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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
2 Corinthians 7

 

 

Verse 1

2 COR. 7

The first verse of this chapter concludes the paragraph which began at 2 Corinthians 6:14. 2 Corinthians 7:2-4 are a concluding thought connected with Paul's appeal in 2 Corinthians 6:11-13. Paul's stern warning to the Corinthians to come out from among the pagans and "be ye separate" (2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1) came right in the middle of his touching plea for their reciprocation of his love; and despite the widespread scholarly prejudice that views this as something incongruous, it appears exactly where such a blast should have been expected. Coupled with his yearning for a full renewal of their love to him, the demand for their separation from paganism was Paul's revelation to them of the one thing and the only thing that could have made possible such a renewal. Therefore, such opinions as the following should be rejected:

There is no doubt that this passage comes in very awkwardly. When we omit it and when we read straight on from 2 Corinthians 6:13 to 2 Corinthians 7:2 we get perfect sense. This stern section seems out of place with the glad and joyous love of the verses on each side of it[1]

Barclay's objections are similar to the views of many scholars who evidently consider it fashionable to assault the unity of this epistle for such flimsy reasons. Just what, really, is their argument? There are just two arguments in view, and there is nothing important in either one of them. Argument No. 1 is that a person can omit these fifteen verses and get perfect sense out of what is left. Is that an argument? No! Through the New Testament, there are numerous parentheses, paragraphs, verses, or chapters that could be painted out without destroying the sense and continuity. As a matter of fact, the middle chapter of the Sermon on the Mount, if removed, would not destroy the sense and continuity of Matthew's gospel; but that certainly does not prove that it does not belong. Certain pages of Barclay's book could be pasted together without any interruption of sense or continuity. This so-called argument is absolutely worthless and unbecoming to the scholars that stoop to use it.

Then, there is Argument No. 2. What is it? "It seems out of place!" However, when the purpose of Paul's stern section here (the 15 verses) is understood as related to the larger paragraph in which it lies embedded, one has an argument which contradicts the notion that the passage is misplaced. Paul's order to separate from paganism is as much a part of his plea for the love of the Corinthians, as would be a husband's plea to an estranged wife to forsake her illicit lover in the very middle of his plea for her affection; and there has never been a critic who could deny it. Argument No. 2, therefore, is also illogical, contrived, forced and unreasonable.

It is not the purpose of this work to explore all of the criticisms directed against the New Testament; because a hundred libraries would be insufficient for such a task. This criticism of 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1 has been explored because it is absolutely typical of all criticism of sacred Scripture. When you have seen one criticism, you have seen them all! In a lifetime of devoted study in the Holy Bible, this writer has never seen a worthy criticism against the word of God.

CHAPTER OUTLINE

The conclusion of Paul's plea for the love of the Corinthians is given in verses 2 Corinthians 7:1-4; and the rest of the chapter is a resumption of the line of thought that Paul had interrupted at 2 Corinthians 2:14. In 2 Corinthians 7:5-16, he takes up the story of his meeting with Titus in Macedonia, speaking of the comfort and joy derived from that meeting, of his new hope and joy for the Corinthians, and of his appreciation of the corrections they had made in keeping with his instructions.

ENDNOTE:

[1] William Barclay, The Letters to the Corinthians (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1954), p. 245.

Having therefore these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. (2 Corinthians 7:1)

This is a reiteration of the command to "be ye separate" (2 Corinthians 6:17), only here it is reinforced by Paul's appeal to the promises certified to the Corinthians because of their status as God's true temple.

Holiness in the fear of God ... Only those who are holy shall see God (Hebrews 12:10,14). Absolute perfection is required of all who would enter heaven (Matthew 5:48). How then can any man be saved? It is admitted by all that perfection in any absolute sense is impossible for mortal man. The answer lies in the perfection of Jesus Christ; and those who accept his gospel, believing, repenting and being baptized "into Christ" are in that manner made a part of Christ, his spiritual body the church, being in a true sense ACTUALLY Christ. In that state of being "in Christ" and fully identified with him, all of the perfection of Christ himself is credited to all of the members of the Lord's body. That is why Paul could say, "That we may present every man perfect in Christ" (Colossians 1:28).

