion for the exercise of discipline.

By the meekness and gentleness of Christ – In view of the meekness and mildness of the Redeemer; or desiring to imitate his gentleness and kindness. Paul wished to imitate that. He did not wish to have occasion for severity. He desired at all times to imitate, and to exhibit the gentle feelings of the Saviour. He had no pleasure in severity; and he did not desire to exhibit it.

Who in presence – Margin, In outward appearance. It may either mean that when present among them he appeared, according to their representation, to be humble, mild, gentle 2Co_10:10; or that in his external appearance he had this aspect; see on 2Co_10:10. Most probably it means that they had represented him, as timid when among them, and afraid to exercise discipline, however much he had threatened it.

Am base among you – The word used here (ταπεινὸς tapeinos) usually means low, humble, poor. Here it means timid, modest, the opposite of boldness. Such was formerly the meaning of the English word base. It was applied to those of low degree or rank; of humble birth; and stood opposed to those of elevated rank or dignity. Now it is commonly used to denote that which is degraded or worthless; of mean spirit; vile; and stands opposed to that which is manly and noble. But Paul did not mean to use it here in that sense. He meant to say that they regarded him as timid and afraid to execute the punishment which he had threatened, and as manifesting a spirit which was the opposite of boldness. This was doubtless a charge which they brought against him; but we are not necessarily to infer that it was true. All that it proves is, that he was modest and unobtrusive, and that they interpreted this as timidity and lack of spirit.

But being absent am bold toward you – That is, in my letters; see on 2Co_10:10. This they charged him with, that he was bold enough when away from them, but that he would be tame enough when he should meet them face to face, and that they had nothing to fear from him.

John Calvin
2Co 10:2
2. I beseech you, that I may not be bold, when I am present.Some think, that the discourse is incomplete, and that he does not express the matter of his request. I am rather of opinion, however, that what was wanting in the former clause is here completed, so that it is a general exhortation. “Show yourselves docile and tractable towards me, that I may not be constrained to be more severe.” It is the duty of a good pastor to allure his sheep peacefully and kindly, that they may allow themselves to be governed, rather than to constrain them by violence. Severity, it is true, is, I acknowledge, sometimes necessary, but we must always set out with gentleness, and persevere in it, so long as the hearer shews himself tractable. Severity must be the last resource. “We must,” says he, “try all methods, before having recourse to rigor; nay more, let us never be rigorous, unless we are constrained to it.” In the mean time, as to their reckoning themselves pusillanimous and timid, when he had to come to close quarters, he intimates that they were mistaken as to this, when he declares that he will stoutly resist face to face the contumacious “They despise me,” says he, “as if I were a pusillanimous person, but they will find that I am braver and more courageous than they could have wished, when they come to contend in good earnest.” From this we see, when it is time to act with severity — after we have found, on trial being made, that allurements and mildness have no good effect. “I shall do it with reluctance,” says Paul, “but still I have determined to do it.” Here is an admirable medium; for as we must, in so far as is in our power, draw men rather than drive them, so, when mildness has no effect, in dealing with those that are stern and refractory, rigor must of necessity be resorted to: otherwise it will not be moderation, nor equableness of temper, but criminal cowardice.

Who account of us.Erasmus renders it — “Those who think that we walk, as it were, according to the flesh.” The Old Interpreter came nearer, in my opinion, to Paul’s true meaning — “Qui nos arbitrantur, tanquam secundum carnem ambulemus;” — (“Those who think of us as though we walked according to the flesh;” ) though, at the same time, the phrase is not exactly in accordance with the Latin idiom, nor does it altogether bring out the Apostle’s full meaning. For λογιζεσθαι is taken here to mean — reckoning or esteeming. “They think of us,” says Paul, “or they take this view of us, as though we walked according to the flesh.”

To walk according to the flesh,Chrysostom explains to mean — acting unfaithfully, or conducting one’s self improperly in his office; and, certainly, it is taken in this sense in various instances in Paul’s writings. The term flesh, however, I rather understand to mean — outward pomp or show, by which alone the false Apostles are accustomed to recommend themselves. Paul, therefore, complains of the unreasonableness of those who looked for nothing in him except the flesh, that is, visible appearance, as they speak, or in the usual manner of persons who devote all their efforts to ambition. For as Paul did not by any means excel in such endowments, as ordinarily procure praise or reputation among the children of this world, (Luk_16:8,) he was despised as though he had been one of the common herd. But by whom? Certainly, by the ambitious, who estimated him from mere appearance, while they paid no regard to what lay concealed within.

Albert Barnes
2Co 10:2
That I may not be bold – I entreat you so to act that I may not have occasion to exercise the severity which I fear I shall be compelled to use against those who accuse me of being governed wholly by worldly motives and policy. In other words, that I may not be compelled to be bold and decisive in my measures by your improper conduct.

Which think of us – Margin, “reckon.” They suppose this; or, they accuse me of it. By the word “us” here Paul means himself, though it is possible also that he speaks in the name of his fellow apostles and laborers who were associated with him, and the objections may have referred to all who acted with him.

As if we walked – As if we lived or acted. The word “walk” in the Scriptures is often used to denote the course or manner of life; see the Rom_4:12, note; 2Co_5:7, note.

