corner graphic   Hi,    
ver. 2.0.19.09.17
Finding the new version too difficult to understand? Go to classic.studylight.org/

Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
2 Corinthians 7

 

 

Verse 1

4-18

Chapter 18

NEW TESTAMENT PURITANISM.

2 Corinthians 6:14-18; 2 Corinthians 7:1 (R.V)

THIS is one of the most peculiar passages in the New Testament. Even a careless reader must feel that there is something abrupt and unexpected in it; it jolts the mind as a stone on the road does a carriage-wheel. Paul has been begging the Corinthians to treat him with the same love and confidence which he has always shown to them, and he urges this claim upon them up to 2 Corinthians 6:13. Then comes this passage about the relation of Christians to the world. Then again, at 2 Corinthians 7:2 -"Open your hearts to us; we wronged no man, we corrupted no man, we took advantage of no man"-he returns to the old subject without the least mark of transition. If everything were omitted from 2 Corinthians 6:14, 2 Corinthians 7:1 inclusive, the continuity both of thought and feeling would be much more striking. This consideration alone has induced many scholars to believe that these verses do not occupy their original place. The ingenious suggestion has been made that they are a fragment of the letter to which the Apostle refers in the First Epistle: [2 Corinthians 5:9] the sentiment, and to some extent even the words, favor this conjecture. But as there is no external authority for any conjecture whatever, and no variation in the text, such suggestions can never become conclusive. It is always possible that, on reading over his letter, the Apostle himself may have inserted a paragraph breaking to some extent the closeness of the original connection. If there is nothing in the contents of the section inconsistent with his mind, the breach of continuity is not enough to discredit it.

Some, however, have gone further than this. They have pointed to the strange formulae of quotation-"as God said," "saith the Lord," "saith the Lord Almighty"-as unlike Paul. Even the main idea of the passage-"touch not any unclean thing"-is asserted to be at variance with his principles. A narrow Jewish Christian might, it is said, have expressed this shrinking from what is unclean, in the sense of being associated with idolatry, but not the great Apostle of liberty. At all events he would have taken care, in giving such an advice under special circumstances, to safeguard the principle of freedom. And, finally, an argument is drawn from language. The only point at which it is even plausible is that which touches upon the use of the terms "flesh" and "spirit" in 2 Corinthians 7:1. Schmiedel, who has an admirable excursus on the whole question, decides that this, and this only, is certainly un-Pauline. It is certainly unusual in Paul, but I do not think we can say more. The "rigor and vigor" with which Paul’s use of these terms is investigated seems to me largely misplaced. They did undoubtedly tend to become technical in his mind, but words so universally and so vaguely used could never become simply technical. If any contemporary of Paul could have written, "Let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit," then Paul himself could have written it. Language offers the same latitudes and liberties to everybody, and one could not imagine a subject which tempted less to technicality than the one urged in these verses. Whatever the explanation of their apparently irrelevant insertion here, I can see nothing in them alien to Paul. Puritanism is certainly more akin to the Old Testament than to the New, and that may explain the instinctiveness with which the writer seems to turn to the law and the prophets, and the abundance of his quotations; but though "all things are lawful" to the Christian, Puritanism has a place in the New Testament too. There is no conception of "holiness" into which the idea of "separation" does not enter; and though the balance of elements may vary in the New Testament as compared with the Old, none can be wanting. From this point of view we can best examine the meaning and application of the passage. If a connection is craved, the best, I think, is that furnished by a combination of Calvin and Meyer. Quasi recuperata auctoritate, says Calvin, liberius jam eos objurgat: this supplies a link of feeling between vv. 13 and 14 [2 Corinthians 6:13-14]. A link of thought is supplied if we consider with Meyer that inattention to the rule of life here laid down was a notable cause of receiving the grace of God in vain (2 Corinthians 7:1). Let us notice

(1) the moral demand of the passage;

(2) the assumption on which it rests;

(3) the Divine promise which inspires its observance.

