By Sam E. Stone
Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church contained many things that were difficult for the people to hear and to heed. One issue involved a man who had a sexual relationship with his father’s wife (1 Corinthians 5:1). The apostle directed the church to separate from him (5:2, 11-13). The purpose for this exercise of church discipline was to save the man’s soul (5:5). While preparing to make a follow-up visit to Corinth, Paul wrote 2 Corinthians, which we continue studying today.
Philip E. Hughes suggested what may have taken place to cause Paul’s change of plans (see 1:15-17): “Originally he had planned to cross over by sea from Ephesus to Corinth, visiting the Corinthians before traveling north to Macedonia, and then returning from Macedonia to give them the benefit of two short visits
. . . . What probably occurred was that he paid them a quick visit directly from Ephesus, a visit he had not contemplated and one that proved to be painful (2:1). That visit then gave rise to his letter that caused sorrow (see 7:8, 9).”
2 Corinthians 1:23–2:4
Some in the church apparently had been critical of Paul for not returning as he had originally planned. Paul told them that God knew his heart and would bear witness to the truth he spoke. It was in order to spare you that I did not return to Corinth.
J. W. McGarvey paraphrased the apostle like this: “I delayed to come to Corinth in order that you might have time to repent, and show your repentance by obedience; for had I come at the time which I first mentioned it to you, I would have been compelled to discipline you, and therefore make you sorry.”
Instead, Paul wanted to work with them for their joy. He did not see his role as lording it over them, even though his words had apostolic authority. The intent of Paul’s earlier correspondence was to rectify the situation before he arrived there personally.
2 Corinthians 2:5-11
When Paul mentioned anyone who has caused grief, he may be referring to the man who had been living with his father’s wife, or it could have been someone who had led in opposing Paul. Whatever the case, Paul handled the situation tactfully, not mentioning the individual by name. He has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you to some extent. The sinful person’s actions reflected on the entire church.
W. C. G. Proctor explained, “The apostle is not too explicit here in apportioning blame, thus showing a kindly Christian spirit. Christians should not keep alive the memory of wrongs that are past and forgotten.” Paul said, The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him.
Perhaps not all of the members had followed Paul’s strong judgment upon the person; the majority did, however. In the case of incest, this meant expelling the person until he repented. The readers must keep in mind, however, the purpose of such a procedure. Corrective discipline in the church is never intended to “beat down” another. Instead the goal is always to save the person’s soul.
Next, the people were directed to reaffirm their love for the repentant sinner. Just as a parent may lovingly embrace a child after punishing him for disobedience, so the church family should restore a repentant brother or sister. As William Barclay put it, “Punishment should encourage and not discourage.” Jesus taught that a sinner’s repentance marks the end of sorrow and the beginning of rejoicing. This was confirmed in Luke 15 when he spoke of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost boy (vv. 7, 10, 32).
Paul assured the people, What I have forgiven . . . I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake. Paul would not hold a grudge. As an emissary of Christ, he offered others the same forgiveness granted to him by the Lord. So should we all! This helps thwart Satan’s schemes. The devil seeks to overreach, taking advantage of Christians whenever possible. All who follow Christ are required to forgive because we have been forgiven (Matthew 6:12).
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.