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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
2 Corinthians 7

 

 

Verse 1

‘Having therefore these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.’

The result of these promises should be that they set about separating themselves to God by cleansing themselves. Here Paul firmly exhorts them to do so. The aorist tense speaks of a specific act of cleansing. He is speaking to those who have become aware that they have been falling short and hopes they will desire a renewal. This imperative, following the previous indicative, is an indication of the importance of the command. The promises in the previous verses will be fulfilled if they obey the injunction. Note the defilement is in both flesh and spirit. In this he is simply speaking of the outward man and the inward man seen as one person.

‘Let us cleanse ourselves.’ Note his exquisite tact. He includes himself in the words. ‘Together let us cleanse ourselves with a view to going forward.’ Let them be yoked with him, not with what is ‘unclean’. But how are they to cleanse themselves? The first act must surely be to come to God’s light and call on the blood of Christ for cleansing, admitting their sin openly to God (1 John 1:7-10). The second must then be to determine that from this day on their lives will be lived differently in accordance with God’s requirements and to act accordingly (compare James 4:8 and see Isaiah 1:16-17). They are to seek forgiveness and cleansing and commence positive living, abandoning what is ‘unclean’. They are to live lives of purity and truth (1 Peter 2:11).

‘All defilement of flesh and spirit.’ There is no good cause for the reference to flesh being seen as signifying ‘irremediable’ sinful flesh as in Romans 6-8; Galatians 5-6, either here or in the remainder of the Corinthian letters. Here it is rather both flesh and spirit seen together, which, as representing the whole person, have sinned and need cleansing.

While the idea of ‘the flesh’ as being defiled and in need of cleansing, and possible of cleansing, does not occur elsewhere in Paul, the general idea of the human flesh conveyed here is consistent with all other references in the Corinthian letters. In 1 Corinthians flesh regularly just indicates the human being (see 1 Corinthians 1:26; 1 Corinthians 1:29; 1 Corinthians 5:5; 1 Corinthians 6:16; 1 Corinthians 7:28; 1 Corinthians 10:18; 1 Corinthians 15:35; 1 Corinthians 15:50), although 1 Corinthians 5:5 may be the exception. In 2 Corinthians 1:17 and elsewhere it refers to the human being in contrast with being spiritual, and sometimes as weak flesh, but with no inference of ‘sinful flesh’ (2 Corinthians 4:11; 2 Corinthians 5:16; 2 Corinthians 7:5; 2 Corinthians 10:2-3; 2 Corinthians 11:18; 2 Corinthians 12:7). In Philippians 3:3; Colossians 2:5 (see also Galatians 3:3) flesh and spirit are contrasted but without flesh being seen as ‘sinful flesh’, although in Colossians 2:5 it is seen as weak flesh. Thus there is no good reason to see the reference here as meaning any other than the human body, or as being non-Pauline. His use of ‘flesh’ is clearly varied.

Elsewhere in Paul the use of ‘flesh’ as specifically sinful flesh which must be put to death is in fact limited to Romans 6-8 (eleven times); 2 Corinthians 13:14; Galatians 5:16-17; Galatians 6:8. (1 Corinthians 5:5 is possible).

In contrast in Romans 1:3 Jesus was made of the seed of David ‘according to the flesh’. Circumcision can be ‘outward in the flesh’ (Romans 2:28). In Romans 3:20 flesh simply indicates the person. In Romans 4:1 he speaks of Abraham as being our father ‘pertaining to the flesh’. In 2 Corinthians 9:3; 2 Corinthians 9:5; 2 Corinthians 9:8; 2 Corinthians 11:14 he speaks again neutrally of his ‘brothers according to the flesh’ (that is, the Jews) and similar usages, are also found in Galatians 3:3; Galatians 4:29; Ephesians 6:12; Philippians 3:3; Colossians 2:5; 1 Timothy 3:16. In all these cases ‘flesh’ is neutral and refers to humanness. Thus its use here as defiled simply refers to the fact that such human beings can be defiled by sin.