(1) The moral demand is first put in the negative form: "Be not unequally yoked with unbelievers." The peculiar word ετεροζυγουντες ("unequally yoked") has a cognate form in Leviticus 19:19, in the law which forbids the breeding of hybrid animals. God has established a good physical order in the world, and it is not to be confounded and disfigured by the mixing of species. It is that law (or perhaps another form of it in Deuteronomy 22:10, forbidding an Israelite to plough with an ox and an ass under the same yoke) that is applied in an ethical sense in this passage. There is a wholesome moral order in the world also, and it is not to be confused by the association of its different kinds. The common application of this text to the marriage of Christians and non-Christians is legitimate, but too narrow. The text prohibits every kind of union in which the separate character and interest of the Christian lose anything of their distinctiveness and integrity. This is brought out more strongly in the free quotation from Isaiah 52:2 in 2 Corinthians 6:17 : "Come out from among them, and be separate, saith the Lord, and touch not anything unclean." These words were originally addressed to the priests who, on the redemption of Israel from Babylon, were to carry the sacred temple vessels back to Jerusalem. But we must remember that, though they are Old Testament words, they are quoted by a New Testament writer, who inevitably puts his own meaning into them. "The unclean thing" which no Christian is to touch is not to be taken in a precise Levitical sense; it covers, and I have no doubt was intended by the writer to cover, all that it suggests to any simple Christian mind now. We are to have no compromising connection with anything in the world which is alien to God. Let us be as loving and conciliatory as we please, but as long as the world is what it is, the Christian life can only maintain itself in it in an attitude of protest. There always will be things and people to whom the Christian has to say No!

But the moral demand of the passage is put in a more positive form in the last verse: "Let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." That is the ideal of the Christian life. There is something to be overcome and put away; there is something to be wrought out and completed; there is a spiritual element or atmosphere-the fear of God-in which alone these tasks can be accomplished. The fear of God is an Old Testament name for true religion, and even under the New Testament it holds its place. The Seraphim still veil their faces while they cry "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts," and still we must feel that great awe descend upon our hearts if we would be partakers of His holiness. It is this which withers up sin to the root, and enables us to cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit. St. Paul includes himself in his exhortation here: it is one duty, one ideal, which is set before all. The prompt decisive side of it is represented in καθαρισωμεν ("let US cleanse": observe the aorist); its patient laborious side in επιτελουντες αγιωσυνην ("carrying holiness to completion.") Almost everybody in a Christian Church makes a beginning with this task: we cleanse ourselves from obvious and superficial defilements; but how few carry the work on into the spirit, how few carry it on ceaselessly towards perfection. As year after year rolls by, as the various experiences of life come to us with their lessons and their discipline from God, as we see the lives of others, here sinking ever deeper and deeper into the corruptions of the world, there rising daily nearer and nearer to the perfect holiness which is their goal, does not this demand assert its power over us? Is it not a great thing, a worthy thing, that we should set ourselves to purge away from our whole nature, outward and inward, whatever cannot abide the holy eye of God; and that we should regard Christian holiness, not as a subject for casual thoughts once a week, but as the task to be taken up anew, with unwearying diligence, every day we live? Let us be in earnest with this, for surely God is in earnest.

(2) Observe now the assumption on which the demand not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers is based. It is that there are two ethical or spiritual interests in the world, and that these are fundamentally inconsistent with each other. This implies that in choosing the one, the other has to be rejected. But it implies more: it implies that at bottom there are only two kinds of people in the world-those who identify themselves with the one of these interests, and those who identify themselves with the other.

Now, as long as this is kept in the abstract form, people do not quarrel with it. They have no objection to admit that good and evil are the only spiritual forces in the world, and that they are mutually exclusive. But many will not admit that there are only two kinds of persons in the world, answering to these two forces. They would rather say there is only one kind of persons, in whom these forces are with infinite varieties and modifications combined. This seems more tolerant, more humane, more capable of explaining the amazing mixtures and inconsistencies we see in human lives. But it is not more true. It is a more penetrating insight which judges that every man-despite his range of neutrality-would in the last resort choose his side; would, in short, in a crisis of the proper kind, prove finally that he was not good and bad, but good or bad. We cannot pretend to judge others, but sometimes men judge themselves, and always God can judge. And there is an instinct in those who are perfecting holiness in the fear of God which tells them, without in the least making them Pharisaical, not only what things, but what persons-not only what ideas and practices, but what individual characters-are not to be made friends of. It is no pride, or scorn, or censoriousness, which speaks thus, but the voice of all Christian experience. It is recognized at once where the young are concerned: people are careful of the friends their children make, and a schoolmaster will dismiss inexorably, not only a bad habit, but a bad boy, from the school. It ought to be recognized just as easily in maturity as in childhood: there are men and women, as well as boys and girls, who distinctly represent evil, and whose society is to be declined. To protest against them, to repel them, to resent their life and conduct as morally offensive, is a Christian duty; it is the first step towards evangelizing them.

