True Christian Ministry: The Life of Christ Displayed
2 Corinthians 1 – 7
2 Corinthians 1 – 7
O U T L I N E
Introduction: an Account of Paul’s Missions & Motives – Part 1
2 Corinthians 1 – 2
2 Corinthians 1 – 2
- Salutation (1:1-2)
- Suffering and Encouragement in Service (1:3-14)
- Consistency in Service (1:12-22)
- Consideration for Others in Service (1:23 – 2:11)
- The Lord’s Leading in Service (2:12-17)
¶ Paul, apostle of Jesus Christ by God’s will, and the brother Timotheus, to the assembly of God which is in Corinth, with all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia. v.1 Paul was now writing from Macedonia, where Timothy had apparently rejoined him. Paul writes this epistle as an “apostle of Jesus Christ by God’s will”, a fact that was doubted by some in Corinth, including a divisive faction led by “false apostles, deceitful workers” (2 Cor. 11:13). Paul associates “the brother Timotheus” with him in this epistle, which gives us an important assembly principle: when Paul wrote to an assembly he always associated one or two other brothers with him in writing (1 Cor. 1:1; Gal. 1:2; 1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1). This is because “in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established” (Deut. 19:15; Matt. 18:16; 2 Cor. 13:1; 1 Tim. 5:19). Even today, when one assembly communicates with another assembly it ought to be signed by two or three. He included the surrounding assemblies in addition to those in Corinth, “all the saints (sanctified ones) who are in the whole of Achaia”, which is the southern region of Greece. This would indicate that perhaps the issues that had come up in Corinth were not contained in the city, but had spread to the whole region. Still, the second epistle was directed to a narrower sphere than the first; i.e. “the whole of Achaia”, compared to “all that in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”. It was very important that the saints all through that region be aware of the restoration that had taken place in Corinth.
2 Grace to you, and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. v.2 Paul desired two things for them: “grace and peace” from God as our Father, and from Jesus Christ as our Lord. First, grace or ‘favor’ which characterizes our standing before God, and peace which characterizes our condition. Paul desired that their enjoyment of neither grace nor peace would be disturbed. Mercy is only added when an epistle is addressed to an individual, because the saints collectively are never looked at as an object of mercy, but of grace. There are two aspects of grace: (1) grace to us and for us, and (2) grace in us and with us. The first is that disposition of favor on God’s part which He shows toward us, the second is an attitude on our part of favor which we should show towards others. Most epistles begin with the grace of God for us, and end with the grace of God in us. First and Second Corinthians are not exceptions. How wonderful, at the very beginning for Paul to remind the assembly of the grace of God toward them, and the peace of our condition in Christ! In 2 Corinthians the title “Our Lord” or “The Lord” is found twenty-eight times! In six of those occurrences His full title is given; our “Lord Jesus Christ”. The Lordship of Christ is heavily emphasized in this epistle, particularly because authority is in question.
Suffering and Encouragement in Service (1:3-14)
Suffering and Encouragement (vv.3-7)
¶ 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassions, and God of all encouragement; 4 who encourages us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to encourage those who are in any tribulation whatever, through the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged of God. vv.3-4 The epistle begins with the subject of comfort. The Apostle Paul had suffered much (“all our tribulation”) in the previous year, as a result of both the sorrowful condition in Corinth, and the persecution he had endured in Ephesus. The coming of Titus had comforted Paul on both accounts, but he took the comfort as directly from “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassions, and God of all encouragement”. What a way to refer to God the Father! It takes in the relationship we have with God, not only as our Father, but as seen by Him in the very way He sees His own Son. Compassion is what the Father feels for us, and encouragement is what God gives to us. The encouragement of God is not intended only to comfort one suffering servant, but also to equip that servant with means to comfort others! Here is a great principle of Christian ministry: God will often pass His servants through deep trials that they may be better equipped to help others. How true that is. Rather than crippling our ministry, trials often expand our capacity for service, howbeit in ways we never could have foreseen.
5 Because, even as the sufferings of the Christ abound towards us, so through the Christ does our encouragement also abound. 6 But whether we are in tribulation, it is for your encouragement and salvation, wrought in the endurance of the same sufferings which “we” also suffer, 7 (and our hope for you is sure;) or whether we are encouraged, it is for your encouragement and salvation: knowing that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so also of the encouragement. vv.5-7 Paul further expands the previous thought, and explains exactly how his own sufferings had led to the blessing of the saints. In v.5 the sufferings and encouragement of Christ are linked with Paul, and in vv.6-7 the sufferings and encouragement of Paul are linked with the Corinthians. Paul had found Christ in both the sufferings and the consolation that he experienced. He felt the reproaches of Christ falling on him in the persecution of Ephesus. He felt the sorrow of Christ’s own heart at the dishonor in Corinth. His sufferings were an extension, in a sense, of the sufferings of Christ (yet not atoning, of course); see Col. 1:24. But likewise, he felt the corresponding encouragement of Christ through it all. Paul could see that God was working “all things together for good” (Rom. 8:28), by weaving the lives and hearts of the saints together with his own. Now, Paul was very gracious to include the Corinthians in this. The magnitude of their sufferings did not measure up to what he had endured, but as another has said, “grace delights in sharing all it can; and faith gives the highest character to whatever it can discern to be of God”.1 They knew something of Paul’s circumstances, and as one member was suffering, they also – as member of the same body – suffered sympathetically with him. How wonderful that Paul could say, “our hope for you [restoration] is sure”. His sufferings were in part for the Corinthians, and he was comforted that it was not in vain.