Parallel with the unique usage of the flesh as being defiled is the unique usage of ‘the spirit’ as being defiled. But there is again nothing in his general usage of the term ‘spirit’ (except when it means the Holy Spirit) to suggest that it could not be so. It is just that as with ‘flesh’ the question never elsewhere arises. Thus while the usage could not be called typically Pauline there is no reason to suggest it is non-Pauline.

‘Beloved.’ A typical Pauline way of introducing a critical statement. He wants to press home his words by a stress on their relationship.

‘Perfecting holiness in the fear of God.’ The reason for being cleansed from defilement of flesh and spirit is that they might perfect holiness in the fear of God. This is seen as a continuing process until that day when we are presented holy before God. Those who are designated as holy in Christ Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:2) have to perfect holiness, ever deepening their separation to God as holy (2 Corinthians 3:18; compare Ephesians 4:13), recognising the holiness of the God Whom they serve and worship. They are to be holy as He is holy (1 Peter 1:15-16). The thought is that if they continue their compromise with idolatry the process will be hindered, and that they may then sadly discover that they have received the grace of God in vain (2 Corinthians 6:1), because they have not allowed it to work within their lives.

‘In the fear of God.’ Walking in the fear of God resulting in their being obedient to Him is an Old Testament theme (Deuteronomy 4:10; Job 28:28; Psalms 2:11; Psalms 5:7; Psalms 111:10; Proverbs 1:7; Proverbs 1:29; Proverbs 8:13; Ecclesiastes 12:13). It is a loving awe and reverence that produces righteousness.


Verses 1-16

The Triumphant Return of Titus And Paul’s Full Reconciliation With The Corinthian Church (2 Corinthians 7:1-16)

Having searchingly examined their credentials by portraying to them the essence of the new covenant (chapter 3) and the Gospel (chapters 4-5), and having called them to depart from too close a connection with an idolatrous world (chapter 6), and to cleansing and holiness (2 Corinthians 7:1), and having also established his own genuineness, honesty and reliability as an Apostle of Christ, Paul now again (compare 2 Corinthians 6:13) calls on them to receive him with open hearts, and returns again to the theme of Titus’ visit, expressing his praise and gratitude at its successful conclusion.


Verse 2

‘Make room in your hearts for 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 before, that you are in our hearts to die together and live together.’

The appeal reflects 2 Corinthians 6:11-13, but the initial verb means to make room by withdrawal. Thus Paul is calling on them to be enlarged (2 Corinthians 6:13), to make room in their hearts for him and his fellow-workers, by withdrawing from the unequal yoke of the world, by coming ‘out from among them’ and being separate (2 Corinthians 6:14; 2 Corinthians 6:17), by along with him cleansing themselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit. Then they can make room for him and can perfect holiness in the fear of God together (2 Corinthians 7:1). And he stresses that he has done nothing to hinder this from happening. He and his companions have ‘wronged no one, corrupted no one, taken advantage of no one’

Note the stress on ‘no one’ (even more so in the Greek). The verb adikeo can denote doing wrong to someone, treating them badly. Phtheiro means to "destroy," "ruin" or "corrupt," and has a wide range of usage, and can include such things as to "bring about moral ruin, bribery, to seduce a woman" or "defile a virgin". Pleonekteo means "to take advantage of", and can mean to "exploit," or "defraud" and is often used of someone who is covetous, greedy after what belongs to others.

These may well reflect innuendoes that have been whispered behind Paul’s back and in his absence. Sexual innuendo and accusations of dishonest financial dealings are favourites with those who seek to destroy the reputation of others, and treating them badly was also one of the things that he had had to defend himself against (2 Corinthians 1:23). Certainly his emphasis on the collection for the saints in Jerusalem could be so twisted to suggest dishonest motives. These then were probably the whispers arising behind his back, but he assures them that they are simply lies.