According to the flesh – see the note on 2Co_1:17. As if we were governed by the weak and corrupt principles of human nature. As if we had no higher motive than carnal and worldly policy. As if we were seeking our own advantage and not the welfare of the world. The charge was, probably, that he was not governed by high and holy principles, but by the principles of mere worldly policy; that he was guided by personal interests, and by worldly views – by ambition, or the love of dominion, wealth, or popularity, and that he was destitute of every supernatural endowment and every evidence of a divine commission.

John Calvin
2Co 10:3
3. For though we walk in the flesh. Walking in the flesh means here — living it the world;or, as he expresses it elsewhere, being at home in the body. (2Co_5:6.)
For he was shut up in the prison of his body. This, however, did not prevent the influence of the Holy Spirit from showing itself marvelously in his weakness. There is here again a kind of concession, which, at the same time, is of no service to his adversaries.

Those war according to the flesh, who attempt nothing but in dependence upon worldly resources, in which alone, too, they glory. They have not their confidence placed in the government and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Paul declares that he is not one of this class, inasmuch as he is furnished with other weapons than those of the flesh and the world. Now, what he affirms respecting himself is applicable, also, to all true ministers of Christ. For they carry an inestimable treasure in earthen vessels, as he had previously said. (2Co_4:7.) Hence, however they may be surrounded with the infirmities of the flesh, the spiritual power of God, nevertheless, shines forth resplendently in them.

Albert Barnes
2Co 10:3
For though we walk in the flesh – Though we are mortal like other people; though we dwell like them in mortal bodies, and necessarily must devote some care to our temporal needs; and though, being in the flesh, we are conscious of imperfections and frailties like others. The sense is, that he did not claim exemption from the common needs and frailties of nature. The best of people are subject to these needs and frailties; the best of people are liable to err.

We do not war after the flesh – The warfare in which he was engaged was with sin, idolatry, and all forms of evil. He means that in conducting this he was not actuated by worldly views or policy, or by such ambitious and interested aims as controlled the people of this world. This refers primarily to the warfare in which Paul was himself engaged as an apostle; and the idea is, that he went forth as a soldier under the great Captain of his salvation to fight his battles and to make conquests for him. A similar allusion occurs in 2Ti_2:3-4. It is true, however, that not only all ministers, but all Christians are engaged in a warfare; and it is equally true that they do not maintain their conflict “after the flesh,” or on the principles which govern the people of this world. The warfare of Christians relates to the following points:

(1) It is a warfare with the corrupt desires and sensual propensities of the heart; with eternal corruption and depravity, with the remaining unsubdued propensities of a fallen nature.

(2) with the powers of darkness; the mighty spirits of evil that seek to destroy us; see Eph_6:11-17.

(3) with sin in all forms; with idolatry, sensuality, corruption, intemperance, profaneness, wherever they may exist. The Christian is opposed to all these, and it is the aim and purpose of his life as far as he may be able to resist and subdue them. He is a soldier enlisted under the banner of the Redeemer to oppose and resist all forms of evil. But his warfare is not conducted on worldly principles. Muhammed propagated his religion with the sword; and the people of this world seek for victory by arms and violence; The Christian looks for his conquests only by the force and the power of truth, and by the agency of the Spirit of God.

John Calvin
2Co 10:15
15.In the labors of others.He now reproves more freely the false Apostles, who, while they had put forth their hand in the reaping of another man’s harvest, had the audacity at the same time to revile those, who had prepared a place for them at the expense of sweat and toil. Paul had built up the Church of the Corinthians — not without the greatest struggle, and innumerable difficulties. Those persons afterwards come forward, and find the road made and the gate open. That they may appear persons of consequence, they impudently claim for themselves what did not of right belong to them, and disparage Paul’s labors.

But having hope. He again indirectly reproves the Corinthians, because they had stood in the way of his making greater progress in advancing the gospel. For when he says that he hopes that, when their faith is increased the boundaries of his glowing will be enlarged, he intimates, that the weakness of faith under which they labored was the reason, why his career had been somewhat retarded. “I ought now to have been employed in gaining over new Churches, and that too with your assistance, if you had made as much proficiency as you ought to have done; but now you retard me by your infirmity. I hope, however, that the Lord will grant, that greater progress will be made by you in future, and that in this way the glory of my ministry will be increased according to the rule of the divine calling.” To glory in things that have been prepared is equivalent to glorying in the labors of others; for, while Paul had fought the battle, they enjoyed the triumph.

Albert Barnes
2Co 10:15
Not boasting of things without our measure – There is here probably an allusion to the false teachers at Corinth. They had come after Paul had been there, and had entered into his labors. When he had founded the church; when he had endured trials and persecutions in order to reach Corinth; when he had labored there for a year and a half Act_18:11, they came and entered the quiet and easy field, formed parties. and claimed the field as their own. Paul says that he had not courage to do that; see note, 2Co_10:12. That required a species of boldness to which he could lay no claim; and he did not assume honor to himself like that.

That is, of other men’s labors – Not intruding into churches which we did not establish, and claiming the right to direct their affairs, and to exclude the founders from all proper honors and all influence, and endeavoring to alienate the affections of Christians from their spiritual father and guide.

But having hope … – So far from this; so far from a desire to enter into the labors of others and quietly enjoying the avails of their industry; and so far even from a desire to sit down ourselves and enjoy the fruit of our own labors, I desire to penetrate other untrodden regions; to encounter new dangers; to go where the gospel has not been planted, and to rear other churches there. I do not, therefore, make these remarks as if I wished even to dispossess the teachers that have entered into my labors. I make them because I wish to be aided by you in extending the gospel further; and I look to your assistance in order that I may have the means of going into the regions where I have not made known the name of the Redeemer.

