NOTES II Corinthians
7:1-16 (click here for study)
Chapter seven begins with a segue from chapter six which Paul ends by quoting Isaiah, Ezekiel, and 2 Samuel, reminding the Corinthians that God has promised to live with them and be their God if they keep themselves pure from sinful alliances. He admonishes them to perfect holiness "out of reverence for God." Paul moves from this admonition to discussing the Corinthians' repentance which came in response to his letter calling them to deal with sin in their midst.
Again Paul asks the Corinthians to "make room for us in your hearts." (v.2) Opportunistic false teachers had been poisoning the Corinthians' minds regarding Paul's integrity. Because he had had to change his plans and visit them later than he first expected (2 Cor. 1:23-24), the infiltrators had been suggesting that Paul didn't really love them as he said he did, that he made promises when convenient and broke them when they became inconvenient. Paul knew that the Corinthians were being distracted from keeping their central loyalty on Jesus. Various teachers and charismatic preachers were pulling them into factions, and the Corinthians were rallying around their favorite spiritual mentors instead of Jesus. (see 1 Cor. 1:10-17; 3:1-9; 4:14-16)
Paul represented the truth to the Corinthians. He had taught them the gospel, and he had nurtured them as new Christ-followers. He had spent himself on them, not just as converts but as his own children in Christ. Paul loved the Corinthians with a love that came from God and with a love that went deeply into his own heart and emotions. Now, besides knowing that his spiritual children were being misled by false teachers, Paul has been waiting to hear their reaction to a strong letter he wrote to them calling them to deal decisively with open sin in their fellowship. He fears not only that they may turn their backs on their call to truthfulness, but he feels grief over the possibility that they may also reject him. He knows that if they reject truth, they will also reject him. They will not be able to live with internal compromise and still be open and vulnerable with Paul. People who compromise truth cannot relate honestly with people who stand for truth.
In verse four Paul hints that he has finally received reassuring word of the Corinthians, and he declares to them how much pride and confidence he has in them. In this context he also begs them to open their hearts to him in love as he is open to them.
Suffering Among God's People
Paul had begun this letter with an account of his itinerary that had caused him to change his plans to visit the Corinthians at a certain time. In chapter 2 verse 14, Paul had digressed from recounting his travels, but in verse 5 of chapter 7 he again picks up his explanation. When Paul had left Troas for Macedonia, he had been greatly troubled. He had expected Titus to reach him in Troas bearing news from Corinth. Titus had spent some time with the Corinthians, and Paul had become anxious when Titus did not rendezvous with him at the expected time in Troas. Paul was suffering a great deal because of the gospel, and he was anticipating Titus' arrival to be an event that would lift his spirits and, he hoped, bring him good news of the Corinthians.
When Titus finally reached Paul in Macedonia, he received Titus as comfort from God. He was thrilled not only by Titus's arrival but also by the good news he brought concerning the Corinthian believers.
Paul describes his suffering before Titus's arrival in just a few words, but they carry a heavy sense of oppression. "For when we came into Macedonia," he said, "this body of ours had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn-conflicts on the outside, fears within." Paul was meeting great opposition from those who feared the spread of the gospel. In addition, internal fears attempted to quench his joy and peace in Jesus. Paul explained more clearly what he endured in 2 Cor. 4:8-10: "We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body."
Paul's suffering is reminiscent of the suffering Moses prophesied for Israel if they disobeyed God and came under his discipline. Deuteronomy describes "conflicts on the outside, fears within" among the Israelites in times of oppression: "In the street the sword will make them childless; in their homes terror will reign. Young men and young women will perish, infants and gray-haired men." (Deut. 32:25)
This prophecy was part of the Song of Moses which Moses recited to Israel before his death. Jeremiah and Ezekiel also prophesied suffering and terror for apostate Israel-suffering descending on them from their enemies, and suffering internally as a consequence of their own betrayal of God. In Lamentations the author (probably Jeremiah) says, "See, O Lord, how distressed I am! I am in torment within, and in my heart I am disturbed, for I have been most rebellious. Outside, the sword bereaves; inside there is only death." (Lam. 1:20)
Paul, in 2 Corinthians, picks up this theme of external and internal suffering as he describes his experience carrying the gospel into hostile territory. In fact, Paul repeatedly emphasizes throughout his epistles that his suffering was intense and to the point of death.