It is worth noticing in the passage before us how the Apostle, starting from abstract ideas, descends, as he becomes more urgent, into personal relations. What fellowship have righteousness and lawlessness? None. What communion has light with darkness? None. What concord has Christ with Belial? Here the persons come in who are the heads, or representatives, of the opposing moral interests, and it is only now that we feel the completeness of the antagonism. The interest of holiness is gathered up in Christ; the interest of evil in the great adversary; and they have nothing in common. And so with the believer and the unbeliever. Of course there is ground on which they can meet: the same sun shines on them, the same soil supports them, they breathe the same air. But in all that is indicated by those two names-believer and unbeliever-they stand quite apart; and the distinction thus indicated reaches deeper than any bond of union. It is not denied that the unbeliever may have much that is admirable about him: and for the believer the one supremely important thing in the world is that which the unbeliever denies, and therefore the more he is in earnest the less can he afford the unbeliever’s friendship. We need all the help we can get to fight the good fight of faith, and to perfect holiness in the fear of God; and a friend whose silence numbs faith, or whose words trouble it, is a friend no earnest Christian dare keep. Words like these would not seem so hard if the common faith of Christians were felt to be a real bond of union among them, and if the recoil from the unbelieving world were seen to be the action of the whole Christian society, the instinct of self-preservation in the new Christian life. But, at whatever risk of seeming harsh, it must be repeated that there has never been a state of affairs in the world in which the commandment had no meaning. "Come out from among them, and be ye separate"; nor an obedience to this commandment which did not involve separation from persons as well as from principles.

(3) But what bulks most largely in the passage is the series of divine promises which are to inspire and sustain obedience. The separations which an earnest Christian life requires are not without their compensation; to leave the world is to be welcomed by God. It is probable that the pernicious association which the writer had immediately in view was association with the heathen in their worship, or at least in their sacrificial feasts. At all events it is the inconsistency of this with the worship of the true God that forms the climax of his expostulation-What agreement hath a temple of God with idols? and it is to this, again, that the encouraging promises are attached. "We," says the Apostle, "are a temple of the living God." This carries with it all that he has claimed: for a temple means a house in which God dwells, and God can only dwell in a holy place. Pagans and Jews alike recognized the sanctity of their temples: nothing was guarded more jealously; nothing, if violated, was more promptly and terribly avenged. Paul had seen the day when he gave his vote to shed the blood of a man who had spoken disrespectfully of the Temple at Jerusalem, and the day was coming when he himself was to run the risk of his life on the mere suspicion that he had taken a pagan into the holy place. He expects Christians to be as much in earnest as Jews who keep the sanctity of God’s house inviolate; and now, he says, that house are we: it is ourselves we have to keep unspotted from the world.

We are God’s temple in accordance with the central promise of the old covenant: as God said, "I will dwell in them and walk in them, and I will be their God, and they shall be My people." The original of this is Leviticus 26:2; Leviticus 26:12. The Apostle, as has been observed already, takes the Old Testament words in a New Testament sense: as they stand here in Second Corinthians they mean something much more intimate and profound than in their old place in Leviticus. But even there, he tells us, they are a promise to us. What God speaks, He speaks to His people, and speaks once for all. And if the divine presence in the camp of Israel-a presence represented by the Ark and its tent-was to consecrate that nation to Jehovah, and inspire them with zeal to keep the camp clean, that nothing might offend the eyes of His glory, how much more ought those whom God has visited in His Son, those in whom He dwells through His Spirit, to cleanse themselves from every defilement, and make their souls fit for His habitation? After repeating the charge to come out and be separate, the writer heaps up new promises, in which the letter and the spirit of various Old Testament passages are freely combined. The principal one seems to be 2 Samuel 7:1-29, which contains the promises originally made to Solomon. At 2 Samuel 7:14 of that chapter we have the idea of the paternal and filial relation, and at 2 Samuel 7:8 the speaker is described in the LXX, as here, as the Lord Almighty. But passages like Jeremiah 31:1; Jeremiah 31:9, also doubtless floated through the writer’s mind, and it is the substance, not the form, which is the main thing. The very freedom with which they are reproduced shows us how thoroughly the writer is at home, and how confident he is that he is making the right and natural application of these ancient promises.

