2 Corinthians 7

We have then these striking promises from the lips of God. If we are separate from the world, and face whatever loss that may involve, we shall find God acting as Father toward us, and we shall enter consciously into the good and sweetness of the relationship in which we are set. Now having such promises we are exhorted (as we open chapter 7) to purify ourselves, and thus perfect holiness in the fear of God. Notice that it says, "from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit." This is a very important word, and very sweeping. Our attention has just been directed to the necessity of a purification from all fellowship with the world in outward things. Yet if we merely practised separation in outward things, confining ourselves to that, we should just become Pharisees; a most undesirable thing. The separation we are to practice goes much deeper. All filthiness or pollution of the flesh is to be avoided, and all filthiness of the spirit too.

Both forms of separation are called for; the inward and the outward too. The outward without the inward is just hypocrisy. The inward without the outward is at best a very defective thing. At the worst it descends to the plight in which Lot was found in Sodom, though not himself descending to the shocking morals of that city. Abraham was in the happy path of God's will; clean outside the place as well as free from the evil. There are the pollutions of the world: the pollutions of the flesh: the pollutions of the spirit: the last of the three the most subtle of all, because the most refined form of sin. May God awaken us to great carefulness as to it. Holiness when carried to its perfection covers all three. But we are to be carrying it on towards its perfection even now. May God help us to do so.

The Apostle had delivered his soul thus as to the Corinthians, and was conscious that the threatened breach between himself and them had been averted in the mercy of God; and those from outside, who had fomented trouble and had been his detractors, had lost something of their power. The Corinthians, under the influence of these men, had been inclined to turn their backs on Paul. Things however were now changed, and he can say simply, "Receive us." They knew the integrity that had ever characterized him, and the fervent love towards them that was in his heart; he was identified with them in his affections whether in life or in death. Moreover, confident now as to their affection for him, he was filled with encouragement and joy. He could tell them now of the happy experience that was his, when tidings of the effect of his first epistle reached him.

Verse 5 picks up the threads of happenings from 2 Cor. 2: 13. One can read from one verse to the other as though nothing came between them. He had left Troas, in spite of the door for the Gospel opened of the Lord, because he had no rest in his spirit as to the Corinthians; yet when he got into Macedonia conditions were even worse. There were not only fears within but also fightings without. One can imagine a little perhaps of what he felt as he plunged deeply, and yet more deeply, into sorrows and troubles. Suddenly however Titus appeared, bringing good news as to the effect of his first epistle, which ministered to him great comfort. He had the companionship of Titus, and the assurance that God had intervened in His mercy.

His first epistle had been used to effect two things: first, a thoroughgoing repentance as to the evils he had denounced; second, a revival of their affection for himself. There was of course a very distinct connection between them. As they realized the error of their ways so they saw that his plain and faithful remonstrances were actuated by love; and responsive love was kindled in their hearts towards him. For a time he had been tempted to regret that he ever wrote the letter, but now that its good effect had been manifested he could only rejoice.

This scripture shows us very clearly what genuine repentance really is. It is not exactly sorrow for sin, though godly sorrow of that sort is an ingredient of it. Verse 11 shows what repentance involved in their case, and with what zeal and fear they cleared themselves. Repentance of a right sort is repentance to salvation; that is, it means deliverance from the thing repented of. Mere sorrow for sin, when confronted with its consequences, is the kind of which the world is capable, and it only works death and not salvation. Judas Iscariot is a sad example of this.

One great thing, then, that had come out of all the troubles at Corinth and the sending of the first epistle had been a mutual expression of love as between Paul and the saints there. Verse 7 mentions, "your fervent mind toward me;" and verse 12, "our care for you in the sight of God." It was no small thing to put things right as between the one who did the injury and the one who was injured, but it was even greater to bring into display that love which is the fruit of the Divine nature in the saints.

A striking feature of this chapter, from verse 5 and onwards, is the way in which all these happenings are traced to the hand of God. Having sent his first epistle, Paul was agitated and cast down in spirit to the point of regretting that he had written it-even though, as we know, it was a letter inspired of God. Then at last, when things seemed at their lowest, Titus appeared with good news as to its effect upon the Corinthians. This was the mercy of God intervening to comfort the downcast Apostle, as also it had been the mercy of God effecting a godly repentance in the hearts of the Corinthians. The word, "godly," occurring three times (verses 9, 10, 11), is really in each case, "according to God." God had intervened, and this was the real basis and cause of Paul's comfort and joy.

Moreover Titus had come back thoroughly refreshed and joyful. This evidently had far exceeded Paul's hopes. There had been much anxiety as to them, and many things to blame, as the first epistle shows; and yet the way in which they had received him had gone beyond his expectations. True he had boasted of them to Titus. He had spoken of them with warmth of affection and with assurance of their reality. And now all had been found as he had said. The Apostle's distress had been turned into exultant joy and thankfulness.

In all this we see how God delights to lift up and encourage His tried servants. The God who thus acted with Paul is just the same today. Why are we not filled with greater and more implicit confidence in Him?

The Corinthians had received Titus "with fear and trembling;" they had been marked by obedience. Paul's letter had come to them with an authority that was Divine. In it he had called upon them to recognize that the things he wrote to them were "the commandments of the Lord." Being the inspired Word of God, it had authenticated itself as such in their consciences, and it commanded their obedience. Nowadays some would like to persuade us that we have no logical reason for accepting any given scripture as the Word of God unless we are prepared to receive it as authenticated by "the Church," unless it carries the imprimatur of pope and cardinals. Nothing could be farther from the truth. It was not so at the beginning, and is not so today. The Word of God is self-authenticating in the hearts and consciences of those who are born of Him.

The obedience of the Corinthians to the Word of the Lord gave the Apostle full confidence as to them. He could say with joy, "I have confidence in you in all things." Are we inclined to look upon this as a rather exuberant overestimate on his part, the fruit of the revulsion of feeling he had undergone? It was not so at all. It was the expression of a sober judgment. Saints may be very defective and blameworthy as to many things, but if they recognize the Word of God when they hear it, and yield obedience to its instructions, one need have no fear as to them. All will be well.

It was not that they had any fear of Titus, or that Paul's letters, though weighty and powerful, put the fear of Paul upon their spirits. It was rather that in spite of all their errors they did tremble at the Word of the Lord, when they heard it.

Are we equal to the Corinthians in this respect? Our day is peculiarly marked by disrespect for the Word of God. In many quarters, professedly Christian, the Bible is looked upon as subject matter for criticism. Let us beware lest we catch the infection of it. Would Paul have confidence in us as to all things? Only if he saw that we too were marked by subjection and obedience to the Word of God.