When your faith is increased – When you become so strong as not to need my presence and my constant care; and when you shall be able to speed me on my way and to aid me on my journey. He expected to be assisted by them in his efforts to carry the gospel to other countries.

That we shall be enlarged – Margin, “Magnified by you.” Bloomfield supposes that this means. “to gain fame and glory by you;” that is, as the teacher may justly by his pupils. So Robinson renders it. “to make great, to praise.” But to me the idea seems to be that he wished them to enlarge or magnify him by introducing him to larger fields of action; by giving him a wider sphere of labor. It was not that he wished to be magnified by obtaining a wider reputation, not as a matter of praise or ambition, but he wished to have his work and success greatly enlarged. This he hoped to be enabled to do partly by the aid of the church at Corinth. When they became able to manage their own affairs; when his time was not demanded to superintend them; when their faith became so strong that his presence was not needed; and when they should assist him in his preparations for travel, then he would enter on his wider field of labor. He had no intention of sitting down in ease as the false teachers in Corinth seem disposed to have done.

According to our rule – Greek, “According our canon;” see on 2Co_10:13. The sense is, according to the rule by which the sphere of his labors had been marked out. His rule was to carry the gospel as far as possible to the pagan world. He regarded the regions lying far beyond Corinth as coming properly within his limits; and he desired to occupy that field.

Abundantly – Greek, Unto abundance. So as to abound; that is, to occupy the field assigned as far as possible.

Adam Clarke
2Co 10:16
To preach the Gospel in the regions beyond you – He probably refers to those parts of the Morea, such as Sparta, etc., that lay southward of them; and to Italy, which lay on the west; for it does not appear that he considered his measure or province to extend to Libya, or any part of Africa. See the Introduction, Section 12.

Not to boast in another man’s line – So very scrupulous was the apostle not to build on another man’s foundation, that he would not even go to those places where other apostles were labouring. He appears to think that every apostle had a particular district or province of the heathen world allotted to him, and which God commissioned him to convert to the Christian faith. No doubt every apostle was influenced in the same way; and this was a wise order of God; for by these means the Gospel was more quickly spread through the heathen provinces than it otherwise would have been. The apostles had deacons or ministers with them whose business it was to water the seed sown; but the apostles alone, under Christ, sowed and planted.

Albert Barnes
2Co 10:16
To preach the gospel in the regions beyond you – What regions are referred to here can be only a matter of conjecture. It may be that he wished to preach in other parts of Greece, and that he designed to go to Arcadia or Lacedaemon. Rosenmuller supposes that as the Corinthians were engaged in commerce, the apostle hoped that by them some tidings of the gospel would reach the countries with which they were engaged in traffic. But I think it most probable that he alludes to Italy and Spain. It is certain that he had formed the design of visiting Spain Rom_15:24, Rom_15:28; and he doubtless wished the Corinthians to aid him in that purpose, and was anxious to do this as soon as the condition of the eastern churches would allow it.

And not to boast in another man’s line of things … – Margin, “Rule,” the same word (κανων kanon) which occurs in 2Co_10:13. The meaning is, that Paul did not mean to boast of what properly belonged to others. He did not claim what they had done as his own. He did not intend to labor within what was properly their bounds, and then to claim the field and the result of the labor as his. He probably means here to intimate that this had been done by the false teachers of Corinth; but so far was he from designing to do this, that he meant soon to leave Corinth, which was properly within his limits, and the church which he had founded there, to go and preach the gospel to other regions. Whether Paul ever went to Spain has been a question (see the note on Rom_15:24); but it is certain that he went to Rome, and that he preached the gospel in many other places after this besides Corinth.

John Calvin
2Co 10:17
17.But he that glorieth This statement is made by way of correction, as his glorying might be looked upon as having the appearance of empty boasting. Hence he cites himself and others before the judgment-seat of God, saying, that those glory on good grounds, who are approved by God. To glory in the Lord, however, is used here in a different sense from what it bears in the first chapter of the former Epistle, (1Co_1:31,) and in Jer_9:24. For in those passages it means — to recognize God as the author of all blessings, in such a way that every blessing is ascribed to his grace, while men do not extol themselves, but glorify him alone. Here, however, it means — to place our glory at the disposal of God alone, and reckon every thing else as of no value. For while some are dependent on the estimation of men, and weigh themselves in the false balance of public opinion, and others are deceived by their own arrogance, Paul exhorts us to be emulous of this glow — that we may please the Lord, by whose judgment we all stand or fall.

Even heathens say, that true glory consists in an upright conscience. Now that is so much, but it is not all; for, as almost all are blind through excessive self-love, we cannot safely place confidence in the estimate that we form of ourselves. For we must keep in mind what he says elsewhere, (1Co_4:4,) that he is not conscious to himself of anything wrong, and yet is not thereby justified. What then? Let us know, that to God alone must be reserved the right of passing judgment upon us; for we are not competent judges in our own cause. This meaning is confirmed by what follows —

Albert Barnes
2Co 10:17
But he that glorieth – He that boasts. Whatever may be the occasion of his boasting, whether in planting churches or in watering them; whether in his purposes, plans, toils, or success. Paul himself did not deem it improper on some occasions to boast 2Co_11:16; 2Co_12:5, but it was not of his own power, attainments, or righteousness. He was disposed to trace all to the Lord, and to regard him as the source of all blessing and all success.