The Severity of Paul’s Suffering in Asia (v.8)
8 For we do not wish you to be ignorant, brethren, as to our tribulation which happened to us in Asia, that we were excessively pressed beyond our power, so as to despair even of living. v.8 Paul gives them an example of his suffering in the path of service. Specifically, he refers to what he had suffered in Asia, Ephesus being the capital. In Acts 19 we find that Paul reached Ephesus and stayed for two years, disputing daily in the school of Tyrannus; a great and effectual “open door”. There were many adversaries opposing him, both from the Jews and Gentiles, but Paul remained because the “door” was still open. He speaks of these adversaries in the first epistle as “beasts” with whom he fought (1 Cor. 15:32). Shortly after sending the first letter, a riot broke out in Ephesus over the effect Paul’s preaching had on idol-makers. The persecution grew even greater, and here Paul reveals the severity of it; “we were excessively pressed beyond our power, so as to despair even of living”. They thought they were going to die. Note: Asia was the greatest sphere of Paul’s labors and sufferings. Yet at the end of Paul’s course, all of Asia had turned away from Him. He had no greater joy than to see these ones go on in the truth he had suffered for, but he had no greater sorrow than to see them turn away from him.
How to Endure Severe Trials (vv.9-11)
9 But we ourselves had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not have our trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; v.9 Realize Our Death with Christ, and the Truth of Resurrection. It is beautiful to see that while the apostle and his companions were in danger of death, and at the same time the fact they recognized the truth of our death with Christ. If we count ourselves as already dead, we are free from the fear that would paralyze natural men. There are a number of things that men fear about death: (1) for those who believe in an afterlife, the judgment that is coming, and (2) for those who believe in annihilation, their ceasing to exist as a person. But for the believer who is dead with Christ, the judgment is already past, and we see ourselves as dead already, with our true identity in a risen Christ. The realization of our death with Christ is a liberating truth. It allows us to once-and-for-all give up on ourselves; “that we should not have our trust in ourselves”. But then, our truth is directed to One who has all power at His disposal, “God who raises the dead”. Even if God does not see fit to deliver us from the persecution, we will ultimately be delivered through resurrection.
10 who has delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver; in whom we confide that he will also yet deliver; v.10 Have Confidence in a Savior God. The thought here is that our trust in God is not in vain. God is a Savior God… He delivers His people. Paul speaks of the deliverance of God in three tenses: “who has delivered us” (past), “and does deliver” (present), and “he will also yet deliver” (future). There are a few ways to look at these three deliverances. First, taken in context, they seem to primarily refer to past, present, and future deliverance from martyrdom. Paul and his companions had been delivered from the mob in Ephesus, was currently being delivered from other persecutors, and would continue to be delivered. However, as an application, we cannot help but think of the three deliverances we have as believers in Christ. These three are taken up in the book of Romans. Past deliverance from the penalty of our sins (“so great a death”), present deliverance from indwelling sin, and future deliverance from the sin-cursed creation, which will take place at the rapture.
11 ye also labouring together by supplication for us that the gift towards us, through means of many persons, may be the subject of the thanksgiving of many for us. v.11 Take Comfort in the Prayers of the Saints. Paul was counting on the prayers of the saints who were lifting him up in the midst of the trial. They are called “supplications” here. Supplications are an intense form of prayer. Lifting up the apostle Paul and his companions in prayer led to their taking seriously his epistle when it arrived. It may be that Paul is prompting them with this commendation; speaking ironically in part, to stir them up. Admittedly, the “gift” mentioned here is not and easy idea to follow. I think it is clear that it could not refer to the monetary gift Paul was hoping for from the Corinthians for the poor saints of Judea. We learn in ch.8-9 that the gift still hadn’t been received from Corinth. What therefore had the “many persons” in Corinth done or given that had been “the subject of thanksgiving” for Paul and his companions? I believe the “gift towards us through the means of many persons” is a contrite heart among the Corinthians, manifested after the first epistle was received and self-judgment had taken place.
Consistency in Service (1:12-22)
Simplicity and Sincerity before God (vv.12-14)
12 For our boasting is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and sincerity before God, (not in fleshly wisdom but in God’s grace,) we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly towards you. v.12 They sought to walk with clearness and transparency. It was only by the grace of God, not in fleshly wisdom, that Paul and his companions were able to maintain a good testimony. It was not showmanship, or political maneuvering.
