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Paul’s Joy January 21, 2012

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on 2 Corinthians 7:2-16.

Summary: Paul begins by exhorting the Corinthians to love him in return, as he has done none of the following:

  • treat anyone unjustly
  • corrupt anyone’s morals
  • defraud anyone.

He does not intend to question their devotion to him, as they are so dear to him that neither death nor life could separate them. He has joyful confidence in them, and he boasts of them; at this time he is filled with comfort, and his joy overflows in the midst of his difficulties.

When Paul entered Macedonia, he still endured mental anguish; he was faced with external and internal difficulties. Yet God, who comforts the depressed, comforted him via the arrival of Titus. Paul was consoled by hearing of the comfort that Titus had received from the Corinthians; moreover, Titus told him of their desire to see him, their mourning over having offended him and their zeal for him – and so he experienced joy beyond what he derived from hearing of Titus’ personal comfort.

Although Paul’s previous letter briefly pained the Corinthians, causing him to regret having written it, he now has no regrets. In fact, he now rejoices over it – not because they were pained, but that their pain caused them to turn from sin to God; they were pained according to God’s will, and so his first letter did not injure them. Sorrow according to God’s will is an essential aspect of salvation – and the one who repents should not regret it – while the sorrow of unbelievers only yields spiritual death. Now Paul’s previous letter caused the Corinthians to experience sorrow according to God’s will, and they displayed the following:

  • a desire to correct the sin in their midst
  • a desire to acknowledge their sin to Paul and ask for his forgiveness
  • anger at themselves for allowing the sin of interest to occur in their midst
  • fear that Paul would come and punish them for their error in this regard
  • affection for Paul
  • a desire for the reformation of the sinner in their midst
  • a sense that the sin in their midst must be punished

and so in every respect they showed themselves to be pure in this regard. Although he dove into their internal affairs by writing his previous letter, their above-mentioned actions prove that he wrote to them neither for the sake of the sinner in their midst, nor for the one who he had injured – but to show his love for them.

Paul is encouraged both by the Corinthians’ repentance in this regard, and by the fact that Titus’ spirit derived rest from them. He had boasted of them to Titus, and they did not mortify him; just as he had preached the truth to them, his boasting of them was vindicated. Indeed, Titus now has more affection for them than when he was with them, because he remembers their obedience toward him; they had greeted him reverently. Paul concludes by stating that he rejoices in the fact that he can be confident in them.

Thoughts: In verse 10, Paul states that sorrow for sin that stems from a proper relationship with God eventually produces life, while the sorrow of unbelievers eventually produces death. Hodge offers some pointed words on this subject:

It is a great mistake to suppose that the natural tendency of pain and sorrow is to bring good. They tend rather to excite rebellion against God and all evil feelings. It is only when they are sanctified…that they bring out fruit for righteousness…The more miserable you make a bad man, the worse you make him. The wicked are said to curse God while they gnaw their tongues with pain and refuse to repent of their deeds (Revelation 16:10-11).

This is a difficult quote to digest, especially when one considers how the class of unbelievers can be decomposed into its constituent sub-classes. For example, one of the core principles of Hinduism and Buddhism is that by leading a proper life, one can eventually escape pain and sorrow. I find it difficult to picture a Buddhist monk becoming “worse” as a result of experiencing sorrow; the monk in question would probably perceive sorrow as one of the standard obstacles on the road to enlightenment. Most likely Hodge’s point has its true significance in light of the Final Judgment, especially given his quotation from Revelation.

In verse 16, Paul asserts that he is confident in the Corinthians. Hodge offers some summary thoughts on this point:

This is the conclusion of the whole matter. The first seven chapters of the letter are intimately linked. They all relate to the state of the congregation at Corinth and to Paul’s relationship to the people there…Here, therefore, we have the conclusion of the whole preceding discussion. The result of the long conflict of feeling about the Corinthians as a church was the full restoration of confidence. ‘I rejoice that I have confidence in you in all things.’

This refreshingly positive conclusion to the first part of the epistle must have subtly influenced my understanding of it before I wrote this series of posts. While the epistle is miles away from being as “warm and fuzzy” as I had thought, Paul is clearly pleased that the Corinthians have responded positively to his previous letter – at least in terms of the case of their incestuous brother – showing that they are growing in their spiritual walk.

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