Let him glory in the Lord – In this serious and weighty admonition, Paul designs, doubtless, to express the manner in which he was accustomed to glory, and to furnish an admonition to the Corinthians. In the previous part of the chapter there had been some severe irony. He closes the chapter with the utmost seriousness and solemnity of manner, in order to show on his part that he was not disposed to glory in his own attainments and to admonish them not to boast of theirs. If they had anything valuable they should regard the Lord as the author of it. In this admonition it is probable that Paul had in his eye the passage in Jer_9:23-24; though he has not expressly quoted it. “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise loving-kindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth.” The sentiment is a favorite one with Paul, as it should be with all Christians; see the note on 1Co_1:31. On this verse we may here remark:

I. That nothing is more common than for people to boast or glory. Little as they really have in which to glory, yet there is no one probably who has not something of which he is proud, and of which he is disposed to boast. It would be difficult or impossible to find a person who had not something on which he prided himself; something in which he esteemed himself superior to others.

II. The things of which they boast are very various:

(1) Many are proud of their personal beauty; many, too, who would be unwilling to be thought proud of it.

(2) many glory in their accomplishments; or, what is more likely, in the accomplishments of their children.

(3) many glory in their talents; talents for anything, valuable or not, in which they suppose they surpass others. They glory in their talent for eloquence, or science, or gaining knowledge; or in their talent for gaining property or keeping it: for their skill in their professions or callings; for their ability to run, to leap, or to practice even any trick or sleight of hand. There is nothing so worthless that it does not constitute a subject of glorying, provided it be ours. If it belong to others it may be valueless.

(4) many glory in their property; in fine houses, extended plantations, or in the reputation of being rich; or in gorgeous dress, equipage, and furniture. In short, there is nothing which people possess in which they are not prone to glory. Forgetful of God the giver; forgetful that all may be soon taken from them. or that they soon must leave all; forgetful that none of these things can constitute a distinction in the grave or beyond, they boast as if these things were to remain forever, and as if they had been acquired independently of God. How prone is the man of talents to forget that God has given him his intellect, and that for its proper use he must give account! How prone is the rich man to forget that he must die! How prone the frivolous and the beautiful to forget that they will lie undistinguished in the grave; and that death will consume them as soon as the most vile and worthless of the species!

III. If we glory it should be in the Lord. We should ascribe our talents, wealth, health, strength, and salvation to him. We should rejoice:

(1) That we have such a Lord, so glorious, so full of mercy, so powerful, so worthy of confidence and love.

(2) We should rejoice in our endowments and possessions as his gift. We should rejoice that we may come and lay everything at his feet, and whatever may be our rank, or talents, or learning, we should rejoice that we may come with the humblest child of poverty, and sorrow, and want, and say, “Not unto us, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy and for thy truth’s sake;” Ps. 115: i; see the note on 1Co_1:31.

John Calvin
2Co 10:18
For not he that commendeth himself is approved“For it is easy to impose upon men by a false impression, and this is matter of every day occurrence. Let us, therefore, leaving off all other things, aim exclusively at this — that we may be approved by God, and may be satisfied to have his approbation alone, as it justly ought to be regarded by us as of more value than all the applauses of the whole world. There was one that said, that to have Plato’s favorable judgment was to him worth a thousand. The question here is not as to the judgment of mankind, in respect of the superiority of one to another, but as to the sentence of God himself, who has it in his power to overturn all the decisions that men have pronounced.

Albert Barnes
2Co 10:18
For not he that commendeth himself … – Not he who boasts of his talents and endowments. He is not to be judged by the estimate which he shall place on himself, but by the estimate which God shall form and express.

Is approved – By God. It is no evidence that we shall be saved that we are prone to commend ourselves; see Rom_16:10.

But whom the Lord commendeth – see the note on Rom_2:29. The idea here is, that people are to be approved or rejected by God. He is to pass judgment on them, and that judgment is to be in accordance with his estimate of their character, and not according to their own. If he approves them they will be saved; if he does not, vain will be all their empty boasting; vain all their reliance on their wealth, eloquence. learning, or earthly honors. None will save them from condemnation; not all these things can purchase for them eternal life. Paul thus seriously shows that we should be mainly anxious to obtain the divine favor. It should be the grand aim and purpose of our life; and we should repress all disposition for vain – glory or self-confidence; all reliance on our talents, attainments, or accomplishments for salvation. our boast is that we have such a redeemer: and in that we all may glory!

John Calvin
2Co 12:14
14.Behold, this third time He commends his own deed, for which he had received a very poor requital from the Corinthians. For he says, that he refrained from taking their worldly substance for two reasons first, because he sought them, not their wealth; and secondly, because he was desirous to act the part of a father towards them. From this it appears, what commendation was due to his modesty, which occasioned him contempt among the Corinthians.