Separate yourselves, for you are God’s temple: separate yourselves and you will be sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty, and He will be your Father. Haec una ratio instar mille esse debet. The friendship of the world, as James reminds us, is enmity with God; it is the consoling side of the same truth that separation from the world means friendship with God. It does not mean solitude, but a more blessed society; not renunciation of love, but admission to the only love which satisfies the soul, because that for which the soul was made. The Puritanism of the New Testament is no harsh, repellent thing, which eradicates the affections, and makes life bleak and barren; it is the condition under which the heart is opened to the love of God, and filled with all comfort and joy in obedience. With Him on our side-with the promise of His indwelling Spirit to sanctify us, of His fatherly kindness to enrich and protect us-shall we not obey the exhortation to come out and be separate, to cleanse ourselves from all that defiles, to perfect holiness in His fear?


Verses 2-16

Chapter 19

REPENTANCE UNTO LIFE.

2 Corinthians 7:2-16 (R.V)

IN this fine passage St. Paul completes, as far as it lay upon his side to do so, his reconciliation with the Corinthians. It concludes the first great division of his Second Epistle, and henceforth we hear no more of the sinner censured so severely in the First. [2 Corinthians 5:1-21] But see on 2 Corinthians 2:5-11, or of the troubles which arose in the Church over the disciplinary treatment of his sin. The end of a quarrel between friends is like the passing away of a storm; the elements are meant to be at peace with each other, and nature never looks so lovely as in the clear shining after rain. The effusion of feeling in this passage, so affectionate and unreserved; the sense that the storm-clouds have no more than left the sky, yet that fair weather has begun, make it conspicuously beautiful even in the writings of St. Paul.

He begins by resuming the appeal interrupted at 2 Corinthians 6:13. He has charged the Corinthians with being straitened in their own affections: distrust and calumny have narrowed their souls, nay, shut them against him altogether. "Receive us," he exclaims here-i.e., open your hearts to us. "You have no cause to be reserved: we wronged no man, ruined no man, took advantage of no man." Such charges had doubtless been made against him. The point of the last is clear from 2 Corinthians 12:16-18 : he had been accused of making money out of his apostolic work among them. The other words are less precise, especially the one rendered "corrupted," which should perhaps be rather explained, as in 1 Corinthians 3:17, "destroyed." Paul has not wronged or ruined any one in Corinth. Of course, his Gospel made serious demands upon people: it insisted on readiness to make sacrifices, and on actual sacrifice besides; it proceeded with extreme severity against sinners like the incestuous man; it entailed obligations, as we shall presently hear, to help the poor even of distant lands; and then, as still, such claims might easily be resented as ruinous or unjust. St. Paul simply denies the charge. He does not retort it; it is not his object to condemn those whom he loves so utterly. He has told them already that they are in his heart to die together and to live together (2 Corinthians 6:2); and when this is so, there is no place for recrimination or bandying of reproaches. He is full of confidence in them; he can freely make his boast of them. He has had affliction enough, but over it all he has been filled with consolation; even as he writes, his joy overflows (observe the present: υπερπερισσευομαι).

That word-"ye are in our hearts to die together and to live together"-is the key to all that follows. It has suffered much at the hands of grammarians, for whom it has undeniable perplexities; but vehement emotion may be permitted to be in some degree inarticulate, and we can always feel, even if we cannot demonstrate, what it means. "Your image in my heart accompanies me in death and life," is as nearly as possible what the Apostle says; and if the order of the words is unusual-for "life" would naturally stand first-that may be due to the fact, so largely represented in 2 Corinthians 4:1-18., that his life was a series of deadly perils, and of ever-renewed deliverances from them, a daily dying and a daily resurrection, through all the vicissitudes of which the Corinthians never lost their place in his heart. More artificial interpretations only obscure the intensity of that love which united the Apostle to his converts. It is leveled here, unconsciously, no doubt, but all the more impressively, with the love which God in Christ Jesus our Lord bears to His redeemed. "I am persuaded," St. Paul writes to the Romans, "that neither death nor life can separate us from that." "You may be assured," he writes here to the Corinthians, "that neither death nor life can separate you from my love." The reference of death and life is of course different, but the strength of conviction and of emotion is the same in both cases. St. Paul’s heart is pledged irrevocably and irreversibly to the Church. In the deep feeling that he is theirs, he has an assurance that they also are his. The love with which he loves them is bound to prevail; nay, it has prevailed, and he can hardly find words to express his joy. "En qualiter affectos esse omnes Pastores conveniat" (Calvin).

