NOTES II Corinthians
1:23-2:11 (click here for
Paul has been explaining that he does not make promises lightly. He declares that because of God's faithfulness to him, he does not say "Yes" and "No" with the same breath. His word is trustworthy because God's word to us is trustworthy through Christ, and in Christ he can speak in a trustworthy manner.
Paul has changed his plans to visit the Corinthians because he realizes that he has already told them what problems they needed to fix within their fellowship. They haven't dealt with those things yet, and he knows that if he visits them now they will likely be on the defensive, and he will simply be repeating himself to them. He doesn't want to introduce more tension between them that would be unprofitable. He will not be visiting them, he explains, in order to "spare" them from the discomfort of his arriving and seeing them in the same unrepentant condition they had been in before.
Instead, he reminds them that he is not being arrogant toward them but is working "with [them] for [their] joy, because it is by faith that [they] stand firm." (v. 24) Paul has decided not to visit them, entrusting them instead to God and trusting the Corinthians' own relationships with God to work out the changes they need to make. He recognizes that they stand firm in Christ by faith, and he will trust their faith instead of inserting himself again into a situation in which they already know they need to make changes.
Significantly, Paul stresses to these new and somewhat undisciplined Christ-followers that they stand firm by faith. Even though they have problems they need to clean up, he stresses that they are truly believers, and they live by faith. He knows that they need to consciously grasp their faith in order to overcome their internal problems. By confidently reminding them that they live by faith, he is both stating who they are in Christ and reassuring them that their troubles are solvable if they grasp onto the authority and power of Jesus which are theirs. His confident statement also reminds the Corinthians that they will not stand firm if they forget their faith.
Joy in the Spirit
Also significant is the fact that Paul says he's working with the Corinthians for their joy. Joy is a gift of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23), and it is a mark of a Christ-follower. By telling the Corinthians he's working for their joy, Paul is reminding them that the kingdom of heaven is not about what they do; it's about "righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Romans 14:17). When people serve God with the righteousness of Christ and experience peace and joy, they are "pleasing to God and approved by men." (ibid.) The Corinthians' problems were not themselves the things that were wrong with the church in Corinth. The things that was really wrong was the fact that the Corinthians were not living by the Spirit. It was their right and inheritance to live by the Spirit; they had accepted Jesus. But they were living by their flesh, and Paul was reminding them that they were believers. They had faith in Jesus, and their privilege was to be able to live with joy in the Holy Spirit.
All believers are called to live with joy. "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust him," writes Paul in Romans 15:13, "so you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."
True joy does not end in the face of suffering. "In spite of severe suffering," Paul said to the Thessalonians, "you welcomed the message with joy given by the Holy Spirit," and by so doing they became a model to all believers in their geographic area. (1 Thessalonians 1:6-7)
James also addressed the reality of Christ-followers facing persecution and trouble. "Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials," he wrote in James 1:2.
Peter also addressed a Christian's joy. "Though you do not see him, you love him and are filled with inexpressible and glorious joy for you are receivingthe salvation of your souls." (1 Peter 1:8)
True joy is a miracle. It is a gift of the Holy Spirit, and it transcends physical reality. It underlies trauma and loss and grief and persecution and the unknown. Joy is the mark of the presence of God in a person's life, and it goes hand-in-hand with the power of God in a believer's life to overcome sin and self-centeredness.
Restore the Sinner
In verse 5-11 Paul addresses the issue of a church member who has undergone corporate discipline and has repented of his wrong. We do not know what the cause of discipline was. Some think perhaps the situation is the same as that mentioned in 1 Corinthians 5 in which Paul recommended putting an immoral brother out of fellowship "so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord." (1 Cor. 5:5) Some scholars suggest the incident mentioned in 2 Corinthians 2 was a different event. William Barclay suggests that the offense may have been against Paul himself.
When there is sin in a church fellowship, the appropriate response from the members is grief. Many people respond not with grief but with a morbid curiosity and gossip camouflaged as "praying about it." Since Christ-followers individually make up the corporate body of Christ, however, what happens to one member affects and hurts each of us. We are to see the person in sin as part of ourselves needing healing and restoration.
