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II. ANSWERS TO INSINUATIONS ABOUT THE SINCERITY OF PAUL’S COMMITMENT TO THE CORINTHIANS AND TO THE MINISTRY 1:12-7:16
Second Corinthians is a rather difficult book to outline because it is a very personal letter that flowed from Paul’s heart.
"Traditionally, Paul’s two letters to Timothy and one to Titus are called ’the Pastorals.’ But 2 Corinthians has a strong claim to be recognized as the Pastoral Epistle par excellence, because it contains not ’pure’ but ’applied’ pastoralia." [Note: Harris, p. 314.]
The same has been said of 1 Thessalonians. Paul’s purpose in writing was not to teach doctrine primarily, though he did so to a considerable extent. It was primarily to answer the criticisms of opponents who were seeking to undermine his ministry, especially in Corinth.
"Here it is his strong feeling rather than any deliberate arrangement that suggests the order of his utterances. Nevertheless, although exact analysis is seldom possible owing to digressions and repetitions, yet some divisions are fairly clear, and the letter becomes more intelligible when they are noted." [Note: Plummer, p. 22.]
1. An appeal for large-heartedness and consistency 6:11-7:4
"Centuries of speechmaking had taught ancients the value of an emotional appeal (pathos) at the climax of arguments; Paul likewise clinches his appeal to be reconciled in 2 Corinthians 6:11 to 2 Corinthians 7:4, emphasizing both affection (2 Corinthians 6:11-13; 2 Corinthians 7:2-4) and indignation (2 Corinthians 6:14 to 2 Corinthians 7:1). Letters were not speeches, but their very informality invited even more natural expressions of emotion (Seneca Lucil. 75.1-3; Demetrius On Style 4.227)." [Note: Ibid., pp. 190-91.]
C. Appeal for restoration of the Corinthians’ confidence in Paul 6:11-7:16
The apostle now turned to a direct appeal for the Corinthians to reconcile with him in their hearts.
"The call for reconciliation with Paul, therefore, stands in parallel with the call for reconciliation with God [2 Corinthians 5:20]. While it would be too much to say that these two forms of reconciliation are equally important, for Paul they are directly linked with one another." [Note: Beverly R. Gaventa, "Apostle and Church in 2 Corinthians," in Pauline Theology. Vol. II: 1 & 2 Corinthians, pp. 193-94. This essay points out the strong connection that bound Paul as an apostle to the Corinthian church, his children in the faith.]
". . . in Roman politics and ancient Mediterranean culture in general, friendship included accepting the friend’s friends as one’s friends and his enemies as one’s enemies (e.g., Iamblichus Pyth. Life 35.248-49). How then can the Corinthians be reconciled with God if they mistrust his agent (cf. 2 Corinthians 6:14-16; Matthew 10:40; Exodus 16:8)?" [Note: Keener, p. 186.]
Paul made this appeal to stimulate the Corinthians to accept him and his ministry so they would continue to experience all the blessings that God wanted them to have.
The counter-balancing caution 6:14-7:1
The Corinthians had a tendency to respond to Paul’s teachings by first resisting them and then going overboard in applying them inappropriately. They had done this in dealing with the incestuous man, for example (1 Corinthians 5). Consequently Paul immediately explained what he did not mean by his appeal so his readers would not become dangerously openhearted to all people as well as to himself. This section of text summarizes 1 Corinthians 10:1-22 where Paul had previously warned the Corinthians about idolatry.
"Paul is quite capable of digressing, and it may be argued that while he is pleading for mutual openheartedness he reflects that the reason for the restraint which he deprecates on his readers’ part is their uneasy awareness that they have not made the complete break with idolatrous associations which he had earlier urged upon them (1 C. 10.14ff.); hence this exhortation." [Note: Bruce, p. 214. See also Carson and Moo, pp. 438-40.]
Having the promises of intimate fellowship with God for obedience, Christians should avoid certain probable sources of spiritual contamination. These sources of contamination may be external or internal, in relation to other people or in relation to God. "Flesh (or body, Gr. sarx) and spirit" here is a figure (merism) for the whole person (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:9; 1 Corinthians 7:34). Instead we should press on in our continual struggle against sin while fearing God (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:11). This verse stresses what we must do to progress in practical sanctification, and it reminds us that this process is continuous.
