His Explanation, Part 1 of 4, (series: Lessons on 2 Corinthians)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

March 27, 2014
Tom Lowe

Lesson II.A.1.c: His Explanation. (1:23-2:4)

2nd Corinthians 1:23-2.4 (NKJV)
23 Moreover I call God as witness against my soul, that to spare you I came no more to Corinth.
24 Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are fellow workers for your joy; for by faith you stand.

1 But I determined this within myself, that I would not come again to you in sorrow.
2 For if I make you sorrowful, then who is he who makes me glad but the one who is made sorrowful by me?
3 And I wrote this very thing to you, lest, when I came, I should have sorrow over those from whom I ought to have joy, having confidence in you all that my joy is the joy of you all.
4 For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you, with many tears, not that you should be grieved, but that you might know the love which I have so abundantly for you.

From verse 23 through verse 4 of chapter 2, Paul returns to the charge of vacillation that had been made against him and gives a straightforward explanation of why he did not visit Corinth as planned. If the apostle had visited Corinth at the time planned, he would have had to deal very firmly with the situation there. He would have had to deliver a personal rebuke to the saints because of their carelessness in tolerating sin in the assembly. It was to spare them pain and sadness that Paul delayed his trip to Corinth.

Chapter 1

23 Moreover I call God as witness against my soul, that to spare you I came no more to Corinth.

Paul had planned to visit the Corinthians twice (1:15-16{1]). But after experiencing the brunt of his opponents' attacks on his last “painful visit” (2.1; NLT), he, instead of visiting them again, wrote them a letter because he wanted to give them ample time to change their ways (7:8-9{2]). Paul didn’t want to visit the same people just to give them the same advice for the same problems. Instead, he wanted to wait until he could visit them for the purpose of building them up in the Lord.

Moreover I call God as witness was the apostle’s declaration of his truthfulness. His conscience was clear and open to the scrutiny of the penetrating light of God’s judgment. Passing this heavenly appraisal is the only way to truly know if a man is telling the truth. Whenever a person’s conscience is not influenced by the Holy Spirit, he may say what is pleasant, or convenient, or merely what he would like to believe or would he would like others to think he believes, or what is merely a reflection of the widely held opinion in the matter.

Paul was calling upon God to be his witness, since no other person could testify to his motives. Paul saw his whole life, including his innermost thoughts, as an open book to God. Sometimes the preacher must answer the unspoken desire of his flock to be told only what they want to hear—they don’t want him to say anything that would hurt their feelings. His answer must always be the same as that of Micaiah, “As the Lord lives, whatever the Lord says to me, that I will speak" (1 Ki. 22:14).

In this case, Paul just wanted to make it clear that his canceling his second visit to Corinth was made out of concern for what is best for them. He had not made his decision for selfish reasons, as his opponents claimed (1:17), but for consideration of their spiritual welfare. He wasn’t a fickle person. Instead, his intention had been to spare the Corinthians the sorrow that another visit, at this particular time, would cause. Apparently, Paul wanted to give them time to repent and to resolve some of the problems he had observed on his last “painful” visit. This delay in the visit to give them time to repent is mentioned in 13:2, 10{3], and was probably also listed in the “stern letter.”

24 Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are fellow workers for your joy; for by faith you stand.

In verse 24 we have another one of those parenthetical flashes of insight that could only emanate from the Holy Spirit within him. He declares his respect for their freedom as fellow believers— Not that we have dominion over your faith—and then, he continues to try to convince them that he always has their best interests in mind—we are fellow workers for your joy; for by faith you stand. He does not lord it over their faith, but works with them for their joy, because they stand fast in the faith. This is a critical statement. It reveals his view of his use of his authority as a teacher and a leader, his conception of the freedom of Christian men, and the method and aim of his work. Instead of describing his apostolic role as a master, Paul carefully describes his job as an apostle as working with the Corinthians for their ultimate joy in Christ. It could only be in Christ because it would only be by faith in Him that they could stand firm. There was no need to correct the Corinthians as far as their faith was concerned, for in that sphere they stood firm enough. The matters he sought to correct were not matters of doctrine as much as of practical behavior in the church. To stand by faith a person must be born by faith into Sonship with God. He is entitled therefore to judge whether what is preached or taught to him is truth by using his own insight. In other words, he is entitled to think things out for himself. Private judgment, however, is liable to error, but it is a risk that must be taken for the sake of freedom; without freedom, no one can come to maturity of mind or character. In spiritual as well as in political matters, authoritarian rule is fatal to the growth of personality. Paul wasn’t their taskmaster. Instead, he was a fellow worker, pointing out how they would experience the joy God wanted to give them. This is a potent image for any spiritual leader—from a pastor to a Sunday school teacher. A spiritual leader should be less of a master and more of a friend, a person who works beside, always pointing to the path that leads to the joy that can be found only in God. Dictatorial means can produce compliance but not the obedience that comes from faith, which is what Paul sought. Authoritarian domination was not the way of Christ, nor of those who stand in His stead (1 Pe. 5:3{4]). Paul assured the Corinthians, we are fellow workers (1 Cor. 3:9{5]), and he did not work against them or over them.

In the beginning of 2nd Corinthians, Paul was very careful not to offend the Corinthians. Instead, he repeatedly emphasized their unity in Christ. Through Jesus, Paul and the Corinthians had been joined (see 1:6, 11, 14, 21){6]. Paul and the Corinthians were even working together to further the cause of the Gospel: the Corinthian’s prayers were strengthening Paul in his trials; in turn, Paul was encouraging them. He took great pains to emphasize how they were working together, in order to avoid any “us-versus-them” attitudes, and he denies any desire to lord it over his readers. The Christian life rests upon faith, which cannot be forced on anyone. The “false apostles” who came to Corinth acted arrogantly (11:20){7], but Paul respects his converts, and he and his helpers act as fellow workers with the Corinthians in order to give them joy. He has had to cause them pain in order to bring them to their senses, but his deep and ultimate purpose had always been to help them find that “joy unspeakable” that comes from a life lived wholly in the will of God.

This verse protects Paul from any misunderstanding with the Corinthians by explaining what he meant by “spare” (v. 23)—it qualifies his previous statement—but, on the surface spare sounds somewhat domineering. Paul wasn’t acting as a judge or governor over the Corinthian’s faith in Christ. Paul couldn’t give them their faith—that is, their confident belief in God and in Jesus, their Savior—much less control it. Their faith was a gift from God (Rom. 12:3{8]; Eph. 2:8{9]), not subject to anyone’s control except God’s. In the respect, the Corinthians were subject to no one except the Ultimate Judge (Rom 14:1-4){10]. As a result of this gift of faith, the Corinthians were to stand firm. This means to endure and persevere in the presence of opposition and pressure from the world (Heb 12:1{11]; 12:11-13{12])

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