However, Paul did not say that "we WILL present every man" (that is, every Christian), but that "we MAY present," indicating that Christ's perfection, while truly available for every Christian, does not pertain to him automatically. That the manner of a person's life is in some manner determinative appears from what is said here. The practical answer lies in the truth that God will in no case require of a man a perfection which is beyond his power, promising to forgive every sin that a Christian commits; but a Christian must work at it, sincerely and truly, and never stop trying. In all the Bible there is no indication that God will forgive any man for not doing the things which he easily could do, but will not do, or forgive those who continue in presumptuous sin. Paul here commanded the Corinthians to "cleanse themselves" from all defilements of the flesh and to perfect "holiness in the fear of God." This was not something which would be accomplished apart from themselves, but something they themselves were to do.


Verse 2

Open your hearts to us: we wronged no man, we corrupted no man, we took advantage of no man. I say it not to condemn you: for I have said it before, that ye are in our hearts to die together and to live together. Great is my boldness of speech toward you, great is my glorying on your behalf: I am filled with comfort, I overflow with great joy in all our affliction.

Open your hearts to us ... "This means literally, `make room for us.'"[2] Paul's immediate mention of wronging, corrupting and taking advantage of "no man" is best understood not as a defense of himself against such charges, but as a contrast between himself and those false teachers at Corinth who were doing those very things. There is an infinite pathos here. Paul was saying, "You find a place in your affections for those who do such things, can you not find also a place for me,"[3] who preached the gospel to you and by whose preaching you were saved?

In our hearts to die together and to live together ... This was an affirmation of Paul's love in the idiom known to all times and peoples. Ruth the Moabitess spoke her love to her mother-in-law, "Where thou lodgest, I will lodge .... Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried" (Ruth 1:16,17). In the Odes 3:9, of Horace (65-69 B.C.), strong and loving affection was expressed thus:

With thee I fain would live;

With thee I fain would die.[4]

But there is a very significant variation in Paul's use of that ancient idiom, for in Paul's words here, death is mentioned first and life later. Broomall was probably correct in his explanation that for the Christian "death must precede eternal life in glory."[5]

Glorying, comfort and joy ... In 2 Corinthians 7:4, these words indicate that "There rushed upon Paul's memory the recollection of the good news that Titus had brought";[6] therefore, he poured out these moving words of appreciation, personal thanksgiving and joy.

[2] Frank G. Carver, Beacon Bible Commentary (Kansas City, Missouri: Beacon Hill Press, 1968), p. 567.

[3] E. H. Plumptre, Ellicott's Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959), Vol. VII, p. 388.

[4] E. H. Plumptre, op. cit., p. 388.

[5] Wick Broomall, Wycliffe Bible Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1972), p. 673.

[6] E. H. Plumptre, op. cit., p. 388.


Verse 5

For even when we were come into Macedonia our flesh had no relief, but we were afflicted on every side; without were fightings, within were fears.

Having been unable to link up with Titus at Troas, as he had hoped, Paul had journeyed on into Macedonia; and this is a glimpse of the strong uncertainties and anxieties which assailed him before his meeting with Titus. The genuine reality, pathos and appeal of Paul's words here are timeless. No wonder they have been incorporated into the hymnology of the church:

Just as I am! Though tossed about With many a conflict, many a doubt, With fears within, and foes without, O Lamb of God, I come! I come![7]

ENDNOTE:

[7] Clarlotte Elliott, Hymn: Just as I Am (Woodworth) (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company), Hymn No. 131.


Verse 6

Nevertheless he that comforteth the lowly, even God, comforted us by the coming of Titus.

