2Cor 10:3, “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh.”
This verse is (rightly) used to explain how spiritual warfare works. As Paul says elsewhere, “…we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age…” (Eph 6:12). The enemy is not the person who doesn’t like us. The enemy is the spiritual force of darkness at work in a given situation. These are familiar concepts for most of us.
However, continuing in my study of 2 Corinthians, I actually read the context of this verse, and now I see it from a new perspective. Beyond just giving instruction in spiritual warfare, Paul is making an apologetic for his meekness while ministering in Corinth.
Starting in 10:1, we find out where Paul is coming from. “Now I, Paul, myself am pleading with you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ – who in presence am lowly among you, but being absent am bold towards you.”
One of the problems Paul was resolving in 2 Corinthians was that false apostles had infiltrated the Corinthian church and were trying to turn the people against Paul. One of their accusations was that sure, Paul talked big in his letters – he gave some stern commands and warnings – but when he was there in person, did he actually have the gumption to carry any of it through? According to his critics, Paul spoke like a big shot, but showed up as a weak, ordinary guy. This is the accusation Paul is answering in the next few verses.
First, he takes a moment to appeal to the Corinthians to be responsive to his letter. He didn’t want to have to be forceful and stern among them… although one or two people were already lined up for a good talking-to. If the church took his bold letters to heart, he would not have to be as blunt and confrontational in person.
Then Paul gives the explanation in verse 3 as to his gentle appearance among them. “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh.”
The false apostles thrived on tooting their own horn and slinging mud at their competitors. They took great pains to assert their “authority” over the people they led astray. It was all a matter of politics and strategy to them, impressing as many people as possible and maneuvering into positions of greater power and influence. Paul was a stark opposite to their tactics. He came in gentleness and humility, a bondservant to the people he led (see yesterday’s post). The over-inflated “super apostles” interpreted such action as weakness.
Paul makes it very clear here, however, that his meekness had nothing to do with being weak. He was simply fighting a different battle. The false apostles were striving after power and clamoring at one another to do so. Paul refused to fight their war by their rules. He fought on a much higher plane – one that was actually effective in accomplishing the task at hand. Rather than resorting to carnal weapons like his critics used, he engaged in spiritual warfare to tear down the false ideas they were propagating and set the church of God back on the straight and narrow.
Warring “not according to the flesh” means warring with meekness. The meek and gentle ones are the ones who are the greatest warriors. You gotta love the way God set up His kingdom!