13 For we do not write other things to you but what ye well know and recognise; and I hope that ye will recognise to the end, 14 even as also ye have recognised us in part, that we are your boast, even as “ye” are ours in the day of the Lord Jesus. vv.13-14 Paul had written nothing to the Corinthians that was a departure from orthodox Christian teaching, which the Corinthians themselves knew and recognized. There is evidence of a party spirit in Corinth, because not all had received the apostle; “ye have recognised us in part”. Note: the fact that divisions still existed in Corinth while the other disorders had been resolved might show us that divisive spirits are not easily routed out. However, the majority of them did acknowledge the apostle. In v.14, Paul speaks of the mutual appreciation between the minister and those ministered unto. It is similar to the way Paul said to the Thessalonians “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? “(1 Thess. 2:19), or what he said of the Philippians, “my brethren dearly beloved, my joy and crown” (Phil. 4:1). Our appreciation for those who had served us will continue even in heaven! Paul set before them the “day of the Lord Jesus”… the day of manifestation, when all will be transparent. Read more…
Consistency and Dependability before Man (vv.15-22)
Consistency. It is striking that Paul refers to the faithfulness of God (an attribute of Deity) when recounting his own service. The Christian servant needs to have the same kind of dependability and consistency that exists in the ways and promises of God. In other words, the minister is to have the same character that God does. We are to be as trustworthy as God. That is a tall order, but it is very important because consistency and dependability are what gives weight to what we say.
15 And with this confidence I purposed to come to you previously, that ye might have a second favour; 16 and to pass through to Macedonia by you, and again from Macedonia to come to you, and to be set forward by you to Judaea. vv.15-16 The Original Plan. Paul had confidence that the truth God had given him to preach and teach was good; it would be a “benefit” to those he taught, like the virtuous woman, “She perceiveth that her merchandise is good” (Prov. 31:18). They had already had one benefit, that was Paul’s first visit to Corinth. But Paul knew they would profit from another visit. In fact, his original plan involved two additional visits to Corinth; he planned to sail from Ephesus to Achaia, visiting Corinth once, then traveling overland to Macedonia, and then to return from Macedonia to Corinth a second time, before setting sail for Judea. In other words, he had been planning to visit them once going northbound, and again going southbound. We find in vv.12-17 that Paul altered his plans, choosing rather to sail north directly to Macedonia, where he waited for news from Corinth before moving south.
17 Having therefore this purpose, did I then use lightness? Or what I purpose, do I purpose according to flesh, that there should be with me yea yea, and nay nay? 18 Now God is faithful, that our word to you is not yea and nay. vv.17-18 Consistency of Character. Some among them were trying to detract from Paul’s character, to turn others away from his ministry. In ch.1 they accused Paul of being fickle and a promise-breaker. In ch.10 they accused Paul of being weak in person. In ch.12 they accused Paul of being deceitful and self-seeking. None of this was true. Here they were accusing Paul of flippancy or fickleness; i.e. that his words did not have much weight behind them, and that he easily changed his “yeses” to “nos”. This was not true. It was not in keeping with Paul’s character. Paul did not speak lightly, and he did not change his plans lightly either. In vv.23-24 we find the true reason why Paul changed his plans. It was for the benefit of the Corinthians. It is nice to see that Paul made his plans, but he remained subject to the Lord’s will (1 Cor. 16:7). He connects “our word” with the faithfulness of God. Walking in the mind of God, Paul had confidence that his original words to the Corinthians were God’s mind, and also the decision to delay was God’s mind. His heart toward them was unchanged, but their sin caused him to alter his plans.
Swearing. A man’s word should be unequivocal and binding (“Yea, yea; Nay, nay”), such that taking strong oaths, by this or that, is not needed. The man, who backs nearly every assertion by an oath is a man whose simple word is not to be trusted. Read Matt. 5:34-37. This is a common exhortation in the New Testament. James speaks of it also; “But before all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, nor by the earth, nor by any other oath; but let your yea be yea, and your nay, nay, that ye do not fall under judgment” (James 5:12).
19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, he who has been preached by us among you (by me and Silvanus and Timotheus), did not become yea and nay, but yea “is” in him. 20 For whatever promises of God there are, in him is the yea, and in him the amen, for glory to God by us. vv.19-20 The Immutable Promises of God. The very one that Paul and his companions (Silas and Timothy) were preaching (“the Son of God, Jesus Christ”) was, in His own Person, the very Foundation and the Goal of the promises of God. All the enduring promises of God were confirmed in Christ (see Eph. 3:6; Gal. 3:15-18, Gen. 22:18). Whether it be redemption, forgiveness, eternal life, or the Spirit, they are “in Christ Jesus”. The promises of God, into which we are brought by faith, were made from the Father to His Son, who glorified Him perfectly at the cross. The promises of God are immutable because they are “in Him”. Christ is the object of those promises; in Him is the affirmation (the “yea”) and the confirmation (the “Amen”). God has deposited the fulfillment of all His promises in the Person of Christ. The intention and effect of every promise God has made is in Christ. But bringing us into Christ, and blessing us with Him, brings “glory to God by us”. This v.20 may be one of the deepest verses in the Bible. The immutability of promise gives weight to God’s ways in grace. God may change in His ways dispensationally, but His intention remains fixed. In the same way, Paul had altered his travel plans because of sin among the Corinthians, but his intentions toward them were unchanged. The attack against his character was groundless.
