Conclusion: an Account of Paul’s Missions & Motives – Part 2
2 Corinthians 7
2 Corinthians 7
Part 2 of Paul’s Account. In 2 Cor. 2:13, Paul left off saying “I came away to Macedonia.” Remarkably, v.5 picks up from that very point; “when we came into Macedonia…”. In the intervening verses (2 Cor. 2:14 – 7:4), the Spirit of God enters a long digression. 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. Paul winds up that digression by addressing the deeper issues among the Corinthians, and appealing to them to open their hearts and receive him. He also explains that he was emboldened to speak of these deeper things because they had received his first epistle. This is the segway into the second part of Paul’s account of his service. In this chapter we get, not so much the character of ministry, but the heart of the minister.1 Among other things, we find the heart of the Christian minister is attached to those he or she serves. Paul’s heart was deeply affected by the Corinthians, perhaps feeling their sin as deeply as they. He was not some high and mighty clergy-member, only stooping down to the people to deliver decrees. No, the people were in his heart. The same will be true of every Christian minister!
The Heart of the Minister: Paul toward the Corinthians (7:2-5)
¶ 2 Receive us: we have injured no one, we have ruined no one, we have made gain of no one. 3 I do not speak for condemnation, for I have already said that ye are in our hearts, to die together, and live together. vv.2-3 Paul’s Tender Appeal. Paul gives a tender appeal to the Corinthians to “receive” him and his companions. How sad, that Paul should have to write this! He says, ‘I’ve done nothing wrong or hurtful to others… please just open your hearts to me.’ In the previous verses, Paul had gone over the things believers should separate from; unequal yokes, filthiness of flesh and spirit, etc. Paul was going on blamelessly… why should they separate from him? It is possible for a believer to live in a way that requires other believers to avoid them (2 Thess. 3:6). But Paul hastens to add, “I do not speak for condemnation”. The fact that they were hard-hearted did not mean Paul was about to write the Corinthians off. No, his love for them was unconditional; “I have already said that ye are in our hearts, to die together, and live together”. The false teachers couldn’t say this. Paul’s heart was bound up with theirs. Like a father with his children, Paul’s happiness was dependent on how they were getting on. This was not a ultimatum in the sense that Paul would no longer love them, although it was possible that, if they went on uncorrected, Paul would have to come to them and “use sharpness”, but even that would be “to edification, and not to destruction” (2 Cor. 13:10).
4 Great is my boldness towards you, great my exulting in respect of you; I am filled with encouragement; I overabound in joy under all our affliction. v.4 Explaining His Manner. Paul is explaining why he was using such boldness, as in ch. 6 v.14, and in ch.7 vv.2-3. Why, after they had received his first letter of chastening, did Paul write again to the Corinthians in still stronger terms? Why was he pressing in relentlessly about these issues of the heart and conscience? It was because there had been a response. He was emboldened by their response to the first letter. Perhaps a more natural response would be ‘Paul, the Corinthians have cleaned up their act, why can’t you give them a break?’ It would be like a doctor dealing with a patient that has coronary artery disease. After the patient has responded well to the initial drug treatments, the doctor quickly proceeds to an angioplasty or a bypass surgery. It seems like harsh treatment, but it is for the patient’s good. Paul was thrilled with their progress. He was “exulting”, “filled with encouragement”, and “overabounding in joy” in spite of the difficult circumstances.
– The Apostle Paul picks up the historical narrative at this point (see ch.2, v.13) –
5 For indeed, when we came into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were afflicted in every way; without combats, within fears. v.5 The Twofold Trial of Paul in Macedonia. When Paul arrived in Troas there was an open door in the gospel, but he had no rest due to the unanswered questions about Corinth, so he departed into Macedonia (2 Cor. 2:12-13). The difficulties which Paul encountered in Macedonia were extreme, and they come from two directions; from “without” and from “within”. He says “our flesh had no rest”… not referring to the sin nature, but to weak humanity. From without, there were “combats”… most likely referring to the Jews who were stirring up strife around this time (Acts 20:3). From within, there were “fears”. What fears? It was his anxiety over the situation of Corinth, as well as other trials.
Arrival of Titus and Good News About Corinth (7:6-12)
The False and the True. At this point, Paul begins to separate the real from the mixture of saved and unsaved. His heart is now able to flow out to them, and he will no longer class the true with the wicked. At the end of ch.6 he called for the true to “come out from among them, and be ye separate”… now he speaks to them as separate. Which ones were the true? Those that sorrowed with a godly sorrow.