The author of Hebrews clearly states that God disciplines those he loves and punishes everyone he accepts as sons. The suffering we experience, he says, is for our good and serves the purpose of refining us to share His holiness. (Hebrews 12:5-7, 10-11) In his letter to the Romans, Paul reminds them that God has made us his sons, and if we are his sons, then we are his heirs and co-heirs with Christ IF we share in his suffering. Sharing his suffering he says, prepares us to share in His glory. (Romans 8:17)
Just as the suffering of Christ flows into our lives, Paul wrote to the Corinthians earlier in this letter, so through Christ comfort overflows from us to others. If we suffer, that suffering is for the sake of comforting others who suffer as we have. (2 Cor. 1:5-6) We are given over to death for Jesus' sake, Paul writes, so life will be revealed in our mortal bodies. (2 Cor. 4:8-12)
Paul wrote to the Thessalonians that they had become "imitators of the churches in Judea" because they had begun suffering at the hands of their own countrymen. Just as the Jews had driven out the apostles and had rejected the Lord Jesus and the prophets before him, just so had the Thessalonian unbelievers persecuted the Christian converts and had tried to stop the spreading of the gospel.
The suffering which God foretold would happen to the Israelites if they did not obey him resembled, on a large scale, the suffering that beset the church as it took the gospel into pagan territory. Paul described his own suffering in terms that linked him to the suffering of his people centuries before.
Both in the case of Israel and in the case of Christ-followers, suffering and opposition are to be seen as God's discipline. These things happen to God's people as a means of purifying them and bringing them to trust God alone with their lives and work. In the case of Israel, the internal suffering and external assaults were the consequences of their disobedience. Because they flaunted their covenant with God and his call to them to be separate from paganism and pure in their allegiance to him, God allowed their pagan enemies to conquer and capture them. He allowed them to be driven to desperation as a means of forcing them to deal with their own apostasy and their own role in their fate. He ordained their suffering as a means of returning their attention to Him and to His promises to them. He allowed them to suffer so they would turn their hearts to him and honor him as God.
In Paul's case, however, and in the case of all Christ-followers, God's discipline does not necessarily come as a result of apostasy. Rather, it comes to us so that we will learn more and more to trust God alone in our lives and not our accomplishments or props. Even though we accept Jesus and accept the Holy Spirit's new birth in us, we still have to grow from a worldly person into a mature Christ-follower. As we allow God's Spirit to work in us, we will meet opposition and misunderstanding and grief and loss. These things are not punishments; they are discipline sent to us to drive us to our Savior in deeper and deeper surrender.
Sometimes we blatantly or even unintentionally sin; God's discipline will allow us to reap the consequences of our sins. The purpose, however, in all of these sufferings and losses, is for us to surrender to Jesus whatever he reveals to us is standing in the way of His being our only identity. When we are assaulted from outside by misunderstanding and hostility, when our hearts are filled with fear and grief, then we are to turn to Jesus and allow him to fight our battles for us and quiet our hearts. Whatever we cherish, that we must hold loosely and give to God. We must be willing to allow him to remove from us the things we most love. We must be willing to do whatever he asks us to do, even if that "something" is being quiet in the shadows for a time.
Paul saw his suffering as a continuation of God's discipline of his chosen people. Just as God had disciplined his forebears during their apostasy, even so He was disciplining Paul, his loved servant, as He transformed the zealous, hot-headed Saul into a servant reflecting His own image.