The person to whom Paul refers in this passage likely received the discipline outlined in 1 Corinthians 5. He was apparently put out of church fellowship to wake him up and bring about a desire for repentance.
Apparently this person had repented and given the sin to God, because Paul is instructing the church to comfort him and to reaffirm their love for him. The church, however, had gone beyond discipline for the sake of restoration and had begun to be spiteful to the person. Even though he had repented, the church members were being arrogant and refusing to acknowledge his sorrow. They were withholding love and fellowship from him.
Paul steps in to remind them that as Christ-followers they must extend the love of Christ to a repentant brother. If they don't, he indicates, the person may "be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow."
Our forgiveness of each other is crucial, both for our own spiritual integrity and for the growth of the one needing forgiveness. "Hatred stirs up dissention," Solomon wrote in Proverbs 10:12, "but love covers over all wrongs." Love is more powerful than hate; it can provide a basis for resolution of otherwise unsolvable problems.
Jesus told his disciples to love one another; by this love all people would know they were his disciples. (John 13:34-35) The mark of being a Christ-follower is the love we have for others-love not marked by self-serving devotion, but love that cares for another even when the other is difficult or unlovable.
The freedom we have in Christ, Paul explains in Galatians 5:13-14, is the freedom to serve one another in love. If we keep on "biting and devouring" each other we will completely destroy each other. Our criticism and lack of forgiveness eats at each other's souls, and we can demoralize and destroy each other by refusing to love and forgive.
In Ephesians 4:2-5 Paul admonishes the church to be humble, gentle, and patient, bearing with one another in love. In Colossians 3:13-14 he further says to bear with each other, forgiving "whatever grievances" we have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgives, he instructs, and "put on love" which binds us together in unity.
Forgiving and Loving for God
John makes one of the most provocative statements about the necessity of our loving each other in 1 John 3:18: "Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth." Our love for each other is never to be an excuse to avoid confronting sin. It is never to be an excuse for denial. It must be active; it cannot be merely lip service and vain promises of caring that have no follow-through. On the other hand, the commands to love that Jesus gives us are not commands to ignore abuse or dishonesty and "love" the offender without accountability. John says we must love in actions and in truth. We must demonstrate our love, but we must also love the other person with our eyes open.
An excellent definition of forgiveness says this: forgiveness is NOT "forgiving and forgetting." Sometimes we MUST NOT forget; we have to remember what happened in order to protect ourselves from future harm or transgression against us. But forgiving does mean giving up our "right" to get even.
God says to us, "The weight of retaliation for wrongs done against you is too heavy a burden for you to carry. The load will crush and finally kill you. Give me the responsibility to 'get even.' I am the only one who can deal with that load and remain intact. You can trust me to deal justly with those who have hurt you. Let me carry the load. You can give up the agony of the injustice and let me heal your heart while I also deal with the offender."
When someone transgresses against us, individually or corporately as the body of Christ, our response must be to forgive and to love as Christ forgives and loves. This demand is not possible for any human to accomplish without the power of the Holy Spirit indwelling us. Our forgiveness must include accountability. The offender must be confronted with his offense, and, in the case open defiance, corporate discipline is essential as Paul outlined in 1 Corinthians 5. When a person repents of his sin, however, we must trust God's work in that person's life and allow him or her to re-enter the fellowship of believers. To continue to keep repentant brothers and sisters outside, to be unforgiving or arrogant or distrustful of the them, goes beyond discipline and becomes sin against them. We then become destructive and responsible for the emotional and spiritual damage our lack of forgiveness might produce.
Our job is to love them-not for our own sakes, not even for their sakes, but for God. When we love each other for God, we don't have to know exactly what to do or what to say. We don't even have to understand what's needed. All we have to be is WILLING for God to love them through us. We merely have to be available. God will do the loving through us.
