So I made up my mind that I would not make another painful visit to you. For if I grieve you, who is left to make me glad but you whom I have grieved? 2 Corinthians 2:1-2
The Book of Acts only records one visit to Corinth by Paul, but we have proof that there were more visits. In 12:14 Paul says, “Now I am ready to visit you for the third time…” (cf. 13:1-2). So, when Second Corinthians was written, Paul had already made two visits to Corinth.1 It is clear that his second visit was a sorrowful or painful one as mentioned in this passage (cf. 13:2). He had no desire to repeat such a visit. It would be harmful to the people and of course to Paul himself.
The apostle, rather than going straight to Corinth, made his way to Troas and then on to Macedonia. Guzik suggests, “It seems that Paul thought it best to give the Corinthian Christians a little room, and give them space to repent and get their act together.” 2 He would later take some heat from the Corinthians because of his change of plans. Still, we must remember that Paul relied heavily on the Holy Spirit before making travel plans (cf. Acts 16:9-10; 18:21; Rom. 1:10; 15:32; 1 Cor. 4:19).
We witness here how closely Paul’s joy was tied to theirs. They were the very people who could make him extremely happy. It was critically important that their love and joy could return and that they could get over their cantankerous attitudes. About the only cure for a faithful minister’s grief is the people’s reformation.
“I wrote as I did, so that when I came I would not be distressed by those who should have made me rejoice. I had confidence in all of you, that you would all share my joy” (2:3). It appears that sometime soon after 1 Corinthians was written, Paul had to make an emergency trip to Corinth to deal with some critical problem. On his return to Ephesus he apparently wrote his severe letter to the church. This letter was apparently carried to the church by Titus (2:13; 7:6, 13; 12:18). Many scholars feel that this letter has been lost. Keener quips, “One might not blame the Corinthians for misplacing this one.” 3 Some might be grieved that we do not have this letter. However, we must remember that the Holy Spirit is the final author, compiler and protector of God’s word. “We can trust that what Paul wrote in the missing letter was perfect for the Corinthian Christians at that time, but not perfect for us.” 4
“For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you” (2:4). The Lutheran commentator, Paul Kretzmann says, “Just as the love of the mother is most tender toward the sickly and weak child, just as the shepherd shows the depth of his love especially in his seeking of the one that is lost, so Paul in his care for all congregations.” 5 Paul here expresses one great qualification of a true Christian minister, the ability to grieve and shed tears over his flock. Some may wish to go easy on people problems but Paul directly confronts them in love. Barclay says, “…there is a time when to avoid trouble is to store up trouble…” 6 The Holy Scriptures says in Proverbs 27:6, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.”
If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you to some extent— not to put it too severely. 2 Corinthians 2:5
There is presently a considerable discussion among commentators over this person who has caused a problem in the church. Through the centuries, commentators have been sure that he is the immoral man mentioned in 1 Corinthians 5:1-5. It has been only in modern times that commentators have thought that it is someone entirely different. These modern commentators feel that this is some person who had publicly embarrassed Paul in challenging his apostolic authority (cf. 1 Cor. 1:12).7 Perhaps in this age we will not know the final answer to this.
Paul’s letter here is a model of gentleness and respect. It is said that Martin Luther could hardly bear to pray the Lord’s Prayer. The problem was that his father was unusually stern and painted the Lord as a picture of grim terror. Luther was fine with not sparing the rod but he felt that beside the rod he should keep an apple as a reward for the child who has done well.8 Morgan has said, “Love never slights holiness; but holiness never slays love.” 9
“The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him” (2:6-8). Paul says, “It is enough!” The immoral man has repented. There is apparently a danger that the sinful person will be overwhelmed with grief. The situation in the First Century was obviously much different than today. When people took Jesus as Lord and Savior, in a very real sense they cut themselves off from many worldly contacts. They had a new set of family members and friends. Now to be severely disciplined or even cast out of the church was a dual disadvantage. In today’s society the immoral man would simply move on to another church. Such a thing was impossible in early times since the house churches in each city were considered only as one big church and there was apparently close cooperation between groups.
It seems obvious that Paul’s severe letter had been effective. The church had apparently repented of their attitudes and had meted out some severe punishment. There is a big difference between a tearful but severe letter and a haughty but severe letter. Love and gentleness have a way of melting down the icebergs of coldness and resistance. We must always remember that “Pastoral discipline among the early Christians was always remedial.” 10 It was always designed to restore the person who has sinned. Coffman says, “Nothing could be more unbecoming to a church, or to Christians, than to withhold forgiveness from a penitent Christian needing and asking it.” 11
“Another reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything” (2:9). The Greek for “test” is dokimē, and it has the meaning of being proved by testing.12 In one sense Paul was proving the church to see if they would obey his instructions. Finally, they seemed to have passed the test.
“Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven— if there was anything to forgive— I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.” (2:10-11). The word for “forgive” used here is the Greek charizomai. Although there are other words for forgive, Paul seemed to favor this one, likely because it was derived from the word “grace” (charis).13
The apostle was concerned that Satan would not get the advantage of the Corinthians. The Greek verb used here is pleonekteo, and it means “to take advantage of, outwit, defraud, cheat.” 14 It is interesting that Paul speaks of Satan more in his Corinthian letters than in any other of the New Testament letters.15
NEW COVENANT MINISTRY
Now when I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord had opened a door for me, 2 Corinthians 2:12
Paul is here speaking of Alexandria Troas, the port city on the Aegean Sea where one could easily embark in a journey to Macedonia. It appears likely that Paul preached at Troas. The London scholar, Peter Pett remarks, “We do not know exactly what this involved, but clearly Troas presented a welcome break and positive opportunity after the trials of Ephesus.” 16 In Acts 20:7-8, it appears that there was at least a small church in Troas, so it was fertile ground for the gospel. It seems that, near the close of this particular journey, Paul stayed there seven days (20:6). He even left some of his prized possessions in the keeping of someone there (2 Tim. 4:13).