21 Now he that establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, is God, 22 who also has sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts. vv.21-22 The Assurance and Enjoyment of the Promises. The apostle, his companions, the Corinthians, and all believers were established “in Christ” by none other than God Himself. This gives great assurance to the believer. Our security is through our standing in Christ’s place before God; and the One who has given us that standing is God. Furthermore, He has gone further than giving us His Word… He has given us the Spirit of God to reside “in our hearts”, so that we can have this assurance, and to enjoy the promises we have in Christ.
Three Aspects of the Indwelling of the Spirit. Believers at the present time have the Spirit indwelling them in three aspects:
- The Anointing (Unction) of the Spirit (1 John 2:20; 27; 2 Cor. 1:21). The anointing or unction of the Spirit is the ability of the Spirit of God in the believer to empower them for service, for worship, for direction, and for discernment. When the Spirit of God comes to indwell a person, no matter how young or inexperienced they are, they receive Divine help to discern between truth and error; “ye have not need that any one should teach you; but as the same unction teaches you as to all things” (1 John 2:27). This follows what Jesus taught about “the Comforter, the Holy Spirit… he shall teach you all things, and will bring to your remembrance all the things which I have said to you” (John 14:26). It is by one Spirit that we have access to the Father in prayer (Eph. 2:18). Furthermore, the Spirit is like a “fountain of living water” inside a believer, “springing up” in the enjoyment of eternal life (John 4:14), enabling us to worship the Father (Phil. 3:3). The Spirit is also like “rivers of living water” flowing out to this world with the refreshing testimony of Christ (John 7:38). In Romans we read that the believer has deliverance from sin through the power of the indwelling Spirit (Rom. 8:2). We also find that the sons of God “are led by the Spirit of God”, who guides and direct our steps (Rom. 8:14). In 1 Corinthians we read that the indwelling Spirit is the power for ministry in every member of the body of Christ, enabling each one to do his or her service for the Lord (1 Cor. 12:7-11). It is the Spirit of God that strengthens us daily in the inner man (Eph. 3:16). We could summarize the anointing of the Spirit as that which enables the believer to live for God.
- The Seal of the Spirit (Eph 1:13; Eph. 4:30; 2 Cor. 1:22). The seal of the Spirit is the assurance and witness that we belong to Christ. The idea of a ‘seal’ is that of a mark or a brand. Often a person will put a mark on tools or animals that belong to them, to show everyone else whose property they are. That is what the seal is, except it is more for us than for others. The seal of the Spirit is given to the believer so that he or she can have the assurance of their salvation. “The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit, that we are children of God” (Rom 8:16). This is one of the first things the Spirit does upon indwelling a believer. In fact, the moment you believe “the glad tidings of your salvation”, you are “sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Eph. 1:13). It is as if the Lord is anxious to assure you that you belong to Him! From the moment of salvation onward, the Holy Spirit begins to “shed abroad” the love of God in our hearts (Rom. 5:5). A believer will never lose this seal, and it is in view of the final salvation of our bodies; for we “have been sealed for the day of redemption” (Eph. 4:30). The seal of the Spirit is not given before salvation; i.e. a quickened soul is not immediately indwelt with the Spirit. The seal is the witness of a completed work of God in the soul. New birth is not the same as salvation. We could summarize the seal of the Spirit as that which: (1) signifies a completed work in the soul, and (2) assures and identifies us as belonging to Christ.
- The Earnest of the Spirit (Eph 1:14; 2 Cor. 1:22; 2 Cor. 5:5; Rom. 8:11). The earnest of the Spirit is the guarantee and foretaste in advance of our full portion in Christ. This is evident from the very word “earnest”, which refers to the down payment money a person might pay for something they intend to take possession of. For example, if you intend to buy a $300,000 home in a few months, you would pay a certain percentage down, perhaps 10% or $30,000, on the home, up front, to show the seller you are serious about your intention. Why is this necessary? The believer in Christ has two inheritances. First, we have a spiritual inheritance “reserved in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4). Paul teaches in Ephesians that we are actually already “seated in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6), and therefore we already have access by faith to this heavenly, spiritual inheritance. It is the Spirit who allows us to enjoy those heavenly things right now, “all spiritual blessings in heavenly places” (Eph. 1:3). Secondly, we have a future, material inheritance that we will possess when Christ appears to possess what belongs to Him; “in whom also we have obtained an inheritance” (Eph. 1:11). There is coming a glorious day when the Spirit of God will be poured out on this world for blessing, when the redeeming or “setting free” will take place (Eph. 1:14), and the curse be lifted. That day is not here yet, but we have the very same Spirit within us, allowing us to share in the joy beforehand! The earnest works to keep us from settling for the things of this earth; we have something far better! The Spirit of God is the earnest in two ways: (1) to give us a foretaste of heaven before we get there, and (2) to guarantee that we will get there, then go on to reign with Christ and share all that He possesses! We could summarize the earnest of the Spirit as that which gives the believer the enjoyment of present blessings in Christ, and the guarantee of future blessings with Christ.