Of Obedience and Satan's Schemes
In the context of Paul's admonishing the Corinthians to restore the repentant brother to fellowship, he writes, "The reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything. If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. And what I have forgiven-if there was anything to forgive-I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes." (v.9-11)
Paul wanted the Corinthians to take seriously their responsibility to each other as members of the body of Christ. He also says he wanted to test their obedience. The word "obedience" sometimes conjures negative reactions in those of us who were raised to measure our behavior by how well we kept the law. "Obedience and law" were a unit in many of our minds, somewhat like "peas and carrots" or "bread and butter."
2 Corinthians, however, is clearly a letter outlining living in the new covenant. Paul is not advocating living by the law; rather, he continually reminds people to live by the Spirit. It is important for us to define "obedience" in the context of the new covenant. If obedience is not established and measured by the law, to what are we obedient?
In Romans 1:5 Paul writes that believers are called to "obedience that comes from faith." The faith to which he refers is faith in Jesus Christ, the acceptance of him as our personal Savior. When we become believers and follow Christ, our faith in him motivates obedience to him. We no longer look to the law for our standard; we look to the living Christ who indwells us with his Spirit. We know him personally instead of distantly, as did Israel. Now we can directly obey our Savior because we have a personal relationship with him.
Peter also emphasizes that obedience in a Christ-follower is a work of God. God's elect, he declares, have been chosen "through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood." (1 Peter 1:2)
In the new covenant obedience is not a requirement that we fulfill a list of obligations and behaviors. Rather, obedience is our response to the work of the Holy Spirit in us. Through Him we become able to obey Jesus directly without a list of rules between us.
If obedience is no longer about laws or rules, however, we need to define what "obeying Jesus" means. Scripture is clear about what a Christ-follower's obedience looks like. In 2 Corinthians 10:5 Paul addresses this issue. We demolish arguments and pretensions, he says, and we "take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ." Obedience isn't about DOING the right thing; it's about having a mind and a will that is surrendered to Jesus. Strong-willed people can do right behaviors and make personal sacrifices, but their minds and hearts aren't necessarily in agreement with their heads and hands. It is possible for people to look law-abiding and moral and even self-effacing externally while being proud and arrogant and invulnerable in their hearts. This kind of behavior is not the obedience of a Christ-follower.
True obedience stems from a heart surrendered to the love of Jesus and responsive to his promptings. When we surrender our wills to Jesus, we will begin to do things that look like the love of Jesus. In 2 Corinthians 9:12-14 Paul is writing to the church about preparing a gift of money for the financially struggling believers in Jerusalem. He tells them that when they give, people will praise God "for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel." Declaring the gospel, if it is an honest declaration, speaks of a heart surrendered to Jesus. That declaration will go hand-in-hand with service to others that results from obeying Christ's nudging in one's heart.
When Paul wrote to Titus he said that the grace of God teaches us to say no to worldly passions, and he further stated that God purifies his people. (Titus 2:11-14) Obedience in a Christ-follower is responding to the teaching and purifying the Holy Spirit does in us.
Saying "No" to worldly passions goes hand-in-hand with saying "Yes" to the commands of Jesus. The word "commands" has confused many of us; we have equated it with "commandments", specifically the 10 Commandments. The word John uses in 1 John 3:21-24, however, is not the word for the 10 Commandments, or the law of the Torah. The word he uses is the word for "teachings," and he specifies what these teachings are.
"We have confidence before God," he writes in 1 John 3:21-23, "and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us."
Ultimately our obedience to Jesus will result in our being motivated by the love of Jesus, and we will function not from obedience to an external standard but to the love of Jesus in our hearts prompting us to treat each other with his own grace and mercy. We will not love others for our own sakes, nor even for theirs. We will love them for God. When we say "Yes," to Jesus, we agree to allow him to love through us. We no longer have to decide how to love people in order to "do the right thing." We no longer have to plan what to say or strategize to manage difficult situations. The Holy Spirit in us will give us His wisdom and insight and discernment, and God himself will love those in our presence through us when we are open to Him.
