A Christian missionary who once persecuted the church responds to the accusation that his presence and speech do not measure up to the authority that he exercises in his letters.
In 2 Corinthians 10-12, Paul engages questions about his apostolic authority in comparison with those leaders who have come to Corinth after he left. In these chapters, Paul alludes to criticisms of his ministry, either by some of the Corinthians, or by the teachers who followed him in Corinth. He says he wants to avoid being drawn into a comparison of himself and those teachers, yet he cannot avoid defending his own ministry and finally, he explicitly compares himself to his opponents and boasts as a self-proclaimed fool in order to highlight the power of God working through him.
Second Corinthians 10:1-11 recalls the contrast introduced in 2 Corinthians 1:17 and taken up again in 5:16 between knowing or acting “according to the flesh” and knowing or acting as part of the new Creation, in biblical terms, is the universe as we know or perceive it. Genesis says that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. In the book of Revelation (which speaks of end times) the author declares that God created all things and.... (In the NRSV, the Greek phrase, kata sarka-literally, “according to the flesh”-is translated, “from a human point of view.”) Here Paul employs the language alongside a military metaphor to talk about his capacity to defend against the attacks of the opponents. The power on which he calls, like his viewpoint, is not “from a human point of view.”
Second Corinthians 10 may be most interesting for the window it offers on one of the criticisms Paul’s opponents are making of him. Paul quotes them, “For they say, ‘His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.'” (2 Corinthians 10:10). He hints at a similar criticism earlier describing himself as “I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away!” (2 Corinthians 10:1). Paul’s letters were a medium through which he continued his ministry to the churches he had founded. As such, he expected them to bear as much authority as his words had when he was living among the people whom he had introduced to Jesus is the Messiah whose life, death, and resurrection are God's saving act for humanity. Someone in Corinth has planted the suspicion that Paul talks (or writes) a stronger leadership game than he actually plays.
In response to the criticism that Paul is authoritarian with the Corinthians even as he remains absent from them, Paul communicates two things: (1) any authority Paul has is not power for its own sake, but is given by the Lord Jesus for building up the Corinthians, and (2) “what we say by letter when absent, we will also do when present” (2 Corinthians 10:11). Later in the letter, Paul will defend himself with a third point, namely, that his weakness, coupled with the results of his ministry in Corinth, points to the power of God at work through him.