I seek not yours. It is the part of a genuine and upright pastor, not to seek to derive gain from his sheep, but to endeavor to promote their welfare; though, at the same time, it is to be observed, that men are not to be sought with the view of having every one his own particular followers. It is a bad thing, to be devoted to gain, or to undertake the office of a pastor with the view of making a trade of it; but for a person to draw away disciples after him, (Act_20:30,) for purposes of ambition, is greatly worse. Paul, however, means, that he is not greedy of hire, but is concerned only for the welfare of souls. There is, however, still more of elegance in what he says, for it is as though he had said: “I am in quest of a larger hire than you think of. I am not contented with your wealth, but I seek to have you wholly, that I may present a sacrifice to the Lord of the fruits of my ministry.” But, what if one is supported by his labors? Will he in that case seek the worldly substance of the people. Unquestionably, if he is a faithful Pastor, he will always seek the welfare of the sheep — nothing else. His pay will, it is true, be an additional thing; but he ought to have no other aim, than what we have mentioned. Woe to those, that have an eye to any thing else!

Parents for their children Was he then no father to the Philippians, who supported him even when absent from them? (Phi_4:15.) Was there no one of the other Apostles that was a father, inasmuch as the Churches ministered to their support? He did not by any means intend this; for it is no new thing for even parents to be supported by their children in their old age. Hence, those are not necessarily unworthy of the honor due to fathers, who live at the expense of the Church; but Paul simply wished to show from the common law of nature, that what he had done proceeded from fatherly affection. This argument, therefore, ought not to be turned in a contrary direction. For he did this as a father; but, though he had acted otherwise, he would, notwithstanding, have been a father still.

Jamison, Fausset, and Brown
2Co 12:14
the third time — See on Introduction to the first Epistle. His second visit was probably a short one (1Co_16:7), and attended with humiliation through the scandalous conduct of some of his converts (compare 2Co_12:21; 2Co_2:1). It was probably paid during his three years’ sojourn at Ephesus, from which he could pass so readily by sea to Corinth (compare 2Co_1:15, 2Co_1:16; 2Co_13:1, 2Co_13:2). The context here implies nothing of a third preparation to come; but, “I am coming, and the third time, and will not burden you this time any more than I did at my two previous visits” [Alford].

not yours, but you — (Phi_4:17).

children … parents — Paul was their spiritual father (1Co_4:14, 1Co_4:15). He does not, therefore, seek earthly treasure from them, but lays up the best treasure (namely, spiritual) “for their souls” (2Co_12:15).

Albert Barnes
2Co 12:14
Behold, the third time I am ready to come to you – That is, this is the third time that I have purposed to come and see you, and have made preparation for it. He does not mean that he had been twice with them and was now coming the third time, but that he had twice before intended to go and had been disappointed; see 1Co_16:5; 2Co_1:15-16. His purpose had been to visit them on his way to Macedonia and again on his return from Macedonia. He had now formed a third resolution, which he had a prospect of carrying into execution.

And I will not be burdensome to you – I resolve still, as I have done before, not to receive a compensation that shall be oppressive to you, see the notes on 2Co_11:9-10.

For I seek not yours, but you – I desire not to obtain your property, but to save your souls. This was a noble resolution; and it is the resolution which should be formed by every minister of the gospel. While a minister of Christ has a claim to a competent support, his main purpose should not be to obtain such a support. It should be the higher and nobler object of winning souls to the Redeemer. See Paul’s conduct in this respect explained in the notes on Act_20:33.

For the children … – There is great delicacy and address in this sentiment. The meaning is, “It is not natural and usual for children to make provisions for their parents. The common course of events and of duty is, for parents to make provision for their offspring. I, therefore, your spiritual father, choose to act in the same way. I make provision for your spiritual needs; I labor and toil for you as a father does for his children. I seek your welfare, as he does, by constant self-denial. In return, I do not ask you to provide for me, any more than a father ordinarily expects his children to provide for him. I am willing to labor as he does, content with doing my duty, and promoting the welfare of those under me.” The words rendered “ought out” (οὐ ὀφείλει ou opheilei) are to be understood in a comparative sense. Paul does not mean that a child ought never to provide for his parents, or to lay anything up for a sick, a poor, and an infirm father, but that the duty of doing that was slight and unusual compared with the duty of a parent to provide for his children. The one was of comparatively rare occurrence; the other was constant and was the ordinary course of duty It is a matter of obligation for a child to provide for an aged and helpless parent; but commonly the duty is that of a parent to provide for his children. Paul felt like a father toward the church in Corinth; and he was willing, therefore, to labor for them without compensation.

John Calvin
2Co 12:15
15.And I will most gladly spend This, certainly, was an evidence of a more than fatherly affection — that he was prepared to lay out in their behalf not merely his endeavors, and everything in his power to do, but even life itself. Nay more, while he is regarded by them with coldness, he continues, nevertheless, to cherish this affection. What heart, though even as hard as iron, would such ardor of love not soften or break, especially in connection with such constancy? Paul, however, does not here speak of himself, merely that we may admire him, but that we may, also, imitate him. Let all Pastors, therefore, learn from this, what they owe to their Churches.

Albert Barnes
2Co 12:15
And I will very gladly spend – I am willing to spend my strength, and time, and life, and all that I have, for your welfare, as a father cheerfully does for his children. Any expense which may be necessary to promote your salvation I am willing to submit to. The labor of a father for his children is cheerful and pleasant. Such is his love for them that he delights in toil for their sake, and that he may make them happy. The toil of a pastor for his flock should be cheerful. He should be willing to engage in unremitted efforts for their welfare; and if he has any right feeling he will find a pleasure in that toil He will not grudge the time demanded; he will not be grieved that it exhausts his strength, or his life, anymore than a father will who toils for his family. And as the pleasures of a father who is laboring for his children are among the purest and most pleasant which people ever enjoy, so it is with a pastor. Perhaps, on the whole, the pleasantest employment in life is that connected with the pastoral office; the happiest moments known on earth are the duties, arduous as they are, of the pastoral relation. God thus, as in the relation of a father, tempers toil and pleasure together; and accompanies most arduous labors with present and abundant reward.