Paul now expresses his personal delight over Titus's eventual arrival in Macedonia. He was not only thrilled to see him, he was thrilled with the news Titus brought regarding the Corinthians. Paul had written an earlier letter to the Corinthians in which he exhorted them to deal with a situation of persistent sin in their fellowship. That letter had upset the Corinthians, and Paul had not heard whether they became angry and refused his counsel or whether they had repented of their behavior. Because of their less-than-open-hearted reaction to him and their seduction by false teachers, Paul was worried about them. He feared that as the imposters infiltrated Corinth and deceived the new believers, they would not only reject him and the pure gospel he taught but also refuse to deal with the sin that was choking their spiritual vitality.
Titus finally brought Paul the reassurance that the Corinthians had receive his correction with openness. He now tells the Corinthians that he is happy that his letter upset them because it resulted in "Godly sorrow" that led to repentance. He even admits to them that his letter to them had been a test of their loyalty to him.
This "test" was not a manipulative game he played on the unwitting. Rather, Paul knew that if the Corinthians failed to deal with the ungodly behavior he addressed, they would indeed be drifting from their earlier response to truth. Such refusal would demonstrate that they were putting their trust in glib teachers who were subtly perverting the gospel and its claim on their hearts. On the other hand, the fact that they received Paul's reproof even when they were acting cool and distant toward him reassured Paul that their hearts were still open to the work of the Holy Spirit. They were not, as he feared, abandoning the gospel for worldly concerns. Even though they were succumbing to the flattery of self-seeking men who desired power over them, they still had hearts responsive to the call of God on them.
Paul was not sadistically happy that he had caused them pain. Rather, he was joyful that they experienced sorrow for their ungodly behavior. Such sorrow, he said, leads to repentance. If they had simply been sorry for the consequences of their sin, that sorrow would be "wordly" and would lead to death instead of salvation. The Corinthians allowed the Holy Spirit to convict them of their culpability in their situation. Paul was rejoicing because by their reaction he knew that they were still responding to truth. They still respected him as their spiritual mentor and recognized God's authority in him even though they were being seduced away from loyalty to him and to his teaching. Paul's gratitude to God and love for the Corinthians overflows as he receives Titus's message.
Obedience and Boasting
Paul ends this section of his letter by telling the Corinthians how delighted he was to see how the Corinthians had refreshed Titus's spirit. He has boasted about them to Titus, he says, "and you have not embarrassed me." Titus had been especially drawn to the Corinthians when he discovered how they had been obedient, "receiving him with fear and trembling."
Paul had earlier said that he had written to the Corinthians about restoring a repentant brother who had been disciplined "to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything." (2 Cor. 2:9) In chapter 10 Paul again talks to the Corinthians about obedience: "We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." (2 Cor. 10:4-6)
Titus has found that the Corinthians believers had indeed responded to Paul's admonitions and have done what he asked them to do. By being obedient to Paul, they were being obedient to God's call to them to be holy.
Obedience in the life of a Christ-follower is not obeying a law. Rather, it is being faithful to respond to the Holy Spirit's revelations of truth and His calls to trust and to give up whatever stands between us and intimacy with Christ. Obedience in the new covenant is obedience to Christ rather than to a written law.
Jesus demonstrated the kind of obedience we as Christ-followers are to have. He took his directions directly from his Father. He was obedient even to death. (Philippians 2:5-8) He told his disciples that he would lay down his life and take it up again by the authority of the command of his Father. (John 10:18)
Peter wrote that Christ-followers are "chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood." (1 Peter 1:1-2) Later in the same letter Peter asks, "What will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?" (4:17)
As Christ-followers, we do not have the law before us as our standard of living. Rather, we have Jesus Christ himself, made real to us by the indwelling Holy Spirit, standing always in the center of our lives, guiding, directing, disciplining, and revealing to us what we are to do. John summarized the nature of our obedience when he wrote, "And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love." (2 John 6)
God's command to Christ-followers is that we love one another as he loved us. (John 13:34) God's people have always been required to be obedient. In the New Covenant, however, the focus of our obedience is different. No longer do we have the law pointing out our moral failures. Instead we have Jesus' blood shed for eternity making it possible for us to be born from above into a new reality of intimacy with God that was not possible before the cross. Our response of obedience is even more demanding now than it was for Israel. We are now responsible to be obedient to the living Christ, the revealed love and sacrifice of God. We are no longer asked to be obedient to a shadow of reality; we are asked to be obedient to reality itself. Jesus has revealed the mystery hidden for generations: the mystery of Christ in us. (Col. 1:27) Christ in us is the object of our obedience. He calls us to obedience, and he gives us his power to obey. He is our all-in-all.
