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2 Corinthians 10:9–12

“Let such a person understand that what we say by letter when absent, we do when present” (v. 11).

Building up believers in faith and love—that is the task of new covenant ministry and is to be the goal of every Christian to whom the Lord has given authority in the church (Eph. 4:1–16). Thus, while Paul was not afraid to assert his authority over the Corinthian church when it was being questioned by people troubling the congregation, he also makes clear that his aim was always to build, never to destroy (1 Cor. 10:1–8).

In today’s passage, the Apostle builds on this theme in light of accusations from the false apostles that he was two-faced and thus dishonest in his ministry and that his work was ineffective. Second Corinthians 10:10 features a quote from Paul’s opponents wherein they complained that he acted one way in person and another way in his letters (see also v. 1). Apparently, Paul’s critics had alleged that he had been too harsh in his correspondence with the Corinthians, which was probably a reference to his stern words in the epistle that sparked the godly grief of many of the Corinthian believers (7:8–9). Lest the Corinthians be confused about Paul’s intent given this criticism, the Apostle assures them that his goal in his letters was not to frighten his readers (10:9). He does not deny that some of his words were firm, but he points out that this firmness was born from love and not to make his brothers and sisters in Christ fearful.

Here we should observe how Paul’s goal in his letters not to frighten his readers must be the goal of all church leaders. Regrettably, most of us have probably read stories of pastors, teachers, and other church authorities who have ruled by fear. Some of us have even known such leaders personally. Still others of us may be guilty of exercising oversight in such a way that we make those under us afraid of us. Such is not the way of Christ, who rules and reigns in the perfect love that casts out fear (1 John 4:18). Indeed, church leaders must speak hard words of truth sometimes, but no one with authority in Christ’s church should seek to exercise control through fear. That does not build people up in the gospel.

Paul notes again that he exercises his ministry the same way when he is in Corinth as when he is away, and he says that he is not going to compare himself to his critics in terms of ministry effectiveness (2 Cor. 10:12). This is ironic, as he will compare himself to his opponents in the chapters ahead. Really, he means that he will not judge himself by their standards for what makes a ministry successful.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

Christian ministry must seek to motivate people by means of love and truth and not by fear. This is what we see in the ministry of Christ. This does not mean that ministers, elders, and other church leaders will never have to say hard things. Instead, it means that their love for the person to whom such words are said should be evident.


For Further Study
  • Genesis 26:24
  • Proverbs 10:9
  • Matthew 20:25–28
  • Titus 2:7–8

The Nature of Ecclesiastical Authority

Boasting within Limits

Keep Reading The Kingdom of God

From the November 2021 Issue
Nov 2021 Issue