2Co 10:7-10 “Do ye look on things after the outward appearance? If any man trust to himself that he is Christ’s, let him of himself think this again, that, as he is Christ’s, even so are we Christ’s. For though I should boast somewhat more of our authority, which the Lord hath given us for edification, and not for your destruction, I should not be ashamed: That I may not seem as if I would terrify you by letters. For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.”
Paul often speaks of himself as being weak and afflicted. We often tend to consider this in a spiritual light. Certainly, we can understand that feeling in ourselves. However, there are hints throughout The Acts of the Apostles and Paul’s letters to indicate that he may well have been physically infirm.
In addition to the hints in scripture, there are some early writings (other than the scripture) that describe Paul’s physical appearance in very unflattering terms. He is described as short, bow-legged, and balding with a large hooked nose. Early depictions of Paul lend themselves to this description. His physical appearance was very much at odds with his stature as an apostle and minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
His physical maladies may have been one of the things that caused him to caution the churches time and again concerning judging by the outward appearance. He confirmed on at least three separate occasions that God is no respecter of persons (as of appearance, social status, etc.). It is not wise of us to judge whether others belong to Christ based on our perception of their outward appearance or in comparison with how we see ourselves.
This is the attitude that Paul is addressing here. Paul’s caution is not against us harboring in our hearts the confident hope that we belong to Christ. However, we are being cautioned to remember what manner of creature we ourselves are. The simple truth is that if I belong to Christ, it is only by His grace. I am not more deserving of that grace than others. If I can believe that Christ loves me in spite of all my sinful ways, then I should not be quick to determine that he does not love others.
Paul admits to boasting in the Lord concerning the authority he has been given to minister to the saints of God. Further, he expresses no shame in this boasting. We should never be afraid to speak of the greatness of our God or of His ability to call vessels of clay to speak His glorious truth. We can be excused of our boasting in Him as long as we understand that the ministerial authority has been given us for the uplifting of His people: we are not called to tear down except for the strong holds of carnality (see verse 4).
Paul assures us that his letters were not meant to frighten us. They are not a threat, but rather edification and exhortation concerning the things of God. Paul had a powerful ministry and a great understanding of the things of God, but he may not have been a great speaker.
In First Corinthians 1:17, he told the church at Corinth that he did not come with “wisdom of words.” In Second Corinthians 2:1 he says he did not come with “excellency of speech.” Here in verse 10 he acknowledges that men find his speech contemptible and in chapter 11, verse 6 he says his speech is rude. However, the power and wisdom of his letters was undeniable. Any lack that men judged in his outward appearance could not erase the might power of God in him.
There is an important lesson here to all of us. We should never make judgements about anyone’s ministry based on outward appearance. We should never conclude that another’s ministry is not effective because it does not parallel our own.
May we always look for the evidence of Christ in those who serve and not fall prey to our carnal tendency to make decision based on the outward appearance!