Summary: The final section of 2 Corinthians begins here. Paul’s toughest words in scripture are in this section as he goes to war for the souls of the saints in this church.
7 Do you look at things according to the outward appearance? If anyone is convinced in himself that he is Christ’s, let him again consider this in himself, that just as he is Christ’s, even so we are Christ’s. 8For even if I should boast somewhat more about our authority, which the Lord gave us for edification and not for your destruction, I shall not be ashamed— 9 lest I seem to terrify you by letters. 10 “For his letters,” they say, “are weighty and powerful, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.” 11 Let such a person consider this, that what we are in word by letters when we are absent, such we will also be in deed when we are present.
12 For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise. 13 We, however, will not boast beyond measure, but within the limits of the sphere which God appointed us—a sphere which especially includes you. 14 For we are not overextending ourselves (as though our authority did not extend to you), for it was to you that we came with the gospel of Christ; 15 not boasting of things beyond measure, that is, in other men’s labors, but having hope, that as your faith is increased, we shall be greatly enlarged by you in our sphere, 16 to preach the gospel in the regions beyond you, and not to boast in another man’s sphere of accomplishment. 17 But “he who glories, let him glory in the LORD.” 18 For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends.
This letter of 2 Corinthians has three major sections. The first is chapters 1-7 which are a mild defense of Paul’s apostleship, and it basically defines his ministry and stresses his relationship with them. The second section is chapters 8-9 which we just finished last week and the entire theme of this section is on giving. Now we enter the grand finale of 2 Corinthians and there is smoke rising from the pages of chapters 10-13! Here we see a different side of Paul. He pulls out the stops and hits his opponents with one volley after another reducing them to pulp. Sarcasm drips from his pen. Flaming one liners flash here and there such as this one in 11: 13For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. 14And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. 15Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works.
I have a hypothesis about this letter. It can’t be proven right, but neither can it be proven wrong. It appears that Paul intended this letter to have these three sections and I propose that he intended for them to be read for different audiences as one open letter. The first section, chapters 1-7 to the majority of the church who remain faithful, but struggling. The second section to the whole congregation about the promised offering they have not completed. Then, this final section, I believe is to his opponents and those who are under their influence. This section is so unlike the rest that some have suggested that it doesn’t belong to this letter. They see it as a fragment of another letter of Paul that was lost. Others see it as an adjustment after Paul receives some new information from Titus or someone about the severity of the opponents impact on the church. It looks very different and sounds very passionate and even forceful. A few key matters make me believe that it is an intentionally separate section aimed at his opponents and those under their influence. It has a personal nature to it. This is not about Paul, Silas and Timothy. This is about Paul. It’s like they were having a group phone conversation with Paul, Silas and Timothy and the Corinthian church up to this point, but now Paul gets on the phone alone, calling attention to some specific problems they are having with him and lays it all out. This is Paul verses his opponents and he is giving it his best. He will state what he is accused of and then answer it. I believe this section of the letter is not intended for the entire church, but for those few who are listening to the opposition and being influenced the most by them. Paul may not have hope for the opponents, but he fights for those who they have impacted. Like a shepherd going after a Lion who has taken a sheep, Paul grits his teeth and throws himself into the task of defending his ministry so that he can deliver the Christians who have been captivated by liars. Desperate times call for desperate measures. The Sword of the Spirit is drawn and Paul wields it masterfully in the next four chapters. We get an unusual view of Paul and learn very personal things about him shown only here in this letter.