9 lest I seem to terrify you by letters. 10 “For his letters,” they say, “are weighty and powerful, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.” 11 Let such a person consider this, that what we are in word by letters when we are absent, such we will also be in deed when we are present.
lest I seem to terrify [frighten] you by letters.
The Corinthian letters from Paul had the possibility of terrifying the church, but they were not empty threats. God’s words through the apostle’s epistles were not for himself but for building the church (Ro 14:19; 15:2; 2 Co 10:8).
“For his letters,” they say [someone says],
“Letters” here mean Paul’s inspired epistles, 1 and 2 Corinthians. The singular “someone” may refer to the ringleader opposed to Paul.
“are weighty [impressive] and powerful [forceful],
The ringleader’s charge against Paul was that he courageously wrote against the church in his epistles when he was away but was afraid to speak bravely while in their presence.
but his bodily presence is weak [unimpressive],
The presence of Paul was unimpressive. His rhetoric was not great, either (2 Co 11:6). That, however, is true only if people looked at him in a surface manner. He determined not to use superficial approaches in ministry (1 Co 2:1-5).
and his speech contemptible [of no account].”
The Corinthians charged Paul with being a poor speaker and an orator of no account. Yet, the apostle did not depend on human technique but the power of God.
Let such a person consider this,
Paul cautioned the Corinthians about the charge of inconsistency against him by what he would do when he arrived in Corinth.
that what we are in word by letters when we are absent,
Paul acknowledged that his enemies recognized the power of his person and epistles when he was not present in Corinth.
such we will also be in deed when we are present.
What Paul wrote would match what he would say when he arrived in Corinth. His deeds would correspond to his words. The apostle should have been evaluated on the facts, not subjective opinions.
Christian leaders will always be the subject of criticism by their detractors.
Some will always charge Christian leaders with any issue they can conjure up. For the most part, their real problem is hatred for who and what these men represent. In Paul’s case, they charged him with inconsistency. They said, “He puts on a brave front when he is away, but when present, he is weak as a mouse.” It is very easy to make a superficial judgment when one does not have the facts. This is a particular vulnerability leaders face.
The previous paragraph does not assume that Christian leaders are always unimpeachable. They make many mistakes. No Christian leader is beyond improvement. Destructive criticism and constructive criticism are different things.
Leaders need to learn from objective criticism. Subjective criticism mostly comes from assuming motives. If criticism comes from whose we are rather than who we are, then the leader must consider the source.
However, that does not diminish the fact that leaders are under tremendous criticism from many angles. No man of God should give up because of his detractors.