Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. 2 Corinthians 7:1
A number of commentators remark how this verse belongs with the previous section. Kretzmann says, “The first verse completes the appeal of chapter 6, to receive not the grace of God in vain.” 1 The promises we now have are probably those of the previous Scriptures mentioned in verses 17 and 18, where God will receive the separated person and be a Father to that one. The separation or cleansing of the individual is again re-emphasized.
Barker and Kohlenberger feel that Paul is hinting here that the Corinthians may have become defiled by occasionally eating at the pagan shrines or attending pagan festivals and ceremonies (cf. 1 Cor. 8:10; 10:14-22).2 Clarke comments regarding the Corinthians and ourselves saying: “How can those expect God to purify their hearts who are continually indulging their eyes, ears, and hands in what is forbidden, and in what tends to increase and bring into action all the evil propensities of the soul?…” 3 God calls his children to absolute purity in all areas of life. We see the same thing long ago with the call of Father Abraham. God said to him, “…I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless” (Gen. 17:1).
We note in this verse that we are to cleanse or purify ourselves from all defilements. This is a figure of speech since we cannot really cleanse ourselves. It is Christ alone who can cleanse us and that cleansing is only through his blood that was shed for us. We can confess our sins but he is the one who cleanses us (1 Jn. 1:9). There is a sense that we have been made perfect forever when we first come to Jesus (Heb. 10:14). However, there is another sense in which that perfection is gained day by day. Robertson sees it as a continuous process (1 Thess. 3:13; Rom. 1:4; 6).4 God doesn’t just want to declare us holy. He wants us to become a holy people.
It is unfortunate that some in the church, even in very early centuries, felt that one could be perfected in this life. In modern times the Holiness Movement has taught this doctrine. Such beliefs seem to have emerged from 19th century Methodist teaching. These groups believe that an entire sanctification is possible in this life. Spurgeon tells of one of these adherents: “I remember hearing a man say that he had lived for six years without having sinned in either thought, or word, or deed. I apprehended that he committed a sin then, if he had never done so before, in uttering such a proud, boastful speech.” 5 When someone boasts of a sinless life, there is usually some family member nearby who can firmly dispute that statement. The Bible says simply, “If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us” (1 Jn. 1:10).
We are charged to perfect holiness in this verse and we can do so only with the Lord’s help (cf. Col. 1:28). However, we must remember that we will only be perfect, complete and holy at the Lord’s appearing (Jude 1:24-25). The Greek word “perfect” epitelountes, “means properly to bring to an end, to finish, complete…” 6
In this verse, we notice two broad areas of defilement, flesh and spirit. When we think about it, there are not so many areas in which we can defile the flesh. There are various sexual sins, varied abuses of the body, such as gluttony, anorexia, alcohol and dope. We can defile our bodies with tattoos, and this is wildly popular, although Leviticus 19:28 clearly prohibits it. There is not so much else we can do to defile the body itself.
The matter of spiritual defilement is a much broader subject. There must be hundreds of ways we can defile our spirits. We will venture to mention a few popular ones: sorcery, witchcraft, false prophecy, hypocrisy, legalism, pornography, false religions, pride, selfishness, lust, and greed. Guzik says, “Sometimes it is easier to deal with the filthiness of the flesh than the filthiness…of the spirit.” 7 Sins of the spirit can easily disguise themselves as we see in the sins of the older brother and the Pharisees. The younger brother sinned in the flesh but the “moral” older brother sinned in the spirit by judging. The Pharisees were hard on sins of the flesh but were guilty of sins in their spirit, such as hypocrisy.8 We must be careful when we look at the sins of another Christian. “Just as we expect different behavior from a baby, a child, a teenager, and an adult, so God expects different behavior form us, depending on our stage of spiritual development.” 9
MAKING ROOM IN THE HEART
Make room for us in your hearts. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have exploited no one. 2 Corinthians 7:2
How sad it is, when the greatest Christian evangelist had to beg the very ones he had brought to Christ, to allow him back into their hearts! How easy it is to get into the game of personality worship, but how difficult it is to get back to reality and truth. We know from 1 Corinthians 1:10-12, that the Corinthians were easily led away by personalities. Now they had almost rejected their own father in the faith.