The next three verses carry us back to 2 Corinthians 2:12 ft., and resume the story which was interrupted there at 2 Corinthians 2:14. The sudden thanksgiving of that passage-so eager and impetuous that it left the writer no time to tell what he was thankful for-is explained here. Titus, whom he had expected to see in Troas, arrived at length, probably from Philippi, and brought with him the most cheering news. Paul was sadly in need of it. His flesh had no rest: the use of the perfect ( εσχηκεν) almost conveys the feeling that he began to write whenever he got the news, so that up to this moment the strain had continued. The fights without were probably assaults upon himself, or the Churches, of the nature of persecution; the fears within, his anxieties about the state of morals, or of Gospel truth, in the Christian communities. Outworn and depressed, burdened both in body and mind, {cf. the expressions in 2 Corinthians 2:13 and 2 Corinthians 7:5} he was suddenly lifted on high by the arrival and the news of Titus. Here again, as in 2 Corinthians 2:14, he ascribes all to God. It was He whose very nature it is to comfort the lowly who so graciously comforted him. Titus apparently had gone himself with a sad and apprehensive heart to Corinth; he had been away longer than he had anticipated, and in the interval St. Paul’s anxiety had risen to anguish; but in Corinth his reception had been unexpectedly favorable, and when he returned he was able to console his master with a consolation which had already gladdened his own heart. Paul was not only comforted, his sorrow was turned into joy, as he listened to Titus telling of the longing, of the Corinthians to see him, of their mourning over the pain they had given him by their tolerance for such irregularities as that of the incestuous man or the unknown insulter of the Apostle, and of their eagerness to satisfy him and maintain his authority. The word "your" ( υμων) in 2 Corinthians 7:7 has a certain emphasis which suggests a contrast. Before Titus went to Corinth, it was Paul who had been anxious to see them, who had mourned over their immoral laxity, who had been passionately interested in vindicating the character of the Church he had founded; now it is they who are full of longing to see him, of grief, and of moral earnestness; and it is this which explains his joy. The conflict between the powers of good in one great and passionate soul, and the powers of evil in a lax and fickle community, has ended in favor of the good; Paul’s vehemence has prevailed against Corinthian indifference, and made it vehement also in all good affections, and he rejoices now in the joy of his Lord.

Then comes the most delicate part of this reconciliation (2 Corinthians 7:8-12). It is a good rule in making up disputes to let bygones be bygones, as far as possible; there may be a little spark hidden here and there under what seem dead ashes, and there is no gain in raking up the ashes, and giving the spark a chance to blaze again. But this is a good rule only because we are bad men, and because reconciliation is seldom allowed to have its perfect work. We feel, and say, after we have quarreled with a person and been reconciled, that it can never be the same again. But this ought not to be so; and if we were perfect in love, or ardent in love at all, it would not be so. If we were in one another’s hearts, to die together and to live together, we should retrace the past together in the very act of being reconciled; and all its misunderstandings and bitterness and badness, instead of lying hidden in us as matter of recrimination for some other day when we are tempted, would add to the sincerity, the tenderness, and the spirituality of our love.

The Apostle sets us an example here, of the rarest and most difficult virtue, when he goes back upon the story of his relations with the Corinthians, and makes the bitter stock yield sweet and wholesome fruit.

The whole result is in his mind when he writes, "Although I made you sorry with the letter, I do not regret it." The letter is, on the simplest hypothesis, the First Epistle; and though no one would willingly speak to his friends as Paul in some parts of that Epistle speaks to the Corinthians, he cannot pretend that he wishes it unwritten. "Although I did regret it," he goes on, "now I rejoice." He regretted it, we must understand, before Titus came back from Corinth. In that melancholy interval, all he saw was that the letter made them sorry; it was bound to do so, even if it should only be temporarily: but his heart smote him for making them sorry at all. It vexed him to vex them. No doubt this is the plain truth he is telling them, and it is hard to see why it should have been regarded as inconsistent with his apostolic inspiration. He did not cease to have a living soul because he was inspired; and if in his despondency it crossed his mind to say, "That letter will only grieve them," he must have said in the same instant, "I wish I had never written it." But both impulses were momentary only; he has heard now the whole effect of his letter, and rejoices that he wrote it. Not, of course, that they were made sorry-no one could rejoice for that-but that they were made sorry to repentance. "For ye were made sorry according to God, that in nothing ye might suffer loss on our part. For sorrow according to God worketh repentance unto salvation, a repentance which bringeth no regret. But the sorrow of the world worketh death."