Be spent – Be exhausted and worn out in my labors. So the Greek word means. Paul was willing that his powers should be entirely exhausted and his life consumed in this service.

For you – Margin, as in the Greek, for your souls. So it should have been rendered. So Tyndale renders it. The sense is, that he was willing to become wholly exhausted if by it he might secure the salvation of their souls.

Though the more abundantly I love you … – This is designed doubtless as a gentle reproof. It refers to the fact that notwithstanding the tender attachment which he had evinced for them, they had not manifested the love in return which he had a right to expect. It is possible that there may be an allusion to the case of a fond, doting parent. It sometimes happens that a parent fixes his affections with undue degree on some one of his children; and in such cases it is not uncommon that the child evinces special ingratitude and lack of love. Such may be the allusion here – that Paul had fixed his affections on them like a fond, doting father, and that he had met with a return by no means corresponding with the fervour of his attachment; yet still he was willing, like such a father, to exhaust his time and strength for their welfare. The doctrine is, that we should be willing to labor and toil for the good of others, even when they evince great ingratitude. The proper end of laboring for their welfare is not to excite their gratitude, but to obey the will of God; and no matter whether others are grateful or not; whether they love us or not; whether we can promote our popularity with them or not, let us do them good always. It better shows the firmness of our Christian principle to endeavor to benefit others when they love us the less for all our attempts, than it does to attempt to do good on the swelling tide of popular favor.

John Calvin
2Co 12:16
16.But be it so. These words intimate, that Paul had been blamed by malevolent persons, as though he had in a clandestine way procured, through means of hired persons, what he had refused to receive with his own hands — not that he had done any such thing, but they “measure others,” as they say, “by their own ell.” For it is customary for the wicked impudently to impute to the servants of God, whatever they would themselves do, if they had it in their power. Hence, Paul is constrained, with the view of clearing himself of a charge impudently fabricated, to defend the integrity of those whom he sent, for if they had committed any error, it would have been reckoned to his account. Now, who would be surprised at his being so cautious as to alms, when he had been harassed by such unfair judgments as to his conduct, after having made use of every precaution? Let his case, however, be a warning to us, not to look upon it as a thing that is new and intolerable, if at any time we find occasion to answer similar calumnies; but, more especially, let this be an admonition to us to use strict caution, not to furnish any handle to revilers. For we see, that it is not enough to give evidence of being ourselves upright, if those, whose assistance we have made use of, are not, also, found to be so. Hence, our choice of them must not be made lightly, or as a matter of mere form, but with the utmost possible care.

Albert Barnes
2Co 12:16
But be it so – This is evidently a charge of his enemies; or at least a charge which it might be supposed they would make. Whether they ever in fact made it, or whether the apostle merely anticipates an objection, it is impossible to determine. It is clearly to be regarded as the language of objectors; for:

(1) It can never be supposed that Paul would state as a serious matter that he had caught them with deceit or fraud.

(2) he answers it as an objection in the following verse. The meaning is, “We admit that you did not burden us. You did not exact a support from us. But all this was mere trick. You accomplished the same thing in another way. You professed when with us not to seek our property but our souls. But in various ways you contrived to get our money, and to secure your object. You made others the agents for doing this, and sent them among us under various pretexts to gain money from us.” It will be remembered that Paul had sent; Titus among them to take up the collection for the poor saints in Judea 2Co_8:6, and it is not at all improbable that some there had charged Paul with making use of this pretence only to obtain money for his own private use. To guard against this charge. was one of the reasons why Paul was so anxious to have some persons appointed by the church to take charge of the contribution; see 1Co_16:3; compare the notes on 2Co_8:19-21.

Being crafty – Being cunning That is, by sending persons to obtain money on different pretences.

I caught you with guile – I took you by deceit or fraud. That is, making use of fraud in pretending that the money was for poor and afflicted saints, when in reality it was for my own use. It is impossible that Paul should have ever admitted this of himself; and they greatly pervert the passage who suppose that it applies to him, and then plead that it is right to make use of guile in accomplishing their purposes. Paul never carried his measures by dishonesty, nor did he ever justify fraud; compare the notes on Act_23:6.

Albert Barnes
2Co 12:17

Did I make a gain … – In refuting this slander, Paul appeals boldly to the facts, and to what they knew. “Same the man,” says he, “who has thus defrauded you under my instructions. If the charge is well-founded, let him be specified, and let the mode in which it was done be distinctly stated.” The phrase “make a gain” (from πλεονεκτέω pleonekteō), means properly to have an advantage; then to take advantage, to seek unlawful gain. Here Paul asks whether he had defrauded them by means of anyone whom he had sent to them.

Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
2Co 12:18
I desired Titus — namely, to go unto you. Not the mission mentioned 2Co_8:6, 2Co_8:17, 2Co_8:22; but a mission previous to this Epistle, probably that from which he had just returned announcing to Paul their penitence (2Co_7:6-16).

a brother — rather “OUR (literally, ‘the’) brother”; one well known to the Corinthians, and perhaps a Corinthian; probably one of the two mentioned in 2Co_8:18, 2Co_8:22.

same spirit — inwardly.

steps — outwardly.

