Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Today’s reading is taken from the second chapter of Paul’s second letter to the church at Corinth. In this chapter, Paul writes on the subjects of forgiveness, obedience, and concluding discipline of the brethren.
Reading: II Corinthians 2
But I determined this with myself, that I would not come again to you in heaviness.
2 For if I make you sorry, who is he then that maketh me glad, but the same which is made sorry by me?
This is an interesting passage in which Paul explains the reason why he was so loath to come to Corinth while there were still significant issues remaining to address.
Paul derives great pleasure from the communion of the saints. But if he comes in order to rebuke and correct the saints, then the focus of his visit will be solely on those things which are wrong. Instead of drawing joy and gladness from being with the brethren, he would be the sternly rebuking father come to discipline his children.
Therefore, so that his visits might be full of joy instead of pain, Paul elected to stay away for a time.
3 And I wrote this same unto you, lest, when I came, I should have sorrow from them of whom I ought to rejoice; 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 unto you with many tears; not that ye should be grieved, but that ye might know the love which I have more abundantly unto you.
5 But if any have caused grief, he hath not grieved me, but in part: that I may not overcharge you all.
Paul expresses again how, in his previous letter, he wrote of many things that needed correction in the church. He did not correct the church in anger or out of a sense of betrayal (though apparently there were whispers that he was no true apostle, or that his teaching might be somehow lesser than it is). Instead, what Paul wrote he wrote out of concern and love.
Take note of how Paul seeks to soften his rebukes with love, and does not want any to think that their actions are more grievous than they are. It’s no “Damn ye all to hellfire” missive, but rather “children, hear my words and obey.” If any has come against Paul in part, it is as a child swinging at his father – demonstrative of a poor spirit, but ultimately harmless to the one who is attacked.
So, too, we should remember that our brethren are our brethren. When they strike out in confusion or anger, it is not an assault by a mortal enemy, and we should not react as though it were.
6 Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many.
7 So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow.
8 Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him.
The punishment to which Paul refers is excommunication – the withdrawal of contact. In particular, this passage seems to refer to the sinner who Paul commanded be cast out of the church so that he might repent and be saved. Because he was a brother (and yet is), no greater punishment is necessary for even his crimes than to be cast out.
It would seem that the excommunicated soul was repentant, but the church was hesitant to restore him. For this reason, Paul instructed the church to forgive him and restore him gently, for the discipline was done out of love instead of hate.
What father would not punish his son in order that he might repent? And, when the son has repented, what father would not restore him to his bosom? So, too, when our brother repents, we must show our love and restore him to the church.
9 For to this end also did I write, that I might know the proof of you, whether ye be obedient in all things.
At the same time, Paul’s instruction to excommunicate the unrepentant brother was a test of obedience. If the church had not obeyed in this, Paul would have had all the more reason to come down on them with both feet.
10 To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also: for if I forgave any thing, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ;
11 Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices.
This is a difficult passage, for in it Paul claims authority to forgive in Christ’s name and by His authority. Is this a power of all the people of God, or one reserved only unto the apostles, or those otherwise ordained by Christ to do such?
We know that Paul is not Christ, nor is he an avatar of God. In a sense, he is no different from the brethren who live and praise the Lord today. And we know that only God has the power and authority to forgive sins. Perhaps it would be best to say that we have a most forgiving Lord, who has already forgiven us our sins by the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. As such, when Paul grants forgiveness, it is not as though he has forgiven in God’s name, but rather that he assures us that our God has forgiven it. (I believe this teaching to be consistent with that of many of the elders of the Church who now sleep).
Therefore, by the chain, whatever the church has forgiven Paul has elected to forgive, and that which Paul has forgiven he assures us has also been forgiven by God.
The second verse is of a different nature, in that it refers to Satan instead of God. We know that one of Satan’s mechanisms is a thing that the Lord hates: sowing discord among brethren. When we refuse to forgive that which God has forgiven, we stir up trouble in our own hearts, and Satan uses that trouble to further discord among us. So, then, what God has forgiven, let us also forgive.
12 Furthermore, when I came to Troas to preach Christ’s gospel, and a door was opened unto me of the Lord,
13 I had no rest in my spirit, because I found not Titus my brother: but taking my leave of them, I went from thence into Macedonia.
This is interesting. Paul entered Troas to preach, and apparently God laid out such a scenario as to bring great fruit of this preaching. At the same time, Paul was troubled because of Titus (to whom the book Titus is addressed). One can only wonder what would cause Paul to be so concerned that Titus wasn’t there.
14 Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place.
In context, this praise and thanksgiving must refer to Paul finding Titus and finding relief from his concerns. All glory be to our Lord in all things, for he has done marvelous things.
15 For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish:
16 To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things?
17 For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.
What does this mean? For this set of passages, I scoured several commentaries seeking interpretation, but none of them had any easy explanation, either. What follows is, for the moment, my speculation perhaps devoid of substance.
In verse 14, Paul speaks of the savour of God’s knowledge which he makes manifest to us. This knowledge takes many forms, but most particularly we think of the sweet knowledge that comes from knowing our Lord Jesus Christ lives and reigns and has made it possible for us to be called sons of God. He gives us much more knowledge than this, but is there any sweeter gospel than that which we have received?
Then, this gospel which dwells in us, and the Spirit which has come to dwell with us, is the sweetest thing. It is as a pleasant scent that wafts about us, filling our lungs with its pleasing aroma. But to those who are without grace (that is, those who yet perish in the flesh and spirit), this same gospel is damnation. Not only do we all carry within us the certain knowledge of our inevitable demise and the weight of our sins, but those who are dying hear the gospel as a certain pronouncement of demise. Then, to those who are dying we are the harbingers of their demise, but to those who are made new in Christ we are co-celebrants in the greatest of joys.
Christ came bearing a sword, dividing those who will live from those who will die. He has created a rift between us by drawing forth those who will live into His Truth (for, without Christ, we all would die). And He will sit upon the throne of judgment on the Last Day. Christ is sufficient in all things.
As I write this, I am certain of its truth, but I fear this is not the proper interpretation of the passage. I seek to write all these things in sincerity, in the sight of God, so that there be no corruption. For when we speak as many, there is confusion and discord, but when we speak in the Spirit there is but one message, consistent throughout as God is consistent throughout.
Let us Pray
Almighty Father, sovereign Lord over all of creation, we thank you that you are our Father. We had no right to be called your children when we were yet dead in our transgressions and sins, yet out of your great love for us you saved us while we were yet sinners.
Lord, we know that we do err and sin. We are yet fallen bodies awaiting the day of resurrection when we shall be made perfect, yet in our present state we do sin against you. Discipline and restore us when we do, Father, so that we might bring ever greater glory to Your Name.
Teach us all things.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,
May you be filled with the Spirit and blessed with all Spiritual Gifts, sharing all things in the brotherhood that we have in Christ.