Paul was in a battle. Not so much a battle for himself, but a battle for the hearts of those who were being drawn away from the things of Christ. The enemy forces were a group of fake apostles, those who came claiming to be messengers of God, but who corrupted the message as they preached “another Jesus” (2Cor. 11:4). The enemy’s battlefield? The minds of the Corinthian believers. The enemy’s goal? Secure these believers’ hearts and their following. The enemy’s tactic? Discredit Paul by exposing his weakness.
All this sets up 2Corinthians to be less theological and more emotional. Less about teaching the word and more about opening up his heart. As Paul contends for their faithfulness to Christ, he is forced to talk about himself, laying open his heart, his motivations, and his compassion for these precious believers as he pleads for faithfulness to the gospel.
And so, his enemies identify some of Paul’s apparent weaknesses. And vulnerability number one was the fact that, while Paul could put on a pretty tough front in the letters he wrote to the church when he was absent, he seemed kind of wimpy when he was in their midst. The ESV says they accused him of being “humble when face to face”, the NKJV renders it “lowly among you.” Literally, the original word could be rendered “cast down” or “not rising far from the ground.”
The fake apostles on the other hand, were bold and confident and boastful. They were charismatic, their very presence commanded a respect, their arrogant speech demanded others follow them. In some ways, they were the Goliaths stomping around Corinth and Paul was David. In fact, Paul sounds somewhat like David when he declares, “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (10:4).
But what grabs me is the fact that Paul’s lowliness wasn’t some character fault. It wasn’t some natural trait that he had to combat to overcome. Not some genetic thing that he needed to compensate for by attending assertiveness training.
In fact, if you think about it, Paul was naturally wired to “dust it up” and kick some keester. In his previous life he was Saul, the Pharisee of the Pharisees. The one who aggressively defended Judaism and it’s religious tenets and practices to the point of hunting down those of “the Way” and throwing them in prison and consenting to their execution.
No, I think Paul’s lowliness was less about his natural disposition and more a result of his divine sanctification. His humble and timid presence wasn’t some weakness to be overcome, instead it was the fruit of being conformed to the image of Christ. It was the servant reflecting the Master, the disciple taking on the character of the Teacher.
Paul makes the connection himself . . .
I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ . . .
(2Corinthians 10:1 ESV)
That was Paul “weakness”, the meekness and gentleness of Christ. Isaiah describes it this way:
Behold My Servant, whom I uphold, My Chosen, in whom My soul delights; I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry aloud or lift up His voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed He will not break, and a faintly burning wick He will not quench; He will faithfully bring forth justice.”
(Isaiah 42:1-3 ESV).
Behold our Savior! Meek and gentle. Tearing down strongholds, not with legions of angels, but through His death on the cross. Proclaiming victory, not with a thundering voice from heaven, but with a last breath cry upon a tree, “It is finished!” Knees bowing to Him in worship and service, not because He commands it by force, but because He has gently wooed souls to Himself, and in His great love has “raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places” with Him (Eph. 2:6), and thus, it is the only response befitting a sinner saved by grace.
And all this He accomplished as the lowly King (Matt. 21:5).
Oh, that we might be “weak” like Paul. Characterized by divine meekness and gentleness. Not rising far from the ground. Patient and soft-spoken with God’s word. Careful when handling a bruised reed or in the presence of a faintly burning wick. Portraying the heart of Christ as we have the mind of Christ who “made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant” (Php. 2:7).
To be weak like Paul, that the power of God might be known.
By His grace. For His glory.