Paul’s Apostolic Kindness. 2 Cor. 2, 1-11.

Paul continues his explanation: V.1. But I determined this with myself, that I would not come again to you in heaviness. V.2. For if I make you sorry, who is he, then, that maketh me glad but the same which is made sorry by me? V.3. And I wrote this same unto you, lest, when I came, I should have sorrow from them of whom I ought to rejoice, having confidence in you all, that my joy is the joy of you all. V.4. For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote unto you with many tears, not that ye should be grieved, but that ye might know the love which I have more abundantly unto you. Paul had declared that he had reconsidered his intention of visiting them first and changed his plan about coming in order to spare them. And he here adds another point for their consideration: But I decided this for my own sake, not to come to you again in sorrow. His next visit was not to be the painful experience which his last was. It appears, then, that Paul had made a short visit to Corinth during his long stay at Ephesus and had been deeply hurt and grieved by conditions as he found them there. He had been obliged to use severity, to cause them sorrow. 1 Cor. 4, 21. And so he asks, in all gentleness: For if I make you sorrowful, who, then, is it that makes me glad, that cheers me, unless it is he that has been made sorrowful by me? His love for the Corinthians had caused him to rebuke their sins and faults, to cause them sorrow, for he had in mind their repentance which would, in turn, gladden his heart. But if he had come at the time he first intended to visit them, the very people upon whom he depended to cheer him, to be a source of satisfaction and joy to him, would have caused him pain once more, since the abuses which he wanted to have removed were at that time still being tolerated by them. In doing his duty as their spiritual father, in inflicting upon them the chastisement which conditions merited, he would be deprived of the joy which the Corinthian Christians, as his children, afforded him. But as matters stood, his letter had indeed caused sorrow, but things had meanwhile been adjusted, and Paul was spared the personal intercourse of sorrow.

This thought is brought out still more fully in the next verse: And I wrote you this very thing, lest in coming I should have sorrow from them from whom I ought to have cheer, firmly persuaded concerning you all that my joy is that of you all. The desire to spare them and to save himself pain had prompted the apostle to send his censure in writing, as he did in the first letter. This course made it easier for both parties: it saved him an unpleasant experience, a factor all the weightier since their relation to him should at all times have been of a nature to cheer him. Just how much that meant for him appears from the fact that he was fully persuaded, that he felt the utmost confidence in them all, that his joy was the joy of them all. He was sure of the bond of sympathy between them; they would want to see him cheerful and happy at all times, and he, considering them all as his friends, would surely be willing to spare them a distressing experience.

The state of mind in which he wrote his first epistle the apostle did not care to experience again: For out of great affliction and anxiety of heart I wrote to you with many tears. Many sections of the first letter might seem harsh and conducive to anything but a feeling of joyfulness; but his very love for the Corinthians made his lamentation about their harm and his fear for their peril all the greater. He had held himself in check purposely, lest his opponents bring the charge of impulsiveness arid uncontrolled feeling. But for all that, the accompanying circumstances were such as just stated by the apostle, his purpose in telling of them at this time being: Not that you should be made sorrowful, but that you might know the lore which I so abundantly have toward you. Just as the love of the mother is most tender toward the sickly and weak child, just as the shepherd shows the depth of his love especially in his seeking of the one that is lost, so Paul in his care for all congregations, chap. 11, 28, yet had a special love for the Corinthians, because they were most in need of love and caused him the most anxiety. The same pastoral love is today exhibited in thousands of cases with probably as little appreciation on the part of those that are the objects of this loving care.

The case of the notorious sinner: V.5. But if any have caused grief, he hath not grieved me, but in part, that I may not overcharge you all. V.6. Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many, v.7. so that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow. V.8. Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him, V.9. For to this end also did I write, that I might know the proof of you, whether ye be obedient in all things. V.10. To whom ye forgive anything, I forgive also; for if I forgave anything, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ, v.11. lest Satan should get an advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices. This paragraph is a model of loving, pastoral tact and delicacy. There can be but little doubt that Paul is referring to the incestuous person concerning whom he wrote so sharply in the first epistle, chap. 5, 1-5. And yet he writes: But if any one has caused sorrow. He names neither the offense nor the offender, preferring to suppress the matter which had been adjusted so satisfactorily with the least possible sensation. For the offender, in causing sorrow, did not grieve him, -Paul was not the direct object of the offense,-but to some extent (lest I press too heavily upon him) you all. The apostle had felt the sin only inasmuch as it harmed the Corinthian congregation and thus grieved the entire Church of God. He does not intend to lay a greater burden upon the repentant sinner than the circumstances absolutely require. And least of all does Paul intend to continue bearing a grievance now that the sorrow of the congregation has been converted into joy by the sinner’s repentance.