Paul concludes this passage about forgiving and restoring the repentant brother by saying that we forgive "in order that Satan might not outwit us." He states, "For we are not unaware of [Satan's] schemes."
Satan's schemes often work against us because they are deceptive and subtle. Often we don't recognize his schemes because we can't see them; we only become aware that he has schemed when we experience the results of his scheming. Jesus made an interesting statement to Peter. It's recorded in Luke 22:31-32: "Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers."
The first interesting point in this passage is that Satan had to ask permission to "sift [the disciples] as wheat." (The word "you" in verse 31 is plural and indicates that Jesus was referring to Satan's request to test all the disciples, hoping to destroy them spiritually.) This passage is reminiscent of Job 1:7-12 where Satan appeared before God and asked permission to attack and test Job. The suggestion here is that Satan cannot launch a devastating attack on God's people without God's permission. When our hearts are His, when His Spirit has sealed us in the clear sight of the entire universe, our identity is without doubt. We are God's. Satan, apparently, cannot touch us without God's permission.
The second interesting thing in this passage is that Jesus did not say he denied Satan's request. Rather, he states that he has prayed for Peter, asking God to keep his faith from failing. He also implied that Peter would succumb to Satan's attack but would "turn back," after which he would be able to "strengthen [his] brothers."
Satan cannot attack us without the consent of Jesus. On the other hand, Jesus prays for us, and the Holy Spirit intercedes for us when we don't know what to pray. (Romans 8:26-27) We can expect Satan to scheme against us, but we are not left at his mercy. We are protected by the love and intercession of our Savior. We never face Satan's attacks alone.
Another way Satan schemes against people is by blinding them so they cannot see the truth of the gospel. 2 Corinthians 4:4 says, "The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." While it is clear that unbelievers do not see the truth about Jesus, a more subtle form of blinding attacks believers. False doctrines and teachings have continually insinuated themselves into Christian fellowships ever since the church was founded. Paul spoke strongly against gnosticism and other heresies such as returning to the law while claiming to embrace Christ (Galatianism). When a person becomes a Christ-follower, Satan will still scheme to blind him or her to the true freedom and accountability we have n Jesus.
Peter also warned believers about Satan's schemes. "Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings." (1 Peter 5:8-9)
We can fall prey to Satan's deceptions by indulging in mental and personal laziness and self-gratification. Our protection against Satan is not asceticism, however; rather, it is trusting and depending on Jesus. We resist Satan by standing firmly in our faith and relationships with Jesus. When Jesus fills our heart and mind, we do not leave a vacuum for Satan to fill. Jesus himself gives us discernment and awareness and protects us with his love.
Revelation 12:10 gives us one more insight into the way Satan attacks believers. "For the accuser of our brothers who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down."
Satan continually accuses us of sin and spiritual failure. He accuses us to God, and he accuses us in our own minds. Only when we know we are safe in Christ and clothed with his righteousness because he took all our sins upon himself can we stand with confidence before this onslaught of accusations. God looks at us through the blood of Jesus and sees His perfection in us. Satan's accusations cannot stick when we have the mark of God's ownership upon us. Jesus' death cleansed us from sin, and we can know for certain that the guilt and shame Satan continues to try to heap on us are no longer our condemnation. Jesus has redeemed us from those things, and we are no longer defined by our sins. We are defined by Jesus as sons and daughters of God.
Protection Against Satan's Schemes
Our greatest protection against Satan's schemes against us is to grow in trust and faith in Christ. Jesus himself is our protector against Satan, and the more completely we rest in him, the more fully we experience His protection of us.
Jesus told Peter that he had prayed for him that his faith would not fail during Satan's attacks. (Luke 22:32) Paul also tells us in Romans 8:26-27 that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us when we don't know what to pray. Sometimes the difficulties we face are Satan's opposition against us, and we don't always perceive the spiritual reality behind our suffering and struggling. The Holy Spirit himself intercedes for God's people when they don't know how to pray.