Most people define repentance as a kind of sorrow, but this is not exactly St. Paul’s view here. There is a kind of sorrow, he intimates, which issues in repentance, but repentance itself is not so much an emotional as a spiritual change. The sorrow which ends in it is a blessed experience; the sorrow which does not end in it is the most tragical waste of which human nature is capable. The Corinthians, we are told, were made sorry, or grieved, according to God. Their sorrow had respect to Him: when the Apostle’s letter pricked their hearts, they became conscious of that which they had forgotten-God’s relation to them, and His judgment on their conduct. It is this element which makes any sorrow "godly," and without this, sorrow does not look towards repentance at all. All sins sooner or later bring the sense of loss with them; but the sense of loss is not repentance. It is not repentance when we discover that our sin has found us out, and has put the things we most coveted beyond our reach. It is not repentance when the man who has sown his wild oats is compelled in bitterness of Soul to reap what he has sown. It is not a sorrow according to God when our sin is summed up for us in the pain it inflicts upon ourselves - in our own loss, our own defeat, our own humiliation, our own exposure, our own unavailing regret. These are not healing, but embittering. The sorrow according to God is that in which the sinner is conscious of his sin in relation to the Holy One, and feels that its inmost soul of pain and guilt is this, that he has fallen away from the grace and friendship of God. He has wounded a love to which he is dearer than he is to himself: to know this is really to grieve, and that not with a self-consuming, but with a healing, hopeful sorrow. It was such a sorrow to which Paul’s letter gave rise at Corinth: it is such a sorrow which issues in repentance, that complete change of spiritual attitude which ends in salvation, and need never be regretted. Anything else-the sorrow, e.g., which is bounded by the selfish interests of the sinner, and is not due to his sinful act, but only to its painful consequences-is the sorrow of the world. It is such as men feel in that realm of life in which no account is taken of God; it is such as weakens and breaks the spirit, or embitters and hardens it, turning it now to defiance and now to despair, but never to God, and penitent hope in Him. It is in this way that it works death. If death is to be defined at all, it must be by contrast with salvation: the grief which has not God as its rule can only exhaust the soul, wither up its faculties, blight its hopes, extinguish and deaden all.

St. Paul can point to the experience of the Corinthians themselves as furnishing a demonstration of these truths. "Consider your own godly sorrow," he seems to say, "and what blessed fruits it bore. What earnest care it wrought in you! how eager became your interest in a situation to which you had once been sinfully indifferent!" But "earnest car e" is not all. On the contrary ( ἀλλὰ) , Paul expands it into a whole series of acts or dispositions, all of which are inspired by that sorrow according to God. When they thought of the infamy which sin had brought upon the Church, they were eager to clear themselves of complicity in it ( ἀπολογίαν), and angry with themselves that they had ever allowed such a thing to be ( ἀγανάκτησιν); when they thought of the Apostle, they feared lest he should come to them with a rod ( φόβον), and yet their hearts went out in longing desires to see him ( ἐπιπόθησιν); when they thought of the man whose sin was at the bottom of all this trouble, they were full of moral earnestness, which made lax dealing with him impossible ( ζῆλον), and compelled them to punish his offence ( ἐκδίκησιν). In every way they made it evident that, in spite of early appearances, they were really pure in the matter. They were not, after all, making themselves partakers, by condoning it, of the bad man’s offence.

A popular criticism disparages repentance, and especially the sorrow which leads to repentance, as a mere waste of moral force. We have nothing to throw away, the severely practical moralist tells us, in sighs and tears and feelings: let us be up and doing, to rectify the wrongs for which we are responsible; that is the only repentance which is worth the name. This passage, and the experience which it depicts, are the answer to such precipitate criticism. The descent into our own hearts, the painful self-scrutiny and self-condemnation, the sorrowing according to God, are not waste of moral force. Rather are they the only possible way to accumulate moral force; they apply to the soul the pressure under which it manifests those potent virtues which St. Paul here ascribes to the Corinthians. All sorrow, indeed, as he is careful to tell us, is not repentance; but he who has no sorrow for his sin has not the force in him to produce earnest care, fear, longing, zeal, avenging. The fruit, of course, is that for which the tree is cultivated; but who would magnify the fruit by disparaging the sap? That is what they do who decry "godly sorrow" to exalt practical amendment.

