His Explanation, Part 3 of 4, (series: Lessons on 2 Corinthians)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

This verse reiterates that Paul’s own joy depends on the spiritual condition of the Corinthians. The first part of 2nd Corinthians emphasizes the independence of Paul and the Corinthians—the community of the faith that existed between them (see 1:11-14){24]. Paul’s own spiritual success was intimately connected with the Corinthians spiritual success. This verse (2:3) again emphasizes that the Corinthians supplied part of Paul’s motivation. In fact, their strong faith and their happiness were one of the reasons he could courageously face the trials of an evangelist (see 7:4){22].

The independence of Christians was a truth Paul had already told the Corinthians about see 1 Cor. 12:12-29). Christians together, form one body, joined by Christ to glorify God the Father. Since all are part of one body, believers are to work together for the Gospel of Christ. Each member should do his or her part, according to the spiritual gifts God has given that person. Paul had to stress this truth again and again—surely you know my happiness depends on your happiness. In Ephesians, Paul underscores the union of Gentiles and Israelites in Christ (Eph. 3:6){25]. In Romans, Paul encourages each Christian to use his or her unique spiritual gift for the benefit of the entire church (Rom. 12:4-8){26]. In Colossians, he encourages all to pursue peace with one another since they are all part of the same body (Col.3:15){27].

In the “stern letter” he wrote this very thing, that is, in order to spare them, he was delaying his visit (13:10){3]. This letter caused them pain because of the rebuke it contained. He was also pained from writing it (v. 4), but he thought that for him to visit them at this time would be even more painful for both of them. It let him avoid the grief of an unhappy meeting with those whose presence should have brought him only joy. Even as he wrote with rebuke and stern appeal, he remained confident; he had not given up hope that they would repent and come to a better understanding. He still expected them to realize, even though it had to come through rebuke and anguished appeal, that his joy was really their joy too, so that they could never find peace of soul until by their attitude they had restored to him that joy in his converts which was his deep satisfaction.

Paul’s love for the church had no self-interest in it. Love “seeketh not her own” (1 Cor. 13:5){28]. He had no mercenary motives, no love of power, and no worldly ambition. He was primarily interested in people, not in ideas or in himself. I have confidence in you all. He gives them credit for wanting to be the best they can be, and he makes them feel that he expects it. This kind of faith in people has a profound effect.

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.

Paul passionately expressed how he felt when he wrote that letter, the “severe letter.” Although he was sorry that his letter would hurt the Corinthians, he had sent it anyway. In 2 Cor. 7:8-12{29], Paul explains his reasons in more detail. His severe reprimand in this letter was aimed at securing a change of heart in the Corinthian believers. He knew it would cause much sorrow, but was hoping that it would provoke “godly sorrow” (7:10){29], a sorrow that leads to repentance. This is why Paul claimed here that his motive was love. Sometimes the most loving action a person can do for a fellow Christian is to confront him or her with the truth. The truth often hurts. Confronting a person in the wrong with the truth, however, can be the best thing a friend can do.

The affliction and anguish of heart and the many tears were not expressions of despair, nor did they come from a wounded vanity, though Paul was deeply hurt. This is the language of a broken heart, not of a wounded pride. His concern here was not to promote his reputation, but to restore them to fellowship with him through a real repentance. Paul could have exercised his apostolic authority and commanded the people to obey him and respect him, but he preferred to minister with patience and love. This is the love that shines from Calvary, and we can receive it only from Christ.

Both the sorrow and the severity of his letter expressed his love for his readers. Love must sometimes be stern, and this was such a time; but the love was in control. His abundant love for them does not mean that he loved other churches less, but that his love went out more actively and with deeper concern to meet the greater need of this immature and rebellious church. Love also gives confidence. Paul had confidence that the Corinthians would feel what he felt.


In this passage, we have heard the echo of unhappy things. As we have seen, the sequence of events must have occurred as follows. The situation in Corinth had gone from bad to worse. The church was torn with party divisions and there were those who denied the authority of Paul. Seeking to mend matters, Paul had paid a brief visit to Corinth, So far from mending things, that visit had exacerbated them and nearly broken his heart. In consequence, he had written a very severe letter of rebuke, written with a wounded heart and through tears. It was for that very reason that he had not fulfilled his promise to visit them again, for, as things were, the visit could only have hurt them and him.

Behind this passage lies the whole heart of Paul, when he had to deal in severity with those he loved.
1. He used severity and rebuke very unwillingly. He used them only when he was driven to use them and there was nothing else left to do. A Christian man must seek for things to praise and not for things to condemn. Very early in my career as a supervisor of drafters and engineers, I decided that everyone wanted to do a good job; and therefore, I always tried to give out more compliments than criticism.
2. When Paul did rebuke he did it in love. The effective rebuke is that given with the arm of love around the other person.
3. When Paul rebuked the last thing he wanted was to domineer the other party. Paul knew that as a teacher he must never domineer, although he must discipline and guide. The false teachers who invaded the Corinthian church were guilty of being dictators (see 2 Cor. 11), and this had turned the hearts of the people away from Paul, who had sacrificed so much for them.
4. Finally, for all his reluctance to rebuke, for all his desire to see the best in others, for all the love that was in his heart, Paul does rebuke when rebuke becomes necessary. If we are guided by love and by consideration, not for our own pride but for the ultimate good of others, we will know the time to speak and the time to be silent.

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