"Paul is probably implying that the Corinthians had become defiled, perhaps by occasionally sharing meals at idol-shrines or by continuing to attend festivals or ceremonies in pagan temples (cf. 1 Corinthians 8:10; 1 Corinthians 10:14-22), or even by maintaining their membership in some local pagan cult. If they made a clean break (cf. katharisomen, aorist) with pagan life in any and every form, they would be bringing their holiness nearer completion by this proof of their reverence for God." [Note: Harris, pp. 360-61.]
"This passage [2 Corinthians 6:14 to 2 Corinthians 7:1] is a specific call for separation from the temple cults of Corinth, in direct continuity with the holiness-separation theme of 1 Corinthians, and is located here as the climax of the apologia for Paul’s apostolate." [Note: Barnett, p. 341.]
Paul returned to his appeal for the Corinthians’ full affection (2 Corinthians 6:11-13) claiming no fault toward the Corinthians on three counts (2 Corinthians 7:2). He had done no wrong to anyone, had not led anyone astray, nor had he deceived anyone for his own advantage. Paul used the literary devices of anaphoria (beginning each of the three clauses with the same word in Greek) and homoioptoton (using verbs that have the same ending, here amen). This wordplay added emotional force to his affirmation.
Restatement of the appeal 7:2-4
Paul did not say what he did to pass the blame for bad conditions off on his readers. He was not implying that everyone in the Corinthian church blamed him as his critics did either. He explained that they had a secure place in his affections. Neither death nor the trials of life, including charges against him, would alter his love for this church. There was no reason they should feel restraint in their dealings with him. Regardless of their reaction he promised he would never exclude them from his love. This is a good example of unconditional love.
"The caveat that one was writing something not to stir negative emotion but to demonstrate affection (2 Corinthians 7:3; 1 Corinthians 4:14) was an appropriate way of showing love (Cicero Fam. 2.4.2)." [Note: Keener, p. 197.]
Nevertheless Paul was confident that the Corinthians would respond to his defense and exhortation properly. Even though conditions were far from ideal in this church, Paul was proud of his converts there. God had filled his heart with encouraging comfort (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4). In spite of much affliction, some of which the Corinthians produced, Paul felt an overriding sense of joy. His explanation of the reason for these positive feelings follows.
"The idea of receiving joy in the midst of affliction strongly suggests that Paul wrote this part of the epistle while enduring suffering." [Note: Martin, p. 222.]
This paragraph is transitional. It summarizes Paul’s appeal for large-heartedness and consistency (2 Corinthians 6:11 to 2 Corinthians 7:4) and resumes his personal narrative that he left behind temporarily in 2 Corinthians 2:13.
When he had arrived in Macedonia Paul could not find Titus. Consequently he continued to experience affliction from conflicts with unbelievers, and from his concern for Titus and the Corinthians’ response to his "severe letter" (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:12-13). His reference to "flesh" emphasizes "the weakness of human nature which is so much influenced by external circumstances and internal moods." [Note: Bruce, p. 217.] Paul evidently used flesh (Gr. sarx) here, as he used spirit (Gr. pneuma) in 2 Corinthians 2:13, to refer to his whole person.
Paul’s encouragement at their response 7:5-13a
Paul returned to the subject of his meeting with Titus in Macedonia (2 Corinthians 2:13), which he had left to expound new covenant ministry (2 Corinthians 2:14 to 2 Corinthians 6:10) and to urge acceptance of his ministry (2 Corinthians 6:11 to 2 Corinthians 7:4).
2. The encouraging responses of the Corinthians so far 7:5-16
Here Paul rejoiced that the Corinthians’ recent reception of Titus and their response to Paul’s previous letter evidenced a proper response to him. He said this to encourage his readers to follow through and become completely openhearted toward him.
Paul had felt disheartened (Gr. tapeinos, not clinically depressed) by this syndrome of circumstances. However, he felt greatly encouraged when Titus found him and reported that the Corinthians had responded to his severe letter properly (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:3-4). Paul evidently wrote that letter between 1 and 2 Corinthians. [Note: See the chart in the introduction section of these notes.] Three things turned his spirits around: the arrival of Titus after some delay, Titus’ report of his positive experience at Corinth, and the Corinthians’ positive attitude toward Paul. The Christians felt affection for Paul and wanted to see him again, and they were very sorry that they had been disloyal to him. Moreover they strongly supported Paul against his critics and sought to obey him. The more Titus told Paul, the more the apostle’s spirits revived.