‘I do not say it to condemn you: for I have said before, that you are in our hearts to die together and live together.’ On the other hand he does not want them to feel that he is condemning them by mentioning this. He loves them too much for that. Rather he sees them as fellow-associates, true yoke-fellows. They die together and they live together.

The idea of dying together and living together must surely have a spiritual reference. Compare 2 Corinthians 4:10-11; 2 Corinthians 4:14; 2 Corinthians 4:16; 2 Corinthians 3:6. Together they are dying to their old lives, and living the new (2 Corinthians 4:11). And though the outward man is dying, the inward man is being renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16). And this would explain his claim that he had ‘said it before’ (The fact that dying precedes living helps to confirm this, but compare 2 Samuel 15:21, although the Corinthians are hardly in the same position as David’s fighting men, where death was ever a possibility).


Verse 4

‘Great is my confidence (or ‘boldness of speech’) toward you, great is my glorying on your behalf: I am filled with comfort, I overflow with joy in all our affliction.’

Indeed he wants them to know that he is not speaking to them with any doubt as to their response. He speaks boldly towards them because of his confidence in them. He glories greatly because of them. For the news he had received about them had filled him full with encouragement and had comforted him, and caused him to overflow with joy in the midst of the affliction that he and his companions were facing. Note the stress on just how encouraged and joyful he was, ‘filled full’, ‘overflowing with joy’. (It was this same feeling that had caused him to recognise God’s triumphs in 2 Corinthians 2:14).


Verses 5-7

‘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. Nevertheless he who comforts the lowly, even God, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not by his coming only, but also by the comfort with which he was comforted in you, while he told us your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced yet more.’

The ‘for’ connects back with the thought in the previous verse, as he explains it was the coming of Titus that had led on to his present sate of rejoicing. But he also now returns to the thought from which he had previously digressed in 2 Corinthians 2:13, although the change from singular to plural serves to demonstrate that it is a connection in thought rather than the fact that 2 Corinthians 7:5 once literally connected with 2 Corinthians 2:13. Even the arrival in Macedonia had given ‘them’ no relief, no rest and relaxation. The thought of his arrival in 2 Corinthians 2:13 and of its consequences had helped to trigger the digression, but now he remembers how he had felt at that actual moment. For on his arrival no Titus had been there. And their arrival had been accompanied by further afflictions and concerns. Corinth was not his only worry. And he had been very much weighed down.

‘Our flesh had no relief.’ In 2 Corinthians 2:13 it was his spirit that had no relief. The thought here may therefore be to emphasise outward further physical afflictions which came on top of the inward ones of the spirit. The contrast of the ‘without’ with the ‘within’. We are not told what their nature was. But it brought on him the sense of being afflicted on every side. ‘Without were fightings, within were fears.’ For wherever Paul went false teaching was penetrating the churches, strong minded men in the churches had their own ideas, and there were unbelievers who would attack him because his presence was a reminder of all that this new, outwardly mobile religion had meant in disturbing the old ways. And he bore ‘the care of all the churches’, which no doubt had as many difficult members in them then as we have today, and themselves often faced difficulties from outside.

We are reminded elsewhere how the church in Thessalonica faced intense opposition on more than one occasion (Acts 17:1-9; 1 Thessalonians 1:6-8; 1 Thessalonians 2:2; 1 Thessalonians 2:14; 1 Thessalonians 3:1-5; 2 Thessalonians 1:4), so much so that Paul at one point was fearful that his evangelistic labours there had been in vain (1 Thessalonians 3:1-5). While in his letter to the Philippians he has cause to warn them to "watch out for the dogs," those "mutilators of the flesh" and "workers of evil" (2 Corinthians 3:2) who are "enemies of the cross" (2 Corinthians 3:18). There were ever those who followed after him seeking to undermine his work and cause trouble.

