Paul Changes Tacks, 2 Corinthians 10

Jeff Garrison
Mayberry and Bluemont Churches
October 8, 2023
2 Corinthians 10

Sermon recorded at Mayberry on Friday, October 13, 2023

At the beginning of worship:

When you’re sailing upwind, on a beat, the goal is to make smooth tacks. You can’t sail directly into the wind, that’s the “no go” zone. You must come at the wind at an angle and make upwind progress by zigzagging, or tacking, back in forth. 

The one at the helm starts the process by alerting the crew of a change in direction. Then, on signal, he or she slowly but steadily moves the tiller from one direction to the other. As you do this, the crew releases the sheets (or ropes) holding the bottom of the sails to one side of the boat and reattaches them on the opposite side. If done correctly, you won’t spill any of the drink you’re enjoying. 

But there are times when things happen, and a quick tack is in order. Perhaps you didn’t see a boat and you don’t have the right-of-way. Or maybe you have the right-of-way, but the other boat doesn’t see you. Or, maybe, you’re approaching a shoal. Whatever the reason, the one at the helm must act quickly. The tiller is pushed hard in the opposite direction as you yell for everyone to watch out. Soon, the boom flies across the deck. If everyone isn’t careful, someone could be hurt or knocked out of the boat. It’s also not good on the equipment, which takes a beating. Things can break. But in an emergency, sometimes it’s necessary. 

Today, as we move into the last four chapters of 2nd Corinthians, we witness Paul making an abrupt tack. We have seen Paul tack back and forth between various topics throughout this letter. In the previous chapter, as we saw two weeks ago, he discussed the offering for the saints in Jerusalem. He ended that section of the epistle with a beautiful passage, thanking God for his indiscernible gift. 

Before the reading of the passage:

In the 10th chapter, Paul takes a different direction. Much of the first seven chapters of the epistle focused on Paul defending his ministry. Then comes the appeal to help those in Jerusalem.  In the 10th chapter, Paul goes on offense. 

Read 2 Corinthians 10

As I have said repeatedly as we work through 2nd Corinthians, we only hear one side of the conversation. This forces us to make conjectures as to what Paul addresses, as I’ll have to do this morning. While this is a handicap for modern readers, this letter, as I have also repeatedly said, gives us a personal look into Paul. 

So, what do we learn about Paul in this chapter? Verse 10 summarizes a lot. Paul writes eloquent and bold letters, but in person, he was meek and not much to look at. Some thought him weak. We don’t know if Paul had always been this way, but certainly after his beatings, we can assume that physically, he wasn’t in the best of shape.[1] They also complain of Paul contemptible speech. Did Paul stutter? Did he have an accent that made him hard to understand? 

Many of you can probably recall Paul’s complaint of the “thorn in his side,” which comes later in this letter.[2] If we take references in the letters and in Acts together, we can assume that Paul wasn’t an example of strength and health. But he is an example, as he wrote in his first epistle to the Corinthians, of God choosing the weak to shame the strong.[3]

While we strive to follow Christ, we should also see Paul as an example. The greatest missionary in the history of the Church faced multiple obstacles. Paul’s struggles should inspire us to remain faithful and to continue doing the Lord’s work, even when we are overwhelmed. Interestingly, Paul who was physically weak, challenges us to run our race with our eyes on the goal.[4]Often, those who struggle most in life, become cheerleaders for everyone else. Paul cheers on those following Christ. We need to cheer on one another. Even if you can’t do anything else, think about what you can do. Perhaps dropping a note to someone hurting? Or picking up the phone and make a call of encouragement?

But there is more to this passage than our insight into Paul. As I have mentioned earlier, Paul makes a drastic shift between the 9th and 10th chapters. Last week, we saw him being positive as he encourages the Corinthians to participate in the larger church. His tone changes as he begins the 10th chapter. Some scholars think this part of the letter belonged to another letter Paul wrote.[5] While we will never know for sure, it appears Paul laid down his pen after writing the last chapter. When he picks the pen back up, something had changed. Perhaps he received additional news from Corinth. 

As we’ve seen, Paul had been so excited to receive news from Titus, in which he heard things were going well in Corinth and that people loved Paul.[6] Did someone else show up and give a contradictory report? Was Paul informed that folks laughed at his speech and personal appearance, while wondering how such a person could write so eloquently? We are not sure exactly what happened, but Paul has changed tacks. 

Paul goes on the offense in a strange way. He lifts the meekness and gentleness of Christ. But that doesn’t sound like an offense, does it? 

These days, there are many people who push for a more masculine Jesus. You may have heard of book that came out a few years ago titled Jesus and John Wayne. It’s by Kristin Du Mez, a professor at Calvin University. The author explores how many Christians have tried to make Jesus into a tough, no-nonsense type of man.[7] Think of a Rambo Jesus. 

Those seeking a macho-Jesus generally refer to his overturning the tables of the money changers.[8] There, we see Jesus’ anger, but it’s anger at making a mockery of God’s house. Elsewhere, Jesus is meek. He tells Peter to put away his sword.[9] He teaches things like “turn the other cheek,”[10] which I admit to having a hard time obeying. I thank God daily for grace. 