6 But he who encourages those that are brought low, even God, encouraged us by the coming of Titus; 7 and not by his coming only, but also through the encouragement with which he was encouraged as to you; relating to us your ardent desire, your mourning, your zeal for me; so that I the more rejoiced. vv.6-7 The Twofold Comfort of Titus. In the middle of the affliction, Paul and his companions experienced the comfort of God. It is beautiful to see how God is identified: “he who encourages those that are brought low” (see 1 Sam. 2:7-8). God used the coming of Titus to lift Paul’s spirit. There were two things that were a comfort to Paul: (1) the presence of a dear brother, and (2) the encouraging news of the work of God in Corinth. It seems that Titus was encouraged, and that encouragement was infectious (see v.13)! There were three things that Titus related to Paul. First, their “ardent desire” to correct the disorders among them. Second, the “mourning” over the sin which had gone on in the assembly, and of which they all had a part. Third, their “zeal” for Paul, how energetically they had responded to Paul’s admonitions.
8 For if also I grieved you in the letter, I do not regret it, if even I have regretted it; for I see that that letter, if even it were only for a time, grieved you. v.8 Paul’s Regret and Un-regret of the First Letter. When Paul wrote the first letter, after he had sent it off, he regretted sending it because he knew it would grieve the Corinthians. This was the feeling of Paul the human writer. But now that he could see the fruit of the Spirit’s work in their hearts and consciences, there was not even a twinge of regret. This is the case with all true discipline, whether in the family, or in the assembly. It is love for the soul that drives us to exercise discipline, and it shouldn’t be an easy task, or done flippantly. But when the chastening is received, the grief disappears into joy!
9 Now I rejoice, not that ye have been grieved, but that ye have been grieved to repentance; for ye have been grieved according to God, that in nothing ye might be injured by us. 10 For grief according to God works repentance to salvation, never to be regretted; but the grief of the world works death. vv.9-10 Repentance Unto Salvation. There was repentance in the assembly, and it was a deep work; “according to God”. There is a grief or sorrow that is not according to God. We see this in the difference between Peter and Judas. Peter was filled with sorrow, and “wept bitterly” (Luke 22:62). But Peter’s life later manifested that a change had taken place. Judas, on the other hand, after he had betrayed Jesus was “filled with remorse” (Matt. 27:3), but not with repentance. There was sorrow, but not “after a godly sort”. It is NOT enough to be sorry you got caught, or even to ‘feel badly about something’ that has taken place. We must confess our sin to God, recognize what He thinks about it, pass judgment on the flesh, take personal responsibility for our sin, and understand that it took the Savior’s death to put it away. This is what the Corinthians had done, and their repentance had brought about the “salvation” or preservation of the assembly (see Phil. 2:12). Grief according to God leads to repentance. Satan would love to make us think that once we have failed, we can no longer be used for God. But for the child of God, the story doesn’t end with our failure. Peter is a great example of this. Another example is John Mark, the failing servant who was later restored to work alongside the apostle Paul, and who was used to write a gospel highlighting the Perfect Servant. True repentance is a repentance “never to be regretted”. Sometimes a person will say “I repent” but then they will do it all over again. If this is the case, it was never true repentance “according to God”, rather it was “the grief of the world”… just a temporary change of mind. The sorrow of the world works death, just as in the case of Judas. He literally ended up dead. But morally speaking, sorrow without any profit is tragic. Read more…
11 For, behold, this same thing, your being grieved according to God, how much diligence it wrought in “you”, but what excusing of yourselves, but what indignation, but what fear, but what ardent desire, but what zeal, but what vengeance: in every way ye have proved yourselves to be pure in the matter. v.11 The Fruits of Repentance. John the Baptist spoke of “fruits worthy of repentance” (Luke 3:8). When a soul is truly repentant, and “grieved according to God”, there will be an outward change in the life. For the Corinthians, their repentance was manifested in seven things:
- Diligence. They took the sin seriously. There was a careful and persistent effort to correct the disorders exposed by the first epistle. When we receive admonition, is there diligence to correct our walk and ways? Or is it merely a half-hearted attempt?
- Excusing of yourselves. The Corinthians had the moral sensibility that they were associated and complicit with the evil that they had allowed in their midst; “a little leaven leavens the whole lump” (1 Cor. 5:6). They needed to clear themselves or excuse themselves from this evil, and that was done when they put away the wicked person from among them. 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. One man had committed the fornication, but the whole assembly had gone along with it. 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.
- Indignation. They had a righteous indignation against the sin that had come into the assembly, and the dishonor done to the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul told the Ephesians to “be angry and sin not” (Eph. 4:26).
