Summary: It is human nature to compare ourselves to one another. We do it all of the time very naturally and almost without noticing it. That's what was happening in Corinth and it was giving the Corinthians a false impression about who to trust.
There is an old saying “appearances can be deceiving.” Or: “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” In the case of the Corinthians, those sayings apply very well. They fell into a trap that many of us fall prey to, using human senses to judge spiritual realities. In this case we are once again dealing with what Paul will call “super apostles” who infiltrated Corinth, spread lies about the Apostle Paul, and injected their own poisonous doctrine into the fellowship. This was not only unwise, but lethal, and Paul cannot let it continue. There are some warnings in the next four chapters that should be a major wake-up call to this church. Paul is no longer being super gentle. Now he’s being straight and uses stinging sarcasm to make his point.
The word “personal appeal” is the same language a ruler who had the authority to command would use when he asked nicely. He appeals by the gentleness and graciousness of Jesus. Though Jesus had all authority and could simply say the word and it would happen, he came to serve (Phil 2:5-11 ). In Matthew 11:29 Jesus said “I am gentle and humble at heart.” It’s with this kind of gentle spirit that Paul appeals to them. Paul has determined not to be harsh and overbearing (though he had the authority to do so).
This is good advice to us as well. Though you may have authority or maturity over someone else, you can choose to be gentle and kind—to use humor, diplomacy, gentle correction, persuasion, and love to set things straight. Using authority or harshness should always be a last resort.
This idea of acting one way in person and another via letters was a sore spot that Paul addresses as we move through the chapter. I think Paul is wise in taking this approach. He needs to address some serious issues but perhaps realizes that the letters provide a much more clear communication on the topic, not cluttered by non-verbal communication of an in person visit.
This is the last chance for the Corinthians to get their act together before Paul arrives in person. Some in the church had accused Paul of acting in a way that modeled this age. The opposite was actually true—the “super apostles” were the ones using this age’s tactics. Back in chapter 1 Paul already defended himself against these accusations: that he was duplicitous in his travel plans, saying he was coming then changing his mind. Not coming actually spared them just such a difficult in person visit!
3 – 5
This is a well-known verse and as we walk through it I want to set a context that you may not have thought of. Verse 5 holds the key. What are the two things described here: knowing God and obeying Christ. All of these verses should be taken in the context of the gospel. We like the idea of the power we have as Christians, and some like to wield this power against the enemy as if we are going to kill demons or something. But remember, the strongholds are that the enemy has taken people captive in their minds, to darken them against the gospel message. We see this back in chapter 4:3-4.
So essentially, Paul is saying that the Corinthians had grown used to people utilizing the tactics of this age to do God’s work of sharing the gospel and rescuing people from domination by Satan. Those “weapons” might include physical appearance, rhetorical prowess, political influence—basically a strong person by human standards.
In Ephesians Paul also used the warfare analogy to speak of our battle. There he identified our weapons as faith, truth, righteousness, the gospel message, and God’s Word—all made possible through the agency of the Holy Spirit through prayer. It is with these weapons that anything raised up against the gospel is torn down.
There is something else here as well. While you have authority over thoughts in other’s minds using the weapons of the Holy Spirit—you can use those weapons against fleshly thoughts in your own mind as well! When the enemy, the world around you, or your old-person tries to pull your mind away from obeying Christ—take out the artillery of the gospel and pummel those thoughts into submission!
Though many of the Corinthians had repented of their disobedience (Chapter 7) some remained in rebellion. These Paul would confront when he came.
The false teachers who had come to Corinth claimed to belong to Christ and perhaps even had some knowledge of Jesus when He walked the earth (11:21-22). Another translation says: “Do you look at things according to the outward appearance?” NKJV. Just because they say they belong to Christ doesn’t mean they have been commissioned for the ministry Paul was given. They might claim to be apostles but that doesn’t make it so.