Albert Barnes
2Co 12:18
I desired Titus – To go and complete the collection which you had commenced; see 2Co_8:6.

And with him I sent a brother – see note on 2Co_8:18.

Did Titus make a gain of you – They knew that he did not. They had received him kindly, treated him with affection, and sent him away with every proof of confidence and respect; see 2Co_7:7. How then could they now pretend that he had defrauded them?

Walked we not in the same spirit? – Did not all his actions resemble mine? Was there not the same proof of honesty, sincerity, and love which I have ever manifested? This is a very delicate turn. Paul’s course of life when with them they admitted was free from guile and from any attempt to get money by improper means. They charged him only with attempting it by means of others. He now boldly appeals to them and asks whether Titus and he had not in fact acted in the same manner; and whether they had not alike evinced a spirit free from covetousness and deceit?

John Calvin
2Co 12:19
19.Do you again think. As those that are conscious to themselves of something wrong are sometimes more anxious than others to clear themselves, it is probable, that this, also, was turned into a ground of calumny — that Paul had in the former Epistle applied himself to a defense of his ministry. Farther, it is a fault in the servants of Christ, to be too much concerned as to their own reputation. With the view, therefore, of repelling those calumnies, he declares in the first place, that he speaks in the presence of God, whom evil consciences always dread. In the second place, he maintains, that he has not so much a view to himself, as to them. He was prepared to go through good report and bad report, (2Co_6:8,) nay, even to be reduced to nothing; but it was of advantage to the Corinthians, that he should retain the reputation that he deserved, that his ministry might not be brought into contempt.

Albert Barnes
2Co 12:19
Again, think ye that we excuse ourselves unto you? – see the note on 2Co_5:12. The sense is, Do not suppose that this is said from mere anxiety to obtain your favor, or to ingratiate ourselves into your esteem. This is said doubtless to keep himself from the suspicion of being actuated by improper motives. He had manifested great solicitude certainly in the previous chapter to vindicate his character; but he here says that it was not from a mere desire to show them that his conduct was right; it was from a desire to honor Christ.

We speak before God in Christ – We declare the simple and undisguised truth as in the presence of God. I have no mere desire to palliate my conduct; I disguise nothing; I conceal nothing; I say nothing for the mere purpose of self-vindication, but I can appeal to the Searcher of hearts for the exact truth of all that I say. The phrase “before God in Christ,” means probably, “I speak as in the presence of God, and as a follower of Christ, as a Christian man.” It is the solemn appeal of a Christian to his God for the truth of what he said, and a solemn asseveration that what he said was not for the mere purpose of excusing or apologizing for (the sense of the Greek) his conduct.

But we do all things, dearly beloved, for your edifying – All that I have done has been for your welfare. My vindication of my character, and my effort to disabuse you of your prejudices, has been that you might have unwavering confidence in the gospel and might be built up in holy faith. On the word “edify,” see the Rom_14:19 note; 1Co_8:1; 1Co_10:23 notes.

John Calvin
2Co 12:20
20.For I fear He declares, in what way it tends to their edification, that his integrity should be vindicated, for, on the ground that he had come into contempt, many grew wanton, as it were, with loosened reins. Now respect for him would have been a means of leading them to repentance, for they would have listened to his admonitions.

I fear,says he. This fear proceeded from love, for, unless he had been concerned as to their welfare, he would very readily have overlooked all this, from which he sought to obtain no personal advantage. For otherwise we are afraid to give occasion of offense, when we foresee that it will be hurtful to ourselves.

And I shall be found by you. Here is a second ground of fear — lest he should be constrained to act with greater severity. Now it is a token not merely of love, but even of indulgence, to shun severity, and have recourse to milder measures. “As to my striving at present to maintain my authority, and endeavoring to bring you back to obedience, I do this, lest I should find occasion to punish your obstinacy more severely, if I come, and find among you nothing of amendment.” He teaches, accordingly, by his example, that mild remedies must always be resorted to by Pastors, for the correction of faults, before they have recourse to extreme severity; and, at the same time, that we must, by admonitions and reproofs, prevent the necessity of having recourse to the utmost rigor.

Lest, by any means, there be contentions. He enumerates the vices, which chiefly prevailed among the Corinthians; almost all of which proceeded from the same source. For had not every one been devoted to self, they would never have contended with each other — they would never have envied one another — there would have been no slandering among them. Thus the sum and substance of the first catalogue is want of love, because (φιλαυτία)self-love, and ambition prevailed.

Adam Clarke
2Co 12:20
I fear, lest, when I come – I think the present time is used here for the past; the apostle seems most evidently to be giving them the reason why he had not come to them according to his former purposes, and why he sent Titus and his companion. He was afraid to come at that time lest he should have found them perverted from the right way, and he be obliged to make use of his apostolical rod, and punish the offenders; but, feeling towards them the heart of a tender father, he was unwilling to use the rod; and sent the first epistle to them, and the messengers above mentioned, being reluctant to go himself till he had satisfactory evidence that their divisions were ended, and that they had repented for and put away the evils that they had committed; and that he should not be obliged to bewail them who had sinned so abominably, and had not repented for their crimes. If this verse be understood in this way, all difficulty will vanish; otherwise, what is here said does seem to contradict what is said, 2Co_7:6, 2Co_7:16, etc.; as well as many things both in the eighth and ninth chapters.

