2 Corinthians 2

The apostle had made up his mind that he would postpone his visit until it could be made under happier circumstances: and now, as he wrote this second letter, the heaviness was passing and brighter things coming into view. His first letter had made them sorry, as he intended it should, and their sorrow now made him glad, as verse 2 of chapter 2 shows. It had been sent ahead on its mission so that when he did come amongst them it might be with confidence established, and with joy.

In verse 4 we get a very touching and valuable glimpse of the manner and spirit of Paul's writing. Reading his earlier epistle we can discern its powerful and trenchant style: we can notice how calculated it was to humble them with its touches of holy irony. We should hardly have known however that he wrote it "out of much affliction and anguish of heart . . . with many tears," had he not told us this. But so it was. Foolish and carnal though they were, yet he loved them with a tender affection. Consequently the inspired Word of God flowed to them through the human channel of a loving and afflicted heart, and was mightily effective. Would to God that we were followers of Paul in this, and learned the holy art through him! How much more effective we should be.

What a deluge of controversial writings has flowed through the church's history! What polemics have been indulged in! And how little, comparatively speaking, has been accomplished by them. We venture to believe that if only one tenth had been written, but that tenth had been produced by men of God, writing with much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, because of that which made the writing needful, ten times as much would have been accomplished for the glory of God.

After all, love lies as the rock-bottom foundation of everything. Not cleverness, not ability, not sarcasm, not anger, but LOVE is God's way of blessing.

"Out in the darkness, shadowed by sin

Souls are in bondage, souls we would win.

How can we win them? How show the way?

'Love never faileth,' Love is the way.

'Love never faileth,' Love is pure gold;

Love is what Jesus came to unfold,

Make us more loving, Master, we pray,

Help us remember, Love is Thy way."

It might have seemed harsh of Paul to call the evil-doer at Corinth, "that wicked person," and to instruct that he be put away from their midst. But his loving heart caused his eyes to shed tears as he penned the words. Paul's words and tears were effective and the punishment was inflicted, as verse 6 states; and inflicted not by Paul merely, or by one or two of the more spiritual at Corinth, but by the whole mass of the saints. Thus the man was made to feel that they all abhorred and disowned his sin. His conscience was reached. He was brought to repentance.

This, of course, is the end that discipline is designed to reach. Erring believers are not disciplined merely for the sake of punishment, but that they may be brought to repentance and so restored, both in their souls, and to their place of fellowship amongst God's people. This happy end was reached in the case of the offender at Corinth.

How infrequently is it reached today! All too often the putting away is done in a hard judicial spirit. The anguish of heart, the tears are absent, and the offender becomes more occupied with the harsh manner of his brethren than with his own delinquencies. Hence his repentance is a long way off-to his loss and theirs.

The action taken at Corinth was so effective that the man was brought himself into much affliction and anguish of heart. Indeed the danger now was that the Corinthian assembly would in their zeal against his sin, overlook his sorrow, and not forgive him administratively by restoring him to his place in their midst. Now, therefore, Paul has to write to them urging them to do this, and thus confirm their love towards him. It was possible otherwise that he might be overwhelmed with overmuch sorrow. Sorrow for sin is good; yet there is a point where it may become excessive and harmful-a point where sorrow should cease and the joy of forgiveness be known. The joy of the Lord, and not sorrow for sin, is our strength.

Verse 10 shows that if the assembly at Corinth forgave the man, their forgiveness carried with it Paul's. And again, that if Paul forgave any, by reason of his apostolic authority, he did so for their sakes, and as acting on behalf of Christ. The forgiveness spoken of in this verse may be termed administrative forgiveness. It is the forgiveness of which the Lord spoke in such scriptures as Matthew 16: 19, where it is apostolic; Matthew 18: 18, where it is vested in the assembly; John 20: 23, where it is confirmed to the apostolic company by the Lord in His risen condition. In 1 Corinthians 5 we have a case in which the powers of "binding" or "retaining" were exercised. In our chapter we have an example of "loosing" or "remitting."

Paul wrote thus, not merely for the sake of the sorrowing brother, but for the sake of all, lest Satan should get an advantage over all of them. Note it well! The very devil himself in some cases likes to see believers righteous overmuch, at the expense of "the meekness and gentleness of Christ." The Apostle could add, "for we are not ignorant of his devices." Alas, that so often we cannot truthfully say that! We are ignorant of his devices, and though our intentions are good we fall into traps that he sets.

What wisdom we need to hold the balance evenly, in practical matters, between the claims of righteousness and love. How necessary to remember that all discipline is inflicted in righteousness, whether by God Himself or by men, in order that repentance may be produced: and that when it is produced love claims the right to hold sway. Let us not continue to smite in discipline a repentant soul, lest we come under Divinely inflicted discipline ourselves.

One remarkable feature about this epistle is the way in which historical details as to Paul's movements and experiences form a kind of framework, in the midst of which is set the unfolding of much important truth, which is introduced rather in the form of digressions-often lengthy ones. The epistle opened with his sufferings and trouble in Asia, and the consequent change in his plans, and this led to the important digression of 2 Cor. 1: 19-22. Then he picks up the thread as to his subsequent movements, only to digress further in chapter 2, as to the forgiveness of the repentant offender.

At verse 12 he again reverts to his movements. This brief visit to Troas must be distinguished from that recorded in Acts 20: 6. It apparently came between the departure from Ephesus and the arrival in Macedonia, as recorded in Acts 20: 1. Though an open door was set before him by the Lord he was unable to avail himself of it, owing to his great anxiety for news of the Corinthians. In this case his pastoral solicitude prevailed against his evangelistic fervour. If the servant is not at rest in his spirit he cannot effectively serve the Lord.

The apostle was evidently conscious that this was failure on his part. Yet looking back he was equally conscious that God had overruled it to the glory of Christ; and this led him to an outburst of thanksgiving to God. It also led him once more to digress from his account of his experiences, and we do not come back to them until 2 Cor. 7: 5, is reached. The long digression which starts with verse 14 of our chapter, contains the main teaching of the epistle.

As regards his service, one thing he knew: he really and truly set forth Christ. Many there were who dared to manipulate the Word of God to serve their own ends. He, on the other hand, spoke with all sincerity as of God, and as in the sight of God, and as representing Christ. Moreover Christ was his great theme. Hence God led him in triumph in Christ.

The language the Apostle uses seems to be based upon the custom of according a triumph to victorious generals, when sweet odours were burned, and some of the captives, who helped to augment the triumph, were appointed to die, and some to live. The triumph was Christ's; but Paul had a share in it as spreading abroad the sweet odour of Christ wherever he went-an odour so infinitely fragrant to God. This was so whether he were in Troas or whether in Macedonia.

He preached Christ as the One who died and rose again, whether men believed and were saved, or whether they believed not and perished. If they believed not and were perishing, then the tidings of the death of Christ simply meant death for them. If He died for sins, and they refused Him, they certainly must die in their sins. If some believed, then tidings of His life in resurrection brought the odour of life for them. Because He lived they should live also.

How solemn then is the effect of a true preaching of Christ! What eternal issues hang upon it! This is so, whether the lips that utter it be Paul's in the first century or ours in the twentieth. No wonder the question is raised, "Who is sufficient for these things?" It is raised, but, not answered immediately. It is answered however in verse 5 of the next chapter. The whole thing being of God there is no sufficiency but of God. Would that every servant of God always bore this in mind! What deep-toned earnestness it would produce in us: what dependence upon the power of God. How careful we should be not to adulterate the message, and not to carry out the work just as we like, or as we think best; but to serve according to the Word of God.