- Fear. This is the fear of God. The consciences of all in the assembly were brought into the presence of God. It was with godly “fear and trembling” that they worked out their own salvation as an assembly (Phil. 1:12). There was fear that they would displease the Lord.
- Ardent desire. There was a strong desire for holiness, and the sanctification of the Lord’s Name.
- Zeal. There was energy on their part to rise up and deal with the sin, to act for the Lord’s glory like Phinehas (Num. 25:7).
- Vengeance. This is not revenge against the person, but against the sin. They wanted to see things put right in the assembly.
The Clearing of the Assembly. When sin comes into the assembly, it is important for there to be a thorough work of repentance. Until this happens, the assembly is not cleared of their complicity in the evil. We get a picture of this in Leviticus 14 with the law of the leper. In the case of a house that was infected by the disease of leprosy (a picture of evil), some of the stones had to be removed (Lev. 14:40), which pictures excommunication (1 Cor. 5), where the wicked person was to be put out. But after the removal of the stones, immediately the priest was to “cause the house to be scraped within round about, and they shall pour out the dust that they scrape off without the city into an unclean place” (Lev. 14:41). This speaks of a thorough work of corporate self-judgment. All while this was going on, the house was to be “shut up”. In a similar way, Paul did not want to come to Corinth until they had dealt with this matter. Later on, the stones were to be replaced (a picture of restoration), and a final examination would prove whether or not the leprosy had really been removed. If the plague was spread again in the walls, the house was to be condemned. The same can be true if an assembly refuses to judge evil. But if the plague was not spread in the walls, the priest would pronounce the house clean. In this epistle, Paul pronounces the assembly in Corinth clean!
12 So then, if also I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of him that injured, nor for the sake of him that was injured, but for the sake of our diligent zeal for you [‘your care for us’] being manifested to you before God. v.12 There is some difficulty with the translation of this verse. William Kelly noted that the earliest manuscripts are unclear on whose zeal was manifested: Paul’s zeal for the Corinthians, or their zeal for him. Later versions are more specific, but they diverge. However, the majority of manuscripts (seven out of ten) favor the rendering “your care for us”.2 This brings out something very beautiful. Paul’s deeper reason for writing was, not for the offending brother (“him that injured”), or for his father (“him that was injured”), but that the Corinthians would realize how much they really did care for Paul. The false teachers had invaded the assembly and convinced them that they disliked and distrusted Paul. But really, the disposition of their new natures was still of love towards the apostle.
The Resulting Encouragement of the Apostle (7:13-16)
13 For this reason we have been encouraged. And we the rather rejoiced in our encouragement more abundantly by reason of the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by you all. v.13 Paul was encouraged by the Corinthians’ response, and also by “the joy of Titus”. The joy that Titus displayed was infectious! Titus shared the apostle’s concerns about Corinth, and his spirits were lifted as well. How wonderful that two brothers who deeply cared about the Corinthians could now rejoice together at their restoration.
14 Because if I boasted to him anything about you, I have not been put to shame; but as we have spoken to you all things in truth, so also our boasting to Titus has been the truth; 15 and his affections are more abundantly towards you, calling to mind the obedience of you all, how with fear and trembling ye received him. vv.14-15 Paul had spoken sternly to the Corinthians, but he had boasted of them to Titus. That is, Paul had predicted that the Corinthians would receive the first epistle, and he had assured Titus of that confidence. In this boast, Paul had “not been put to shame”. Far different from worldly boasting, Paul’s boast had been “the truth”! Even though there had been a poor state in Corinth, Paul had spoken well of the assembly to Titus. We can take a practical lesson from this. When there are troubles in the assembly, it is good to always speak well of our brethren to others. The role of Titus in dealing with this troubled assembly had served, not to turn Titus away from them in disgust, but to draw out the delegate’s affections even more towards them. They had received Titus “with fear and trembling”, not that they were afraid of him, but that they trembled at the Word of the Lord (Isa. 66:2).
16 I rejoice that in everything I am confident as to you. v.16 It was Paul’s delight that he could be confident in the Corinthians. It would have been totally out of place to convey this confidence in the first epistle. Their consciences needed to be reached. But now their hearts needed to be encouraged! This was not a vain boast… Paul was truly confident.
- “He is not now unfolding the principles of the ministry, but the heart of a minister, all that he had felt with regard to the state of the Corinthians.” – Darby, J.N. Synopsis of the Books of the Bible. G. Morrish, 1940.
- “Whatever the adversary had wrought for a while, their true zeal for the apostle was made plain to themselves at last before God. This is the best supported sense.” – Kelly, William. Notes on the Second Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians. Bible Truth Publishers, 1975.