Debates, envyings – From these different expressions, which are too plain to need interpretation, we see what a distracted and divided state the Church at Corinth must have been in. Brotherly love and charity seem to have been driven out of this once heavenly assembly. These debates, etc., are precisely the opposites to that love which the apostle recommends and explains by its different properties in the 13th chapter of his first epistle.

Mr. Wakefield translates the original thus: strifes, rivalries, passions, provocations, slanders, whisperings, swellings, quarrels.

Albert Barnes
2Co 12:20
For I fear, lest, when I come – see 2Co_12:14.

I shall not find you such as I would – That is, walking in the truth and order of the gospel. He had feared that the disorders would not be removed, and that they would not have corrected the errors which prevailed, and for which he had rebuked them. It was on this account that he had said so much to them. His desire was that all these disorders might be removed, and that he might be saved from the necessity of exercising severe discipline when he should come among them.

And that I shall be found unto you such as ye would not – That is, that I shall be compelled to administer discipline, and that my visit may not be as pleasant to you as you would desire. For this reason he wished all disorder corrected, and all offences removed; that everything might be pleasant when he should come; see 1Co_4:21; compare note on 2Co_10:2.

Lest there be debates – I fear that there may be existing there debates, etc., which will require the interposition of the authority of an apostle. On the meaning of the word “debate,” see the note on Rom_1:29.

Envyings – see the note on 1Co_3:3.

Wraths – Anger or animosities between contending factions, the usual effect of forming parties.

Strifes – Between contending factions; see note on 1Co_3:3.

Backbitings – see the note on Rom_1:30.

Whisperings – see the note on Rom_1:29.

Swellings – Undue elation; being puffed up (see the notes on 2Co_8:1; 1Co_4:6, note; 1Co_4:18-19, note; 1Co_5:2, note) – such as would be produced by vain self-confidence.

Tumults – Disorder and confusion arising from this existence of parties. Paul, deeply sensible of the evil of all this, had endeavored in this correspondence to suppress it, that all things might be pleasant when he should come among them.

John Calvin
2Co 12:21
21.Lest, when I come, my God should humble me His abasement was reckoned to him as a fault. The blame of it he throws back upon the Corinthians, who, when they should have honored his Apostleship, loaded it, on the contrary, with disgrace; for their proficiency would have been the glory and honor of Paul’s Apostleship. When, therefore, they were, instead of this, overrun with many vices, they heaped disgrace upon him to the utmost of their power. He does not, indeed, charge them all with this crime, but only a few, who had impudently despised all his admonitions. The meaning, then, is this: “They think contemptuously of me, because I appear contemptible. Let them, then, give me no occasion of abasement: nay more, let them, on the contrary, laying aside their forwardness, begin to feel shame; and let them, confounded at their iniquities, prostrate themselves on the ground, instead of looking down upon others with disdain.”

In the mean time, he lets us know the disposition of a true and genuine Pastor, when he says that he will look upon the sins of others with grief. And, undoubtedly, the right way of acting is this — that every Christian shall have his Church inclosed within his heart, and be affected with its maladies, as if they were his own, — sympathize with its sorrows, and bewail its sins. We see, how Jeremiah entreats, that there may be given him a fountain of tears, (Jer_9:1,) that he may bewail the calamity of his people. We see, how pious kings and prophets, to whom the government of the people was committed, were touched with similar feelings. It is, indeed, a thing that is common to all the pious, to be grieved in every case in which God is offended, and to bewail the ruin of brethren, and present themselves before God in their room as in a manner guilty, but it is more particularly requisite on the part of Pastors. Farther, Paul here brings forward a second catalogue of vices, which, however, belong to one general head — unchastity.

Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
2Co 12:21
my God — his God, however trying the humiliation that was in store for him.

will humble me — The indicative implies that the supposition will actually be so. The faithful pastor is “humbled” at, and “bewails” the falls of his people, as though they were his own.

sinned already — before my last coming [Bengel], that is, before the second visit which he paid, and in which he had much at Corinth to rebuke.

have not repented — shall not have repented [Alford].

uncleanness — for example, of married persons (1Th_4:7).

fornication — among the unmarried.

Albert Barnes
2Co 12:21
And lest, when I come again, my God will humble me … – Lest I should be compelled to inflict punishment on those whom I suppose to have been converted under my ministry. I had rejoiced in them as true converts: I had counted them as among the fruit of my ministry. Now to be compelled to inflict punishment on them as having no religion would mortify me and humble me. The infliction of punishment on members of the church is a sort of punishment to him who inflicts it as well as to him who is punished. Members of the church should walk uprightly, lest they overwhelm the ministry in shame.

And that I shall bewail many … – If they repented of their sin he could still rejoice in them. If they continued in their sin until he came, it would be to him a source of deep lamentation. It is evident from the word “many” here that the disorders had prevailed very extensively in the church at Corinth. The word rendered “have sinned already” means “who have sinned before,” and the idea is, that they were old offenders, and that they had not yet repented.

The uncleanness – see note, Rom_1:24.

And fornication and lasciviousness … – see the notes on 1Co_5:1; 1Co_6:18. This was the sin to which they were particularly exposed in Corinth, as it was the sin for which that corrupt city was particularly distinguished. See the introduction to the First Epistle. Hence, the frequent cautions in these epistles against it; and hence, it is not to be wondered at that some of those who had become professing Christians had fallen into it. It may be added that it is still the sin to which converts from the corruptions and licentiousness of paganism are particularly exposed.

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