‘Nevertheless he who comforts the lowly, even God, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not by his coming only, but also by the comfort with which he was comforted in you, while he told us your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced yet more.’ ‘Nevertheless, in spite of the fact that without were fightings and within were fears, God eventually brought him encouragement in the form of Titus. For, he comments, God is the One Who comforts those who are brought low. Compare 2 Corinthians 1:3-7; Isaiah 49:13; Psalms 113:6-7.

This theme of comfort and encouragement in the face of affliction was the thought with which his letter opened (2 Corinthians 1:3-7) and continues all the way through. Even Paul was human. The one kept him going in the face of the other.

In this case the comfort came through the arrival of Titus and the good news that he brought that Paul’s stern letter had been effective in thwarting the efforts of his opponent and had brought the church back to regret their behaviour towards Paul, restoring their loyalty towards him. And Titus’ detailed description of their longing now to see him again, their mourning over how they had behaved, and of the zeal towards Paul that had been restored, which had encouraged Titus as well, for he too shared Paul’s concerns, came as a great solace, indeed made him even more joyful over them than he had been before. (But it is still necessary to bear in mind that while the central point of the need for reconciliation was settled, many of the old problems yet remained, as we have seen all through).

‘He told us your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me.’ He wants the Corinthians to realise that he does know of and appreciate their complete turnaround. They had longed for any barrier between them and Paul to be removed, they had mourned over the situation, and they had zealously set about remedying it by punishing the offender. Compare 2 Corinthians 7:11 where he again goes into detail. It indicates to them that it was very necessary, but has his full approval. It is quite clear that he sees the church as partly reconciled to him, as here, and eager to go on, and partly doubtful, so that he has some of them in doubt and has to issue continual warnings. (This is always a problem when writing to a church as a whole, and even more so in this case).

‘Mourning’ (Odyrmos) is a strong word and commonly denotes wailing and lamentation, often accompanied by tears and other outward expressions of grief. Its only other appearance in the New Testament is in Matthew 2:18, where it is used of Rachel's weeping for her children and refusing to be consoled. To their credit they were clearly very upset at the pain that they had caused Paul. Little do we often know what pain we cause to those who watch over us.


Verse 8

‘For though I caused you pain with my letter, I do not regret it, though I did regret it, for I see that that letter made you sorry, though but for a season.’

Looking back on the situation now he is glad for the pain that he had caused them (not as great as that which they had caused him) because of its consequences, although at the time it had been very painful for him as well. It had caused him great grief to write the letter, but now that he can see how it has made them sorry (although the pain will only last for a short time) he no longer regrets it.

This is always the situation with one who loves truly. They suffer equally along with those whom they make suffer, and only make them suffer because of the end in view. Those who can rebuke without pain within themselves on behalf of those whom they rebuke, should not be doing the rebuking.


Verse 9-10

‘I now rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that you were made sorry resulting in repentance; for you were made sorry after a godly sort, that you might suffer loss by us in nothing. For godly sorrow produces repentance unto salvation, which brings no regret. But the sorrow of the world produces death.’

For Paul’s rejoicing is not in that he gave them pain, but in that it brought them to a change of mind and heart. They were made sorry in a godly way which produced ‘repentance’ (a change of mind and heart, a turnaround) and which brought them not loss, but gain. They really in the end lost nothing by it, and they gained everything. Thus the source of his rejoicing.

For that is what godly sorrow does. It produces true repentance which results in salvation, and thus brings no regret. It is only the sorrow of the world, which has no good motive or result behind it, which has a deadening effect, and in the end produces only death. Godly sorrow is the spring of hope, and results in salvation and glory Worldly sorrow has no final hope, and is the harbinger of hopelessness and death. We note here again how quickly Paul can turn from present circumstances to a contemplation of the whole of God’s saving work (compare 2 Corinthians 1:10), and the contrast between life and salvation, and death. (The contrast with death confirms that we are to see ‘salvation’ as having its fullest soteriological meaning and not as just referring to wholeness).