No joy, however wonderful, could induce Paul to forget the God who had provided it; and this mention of his comfort was accompanied by his acknowledgment of the Father who "comforteth the lowly." How precious is such an attitude!

By the coming of Titus ... The importance of this man, to whom one of the sacred books of the New Testament is addressed, suggests additional attention to what is revealed of him.

TITUS

Titus was a Greek Christian who had been converted by Paul (Titus 1:4), a true friend of the apostle, an able and diligent helper, and his companion on the missionary field. It is not improbable that he was a brother of Luke who wrote the Gospel. Both F. F. Bruce and Sir William M. Ramsay receive the speculation that Titus was Luke's brother, giving that as the reason why Luke in Acts nowhere mentioned Titus by name, especially in view of the fact that Luke apparently avoided doing so in relating a circumstance (Acts 20:4) where Titus' name would have been very appropriate.[8]

Furthermore, the very first notice of Titus is in Acts 15:2, where Luke referred to him, but not by name; the certainty that Titus was the one mentioned derives from Galatians 2:3. Other New Testament references to Titus are found in 2Timothy and Titus; but his name occurs most frequently (eight times) in 2Corinthians.

Titus' importance in the development of Christianity is seen in the fact that "he was a representative test case"[9] on whether or not Gentiles had to be circumcised to be Christians (Acts 15:13-29).

As will appear later in this epistle, Titus was entrusted with very important missions by Paul. He had apparently acted as Paul's deputy in the business discussed in this chapter; and, at a later time, he was in charge of the work in Crete, where he was living when Paul addressed to him the epistle to Titus.

He was loved and respected by Paul, evidently having a character of the most noble aspects, and continuing with the apostle throughout his ministry. Hughes said: "2 Timothy 4:10 indicates that Titus was with Paul for a while during his last imprisonment in Rome."[10]

[8] Sir William M. Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveler, pp. 38:390. Also, F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, Publishers, 1954), p. 406.

[9]; ISBE, p. 2,988.

[10] Philip E. Hughes, Paul's Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1962), p. 76.


Verse 7

And not by his coming only, but also by the comfort wherewith he was comforted in you, while he told us your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me; so that I rejoiced yet more.

Not by his coming only ... It was not the mere presence of Titus, wonderful as that was to Paul, which brought him so much joy, but the good news that Titus revealed regarding the situation in Corinth.

Your longing ... mourning ... zeal for me ... Despite the presence of false teachers and bitter enemies of the truth in Corinth, there were those who truly loved Paul, mourned for the shameful sins which had brought disgrace upon them all, and kept up their loving affection for the holy apostle who had broken unto them the bread of life.


Verse 8

For though I made you sorry with my epistle, I do not regret it: though I did regret it (for I see that that epistle made you sorry, though but for a season).

I did regret it ... Some critics cite this as proof that Paul could not possibly have made such a remark about 1Corinthians; but the alleged proof is not here. It was most natural that Paul should have had many tearful regrets about sending a letter which laid bare the immorality and lovelessness of a whole church. It is a safe assumption that none of the scholars who are so dogmatic about this place, denying that it could refer to 1Corinthians - that not one of them ever engaged in such a spiritual effort as that which burdened Paul's heart when he undertook the discipline of the Corinthians. As any man who ever did such a thing must testify, it is a burden of great anguish and sorrow; it is a time of flowing tears and sorrow and heartbreak; it is a time of deep soul-searching and of bewildering wonderment whether this or that should have been said, should have been written, or should have been done. Any man who has been through it knows exactly what Paul meant by this; and that 1Corinthians is just such a letter as to have provided the grounds of deep misgivings on the part of the apostle who wrote it is a stark fact that cannot be denied.


Verse 9

I now rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye were made sorry unto repentance; for ye were made sorry after a godly sort, that ye might suffer loss by us in nothing.

