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

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

The Christian leader, regardless of his level of leadership, cannot use his authority to impose either his will or his doctrine, however right and sound these may be. He must recognize that people have minds and consciences of their own. They can accept as true and right only that which they see to be true and right. The sole power which Jesus used in His ministry was the power of truth and love. In the Temptation He deliberately rejected all the external means commonly used to influence people—the appeal to appetite, to love of sensation, and to power. The Christian minister and even the Christian worker, cooperate with people, as Paul says, in search for truth. He must induce them to think with him. Jesus employed this method. In reply to questions, He would often give no direct answer, but would Himself ask a question, or would tell a story from which His hearers would draw their own conclusions. It is the same in matters of conduct. He laid down no rules; he set down principles that required thought and forced men to choose, even at the risk of making a mistake. It is in this cooperation that we find the joy of Christian living, just as the joy of work is found when masters and men are seeking together a common objective. The deepest source of joy is found through tasks in which we are one with the creative will of God, and are in tune with His Spirit. The opposite of Joy is not sorrow; it is sin, which breaks the harmony between us and one another, and between us and God. Joy cannot be found by seeking it. It is a by-product of self-forgetful activity. It is a fruit of the Spirit, not an artificial compound of pleasurable excitements nor is it produced by stimulating the senses. The church should be the center of the highest type of joy, which is fellowship in Christ among people fully consecrated to His purposes and responding to His love.

Chapter 2

1 But I determined this within myself, that I would not come again to you in sorrow.

Paul never says exactly what happened during this “painful visit” in this letter. That would have been inappropriate since Paul had already addressed it previously (see 2:3). But this letter gives some clues to what happened. From the two letters that have been preserved—1st and 2nd Corinthians—we know that the Corinthians not only had problems with incest (1 Cor. 5:1-2) and adultery (1 Cor. 6:9) but they were also troubled by incessant arguing (1 Cor. 1:10), disruptions during the worship service (1 Cor. 11:17-22), and even lawsuits between believers (1 Cor 6:1-8). Moreover, a group of false teachers was preoccupied with criticizing Paul’s actions and authority (2 Cor. 11:1-11). Apparently, on Paul’s last visit, a member of the Corinthian church had publicly challenged Paul (2:5){13]. Paul issued a severe warning to those who were persistently sinning in the church (13:2){14}. His great desire was that the church might obey the word, discipline the offender, and bring purity and peace to the congregation.

Paul delayed his visit because he did not want to visit them again if it meant repeating the same hurtful experiences. He knew he would have to say things that would hurt him to say and them to hear. It is not true that love is blind. It has penetrating insight into moral reality. Elsewhere Paul tells us to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15){15]. His first visit, which is the only visit recorded in Acts (Acts 18:1-18), was not “painful.” That long stay, though not without trials, was, on the whole, a very fruitful period. But when, after writing 1st Corinthians, he visited Corinth again to correct conditions there, he had been contemptuously treated. This second “painful visit” is also referred to in 12:14{16] and 13:1-2{17]. During that delay, he had promised to return soon, before going to Macedonia. But later he decided to delay his return; this is the change of plan for which he was criticized and which he is now defending. He sent Titus to Corinth with the “stern letter,” while he himself, waiting for conditions at Corinth to improve, took the long route to Corinth, through Macedonia.

A servant of Christ is no stranger to pain and suffering (Matt. 5:10-12; Jn. 15:18-20; 1 Pet. 2:21{18]). Paul had his share (2 Cor. 1:4-10; 11:16-32), from which he never shrank. But he was no fool. If he could avoid it and still accomplish his work he would do so.

2 For if I make you sorrowful, then who is he who makes me glad but the one who is made sorrowful by me?
Paul’s rhetorical question reiterates his point that his ministry is to work with the Corinthians for their mutual joy (see 1:24). Many of Paul’s letters describe the joy and encouragement he had received from other Christians—from the Romans (Rom. 15:32){19], the Philippians (Phil. 1:25){20], and the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 2:19){21]. The steadfast faith of these Christians encouraged Paul to continue in his evangelistic endeavors. Later in this letter, Paul would describe how Titus’ promising report of the Corinthian’s faith encouraged him to endure persecution (see 7:4, 7){22].

Thus, Paul decided not to visit the Corinthians because he didn’t want to cause unnecessary sorrow. He had already rebuked the church on his last visit (13:2){3]. He couldn’t stand another painful visit. He could take no sadistic pleasure in disciplining those he loved. His joy could come only through their joy, and their growth in faith and love. Were he to grieve them by rebuke and discipline, there would be no one to gladden his heart. His life was linked with theirs in joy and sorrow. That is why he wanted to give them more direction on how to correct some of the abuses in the church, but he also wanted to give them some time to resolve the issues among themselves, for their faith would ultimately stand on God—not on Paul and his efforts to reform them (see 1:24). Furthermore, Paul would not even consider compromising his moral principles in order to flatter those who take offense instead of opening their eyes to their pride, for that is something the false prophets would do (Jer. 6:14){23]. Genuine love cannot accept superficial solutions to troubles that disturb the church.

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.

The identity of Paul’s lost letter has been the subject of much scholarly debate. Traditionally, the letter Paul referred to here was considered 1 Corinthians. Proponents of this theory identified the sinner who Paul forgave in the next passage (2:5-11) with the incestuous man of 1 Corinthians 5:1-5.

It has become generally accepted, however, that 1st Corinthians is not the “last letter,” primarily because 1st Corinthians as a whole does not reflect the deep sorrow described by Paul in these following verses. Furthermore, the details described in the next passage (2:5-11) do not seem to fit the situation of the incestuous man of 1stCorinthians 5:1-5 but instead, someone who personally offended Paul on his last trip to Corinth (see 2:5){13]. For these reasons, many Bible commentators consider the letter referred to in this verse to be lost. Apparently, Paul wrote this “severe letter” to the Corinthians soon after his “painful visit” with them. In this “lost letter” he had exhorted the Corinthians to discipline their errant members—specifically, the ones who were publicly opposing His authority (see 2 Cor. 2:1-4, 7:8{2]). God, according to His sovereign plan preserved all the letters of Paul He wanted included in the Bible—God’s inspired Word. According to His plan, this letter was not preserved for later generations to read and study.

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