Paul had a fatherly love and almost a motherly love for his converts. He loved them, cared for them and prayed daily for them. He even wept and longed for them as we have seen. He surely had no thought of corrupting them and certainly he did not exploit them. In fact, he worked as a tentmaker to support himself rather than receive his living from them. Now he has to repeat the plea of 6:13, that they open wide their hearts to him. Obviously, the false teachers were bent upon exploiting the church.10 Somehow, the people loved it
“I do not say this to condemn you; I have said before that you have such a place in our hearts that we would live or die with you” (7:3). This verse is reminiscent of 6:11-13. Clarke comments, “From all appearance there never was a church less worthy of an apostle’s affections than this church was at this time; and yet no one ever more beloved.” 11 Paul loved them so much that he could live with them, and even he could die with them if necessary. We think here of the tender love of Ruth the Moabite who said to her mother-in-law: “Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me” (Ruth 1:17).
“I have spoken to you with great frankness; I take great pride in you. I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds” (7:4). Paul says he speaks in great frankness or confidence. The word for this great confidence is the Greek parrhesia, which is translated also as boldness.12 In spite of their many failures, Paul was proud of the Corinthians. This was real love. Paul’s joy knew no bounds. The Greek word is huperperisseuomai, and it means to superabound in joy.13 Trapp tells of a martyr by the name of Philpot, who said, “In all the days of my life I was never so merry as now I am in this dark dungeon. Believe me there is no such joy in the world as the people of Christ have under the cross….” 14
HARASSED AND BLESSED IN MACEDONIA
For when we came into Macedonia, we had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn—conflicts on the outside, fears within. 2 Corinthians 7:5
Let us bring ourselves up to date on Paul’s travels. He left the area of Ephesus after having some serious life-threatening experience. Then he came to Troas where he hoped to meet Titus and find out how his harsh letter of correction went over with the Corinthians. The apostle was very anxious about his letter and its reception, but Titus didn’t arrive. This no doubt stoked his fears and concerns. In the meantime he had a very positive evangelistic campaign at Troas. Paul, however, could not bear the tension and left for Macedonia, where again he hoped to connect with Titus (cf. 2:12-13).
We might recall from Acts 16 & 17 that Paul originally had a difficult time in Macedonia. He was jailed in Philippi, run out of town in Thessalonica and Berea by the Jews, and finally he escaped alone to Athens. Now, on his return, the opposition against him mounted once more. We can understand how the enemy did not want Paul to introduce the gospel to the area that would much later become Europe.
Paul seriously needed some relief from all the tension and oppression. I can remember a story the comedian Jerry Clower told of a nighttime coon hunt. His friend John went up into the tree to throw down the live coon. However, the coon turned out to be a wildcat. As the wildcat tore his jacket off, his friend John was screaming for those on the ground to do something. They had pistols, but were afraid to shoot lest they hit John. Finally in utter desperation his friend John screamed, “Shoot up here amongst us. One of us has got to have some relief!”
The good news and relief was that Paul at last found Titus and received from him what was a glowing and extremely encouraging report. At last, the apostle could relax and rejoice.