“I still had no peace of mind, because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said goodbye to them and went on to Macedonia” (2:13). It seems that Titus was one of Paul’s best troubleshooters. Later we see him assigned to Crete, to straighten out the difficulties there (Tit. 1:4-5). Then we see him assigned also to Dalmatia (2 Tim. 4:10). Apparently Paul had agreed to meet with Titus at Troas but he must have been delayed. The apostle had no peace until he could meet with Titus and find out what was going on at Corinth. Therefore, he departed from Troas and sailed for Macedonia.
In this day before telegraphs, telephones, cell phones and the like, we might wonder how people could stay in contact in these early days. Obviously, it was a little difficult. Keener gives us some help in understanding this: “Paul and Titus would be able to check for each other at any of the churches along the way, just as Jewish people knew how to find fellow Jews through the local Jewish communities when they traveled.” 17
THE TRIUMPHAL PROCESSION
But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. 2 Corinthians 2:14
It seems that upon finding Titus and receiving his good report about Corinth, Paul simply broke into a session of praise and thanksgiving to God. The picture that the apostle is painting here is that of a Roman triumphal procession honoring a victorious general. Barclay gives us a good description of such an event:
First came the state officials and the senate. Then came the trumpeters. Then were carried the spoils taken from the conquered land. For instance, when Titus conquered Jerusalem, the seven-branched candlestick, the golden table of the shew-bread and the golden trumpets were carried through the streets of Rome. Then came pictures of the conquered land and models of conquered citadels and ships. There followed the white bull for the sacrifice which would be made. Then there walked the captive princes, leaders and generals in chains, shortly to be flung into prison and in all probability almost immediately to be executed. Then came the lictors bearing their rods, followed by the musicians with their lyres; then the priests swinging their censers with the sweet-smelling incense burning in them. After that came the general himself. He stood in a chariot drawn by four horses. He was clad in a purple tunic embroidered with golden palm leaves, and over it a purple toga marked out with golden stars. In his hand he held an ivory scepter with the Roman eagle at its top, and over his head a slave held the crown of Jupiter. After him rode his family; and finally came the army wearing all their decorations and shouting loud their cry of triumph. As the procession moved through the streets, all decorated and garlanded, amid the cheering crowds, it made a tremendous day which might happen only once in a lifetime.18
There were some requirements before such a grandiose event could take place. The general must have been the actual commander-in-chief on the battlefield. The campaign had to be finished and the region pacified. New territory had to be conquered and the troops had to be returned home. At least five thousand enemy troops had to be killed in the engagement. Plus, it had to be a foreign campaign and not merely a civil war.19
Paul takes this picture and applies it to the Christian campaign, with its hardships and difficulties, but with the great rewards that will follow. In Romans 8:31, the apostle speaks of all this saying: “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Rom. 8:37). As Christians go out into the world they share the universal gospel in every place (cf. Matt. 28:19-20; Lk. 24:47; Acts 1:8), it is like the savor of offerings given with sweet incense. The incense represents the knowledge of Christ.
“For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing” (2:15). In the Old Testament the animal offering was described in Hebrew as a re’ach ne-ho-ach or a pleasing aroma to the Lord (Gen. 8:21; Exo. 29:18). The message to the called and chosen is thus a sweet aroma of salvation. It is a sweet aroma because of Christ who, “…loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:2).
“To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task?” (2:16). To the enemy captives in the procession the smell of incense was a smell of their coming execution. To the victors the sweet incense was a smell of victory, blessing and life. We know today in many places the Christian message is greeted with pain, disgust and revulsion. It speaks of a soon-coming day when their lives and activities will be judged severely by God and when eternal death will be the result.
The scholars, Kenneth L.Barker and John R. Kohlenberger III say, “Behind Paul’s thought in both these verses may be the rabbinic concept of the Law as simultaneously life-giving and death-dealing…” 20
“Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, as those sent from God” (2:17). Here the apostle is taking aim at those false Jewish apostles who had slipped into the Corinthian fellowship and who were trying to make their living off of Paul’s good and faithful work. Paul was not some scheming peddler but he had worked in sincerity (eilikrineia) among the Corinthian believers. Interestingly, it is said that our English word “sincere” comes from the Latin sincerus, meaning “without wax.” Apparently there was a practice among the Roman merchants to patch their earthen and porcelain jars with wax of the same color as the jar. Through this subterfuge small cracks in the jars would not be apparent to the buyers.21
Paul would not stoop to such things.
Other commentators feel that this is a picture taken from the tavern. They feel that the Greek word kapēleuontes pictures the unscrupulous tavern keeper who for the sake of greater profit mixed his drinks with liquors of no worth.22 Whether deceitful tavern keeper or devious peddler, the false teachers were involved in a very destructive work among the saints at Corinth. Paul had determined with all his spiritual might to put an end to their influence.
We must wonder if there is a warning here for all those peddlers of the word that we often see on TV. While some are sincere ministers, it seems that others are intent in bringing in the offerings to keep themselves and their establishments going. God knows their hearts.