Thursday, 12 November 2015
“For his letters,” they say, “are weighty and powerful, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.” 2 Corinthians 10:10
Paul now notes how both he and his letters are perceived by his audience. “For his letters” is speaking of the letters of instruction that he wrote to the churches, some of which are now the epistles found in the Bible. The words “they say” is speaking of the people who received them. They would read Paul’s words and come to the conclusion which he will next note in this verse about himself.
Before looking at their conclusion though, it should be noted that many manuscripts say, “…he said” rather than “they say.” It is in the singular. It could be then that this is Paul’s way of writing in an impersonal manner, referring to any individual who reads his words. Or it could be that there was actually one person who was the ring leader of the group who opposed Paul. If so, then it is he who made the charge which will be specified as the verse continues. Though it can’t be determined which is correct, both should be considered. Paul was not without enemies, even in the churches he established.
Concerning the letters, they are noted as “weighty and powerful.” This is surely the case. History has borne out that Paul’s letters have the greatest weight and the utmost power. They have been studied for 2000 years and yet they still produce hidden treasures for us to consider. Within them are special words which have been used in unusual and particular ways to bring forth the most precise doctrine. There are numerous patterns which permeate his writings and which show the highest of intelligence and the sure mark of inspiration. They are the greatest of treasures for the hungry human soul who needs to understand the grace of God which is found in Jesus Christ.
But, his detractors looked at his letters as somewhat of a contradiction to him as a man. Despite his letters being so weighty and powerful, they note that “his bodily presence is weak, and his speech is contemptible.” The weak presence of Paul is hinted at throughout the book of Acts as well as in his own writings. He carried afflictions with him and he seemed to need to be accompanied everywhere he went, as if he couldn’t take care of himself as he traveled.
The contemptible speech is literally “speech of no value.” Charles Ellicott thinks this means either a “weak or unmusical voice, or to the absence of the rhetorical artifices, the exordium, divisions, perorations, in which Greek audiences delighted.” With theses infirmities, those who opposed him made the supposition that there was a disconnect between what he wrote and what he could actually carry out.
In essence, they felt assured that his letters were mere braggadocio and that there was no true authority in the man himself to enforce the words he wrote. He will correct them on this. His challengers mistook his humility and physical weakness as weakness of character and as an inability to exercise his apostolic authority. Instead, however, these were actually strengths which they had misunderstood.
Interestingly, this verse shows us an amazing parallel between Moses and Paul. When Moses was given his commission at the burning bush, we read his words of response to the Lord –
“O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither before nor since You have spoken to Your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.”
We see that like Paul, Moses’ speech was “contemptible.” And yet, human history has never seen words more “weighty and powerful” than those of Moses. It is of great interest that the Lord chose these two men, with these similar impediments, to reveal His intentions for the people of the world. Moses revealed the law while Paul explains the grace.
But the parallel between the two doesn’t stop there. In verse 10:1, Paul spoke of the “meekness and gentleness of Christ” which he possessed and how he was lowly among them, meaning humble. Moses likewise was characterized in this way, being called “very humble, more than all men who were on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3).
The Lord appears to have chosen these men for their weaknesses so that His power could be revealed through them. He also chose them for their humility, so that His own compassion would be more fully understood through them as well. Those who challenged both Moses and Paul underestimated the true power that they held and they ultimately strove against the One who commissioned them in the first place.
Life application: Let us never assume that someone of humility is weak and ineffective. Let us also never assume that one who is physically infirm is incapable of accomplishing great feats of strength. Instead, let us look at these aspects of the person and see how the Lord can work through them to reveal His own greatness.
Heavenly Father, how often do we look at people with a physical infirmity and think that they are incapable of doing great things? And yet, quite often the opposite turns out to be true. And how often do we look at someone who exhibits humility and make the assumption that they are of weak character. And yet, Your word shows time and time again that You can and do work through these things to reveal Your own greatness. Help us to look at the inner man and not merely judge by externals. Help us to see You and Your power revealed through what man often perceives as weakness. Open our eyes and hearts to Your great hand in the lives of others. Amen.