When Titus met the Corinthians he was thrilled to find them obedient to Paul's call to them to do God's will. Their "fear and trembling" when they met him underscores that they were indeed experiencing Godly sorrow leading to repentance, not merely chagrin that they had to experience sin's consequences. Their fear and trembling suggests that they were acknowledging the seriousness of God's call to them to be holy. Their hearts were still open to Jesus, and both Titus and Paul experienced great joy that in spite of the Corinthians' vulnerability to the false teachers among them, they still were able to hear the Holy Spirit's call to obedience.
God asks us today to be loyal to him and to those who teach us his word. In the same way the Corinthians were acting without integrity and compromising their commitment to truth by listening to gossip about Paul and doubting him, so we dishonor the gospel when we entertain gossip about and withhold our support from God's teachers in our lives. We are never to follow a person, but we are to be committed to mutual support and vulnerability with the people God puts in our lives to shepherd and disciple us. God's call to truth involves not only right belief; it also involves upholding each other and being discerning of the self-serving motives of those who entice us away from obedience to the pure gospel. Acting in truth also means trusting what we know about a person's Godliness and not believing rumors or insinuations about Christ's ambassadors to us. We are called to walk in light, not in darkness. Secrets, implications, half-told stories implying evil motives-these are not acceptable subjects for Christ-followers' attention.
God calls us to truth. We are to trust the love of Jesus enough that when we confront sin in ourselves-or when a brother or sister in Christ confronts us with sin in ourselves-we are to humbly surrender those areas of our lives to God and ask for his healing in us. We can expect God's discipline in our lives. He will continually call us to surrender to him, to allow him to purify our motives and our unconscious vulnerabilites. He will continually reveal to us things about ourselves we did not consciously know. But we can trust Jesus to deal with each of these flaws and failures he reveals with the same grace and strength that motivated him to experience the cross. Jesus is faithful; he calls us to truth; he reveals the truth, and he establishes truth in us.
We can also expect to suffer hardships without and fears within. When we deeply commit ourselves to Jesus, giving him every part of ourselves and being willing to know and do and be what he wants us to know and do and be, we can expect opposition. We can expect to experience abandonment, physical suffering, and temptations to doubt and fear. When these things happen, however, we can know that God is sovereign. He is already in our place of suffering. He has already provided for our nurture and comfort and strength. We can trust the one who died for us. He knows how our suffering feels; His comfort will overflow into our lives. He will make himself more real to us than the things we fear. He is stronger than evil. He holds all of us in his hands. He will redeem our suffering, and he himself will be our reward.
Ask God to show you where in your life you are dishonoring him. Ask him to shine the light of truth into your mind and heart, and ask him to give you the desire to allow him to purify your weak and wounded places. Ask Jesus to be your strength and your comfort. Ask him to protect you with his love. Allow the Holy Spirit to navigate you through the changes and the growth that God wants to accomplish in you.
Praise God for sending his representatives into our lives to minister to us and to call us to accountability. Praise Jesus for breaking the power of sin and deception and for giving us the freedom to walk out of darkness into the light. Praise the Holy Spirit for giving us a new heart and for birthing us into the family of God!
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!
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CA USA. All rights reserved. Posted July 13, 2002.