Illustration of Anointing, Seal & Earnest. One day, a man sees by the roadside some weak and sickly sheep for sale. Out of pity, he buys the sheep and brings them home to his farm. The first thing he does once the transaction is complete is put his mark on them by branding. That is like the Seal of the Spirit; it marks us out as belonging to God. The second thing he does is administer proper nutrition and veterinary care, and soon sense and strength return to the sheep! That is like the Anointing of the Spirit; it enables the believer to live for God. Finally, the man has a field of sweet clover that he plans to let them enjoy on the following day, but because it is evening time, they won’t be put out to pasture until the morning. So he tells his farm hand to gather several armfuls of the clover from the field and bring it into the barn for the sheep to enjoy. They do not have the field itself yet, but they are enjoying its sweetness ahead of time. That is like the Earnest of the Spirit, which gives us a foretaste of heaven, and a guarantee of future glory with Christ!
Consideration for Others in Service (1:23 – 2:11)
A Deeper Reason for Staying Away (1:23 – 2:3)
¶ 23 But I call God to witness upon my soul that to spare you I have not yet come to Corinth. 24 Not that we rule over your faith, but are fellow-workmen of your joy: for by faith ye stand. vv.23-24 The true reason Paul had changed his travel plans was that his care for them prevented him! As a practical note, remember that the human tendency when we perceive some change or inconsistency is to attribute it to the worst possible motive. Here Paul reveals that, far from some fault in himself, he had changed his plans because he desired their blessing and restoration! Let’s try to assume the best motive, not the worst, when we see a change in others. The specific reason was twofold. If Paul did not come immediately to Corinth:
After all, believers in Christianity are not under law, but under grace. Our dealings with one another, and from one assembly to another, should reflect that grace. It is always better to allow the life of Christ to work its way out practically, to allow the exercise of faith, rather than to try to force change in our brethren with a heavy hand; “for by faith ye stand”.
¶ But I have judged this with myself, not to come back to you in grief. 2 For if “I” grieve you, who also is it that gladdens me, if not he that is grieved through me? 3 And I have written this very letter to you, that coming I may not have grief from those from whom I ought to have joy; trusting in you all that my joy is that of you all. vv.1-3 It was hard enough for Paul to write the first epistle… why then should he suffer more grief by coming prematurely to Corinth? The Corinthians were in a unique position to gladden the apostle, by repenting of the evil there. Paul singles them out: in a sense, none but the Corinthians could bring him joy. The point of the first epistle, in a certain sense, was to stir up the consciences of the Corinthians, such that Paul’s second visit would be with joy and not with grief.
Restoration of the Fallen Brother (2:4-11)
Restoring a Wicked Person. This portion deals with the restoration of one who has been excommunicated. It is no accident that with the only example in scripture of a person excommunicated, the same person is later restored to happy fellowship. God’s heart is always toward restoration. In ch.3 we find that the local assembly is not only “temple of God” (1 Cor. 3) where holiness must be maintained, “body of Christ” (1 Cor. 12) where unity must be maintained, but also “epistle of Christ” (2 Cor. 3) where the heart of Christ should be displayed to this world. When we fail in grace, we fail in the crowning blessing we have a Christians, the characteristic feature of the present day, and the basis of our salvation. We should never have the thought that we have gotten rid of a troublemaker when excommunication occurs. Our hearts can grow cold toward those who have been put out for years. When circumstances are such in a local assembly that a person must be excommunicated, the particular sin is really an outward manifestation of a general condition in the assembly. Excommunication is a shameful thing for the assembly to have to do, but necessary for them to clear the Lord’s name and the assembly. The consciences of all in the assembly ought to be engaged in the matter. The assembly is responsible to exercise corporate self-judgment. This is the typical meaning of the priests’ eating the sin offering (Lev. 10:17). If the assembly excommunicated “him that hath done this deed” without their own consciences touched, the action would do nothing but make them hypocrites. The same insensitivity that causes an assembly to indulge evil in the first place can later allow them to be slow in restoration.
4 For out of much tribulation and distress of heart I wrote to you, with many tears; not that ye may be grieved, but that ye may know the love which I have very abundantly towards you. v.4 Paul had written with tears. He felt the awfulness of the sin and of the needed action very deeply. If a local assembly can excommunicate a person without shedding tears, there is something seriously wrong. He did not aim to grieve them, but his love was such that he was willing to grieve them. Love is willing to do what is for the blessing of another, even if it is difficult. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Prov. 27:6). In 2 Cor. 7:12, Paul reveals that he did not write the first epistle for the sake of the fallen brother, but for the sake of the whole assembly. This is because the whole assembly has culpability in the sin. If we don’t understand this, we will go seriously astray in assembly discipline. After the battle of Jericho, Achan took of the accursed things, the Lord told Joshua; “Israel hath sinned” (Josh. 7:11). Likewise, it is appropriate for each individual to feel the weight of the sin. In the Old Testament, we have many examples of godly individuals who confessed the sin of Israel as if it was their own; e.g. the godly Israelite so took up and confessed the sins of the people, how much more those in a far nearer relation to the Lord? Yet we see it deeply in Moses, Joshua, Hezekiah, Josiah, Daniel and Ezra. This verse also shows that we do not have a choice when it comes to dealing with evil in the assembly. We must act, and sometimes it is extremely difficult, especially where family relationships are involved.