While we live as mortal humans, Paul says Christ-followers are not to wage war according to human standards. Instead of brute strength, we depend on divine power. Paul isn’t making a case for being a tough fighter. Instead, he shows his strength doesn’t come from having a bulky body, persuasive speech, or swords. Instead, he depends on God. Again, I find I’m quick to counterattack when I am wronged, but it’s not something of which I’m proud. The problem with such actions is that we’re living by the world’s standards and not by God’s standard. 

Sebastian Junger, a journalist, was embedded with the 173rdAirborne Brigade in the Kooringal Valley of Afghanistan in 2007-2008. He wrote about his experiences in a book titled War. In that book, Junger writes about a conversation he had about God with these soldiers who endured daily firefights. Some of them spoke about their prayers, but one of the soldiers proclaimed: “We don’t need God when we can call in the Apaches.”[11] He referred to the helicopter gunship that could bring murderous fire on enemy positions. Again, that’s the macho view of life, not the meekness called for by Paul and Jesus. 

Even though he is meek and not a very good talker, Paul proposes that by relying on divine powers, he can destroy strongholds. But such power is often hidden. It’s like when Jesus spoke of destroying the temple and rebuilding it in 3 days. Everyone thought he was nuts, as Herod’s temple had been under construction for decades. Of course, Jesus referred to his body as the temple, a body resurrected on the third day.[12]

Paul continues, reminding them they all belong to Christ. Everyone should be on the same team. He addresses boasting, wanting to use it only for building up others. When we boast, is that what we do? Or do we boast to one-up someone else. Sadly, I confess to often doing the latter, which is something I struggle with and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. Again, thank God for grace!

It then appears Paul addresses other evangelists who have come to Corinth. Did some of them think Paul was “overstepping his limits” by continuing to engage with the Corinthians? We get a hint of this battle within Corinth in 1st Corinthians, where Paul speaks of others who have come to Corinth preaching. Paul insists they’re on the same team. “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.”[13] Paul wants to ensure the Corinthians that if other preachers are following the Lord Jesus, they’re not in competition. However, if they are spreading a false gospel, Paul will challenge them. 

But Paul, who has boasted about the church in Corinth, will continue to do so for his goal is to spread the gospel all around. And then, it’s almost as if he rethinks what he has written, when he suggests that if those who boast should only boast in the Lord. After all, everyone involved is working for God, not for themselves. 

What do we learn from this passage? We don’t have to be pretty, handsome, or speak eloquently to be an effective disciple for Jesus. God can use us as we are. Second, our strength comes from God, not from human standards. Trust God, whose power is revealed in our weakness. 

May we always give God glory. Amen. 

[1] On Paul’s beatings see Acts 16:21-23, 21:31-32; 1 Corinthians 4:11-12; and 2 Corinthians 6:4-5 and 11:24-26. 

[2] 2 Corinthians 12:7.

[3] 1 Corinthians 1:27. See also 2:3 and 4:10. 

[4] 1 Corinthians 9:24; 2 Timothy 4:7. 

[5] See Paul Barnett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Eerdmans, ), 450-453. Barnett gives five reasons that scholars believe this section is from another letter, while he maintains the letter was a unity before it was adopted into the canon of Scriptures. 

[6] 2 Corinthians 7:5-7.  Or see my sermon on this text:

[7] Kristin Kobes Du Mez, Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation ( Liveright: 2020). 

[8] Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 16:15, John 2. In the John passage, we get the clearest view of Jesus’ anger.

[9] John 18:10-11. The other gospels mention the disciples having swords when Jesus was arrested, but only John identifies Peter. See Matthew 26:51-52, Mark 14:47, Luke 22:38, and John 18:10-11. 

[10] Matthew 5:39 and Luke 6:29.

[11] Sebastian Junger, War (Norton, 2010). I no longer have the book and this quote is from memory. 

[12] See Matthew 26:61 and 27:4; Mark 14:58 and 15:29, and John 2:19. 

[13] 1 Corinthians 3:6. 

Sailing on a windy day
A windy sail

7 Replies to “Paul Changes Tacks, 2 Corinthians 10”

  1. This post makes me want to dig deeper into my studies of Paul. I still want to read N.T. Wright’s book. Maybe I can slowly, but surely make my way through it next year (as a goal for myself).

    1. N. T. Wright book does have a lot of good insights into the life of Paul. For years, my go-to book on Paul was F.F. Bruce’s “Paul: The Heart of an Apostle Set Free.” But now, Wright has become my go-to book.

  2. A nun at school told us years ago that the only sin Jesus may have committed was His anger when He turned over the moneychanger’s table. I believed her at the time but no longer do think that that was a sin on His part.

    1. If you compare the overturning of tables to Jesus’ other teaching (Turn the other cheek, those who live by the sword die by the sword, etc), I think we see a picture of Jesus whose anger was not at how he was treated as a man, but disrespect for God. The macho image is one who seeks revenge, something Jesus never did. He even modeled forgiveness and praying for his enemies at his most difficult hour.

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