And therefore the apostle adds the kindly admonition: Sufficient to such a one is this penalty, this punishment, on the part of the majority. Evidently the directions given by the apostle as to the manner of dealing with the incestuous man had been carried out, the majority of the members being willing to follow the words of their teacher. Whether, however, the man had actually been excluded from the Christian congregation or had accepted the reproof of the congregation, cannot be determined. At any rate, he had been disciplined severely, he had, in some form, borne the penalty, the punishment of his sin, and was still in disgrace. So Paul calls a halt; enough has been done; the object has been attained. The time for severity is past, leniency and kindness must now be employed: So that, on the contrary, you ought rather to be kind to him and comfort him, lest with excessive sorrow such a one be swallowed. As soon as a full and free confession of sins has been made on the part of the offender, all harshness should be forgotten and nothing but comforting kindness be in evidence. For, unless this is the case, the guilty one may be driven to despair and the entire object of the disciplinary measures be frustrated. Unless the repentant sinner is given the full and unequivocal assurance of divine grace and pardon, he may give up all hope of salvation and all efforts to obtain eternal life, and turn from the Gospel with a heart forever embittered against Christ and the Christian Church. The more sorrowful and downcast a conscience is because it feels the wrath of God and the power of Satan in its state of excommunication, the more glowing should the proclamation of the grace of God in Christ Jesus be made, “Therefore the pastors should indeed emphatically and severely scold and rebuke those that have fallen; but when they notice that they grieve over their sins and want to lead a better life, they should, in turn, comfort and help them, making their sins as small and light as they possibly can, namely, in this way, that the mercy of God, who spared not His own Son, but gave Him for us all, is greater than all sin, in order that those that have fallen do not sink down into overmuch sorrow.” 5)

It is in this spirit that Paul writes: Therefore I exhort you to make good [your] love toward him. By a formal decision the guilty person should now be restored to the communion of the Church; in this way their love to the brother should assert itself; as the power to bind had been used by the congregation, the power to loose likewise should be applied. And the apostle backs up his appeal in a very skilful manner: For to this end I also wrote, that I might know the proof of you, whether you are obedient in regard to all things. In giving them the instructions of the first epistle, his object had been to make a test of them, whether they would willingly accept his apostolic authority and act accordingly. Now that the purpose of the disciplinary measures had been fully realized, not a trace of vindictiveness would dare remain, and they would surely carry out also the present instructions with equally obedient cheerfulness, they would prove as loyal as he expected them to be.

In order to make them feel that he was united with them in their public act of forgiveness, Paul adds: But to whom you forgive anything, I also; for also I, what I have forgiven (if I have forgiven anything), for your sakes before the face of Christ, lest we be taken advantage of by Satan; for his devices are not unknown to us. The congregation’s willingness to forgive as also the consolation of the repentant sinner are here strengthened by the apostle. The members of the Corinthian church should rest assured that they are using their power, the Office of the Keys, properly in following his instructions, for his own forgiveness in this case is spoken. And they could remember for all times that he would not presume upon an authority over them, he would not exercise lordship over them in such matters. In the form of a principle he states his position that he, in case forgiveness was in order, would concur with them in the absolution. For their sakes and in the presence, in the sight, of Christ, the Redeemer of the world, he would forgive the repentant sinner. And in order not to contradict himself, v.5, he adds, in a parenthetical sentence: If we assume, granted that I have forgiven anything. It is so necessary to use all evangelical lenience on account of the many snares of the devil, who would be sure to take advantage of the situation by making an earnest attempt to capture the guilty person. Despair would lead him straight into the arms of the devil, the apostle writes, and he had some experience and knowledge of this matter; he was acquainted with the designs of the adversary of men’s souls. Far from yielding the repentant offender as a welcome victim to the wiles of Satan, he wanted to use every precaution to foil his advances and frustrate his devices. Note: This same spirit of loving mercy should characterize every pastor and every congregation with reference to every repentant sinner, no matter how great the original offense may have been.

Paul’s Triumph in Christ. 2 Cor. 2, 12-17.

V.12. Furthermore, when I came to Troas to preach Christ’s Gospel, and a door was opened unto me of the Lord, v.13. I had no rest in my spirit because I found not Titus, my brother; but taking my leave of them, I went from thence into Macedonia. V.14. Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savor of His knowledge by us in every place. V.15. For we are unto God a sweet savor of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish. v.16. To the one we are the savor of death unto death, and to the other the savor of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things? V.17. For we are not as many, which corrupt the Word of God; but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God, speak we in Christ. Paul here returns to the description of his own spiritual condition at the time when he wrote the first epistle, and when he started upon his journey to Macedonia. He had reached the city of Troas in Mysia, on the Aegean Sea, where he, on his second missionary journey, had had the vision calling him over to Europe, Acts 16, 8-11. But although he had come there for the purposes of the Gospel of Christ, with the intention of preaching the Gospel, and although the door of opportunity was opened to him in the Lord, he would have found sufficient occasion to be active in the sphere which was so dear to him, yet he had no rest in his spirit, he could not shake off the uneasiness which prevented his working. He was laboring under such a strain of anxiety that he could not perform his duties as in other places, the chief reason for this condition being that he did not find Titus in Troas as he had expected. Titus was to bring him the information concerning the situation in Corinth, and he had hoped to meet him in the port. So his increasing restlessness, his worry about the congregation at Corinth, caused him to take his leave of the brethren in Troas, who, in spite of their eagerness to have the beloved apostle in their midst, respected his impatience. Thus he had come to Macedonia, where he was writing this present letter. Note: The fact that Paul, although an inspired apostle of the Lord and teacher of the Christian Church of all times, was yet subject to temptations, to periods of oppression of spirit and despondency, is a comfort to us, urging us to be strong in the midst of similar attacks of weakness.