5 But if any one has grieved, he has grieved, not me, but in part (that I may not overcharge you) all of you. v.5 Now Paul speaks particularly of the brother who had been excommunicated for fornication (1 Cor. 5). Generally speaking, the assembly was grieved by the actions of the brother, at least after the first epistle had reached Corinth and was received. This is necessary whenever sin becomes known in the local assembly. The assembly ought to be grieved. However, there were some that were not grieved about the sin, because it says “in part”. This is helpful, because it shows that there does not necessarily need to be unanimity in the assembly to deal with evil. The parenthetical expression “that I may not overcharge (press heavily)” indicates that Paul was actually grieved himself by the sin, but he did not want to lay that at the feet of the erring brother or at the feet of the assembly. What a gracious spirit!
6 Sufficient to such a one is this rebuke which has been inflicted by the many; 7 so that on the contrary ye should rather shew grace and encourage, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with excessive grief. 8 Wherefore I exhort you to assure him of your love. vv.6-8 The excommunication had been very effective; “sufficient to such a one is this rebuke”. The brother, who had been continuing in self-will was now sorrowful, and actually in danger of being “swallowed up with excessive grief”. How is the assembly supposed to know if the excommunicated person is repenting? There may be some kind of priestly interaction with those who have been put away, although it should not stray into “mixing” or “socializing” (1 Cor. 5:11). Sometimes it takes a while to observe whether a person is repentant. In Lev. 14, the leper who was cleansed was allowed to go into the camp, but not to his tent immediately. “He shall tarry abroad out of his tent seven days” (Lev. 14:8). Once it was clear that the disease would not recur, then the ceremony could be completed, and he could go to his own tent. There does need to be care not to push an excommunicated person back into fellowship prematurely. If there is no repentance or even confession, restoration to fellowship cannot occur. The expression “the many” refers to the body at large (2 Cor. 9:2). The local assembly acts in putting away a wicked person, but the whole body of Christ is responsible to recognize and submit to that action. This principle is further developed in vv.9-11. If those from elsewhere extended fellowship to the wicked person, the effect of the excommunication would be nullified. If this were to happen, the Lord would be associated with the wicked person, and also the soul would be encouraged to continue in sin. The action to “shew grace and encourage” and to “assure him of your love” is something that should be done in a unified way, so as to not interfere with the work of God in the soul. The whole assembly (“ye” and “you” are plural) was to act together to lift social restrictions. To encourage someone who isn’t repentant is to hinder their restoration. it doesn’t say “start loving him again”… we should never cease to love a person, even if they are excommunicated and unrepentant. However, in this case, there was true repentance, but the Corinthians were slow to recognize it, and slow to restore.
9 For to this end also I have written, that I might know, by putting you to the test, if as to everything ye are obedient. v.9 Restoration of a repentant person is a matter of obedience. When it came to putting away and to bringing back, the Corinthians needed to be told. Inaction is a close cousin of over-reaction. The Corinthians were slow to do this, and so are many assemblies today. We ought never to use administrative forgiveness as a mechanism of coercion, like a carrot on a stick, to make a repentant soul “jump through hoops”. Leaving a repentant person to languish in a state of being excommunicated is wrong. To only put away, and to never restore when repentance is granted, is to fail “the test” of being obedient “as to everything”.
10 But to whom ye forgive anything, “I” also; for I also, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, it is for your sakes in the person of Christ; 11 that we might not have Satan get an advantage against us, for we are not ignorant of “his” thoughts. vv.9-11 While restoration was a matter of obedience (v.9), Paul did not want to act for them, as a spiritual dictator (ch.1, v.24) . The body at large should recognize the action taken in the local assembly, and they likewise should forgive the person. Even Paul, who had apostolic authority, would not go ahead of the local assembly in restoring the fallen brother. Not following God’s order in this matter would allow Satan to “get an advantage” through dividing the corporate testimony (“us”). But once the local assembly has restored the brother, then all others far and near should follow along. This is part of keeping the unity of the Spirit (Eph. 4:3). The latter part of v.10 is beautiful; when Paul forgave the repentant brother, he would do so for the sake of the Corinthians, in view that “the person of Christ” would not be divided in testimony, that nothing might come between the dear Corinthians and himself. All of Satan’s thoughts are directed around injuring the Person of Christ. Satan seeks to accomplish those aims by practically dividing the body of Christ on earth. “We are not ignorant” of Satan’s intentions, but sadly we still fall into his snares.
Assembly Action: Dealing with Sin. 2 Corinthians 2 contains a number of helpful principles that have to do with clearing the assembly of known evil.
- The assembly ought to be grieved about the sin (v.5; 2 Cor. 7:7-11). The awfulness of the sin should be felt by the whole assembly, although the assembly does not need unanimity to act. This corresponds to “eating the sin offering” (Lev. 10:17).
- The assembly must put out the wicked person (v.6; 1 Cor. 5:13). The assembly is responsible to act for the Lord’s glory, and excommunicate the wicked person. This is done by “binding” the sin, and then removing the wicked person from the assembly.
- The body at large should accept the action taken (v.6). Since the local assembly is an expression of the one body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:27), the body at large (“the many”) is responsible to recognize and submit to that action. For certain individuals or another local assembly to have fellowship with the excommunicated person is to deny the unity of the Body of Christ, and to bring dishonor to the Name of Christ.