Rejoice ... that ye were made sorry ... It was not their sorrow which brought Paul's joy, but the fruit of that sorrow. It had led them to obey his instructions, having produced repentance in their hearts.


Verse 10

For godly sorrow worketh repentance unto salvation, a repentance which bringeth no regret: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.

REPENTANCE

Repentance unto salvation ... It is strange, and at the same time significant, that the apostles always indicated repentance as being "toward," in the direction of, or "unto" salvation, as here. Peter said that God had granted the Gentiles repentance "unto life"; Mark noted that repentance was "unto the remission of sins" (Mark 1:4); and in Acts 20:21, it is declared that "Both to Jews and to Greeks repentance TOWARD God and faith TOWARD our Lord Jesus Christ" constituted a part of the Pauline testimony to all people. The direction impact of these references cannot be overlooked. Of all the primary steps of obeying the gospel, faith, repentance, confession and baptism, all are said to be "unto" or "toward" salvation, God, Christ and the remission of sins; whereas of baptism alone is it declared that it is "into Christ."

Further comment on the subject of repentance will be found in my Commentary on Hebrews, pp. 17,18, in my Commentary on Luke, pp. 287-290, and in my Commentary on Romans, pp. 367-370, etc.

Several important teachings with regard to repentance appear in this verse: (1) Christians who commit sin are commanded to repent, the same being an invariable duty of all people, aliens and Christians alike. In the case of sin, repentance is never waived. (2) Christians who commit sin, until they do repent are not in a saved condition, else the repentance of the Corinthians could not have been said to be "unto" salvation. (3) Repentance is not sorrow for sin, which in many cases is mere "sorrow of the world" due to the inconvenience caused by sin or its discovery. (4) Even godly sorrow is not repentance, but a condition that produces repentance. What then is repentance? It is a change of the will, with regard to sin, preceded by godly sorrow and followed by "fruits worthy of repentance" (Matthew 3:9; also see my Commentary on Matthew, p. 28).

Sorrow of the world worketh death ... Through remorseful sorrow for sin, Judas committed suicide; and there have been countless other examples of the sorrow of the world working death; but what is mentioned here goes beyond physical consequences and speaks of "eternal death, which is the opposite of salvation" (Romans 5:21).[11]

ENDNOTE:

[11] F. W. Farrar, The Pulpit Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), Vol. 19, p. 171.


Verse 11

For behold this selfsame thing, that ye were made sorry after a godly sort, what earnest care it wrought in you, and what clearing of yourselves, yea what indignation, yea what fear, yea what longing, yea what zeal, yea what avenging! In everything ye approved yourselves to be pure in the matter.

"We cannot be certain of the precise significance in the given circumstances of each of the different aspects of the Corinthians' response to Paul's letter."[12] Rather than a speculative attempt to explain all of those wonderful results of their repentance in response to apostolic instruction, this writer favors the consideration of this exultant and triumphant exclamation of Paul as an exuberant description of the victory that always appears when people accept the word of God and obey it.

Clearing of yourselves ... suggests that their wholehearted repentance and prayers had resulted in their complete forgiveness.

What indignation ... is the indignation against sin which every sincere Christian manifests.

What fear ... refers to the holy fear of God and reverence for his sacred word.

Yea what longing ... is a reference to that hungering and thirsting after righteousness, mentioned by the Saviour in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:6).

Yea what zeal ... True repentance always results in the multiplication of Christian works; and the conversion of the Corinthians had inspired all of them to redoubled participation in the work of the Lord.

Yea what avenging ... There is a hint in this that the Corinthians had turned upon their false teachers with the full anger and determination of men aroused to do God's will and to remove the influence of all persons standing in the way of it. It could be also that Paul felt that their righteous "about face" had in a certain sense avenged him of his own personal enemies and detractors in their city. Certainly, it is wrong to import any vindictiveness into this remark.