He is not here saying that they had not previously been genuinely saved. He is describing the essence of genuine repentance which lies behind salvation, a repentance which must be reproduced continually in the face of (regretfully) continuing sin, so as to ensure the continual saving work that will finally present them perfect before God. Our first repentance is in one sense once for all (it changes the direction of our lives and results in our being within God’s saving purposes) but there will then need to be continuing repentance in the face of continuing, although hopefully diminishing, sin, as we falter in the new way we have taken, and experience God’s continual saving presence.

‘That you might suffer loss by us in nothing.’ Some see this as more specifically having in mind loss of future reward, which is very possible. But it seems more probable that Paul means it in a general way which included any kind of loss, although clearly the idea of such future loss is a constant in Paul’s letters (2 Corinthians 5:10; 1 Corinthians 3:12-15; 1 Corinthians 4:5; Romans 14:10-12) and is included. In the commercial world the verb zemiomai could refer to loss or damage in money or material goods due to unfavourable conditions or circumstances, such as the loss in goods and lives caused by a storm at sea. Thus the thought may include the havoc that discipline could have caused if over-applied. This was, as we saw earlier, Paul's concern for the offender whom the Corinthians continued to discipline even after he repented. Had the discipline continued, the man stood in danger of being overwhelmed by excessive sorrow (2 Corinthians 2:7). Paul had ensured that this had not happened to the Corinthians as a whole.

So to sum up why he rejoices,

1) The Corinthians' sorrow only lasted for a little while (2 Corinthians 7:8). They were not pained for any extended period of time, and so no permanent damage to the relationship occurred.

2) God's hand was evident in the church's response. They had become sorrowful as God intended (‘according to God’ - 2 Corinthians 7:9).

3) The kind of sorrow that God intended and had brought about resulted in a turnaround, Your sorrow led you to repentance (2 Corinthians 7:9). They did not merely regret what they had done but repented of it, they were totally reoriented. This was demonstrated by the fact that they not only admitted that they had been to blame but also punished the offender (2 Corinthians 2:6; 2 Corinthians 7:11).

4) Most importantly the church was not harmed in any way by the severity of his letter (2 Corinthians 7:9).


Verse 11

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

He now analyses for them what the result of their repentance had been. They were concerned enough to examine themselves thoroughly, and to seek to clear themselves (apologia) by their change of heart. The term apologia, from which we obtain our word "apology", is commonly used of a reasoned statement in defence of something or someone. Perhaps they were pointing out that Paul had in fact taken it as worse than it was, and that they regretted that they had given this impression.

They had become filled with ‘indignation’ (aganaktesis), a word which is found only here in the New Testament and refers to deep vexation or profound displeasure. But at whom was their indignation levelled? Probably at the main offender, and perhaps at the disgruntled minority or the rival missionaries, who had quite possibly egged the wrongdoer on. But it could be that their indignation was first aimed at themselves, and those who should have guided them better. They may well have been angry with themselves, asking, "How could we have done this?"

They had also revealed their "fear" ( phobos). But of what were they afraid? It could be that they feared divine reprisals for rejecting God's representative. They had become conscious that they had shamed God’s Apostle. Or it could be that they stood in dread of what Paul would do when he came. For while they had possibly not all taken the man's side against Paul, they had done nothing to support Paul either.

‘Longing’ and ‘zeal’ are repeated from 2 Corinthians 7:7, expressed and expended in seeking to put things right. But zeal to do what? Three possibilities are suggested. Paul may be thinking of the church's eagerness to discipline the offending party, or he may have in view the Corinthians' current zealous support for him in the face of his detractors, or he could be referring to their enthusiasm in carrying out his instructions. Probably all three are to be seen as in mind. The apathy that they had exhibited on Paul's last visit had now become an eagerness by the many to demonstrate their support (2 Corinthians 2:6). Indeed their overzealousness in disciplining the wrongdoer had to be restrained.