- The action taken will be used by God to produce repentance in the wicked person (v.6). The excommunication serves as a rebuke to the wicked person, making them feel the seriousness of their own sin. God may use that to aid in the work of repentance in the person’s heart, provided they are truly a child of God, which is manifested outwardly in sorrow. Repentance is the desired outcome of excommunication.
- There ought to be priestly activity to discern the state of the excommunicated person (v.6). Paul was aware that the assembly action and the duration of the excommunication was “sufficient”; i.e. the person was truly repentant. There must have been some contact with the person to discern the state of soul, although any contact would NOT include socializing. This is pictured in Lev. 13 by the priests inspecting the leper to see if the leprosy was cleansed.
- If God has granted repentance, the assembly may lift the social restraint (vv.7-8). Once the excommunicated person has passed judgment on their sin, the assembly may “shew grace and encourage” the brother, which means he would be welcomed back into the assembly, although not administratively forgiven yet. This is pictured by the cleansed leper being allowed in the camp but not his tent for seven days (Lev. 14:8). This could very well take place at the same time as the “loosing” (v.10), but it might also precede it by a period of time.
- If repentance is evident, the assembly must administratively forgive the person (vv.9-10). The assembly is required (v.9) to forgive the excommunicated person once repentance is evident. This is administrative forgiveness, which is different from brotherly or personal forgiveness. The individuals should have forgiven the offender immediately in their hearts. But an official action is required to officially loose the sin that was bound on the person. This action would restore such a one to full fellowship in the assembly.
- The body at large should accept the administrative forgiveness (vv.10-11). Finally, the body at large should recognize the action taken in the local assembly, and they likewise should forgive the person. Paul himself would submit to the action taken. This is important because there is one body, and Satan would like to get an advantage by dividing us over issues.
Assembly Action: Binding and Loosing. The local assembly has been invested with authority to “bind” or “loose” a person’s sin (Matt. 18:18); which means to “retain” or “remit” their sin (John 20:23). Binding and loosing are two administrative actions that are done “in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ” and are backed by His authority (1 Cor. 5:4). The authority to “bind” and “loose” with heaven’s ratification was given first to Peter (Matt. 16:19), then extended to the local assembly (Matt. 18:18). To “bind” a person’s sin upon them is to associate them with that sin in an official sense. Morally, they were associated with it the moment the sin was committed, but this is a special association of an official character. Paul does this in 1 Cor. 5:4 with the words “being such”; that is, he formally connected that man with his sin. Excommunication of the wicked person follows binding of the sin (v.5). In 1 Cor. 5 we have an example of “binding”, and in 2 Cor. 2 we have the “loosing”. Once a person has turned from their sin, and their repentance is manifest, the assembly ought to “loose” the sin, or formally disassociate the person from it. The whole assembly, wherever it may be found “on earth” is required to acknowledge an administrative action once taken, because it is bound or loosed in heaven. To continue fellowship with a person that is put away is to ignore the action taken, and to rebel against the authority of heaven. The binding or loosing would occur in a solemn meeting for judicial action; “when ye are gathered together” (v.4). It is only when the assembly is formally gathered together that the presence and “power of our Lord Jesus Christ” is there to give weight to the action. Read more…
Submission to assembly action. The whole assembly is to be involved in the action, and the whole assembly is to recognize the action once taken; “put away from among yourselves (plural) that wicked person” (1 Cor. 5:13). In reference to the fornicator, Paul says that when repentance was worked in the man’s heart, the whole assembly (“ye” and “you” are plural) was to act together to lift social restrictions; “ye should rather shew grace and encourage” (2 Cor. 2:7) and restore him to full fellowship; “to whom ye forgive anything, I also” (2 Cor. 2:10). To act independently of the local assembly in these matters of putting away and restoring is really to undermine the authority of the Lord. Furthermore, socializing with the wicked person may be well intended, but it doesn’t really help that person. That is acting in human love rather than divine love, and it will only hinder the work of restoration. And this is not just locally. The responsibility to judge evil lies with the local assembly, but all who are gathered on the ground of the assembly will recognize their action. “Sufficient to such a one is this rebuke which has been inflicted by the many” (2 Cor. 2:6). “The many” is an expression which refers to the body of Christ at large (2 Cor. 9:2). Even if the action is unrighteous, all believers in all local assemblies must submit to it as “bound in heaven”. This does not mean there is no recourse when an unrighteous action is taken. If a wrong decision has been made, we should bring it up to the assembly and they will be made responsible to correct the action. God may raise up prophets to speak to the assembly about wrong judgments, or send individuals from nearby assemblies to remonstrate with them. Ultimately, if the local gathering refuses to judge the evil, it will cease to be an assembly. To fellowship with a person who has been excommunicated is to ignore the action which has been bound in heaven. Often times this is done out of ignorance, and other times in self-will. In any case, independency is (1) a rebellion against the authority of Christ in the local assembly, and (2) a denial of the truth that there is one body of Christ. You cannot practice independency and “endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit” (Eph. 4:3). The result is confusion; “every man did that which was right in his own eyes”.