With this reference to the effect of his letter upon them, the Apostle virtually completes his reconciliation to the Corinthians. He chooses to consider the effect of his letter as the purpose for which it was written, and this enables him to dismiss what had been a very painful subject with a turn as felicitous as it is affectionate. "So then, though I did write to you, it was not for his sake who did the wrong [the sinner of 2 Corinthians 5:1-21], nor for his who had it done to him [his father]; {But see on 2 Corinthians 2:5-11} but that you yourselves might become conscious of your earnest care of our interests in the sight of God." Awkward as some of the situations had been, all that remained, so far as the Apostle and the Corinthians were concerned, was this: they knew better than before how deeply they were attached to him, and how much they would do for his sake. He chooses, as I have said, to regard this last result of his writing as the purpose for which he wrote; and when he ends the twelfth verse with the words, "For this cause, we have been comforted," it is as if he said, "I have got what I wanted now, and am content."

But content is far too weak a word. Paul had heard all this good news from Titus, and the comfort which it gave him was exalted into abounding joy when he saw how the visit to Corinth had gladdened and refreshed the spirit of his friend. Evidently Titus had accepted Paul’s commission with misgivings: possibly Timothy, who had been earlier enlisted for the same service, [1 Corinthians 16:10] had found his courage fail him, and withdrawn. At all events, Paul had spoken encouragingly to Titus of the Corinthians before he started; as he puts it in 2 Corinthians 7:14, he had boasted somewhat to him on their account; and he is delighted that their reception of Titus has shown that his confidence was justified. He cannot refrain here from a passing allusion to the charges of prevarication discussed in the first chapter; he not only tells the truth about them (as Titus has seen), but he has always told the truth to them. These verses present the character of Paul in an admirable light: not only his sympathy with Titus, but his attitude to the Corinthians, is beautifully Christian. What in most cases of estrangement makes reconciliation hard is that the estranged have allowed themselves to speak of each other to outsiders in a way that cannot be forgotten or got over. But even when the tension between Paul and the Corinthians was at its height, he boasted of them to Titus. His love to them was so real that nothing could blind him to their good qualities. He could say severe things to them, but he would never disparage or malign them to other people; and if we wish friendships to last, and to stand the strains to which all human ties are occasionally subject, we must never forget this rule. "Boast somewhat," even of the man who has wronged you, if you possibly can. If you have ever loved him, you certainly can, and it makes reconciliation easy.

The last results of the painful friction between Paul and the Corinthians were peculiarly happy. The Apostle’s confidence in them was completely restored, and they had completely won the heart of Titus. "His affections are more abundantly toward you, as he remembers the obedience of you all, how with fear and trembling ye received him." "Fear and trembling" is an expression which St. Paul uses elsewhere, and which is liable to be misunderstood. It does not suggest panic, but an anxious scrupulous desire not to be wanting to one’s duty, or to do less than one ought to do. "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God that worketh in you," does not mean" Do it in a constant state of agitation or alarm," but "Work on with this resource behind you, in the same spirit with which a young man of character would work, who was starting in business on capital advanced by a friend." He would proceed, or ought to proceed, with fear and trembling, not of the sort which paralyze intelligence and energy, but of the sort which peremptorily preclude slackness or failure in duty. This is the meaning here also. The Corinthians were not frightened for Paul’s deputy, but they welcomed him with an anxious conscientious desire to do the very utmost that duty and love could require. This, says Calvin, is the true way to receive ministers of Christ; and it is this only which will gladden a true minister’s heart. Sometimes, with the most innocent intention, the whole situation is changed, and the minister, though received with the utmost courtesy and kindness, is not received with fear and trembling at all. Partly through his own fault, and partly through the fault of others, he ceases to be the representative of anything that inspires reverence or excites to conscientious earnestness of conduct. If, under these circumstances, he continues to be kindly treated, he is apt to end in being, not the pastor, but the pet lamb of his flock. In apostolic times there was no danger of this, but modern ministers and modern congregations have sometimes thrown away all the possibilities of good in their mutual relations by disregarding it. The affection which they ought to have to each other is Christian, not merely natural; controlled by spiritual ideas and purposes, and not a matter of ordinary good feeling; and where this is forgotten, all is lost.

 


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 7:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/2-corinthians-7.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, September 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
ADVERTISEMENT
Commentary Navigator
Search This Commentary
Enter query in the box below
ADVERTISEMENT
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology