1 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 toward you.
2 But I beg you that when I am present I may not be bold with that confidence by which I intend to be bold against some, who think of us as if we walked according to the flesh.
3 For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh.
4 For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds,
5 casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,
6 and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled.
The Epistle proper closes at the last verse of the previous chapter, but the Apostle in his anxious love for his converts at Corinth adds a personal postscript (chapters 10-13)—marked by the words “I,” “Me,” and “My”— to enforce his Apostleship, to expose the self-made and false apostles who were corrupting the faith of the converts, and to save them from the destructive teaching of these ministers of Satan (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).
The postscript throbs with entreaty and severity—both vehemently expressed because of the vehemence of Paul’s love for his children in the Gospel. — Williams, page 905
lowly (v.1) = humble — inner lowliness describing the person who depends on the Lord rather than self
confidence (v.2) — with the punitive authority that was Paul’s due to his apostleship.
walk in the flesh (v.3) — are men physically
strongholds (v.4) — philosophic strongholds (v.5)
In Chapter 10 the apostle appears to turn from dealing with the backslidden Corinthians as a whole, to answer the legalizers and Judaizers among them who were belittling his apostleship and ministry, for these were exerting a profound influence on the Corinthian congregation. But how humbly and lovingly he protests! …
Recall the touching story recorded for us in John 13. Imagine the Creator of the universe washing His disciples’ feet! Paul partook of this divine humility. He did not come with self-importance or pomp, but in love he sought to show them the truth. He even got a job making tents to support himself and his co-workers while establishing the vast assembly at Corinth. — Stam, page 191.
The apostle had come to the Corinthians in humble simplicity (2 Corinthians 1:12). He readily acknowledges that as as to his appearance, when among them, it was “base,” (lit., lowly). Indeed, the Corinthian critics voiced this as one of their objections: “For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible” [lit., unimpressive].”
They did not realize that it was what he said that was so effective. Corinth was a great seat of learning, and the Greek philosophers who held forth there were masters of oratory, yes, and sophistry. But Paul, though their peer intellectually, had renounced all this display of wisdom and had come to Corinth in the power of truth.
Thus he beseeches them that he may not need to be bold when he appears among them, certainly not with that “confidence” with which he had contemplated being bold against those who considered him as “walking according to the flesh,” i.e. not being led by the Spirit. Some of these had in fact understood all the apostle’s talk about coming to Corinth, as mere bluff, as though he wouldn’t dare to appear among them.
Paul readily agreed that he was still “in the flesh,” but denied that his spiritual warfare was waged “after the flesh.” “For the weapons of our warfare,” he says, “are not carnal [lit., physical], but [they are] mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds.”
Strong language this, and followed by a statement as to how, specifically, God used these “mighty weapons” to “pull down strongholds”: “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.”
On several occasions Paul says, as it were, that it would be up to them whether he came to them “with a rod” or “in love and in the spirit of meekness.” [For example]: “What will ye, shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love and in the spirit of meekness?” (1 Corinthians 4:21). And, “If I come again I will not spare, since ye seek a proof of Christ speaking in me” (2 Corinthians 13:2-3). — Stam, pages 192-193
the obedience of Christ (v.5) — obedience to Christ. Paul was using an analogy of warfare. The strongholds of false doctrine, pride, and sin would be torn down, and all the reason, philosophy, imagination and sin of the false teachers would be led in triumph like the inhabitants of a captured city to the will of Christ.
Note it was when their obedience had been fulfilled and their gift had gone to Judaea (v.6), that there would be time enough to punish all the “disobedience” of those who were causing such distress at the Corinthian church. — Stam, page 194.
Paul was exerting and defending his apostolic authority—he didn’t look or sound like an apostle in person, but his words were bold. He intended to use that authority to punish disobedience if it was needed, but he begged the Corinthian believers to behave in such a way that they wouldn’t need it. He would punish those who mocked him for his physical appearance and used that to discredit his authority. By the power given to him by God, he would destroy the arguments of his opponents who thought they could stand against the truth of God.