The Lord’s Leading in Service (2:12-17)
¶ 12 Now when I came to Troas for the publication of the glad tidings of the Christ, a door also being opened to me in the Lord, 13 I had no rest in my spirit at not finding Titus my brother; but bidding them adieu, I came away to Macedonia. vv.12-13 The apostle had a tremendous opportunity in the gospel at Troas. The Lord had closed a “door” in Ephesus (1 Cor. 16:9), and He had opened a “door” in Troas. But when he came to Troas, Paul did not remain long, because he had not rest in his spirit, because Titus had not arrived at the meeting place. He was restless to know the Corinthians’ state. The point here is that Paul was so concerned for the Corinthians that he walked away from an attractive opportunity in the gospel, and left Asia altogether to come into Macedonia. Paul did not miss the Lord’s mind in this, because we see in v.14 that the Lord was leading him. It shows that opportunities for ministry do not dictate our path. We need to follow the Lord’s leading, and in this case the Lord did not give Paul rest about the matter of Corinth, until he met Titus in Macedonia. The assembly in Corinth had a higher claim on Paul’s heart.
– The Apostle Paul breaks off the historical narrative at this point (see ch.7, v.5) –
14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in the Christ, and makes manifest the odour of his knowledge through us in every place. 15 For we are a sweet odour of Christ to God, in the saved and in those that perish: 16 to the one an odour from death unto death, but to the others an odour from life unto life; and who is sufficient for these things? vv.14-16 It pained Paul to absent the opportunity in Troas, and so he next explains certain thoughts that were a comfort to him. Paul bursts into doxology, thanking God for leading him in a victorious march, and seeing that there was fruit for God wherever He would lead. A victory at Troas was exchanged for a victory in Corinth, for Paul heard of their state when he met Titus in Macedonia. Paul uses an illustration that would have been well known to the Corinthians. When a Roman army returned from a victorious campaign, the soldiers would enter the city leading a band of captives in a kind of military parade. To celebrate the victory, some of the captives would be appointed to live as servants, and others would be appointed to die, likely in the arena. This is similar to how a victorious David “measured two lines to put to death, and one full line to keep alive” (2 Sam. 8:2). As the parade entered the city and approached the center, aromatic incense would be continually burned, and the odors would reach the surroundings and the captives. The captives knew what those odors meant, and to some it was a delight to know they would live, but to others it warned of their impending death. This is a picture of how God leads His servants in a victory march, “in the Christ” who is the true Victor. Like the aromatic odors, the servants of Christ have the privilege of spreading the gospel (“his knowledge”) everywhere they go. The victory of Christ on the cross results in “a sweet odour of Christ to God”, reflecting in the twofold response in men. The gospel is an odor of life to those who have life; “because I live ye also shall live” (John 14:19), but the gospel is also an odor of death to those who are dead; “the word of the cross is to them that perish foolishness” (1 Cor. 1:18). Christian ministry redounds to the glory of God, whether people believe the gospel or not. Ultimately, the Conqueror will be vindicated, by believers made the righteousness of God in Christ (2 Cor. 5:21), or by making God’s power known in the destruction of the wicked (Rom. 9:22). Paul concludes the doxology by exclaiming about the triumph of Christ, the effects of which surpass our power to apprehend.
17 For we do not, as the many, make a trade of the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as of God, before God, we speak in Christ. v.17 The apostle’s ministry was a complete contrast to the ministry of “the many” false teachers and Judaizers who were influencing the Corinthians. They were those who “make a trade of [or, ‘adulterate’] the word of God”, the way a crooked peddler is known for selling watered-down wine, or worn shoes. The ministry of the Judaizing teachers was not a help to the Corinthians, because they did not present the truth of God “of sincerity”; i.e. with impure motives. Four things are needed so we do not hinder the outflow of the sweet odor of Christ in our service:
- Pure in our Motives. Why are we doing what we are doing? Are we seeking glory or profit for self? Our service must be “as of sincerity”.
- Directed by God. Do we really have God’s will in our actions. We must speak as the oracles of God, and serve as His representatives; “as of God”.
- Accountable to God. Do we serve for God’s approval, or man’s? Are we conscious of His eye? We must live “before God”.
- Christlike in our Character. Is our service in keeping with the mind and heart of Christ? Would the Perfect Servant approve of our conduct and attitude? This is what it means to serve “in Christ”.
2 Cor. 2:14 – 7:4. The Spirit of God enters a long digression at this point. The theme of this digression is the character of true service for Christ. A number of great principles are brought out, but one repeating theme is that true service is an outflow of the life of Christ. Several figures are used:
|Chapter||Our service is like:||The outflow can be hindered by:|
|Ch.2||“A sweet odor of Christ” to God and the world (v.15).||Impurity on our motives, making “a trade of the word of God” (v.17).|
|Ch.3||“An epistle of Christ” written on our hearts (v.3).||Bringing in legality; the “ministry of death” (v.7).|
|Ch.4||“The light of the knowledge of God” shining out from earthen vessels (v.6).||Preaching “ourselves” or putting ourselves forward (v.5).|
|Ch.5||“Ambassadors for Christ” with a ministry of reconciliation (v.20).||Living “unto ourselves” and for earthly interests (v.15).|
|Ch.6||“As fellow-workmen” with the apostles (v.1).||Being “unequally yoked together with unbelievers” (v.14).|