Paul speaks of conflicts on the outside and fears on the inside. The conflicts (machai) may well have concerned pagan adversaries.15 The fears were no doubt connected to the situation at Corinth and his concern as to how his harsh letter would be received. Stedman asks us a question here: “Have you ever been hassled by your circumstances and plagued with inward fears? Well then, you are treading where the saints have trod. You are in an apostolic succession, because that is where Paul was too… This is his promise: ‘God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted above that which you are able to bear… (1 Cor. 10:13 RSV).’” 16
Here, I think of the American patriot Francis Scott Key, who from a British ship that was bombarding Fort McHenry, looked with great concern to see if the American flag still waved. In his great anxiety he penned the words of our Star Spangled Banner:
Oh, say can you see by the dawn’s early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there…
“But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, (7:6). Although Titus was very important to early church expansion, Luke fails to mention him in the Book of Acts. Some scholars have felt that Titus was Luke’s brother, and that is the reason Luke does not wish to mention him.17 Titus was a Greek Gentile Christian who became a choice helper to Paul. He seemed to be the kind of guy who could get things done in the churches. Later, Paul would send him to Crete and to Dalmatia to help with problems in these places. He was later in the Roman prison with Paul (2 Tim. 4:10). What a service he rendered at Corinth, when it seemed that Paul’s whole mission to the Gentiles was in jeopardy. Comfort says, “This was not only a reunion between Titus and Paul, but also a spiritual reunion between Paul and the Corinthians.” 18
Paul continues, “and not only by his coming but also by the comfort you had given him. He told us about your longing for me, your deep sorrow, your ardent concern for me, so that my joy was greater than ever” (7:7). What the apostle describes here sounds like a complete turn-around for the Corinthians. They now longed to see Paul and expressed sorrow and concern for him. The “deep sorrow” here in the NIV is the Greek word odurmon. Pett says that it, “…is a strong word and commonly denotes wailing and lamentation, often accompanied by tears and other outward expressions of grief…” 19 Several other translations use the word “mourning” (NAS, ESV, NET, NKJ, NRS, & RSV). His harsh letter and the skillful labor of Titus had been successful.
Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it— I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while— 2 Corinthians 7:8
Before Paul met Titus, he apparently had a great deal of regret for writing the letter. Now that he has received the report from Titus he has no regret. He has no regret for causing a temporary sorrow because that sorrow led to repentance. In Proverbs 27:6 we read: “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” Pett comments: “Those who can rebuke without pain within themselves on behalf of those whom they rebuke, should not be doing the rebuking.” 20
Paul’s harsh letter caused them sorrow (lupeo), meaning grief and pain.21 However, that pain was temporary, just for a little while, and resulted in a permanent change of mind among the Corinthians.
The apostle says, “yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us” (7:9). Paul is happy that their sorrow led to repentance (metanoian). This word means to change one’s mind or purpose.22 It is abundantly evident that to change one’s mind and purpose results in a change of life.
Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. 2 Corinthians 7:10
We have two kinds of sorrow contrasted here. There is a godly sorrow that ends in repentance and a worldly sorrow that ends in death. Wiersbe notes that these two sorrows are exemplified in Peter and Judas. Peter made a terrible mistake in denying Jesus three times but he had a godly sorrow and it led him to deep repentance (Matt. 26:75 – 27:5). Judas had sorrow for betraying Jesus, but it was a worldly sorrow that did not lead to repentance, but rather to suicide. Peter, of course, was reinstated as chief among the apostles.23
Repentance is a necessary condition for salvation of the soul to take place. John the Baptist came preaching that people should repent (Matt. 3:2); When Jesus began to preach he had the same message of repentance (Matt. 4:17); and then when Peter preached at Pentecost he also delivered the message of repentance (Acts 2:38).24 We are not saved by repentance, but when we truly repent we can then be saved. Spurgeon once said, “… I am desperately in love with repentance; it seems to me to be the twin-sister to faith.” 25
After his fall into adultery and murder, King David was filled with godly sorrow (2 Sam. 12:13). Some people may feel that repentance is only for the lost, but the Bible doesn’t bear this out. Christians are told to repent on several occasions in the Bible. Five of the seven churches in Revelation were called to repentance by the Risen Lord. Isaiah 55:7 speaks to the Lord’s people saying, “Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.” Meyer says, “Godly sorrow accepts rebuke meekly, puts away the wrong, and with chastened steps comes again into the way of the sacred Cross.” 26
“See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter” (7:11). Wiersbe says, “One of the most difficult things to do is to rebuild a shattered relationship.” 27 Yet, through his letter and the work of Titus, Paul’s relationship with Corinth is being rebuilt. We notice in this verse that Paul uses a number of different Greek words. Keener says, “Pilling up related terms was an acceptable expression of Greek rhetoric and simply added emphasis to the point of the terms.” 28 It would do us good to examine some of these terms.