Our defender is Jesus Christ. When we belong to him, our battles become his. Our best defense is to rest in Him. Paul told the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 10:12-13 to stand firm in Christ. He assured them that God would never allow them to be tempted beyond what they could tolerate, and he further stated that God would provide them with ways out of temptation so they could "stand up under it."
Peter wrote in 1 Peter 5:6-7 that believers should humble themselves before God and cast all their anxieties upon him, because he cares for them. Let God handle life's hardships for you, he says in essence. Your job is to bow before your Savior and allow him to take care of you.
"Be on your guard," Paul wrote in 2 Peter 3:17-18, "so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."
Our defense against Satan is not our own cleverness or diligence in fighting him. In fact, we cannot fight him. We have no power in ourselves to overcome him. Only God can protect us from Satan. Our focus is to be deepening our relationship with Jesus, to be learning increasingly to trust him, and to give each moment to him. Jesus has already ultimately defeated Satan; we can be confident that when we are in Christ, we have already won the war. Day-to-day assaults, however, will overwhelm us if we do not trust Jesus and make him our focus. The more we struggle with our hardships, the more they will consume our attention and energy. Jesus asks us to come to Him, and he will give us rest by doing the work of protection and salvation for us.
Paul links forgiveness with preventing Satan from outwitting us. When we refuse to forgive someone and to restore him/her into fellowship if he is repentant, we hurt him/her. We essentially define him by his sins, and we don't let him move on from that identity of "sinner." If people are not allowed to be known as they are in Christ, they have a difficult time moving away from their sins. Satan can easily discourage them by plaguing them with accusations of their wrongdoing and convincing them that they still carry their labels of guilt.
On the other hand, when we forgive a person, we help that person to see that in Christ he is a new creation. He is no longer defined by his sin, and with Christ's power he has achieved victory over it and can move ahead with his life. Our forgiveness and love are protections against the accusing barbs of Satan that would destroy people.
Jesus is calling us to forgive one another and to experience the transforming grace of living our lives in obedience to him.
God is asking you to bring that persistently offensive person in your life before him and to put him in His hands. Even though you may have to protect yourself from mistreatment in the future, you can give your feelings of resentment and revenge into God's hands, trusting him to deal justly with the offender in His time.
As members of Christ's body, we are to minister God's grace to those in our lives. It is not possible for us to generate our own feelings of love and forgiveness, but with the power of the Holy Spirit, we can participate in Jesus' love and forgiveness. We can trust him to understand the depth of our hurts, and we can wait before him in quietness, knowing he will take care of us and also deal with the other person. We do not have to figure out how to manage these opposing needs, but we can rest in his love and allow him to be God.
Ask God to help you surrender your anxieties and fears to him. Ask Jesus to enter your struggles and the unfairness that life deals you. Ask him to teach you with his Spirit how to trust him as you face impossible demands, crushing work loads, and unsolvable relationships.
Jesus said to come unto him and he would give us rest (Matthew 11:28). That promise must work in the places of our lives where we are the most out-of-control, or it is a vain promise. Ask God to reveal the truth to you that you need to know in order to grow and to deal with your circumstances. Ask God to show you on what projects and activities he wants you to spend time and energy, and ask him to help you let go of those things you can't do. Ask Jesus to reveal himself to you in the middle of trying to keep your head above water as life sweeps you forward relentlessly. Ask the Lord to hold you in peace and internal rest when the unknown threatens you.
Ask Jesus to teach you who you are in him, and let his love fill your heart and mind and flow out of you to those you know. Ask Jesus to make you an instrument of his love and grace and healing.
Let yourself rest in the finished work of Jesus, and allow his forgiveness to enable you to forgive those in your life who have hurt you. Let His Spirit teach you how to obey Jesus in love and how to love others for him.
Praise God for designing a plan to be intimate with us. Praise Jesus for his obedience which has restored us to oneness with God. Praise the Holy Spirit for putting the love and the mind of Christ in us.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for choosing us, saving us, and giving us eternity.
"Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and
is to come." (Revelation 4:8)
Copyright (c) 2002 Graphics Studio, Redlands,
CA USA. All rights reserved. Posted February 2, 2002.