Ye approved yourselves to be pure in the matter ... This has reference to some special event, perfectly known to both Paul and the Corinthians, but hidden as far as the people of all subsequent generations are concerned. We should beware of the gross speculative comments which tell all about what lay behind these words. Hughes' pertinent comment is:

Having taken action, the past was put right and they were in a state of purity so far as the affair (all of that immorality mentioned in the first epistle) was concerned. There is no need for Paul to specify any details, since it is all too familiar to them. Hence he just refers to it as "the matter," or "the affair."[13]

All speculation on this should be rejected, because Paul who knew all of the details covered them here; and those commentators who tell all about it are guilty, not merely of going beyond what is written, but of dishonoring the apostolic reticence as well. Why should they who DO NOT KNOW tell us what Paul who DID KNOW refused to tell?

[12] Philip E. Hughes, op. cit., p. 274.

[13] Ibid., p. 275.


Verse 12

So although I wrote unto you, I wrote not for his cause, that did the wrong, nor for his cause that suffered the wrong, but that your earnest care for us might be manifest unto you in the sight of God.

Paul's avoidance of specifics in this verse was for the very purpose of not focusing attention upon any individual, either wronged or a wrongdoer; and this left the way open for destructive critics, intent on destroying the credibility of the entire epistle, to move in and supply the specifics Paul purposely avoided. Such conduct is not merely reprehensible, but devilish. They assert, for example, that by the words "his cause that suffered the wrong" Paul was referring to himself! The following comment is an example of this type of presumption:

When Paul had visited Corinth there had been a ringleader to the opposition. The short, unhappy visit had been poisoned by the activity of one man. This man had clearly personally insulted Paul![14]

While true enough that there was a second, and probably "painful" visit, little is known of it. It is extremely doubtful that there was any single ring-leader in Corinth, for there were many factions. The ring-leader is merely a postulation by speculative critics and never really existed. "This man's" insulting Paul is nonsense. Two verses later in this very paragraph, Paul declared, "I was not put to shame!" (2 Corinthians 7:14). That, of course, gives the lie to the speculations; so they went to work on that, telling us how broadminded Paul was, how he never held anything against anybody, and that "he did not take the matter personally at all!"[15] Such interpretations of the word of God are sheer foolishness; and we have invented a word for all such speculations. They are pure "fembu"!

Wronged ... wrong-doer ... These words actually applied to many at Corinth, not just a few persons, and absolutely not just one person. There were many who had gone to law against brethren before pagan judges, to mention only one thing; and Paul here purposely resorted to impersonal terms for reasons of tact, his great purpose being, not to open old wounds, but to arouse them to compliance with their duty, which compliance would manifest their "earnest care for Paul in the sight of God."

[14] William Barclay, op. cit., p. 201.

[15] Ibid., p. 202.


Verse 13

Therefore we have been comforted: and in our comfort we joyed the more exceedingly for the joy of Titus, because his spirit hath been refreshed by you all.

Paul's words here signal a total victory in Corinth. As Filson said:

"By you all" (in this 2 Corinthians 7:13), combined with "everything" (2 Corinthians 7:14), "all" (2 Corinthians 7:15) and "in all things" (2 Corinthians 7:16), indicates that the entire church responded to Titus' appeal and is now loyal to Paul.[16]

These expressions by Paul, however, are hyperbole. As will be seen in 2 Corinthians 10, there were still pockets of resistance and much wrong-doing still remaining at Corinth. All the sacred writers used this figure of speech, exaggerating for the sake of emphasis.