First we see earnestness (spoudēn), meaning earnest care, haste and diligence. The second word is eagerness (apologia), meaning self-vindication or self-defense. Next, we see indignation (aganaktēsin), having the same meaning as it does today.29 The Corinthians were displaying alarm or godly fear, much zeal along with a longing for Paul’s presence. They expressed concern and a readiness to see justice done. The word is ekdikēsis and has the meaning of avengement, vengeance or retribution.30 They had now proved themselves innocent before Paul.
“So even though I wrote to you, it was neither on account of the one who did the wrong nor on account of the injured party, but rather that before God you could see for yourselves how devoted to us you are” (7:12). It appears that Paul’s primary concern was to heal the breach that had developed between himself and the Corinthians. He had already forgiven the person who had sinned and had dealt with the hurt the incident had caused. As we mentioned before, virtually all older commentators felt that the offender was the incestuous person who had taken his father‘s wife (1 Cor. 5:1). Modern commentators have concluded that since sexual immorality is not discussed in 2 Corinthians, Paul must be referring to someone who had deeply offended him on the previous visit. We should note however that sexual immorality is mentioned in 12:21. Scholars think that this person may have challenged Paul’s apostolic authority (cf. 13:1-2).31 As we have also mentioned, we will probably not be able to settle this matter at the present time.
Sometimes deep problems like this do arise in the church and we, like Paul, need to deal with these problems head-on and with love and compassion. Comfort gives us some guidelines in dealing with such problems today: “Rebuke….Be firm and bold…7:9;10:2…Affirm all that is good…7:4…Be accurate and honest…7:14; 8:21…Know the facts…11:22-27…Follow up after the confrontation…7:13; 12:14…Be gentle after being firm…7:15; 13:11-13…Use discipline only when all else fails …13:2.” 32
Such confrontations are not pleasant by any means, yet, they are sometimes necessary. Through the anger, confusion, and hurt we need to remember something that Basil said back in the fourth century: “One who provokes godly grief in us is our benefactor.” 33
By all this we are encouraged. In addition to our own encouragement, we were especially delighted to see how happy Titus was, because his spirit has been refreshed by all of you. 2 Corinthians 7:13
There is no doubt that Paul is encouraged. The Greek word used here is parakaleo, and it means to call or summon someone to help. It can mean to call on or entreat. It also has the meaning of cheering, encouraging and comforting.34 The idea is more to build up rather than simply to console. Clearly, Paul is more encouraged by the joy of Titus than that of himself.
“I had boasted to him about you, and you have not embarrassed me. But just as everything we said to you was true, so our boasting about you to Titus has proved to be true as well” (7:14). Keener says, “boasting about one’s friends was always considered acceptable in antiquity.” 35 Paul did a lot of boasting about his friends. The word for boasting is kauchesis, and it means the same today as in ancient times. It is interesting that Paul uses this word eleven times in his writing. The only other place it appears in the New Testament is in James 4:16.36
“And his affection for you is all the greater when he remembers that you were all obedient, receiving him with fear and trembling” (7:15). Bruce says, “The Corinthians had secured a new and firm friend in Titus…This led to further contacts between them and Titus (cf. 8:6, 16f.).” 37 The feeling Titus had for the Corinthians was again, that deep feeling in the bowels (splagchna) or, as we would say, “in the heart.” The affection of Titus was especially kindled as he observed their deep repentance and obedience toward Paul.
“I am glad I can have complete confidence in you” (7:16). “Paul felt that, in spite of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, no future emergency could permanently undermine his conviction that things would eventually work out for good.” 38 It is likely that within a couple of months, Paul himself would arrive at Corinth and happily spend the winter with the Corinthians. This would be just prior to his ominous journey to Jerusalem.