Paul admitted that he had regretted sending the severe letter after he had done so. He had thought that it was too harsh. Fortunately his readers responded to it as he had hoped they would, though it had caused them some pain at first. Fortunately it had not led the church into excessive discouragement but genuine repentance. The Christians had changed their thinking and their behavior. Evidently the church decided to defend Paul against a vocal critic of his (2 Corinthians 7:12). The church’s failure to take this stand would have resulted in loss at the judgment seat of Christ if not immediately. Therefore Paul presently did not regret sending the severe letter.
The apostle then added a somewhat philosophical reflection on two possible responses to criticism and their consequences. The proper response, God’s will, results in a change of mind (repentance) that leads to deliverance from the bad situation (salvation in the temporal sense here) without later regret. The improper response, the world’s typical superficial response, does not result in a change of mind (repentance) but leads to resentment and bitterness (ultimately death in the temporal sense). Suffering in itself does not necessarily benefit us. It proves to be a good thing for us only as we respond to it properly (cf. James 1:2-4).
Paul identified several good things that had come to his Corinthian readers because they had responded properly to his recent rebuke. Their response had yielded earnestness (seriousness of purpose), the desire to prove themselves worthy, and righteous indignation at the affront to Paul. It had further resulted in concern over their behavior and its effects, a longing to see Paul again, a determination to make things right, and a correction of their error. The church had now put itself in the right having been in the wrong.
"He [Paul] acquits them of all responsibility for the offense which was committed. At first they had been to blame. By not protesting against the outrage they had seemed to acquiesce in it, but all this had been put right by their reception of Titus and submission to Paul’s letter." [Note: Plummer, p. 223.]
Another interpretation is that by their response the Corinthians showed that they had always been guiltless in the matter. This seems unlikely since the church had mourned (Gr. odyrmos, indicating deep sorrow, 2 Corinthians 7:7).
The value of Paul’s letter turned out to be primarily the good effects it produced in the Corinthians as a whole. This outcome had been Paul’s hope when he had originally written the severe letter. It did not just produce a change in the offender (probably Paul’s critic) or even in the Corinthians’ response to the offended (Paul himself). Paul had wanted them to realize before God how devoted they were to him as their spiritual father (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:9). That loyalty would fortify them against future tests to depart from his teaching. Paul rejoiced that this is what had happened and that they had not responded improperly.
"Many opinions have been expressed as to the identity of the wrongdoer and the nature of his act of injustice toward Paul. Most likely, in our view, is the suggestion that this event should be linked with a public disturbance during the second visit (2 Corinthians 12:20) when Paul confronted those who had not relinquished their former sexual practices (2 Corinthians 12:21 to 2 Corinthians 13:2), connected as these probably were with ongoing temple attendance (2 Corinthians 6:14 to 2 Corinthians 7:1). The most consistent reconstruction of Paul’s scattered remarks on the subject throughout 2 Corinthians is that this man publicly opposed, and to some degree thwarted, Paul’s attempt at discipline during that fateful visit." [Note: Barnett, pp. 380-81.]
Titus, who had observed the Corinthians’ repentance, had increased Paul’s joy further by reporting that to him. Paul’s words of praise for his readers before he had sent Titus to them had proved worthy in view of their response to Paul’s messenger and his message.
"Paul’s relief stemmed from the fact that his generous assurances to Titus about the Corinthians had not proved unfounded and therefore embarrassing (2 Corinthians 7:14). On the contrary (alla), just as his own truthfulness had been vindicated at Corinth (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:18-20), so also his boasting about them had now proved fully justified." [Note: Harris, p. 365.]
"Paul’s attitude shows how excellent a director of their spiritual interests he is: not hesitating to reprove what is amiss, but yet warmly and sympathetically encouraging them in the true emotions of those whose hearts are regenerate, which is the best way of ensuring that their past errors will not be repeated." [Note: Hughes, p. 280.]
Titus’ encouragement at their response 7:13-16
The Corinthians’ submissive response to Titus, even though initially they feared him, had endeared these Christians to Titus greatly. Their speedy acquiescence constituted both the basis of Paul’s appeal to them to open their hearts wider to him and the ground of his confidence that they would do so.
Paul was now completely confident of the Corinthians’ continuing submissive obedience to him as their spiritual father and apostle. Consequently he proceeded to appeal to them again (2 Corinthians 8:1 to 2 Corinthians 9:15).
"This brief verse, indeed, provides a perfect transition to all that follows. It is the delicate pin around which the whole of the epistle pivots." [Note: Ibid., p. 282.]
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 7". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25