The first thing that any commentator must learn if he would have any hope of true interpretation is that the sacred writings abound in figures of speech. One cannot progress any further than the third chapter of Matthew (Matthew 3:6) without confronting hyperbole. There it was stated that "Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around Jordan; and they were baptized in Jordan." This, despite the repeated "all," is hyperbole; because Luke categorically stated, "Howbeit the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized"! (Luke 7:30). We are making a point of this, because Filson, and other challengers of the unity of 2Corinthians, blindly ignore the obvious hyperbole in these verses, construing "all" as inclusive of absolutely everyone in the Corinthian church. And why do they do this? The answer is in Filson's comment, as follows:

This fact argues that 2 Corinthians 10-13 do not belong to this letter, but were more likely part of the earlier "stern letter"; the rebuke of those chapters could hardly be addressed to a church whose entire membership is now as loyal as 2 Corinthians 7:14-16 says it is![17]

What Filson here called "this fact" is not a fact at all but a misinterpretation of Paul's hyperbole; and one may only be amazed at the lengths to which scholars will go in their efforts to deny the unity and integrity of this and other sacred writings. There is utterly no reason for a crass literal construction of Paul's words here. Such commentators decry the "literalists" and "fundamentalists" for their interpretations of New Testament truth; but, in this case, they themselves are the "literalists" and "fundamentalists," incapable of recognizing a simple figure of speech. If one gave a party, and "everybody" came, could it then be intelligently stated that nobody went to the football game the same night, because "everybody" went to the party? This is the exact parallel of Filson's so-called argument in the above quotation. It is this type of FEMBU which discredits much of the exegesis encountered today.

[16] Floyd V. Filson, The Interpreter's Bible (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1953), Vol. X, p. 362.

[17] Ibid.


Verse 14

For if in anything I have gloried to him on your behalf, I was not put to shame; but as we spake all things to you in truth, so our glorying also which I made before Titus was found to be truth.

Before Titus had gone to Corinth to assist the Corinthians in their reception and obedience with reference to 1Corinthians, Paul had spoken glowingly to Titus, "glorying on behalf" of the Corinthians. All of the complimentary things he had said of them had turned out to be true. That Paul could have gloried on their behalf even before he learned of the correction of their immoralities shows that his glowing compliments, however deserved by some, were not deserved by all of them. This is further reason for understanding Titus' comforting report as applicable to many, but not to all.

I was not put to shame ... has the meaning of Paul's complimentary remarks to Titus about them had proved to be fully justified. Who then is capable of believing that there ever occurred some mysterious fiasco in which "the ring-leader insulted the apostle Paul personally"? More FEMBU!


Verse 15

And his affection is more abundantly toward you while he remembereth the obedience of you all, how with fear and trembling ye received him.

Paul, in this, spoke of the obedience which had marked the conduct of the Corinthians toward the preaching of Titus, and also a tactful word of Titus' appreciation of their receiving and obeying him.

Obedience of you all ... Far from meaning "everybody in the church with no exceptions," the expression "you all" is merely the grammatical plural of "ye" as it stands in the last clause. It has the meaning of "you" (plural). Incidentally, the only possible plural of "you" in the English language is "you all," if the number intended is greater than "you two," "you both," "you three," etc. In light of this fact, there are only two possible meanings of "you all" as used here. It is either a simple plural for the Corinthian church; or, if anything more is intended, it would have to be hyperbole.


Verse 16

I rejoice that in everything I am of good courage concerning you.

The victory had been won; Titus' mission had succeeded; but the problems that remained could be dealt with in confidence. The many were back on the right road; and, with this fundamental achievement, Paul was fully confident of the future of his precious converts at Corinth. Filson spoke of this as "unqualified assurance"; but encouraging words to weak and sinful Christians like those in Corinth could never have been intended to mean that they were perfect and had no further need of Paul. The very epistle we are studying, which was about to be dispatched to Corinth by the hands of Titus, PROVES that the apostle knew many instances in which they still needed correction, teaching, and disciplining. It is not Paul's assurance here that proves he could not also have written 2 Corinthians 10-13; but it is 2 Corinthians 10-13 which prove the nature of the assurance here expressed. It regarded hope, more than it regarded fulfillment.

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 7:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/2-corinthians-7.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.


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