‘Avenging’ (ekdikesis) can mean either to take revenge or to punish. The reference is probably to disciplining the guilty party for his behaviour, to right the wrong that had been done. Eagerness to see justice done might be seen as catching the sense. Paul's choice of terms may point to some kind of formal disciplinary action decided on and carried out by the congregation (see 2 Corinthians 2:6), such as the withholding of church privileges.

‘In everything you approved yourselves to be pure in the matter.’ Not necessarily originally, but now that they had come to their senses. Hagnos ("pure, chaste, holy") plus einai ("to be") carries the sense of legal blamelessness. The Corinthians' overall response was now sufficient to clear them of blame (NEB) and prove themselves guiltless (RSV).

This was what cause him joy, that their sorrow had been of a godly sort, of a kind produced by God (‘a sorrow according to God’), and that it had therefore produced outstanding results.


Verse 12

‘So although I wrote to you, it was not for his cause who did the wrong, nor for his cause who suffered the wrong, but that your earnest care for us might be made openly clear to you in the sight of God.’

But he wants them to be clear why he had written to them. It had not been in order to allocate blame or to seek punishment for the guilty, but that the responsibility of all of them towards him might become abundantly clear, and that they might themselves be aware of their need to have the right earnest response to him in the sight of God. In 2 Corinthians 2:9 he had said that he wrote as he did to see if they would stand the test and be obedient in everything, and in 2 Corinthians 2:4 that it was not to cause them pain but to let them know the depth of his love for them. Now he confirms that it was to face them up with what their response to him should be before God Himself.

‘For his cause who did the wrong.’ This may be the person mentioned in 1 Corinthians 5:1-5, but only if he had then mustered the Corinthians against Paul and had succeeded in turning Paul into their enemy. However, 2 Corinthians 2:10 would seem to rule him out, for in his case there was very much to be forgiven, and that by God. Otherwise we must see him as someone who was trying to take over the leadership and had tried to wreck Paul’s reputation in order to do it. But that he was a genuine man at heart would seem to be indicated by his seemingly genuine repentance on the receipt of the severe letter (which seems to rule out an outsider). Thus he might be seen as misguided and self-opinionated rather than as bad.

‘Nor for his cause who suffered the wrong.’ Either Paul himself, or one of his co-workers who had also suffered, Paul ignoring the wrong done to himself.


Verse 13

‘Therefore we have been comforted, and in our comfort we rejoiced the more greatly for the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by you all.’

Thus he has been comforted and encouraged by their response, and was also able to rejoice even more because Titus had been refreshed in spirit by their attitude. Their response had also been a huge encouragement to Titus in his work for the Lord.


Verse 14

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

And he rejoices in the fact that his faith in them had been justified, so that Titus had been able to see that all he had boasted to him about the Corinthians, and boasted he had, had been proved true. Thus his truthfulness was established in every way, both his truthfulness to them and his truthfulness in his boasting to Titus.


Verse 15

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

For Titus has only good memories of them. He remembers how they responded to his authority, and received him with great concern and care for his words, and were eager to learn from him what they should do. And the result is that he has great affection for them indeed.

‘With fear and trembling.’ That is with deep concern and willingness to respond.


Verse 16

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

Thus Paul himself rejoices in that he is assured in his heart concerning them in every way.

So ends this section of his letter, a combination of rejoicing over their response, which is how it finishes, yet including the clear indication of his fears that nevertheless there was much still to be put right, not mainly in regard to their response to him, although there is some question about some, but with regard to their daily living and their attitudes to life. They have a need for a closer identification with Christ in His death and resurrection, a more complete separation of themselves to God, a releasing of themselves from the yoke of the idolatrous world, and an avoidance of such things as can hinder their love for Him (2 Corinthians 6:14-18), and then they will see Him fully, with the veil removed (2 Corinthians 3:18), and will become more like Him day by day.

Sadly it was not to be long before news reached him that somewhat altered his confidence, even before he had completed the letter (10--13).

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 7:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/2-corinthians-7.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, September 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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