All the worries of the apostle were dispelled by the information brought by Titus, whom Paul met in Macedonia, as his triumphant words show: But thanks to God who always causes us to triumph in Christ, literally, leads us in a triumphal procession. The emphasis lies upon “always.” No matter what anxiety and distress are besetting the Christians, they always are partakers of the victory of God, even if it be in the role of one of the captives, one of the believers gained for the Lord through the Gospel. And not only does God make use of the apostle in that capacity, but he also makes manifest the odor, the savor, of the knowledge of Christ through the apostle and his companions in every place. The knowledge of Jesus Christ, the Savior, as spread by Paul in the countries from Jerusalem to the Aegean Sea and beyond, is an odor of sacrifice which is well-pleasing to God. Cp. Mal. 1, 11. Its effect may be hidden before the eyes of man, but the omniscient God is delighted with such a sacrifice, and all those that are spiritually minded take note of its power. “For concerning the presence, operation, and gifts of the Holy Ghost we should not and cannot always judge ex sensu [from feeling], as to how and when they are experienced in the heart; but because they are often covered and occur in great weakness, we should be certain from, and according to, the promise, that the Word of God preached and heard is [truly] an office and work of the Holy Ghost, by which He is certainly efficacious and works in our hearts.” 6)

Paul’s thanks are given to God because he was a minister of the victorious Word, who incidentally offered sacrifice of a sweet-smelling odor to God: For we are a sweet savor of Christ unto God. The knowledge of Christ was an odor which was pleasing to God; but the entire ministry of Paul, in which he was so indefatigable, was also a sweet savor to the Lord, his entire life having the odor of sanctity; the odor of Christ pervaded him and all his doing. All believers, inasmuch as they are filled with the knowledge of Christ and God, share in this wonderful quality: odors of sanctity should at all times be found emanating from their entire life and conduct. But Paul, speaking specifically of himself and his fellow workers, says that they are a sweet savor of Christ in them that are saved and in them that perish, that are engaged in the process of being saved and of perishing; to some indeed a savor out of death unto death, but to others a savor out of life unto life. The glorious odor of the name and of the message of Christ goes forth upon all men with equal sweetness, but there is a great difference in the effect. Those that are saved become partakers of this salvation because they receive life out of the merciful odor which arises wherever the Gospel is preached. But those that perish deliberately take poison out of that same glorious odor which is originally intended for life only. Because they persist in their unbelief and will not accept the truth of redemption, therefore the odor which alone can give life has a deadly effect upon their hearts and minds. Those that are lost are offered the same grace which saves all sinners, but the Gospel in their case succeeds only in working disgust, resistance, contradiction against the holy love of God, the result being that the Word of the Cross is to them foolishness and an offense, 1 Cor. 1, 23. Christ is to them a sign to be spoken against, Luke 2, 34, a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, 1 Pet. 2, 8, and thus they bring upon themselves the condemnation of blindness, John 9, 39.

No wonder that Paul, who is fully aware of this result of his work, cries out: And for these things, who is sufficient? The answer is partly implied: So one of himself, and certainly at no time such as adulterate God’s Word. But in defense of himself and the other teachers he adds: For we are not as the majority, including the false apostles at Corinth, who adulterate the Word of God, who corrupt the divine message as contained in the Gospel. Then as now there were many that resorted to such tricks for the sake of filthy gain, who took the strength out of the Lam and the beauty and consolation out of the Gospel. With suck Paul did not want to be identified. But as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of Gad, in Christ, we speak. His personal feeling and attitude was one of strict sincerity, his entire ministry being open before the eyes of all men. His commission was of God; he had not desired nor sought the office, but was doing his work as one sent by God. He was ever conscious of the presence of God and of the consequent necessity of walking blameless in His sight. And in Christ he spoke, in fellowship with Him, a lover of truth and an enemy of falsehood; in Christ he had found the precious content of the Gospel, and this treasure he was trying to impart to others by his teaching. Thus he triumphed in Christ and gave all honor to Christ and God, just as should be done by all faithful ministers of Jesus to this day.

Summary. Paul continues his explanation of his change of plans, urges the kind acceptance of the repentant offender, describes the unusual depression which he experienced at Troas, and pictures the knowledge and ministry of Christ as a savor unto life and unto death.