Correction of the Letter - Part 5 (series: Lessons on 2 Corinthians)
by John Lowe
With regard to the incestuous person: it appeared plainly that they did not consent to, and approve of his sin; and though at first they were unconcerned about it, did not mourn over it as they should have, nor did they promptly deal with the offender as they should, yet having truly repented for their apathy, carelessness, and tolerance, they are acquitted, and stand, in the Apostle's view of them, as if they had never committed the offense.
“Proved yourselves to be clear in this matter,” that is, clearing yourselves in the sense of making an apology. Here, the meaning of apology is “a plea or defense before a tribunal or elsewhere;” and it probably refers to the effort which would be made by the sounder part of the church to clear themselves from blame in what had occurred. It does not mean that the guilty, when convicted of sin, will attempt to vindicate themselves and to apologize to God for what they had done; but it means that the church at Corinth was anxious to state to Titus all the mitigating circumstances of the case: they showed great concern to free themselves, as far as could be done, from blame; they were anxious, as far as could be, to show that they had not approved of what had occurred, and perhaps that it had occurred only because it could not have been prevented. We are not to assume that all the things referred to here occurred in the same individuals and that the same persons precisely exhibited diligence, and made the apology, etc. It was done by the church; all of whom showed deep feeling, but some manifested it in one way, and some in another. The whole church was roused, and all were emotionally stirred to take action, and all endeavored in the proper way to free themselves from the blame, and to remove the evil from among them. Compare:
• Acts 22:1, 2: “Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defense. When they heard him speak to them in Aramaic, they became very quiet."
• 2 Timothy 4:16: “At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them.”
12 Therefore, although I wrote to you, I did not do it for the sake of him who had done the wrong, nor for the sake of him who suffered wrong, but that our care for you in the sight of God might appear to you.
Therefore, although I wrote to you
In this verse, Paul states the main reason why he had written to them on the subject of incest in their church. It was not principally on account of the man who had done the wrong, or of him who had been injured, but it was from tender anxiety for the whole church, and in order to show the deep interest which he had in their welfare.
“Therefore, although I wrote to you” is a reference to his former Epistle, meaning that he included a lot of sharpness and severity and that it may have been thought to be too much, since it made many of them “sorry,” and then repentant (v. 8).
The reference, in the next clause, to the man that had suffered wrong implies that the offender in 1Corinthians 5:1 had married his step-mother while his father was still living. All other interpretations—such as those which make Paul or the community the injured party—are fantasy. But in what sense was the father injured? The union was a marriage, not merely having a concubine or committing adultery, and it could not have been so unless the first marriage had been dissolved by divorce. But if the husband had divorced the wife, then, though the son’s marriage may have shocked men as immoral, the father could hardly be said to have suffered a wrong to which he had exposed himself by his own actions. The most likely explanation is found in supposing that the wife was seduced by her step-son or that she seduced him, and hence had divorced herself. Wives had this power under Roman law; and it was used frequently, especially by women of rank. On this assumption, the father had, of course, sustained a very grievous wrong. There is an obvious tone of impatience, almost of annoyance, in the way in which Paul speaks of the whole business. It was one of those scandals in which, though it had been necessary to assert the law of purity and enforce the discipline of the Church, he could not bring himself at the time to feel any special interest in either of the parties. Afterwards, when the sinner was repentant, there came a new feeling of pity for him, as in 2Corinthians 2:6-8. But when he wrote, it was with a larger purpose; to show them how much he cared for his disciples at Corinth, how anxious he was to clear away any stains that affected their reputation as a Church. Notice that there is no mention of the woman’s repentance, nor, of her coming, in any way, under the discipline of the Church. The facts of the case suggest the conclusion that both husband and wife were heathens, and that the son was the only convert of the family. In this case, we may fairly assume that she had played the part of temptress and that his conscience, though weak, had been the more sensitive of the two. With this explanation, the warnings against being “unequally yoked together” with unbelievers gain a fresh significance.
I did not do it for the sake of him who had done the wrong,
My object in writing was not to involve myself in a personal quarrel. I had in mind neither the one committing the wrong, nor the one wronged, but I wrote for the sake of the whole Church (See 1 Corinthians 5:1, 2; 1 Corinthians 6:7).
Nor for the sake of him who suffered wrong
Nor for the sake of him who suffered wrong, that is, the father of the incestuous person, who had been injured by this wicked deed; it was not only or merely to do him a favor, or out of respect for him; nor was it to provide some compensation from the church in detesting the crime, casting out the offender, and declaring themselves on the side of the injured person, and against him that had caused the injury. The offense was that a man had taken his father's wife as his own (1 Corinthians 5:1), and the person injured, therefore, was his father. It is evident from this passage, I think, that the father was living at the time when Paul wrote this Epistle.
But that our care for you in the sight of God might appear to you
“But that our care for you in the sight of God might appear to you”—the sense of this last clause is that you might have an opportunity to show your affection for us, and your regard for us, how readily you obey us in all things; but the other reading is preferred, that the Apostle when writing the letter did not consult with any particular person, neither the offender or the injured person, though their well-being was on his mind; but primarily, he wrote in the manner he did, in order to make known to them his concern for their good and the welfare of the whole church. In other words, so that they might learn from their own experiences the reality of their earnest feelings for him. He has already spoken of this "earnest care" of theirs (v. 11), but not in quite the same sense. His concern (care) grew out of fear that the Church would be corrupted and damaged because they had tolerated such a notorious delinquent and connived among themselves to ignore or hide his great sin. The Apostle’s care and concern were real, strong, and sincere; and it was well-known to God, and therefore, he could appeal to Him.