Date: 30 Apr 2017
Text: 2 Corinthians 7:2-16
Last week we took a look at a few verses in 2 Corinthians 6 that talked about Paul’s hardships and how he suffered whilst serving Jesus Christ. In those verses Paul tried to convince the Corinthians that he was a genuine Apostle of Jesus Christ and only worked with the noblest of motives. Unfortunately whilst in some ways those verses may have appeared to be a bit on the dark side, thankfully, this week things are a lot brighter with the verses that I want us to look at bringing comfort and joy, hope and light. However, before we get into the detail of those verses I think we need to refresh our memories on the background to all this turmoil in Paul’s life.
Paul’s relationship with the Corinthians seems to have been rocky from the very beginning. He initially went there with Timothy and Silas when they were the first to preach the gospel of Jesus in Corinth. It was a cosmopolitan city that was full of paganism and immoral worship and so really needed to hear about the glorious eternal life that only faith in Jesus can offer. Paul arrived in Corinth after spending time in various places in Macedonia, especially Thessalonica and Philippi. After spending some time in Corinth he set out for Ephesus from where he wrote 1 Corinthians. I get the feeling that the people of Corinth were not too easy to deal with and given that Paul could be a bit difficult himself it may come as no surprise that he somehow seemed to have upset them. As a way of resolving the problems between them, Paul made a second visit to Corinth which he described in 2 Corinthians 2:1-2 & 13:2 as being “painful”. It seems that the Corinthians had fallen off the straight path and some had reverted to their bad old ways. It was also during that visit Paul was left humiliated and consequently returned to Ephesus (2 Corinthians 12:21). This second visit to Corinth caused him great distress and the situation was exacerbated somewhat by Paul writing what he describes in 2 Corinthians 2:3-4, 9 and 7:8-12, as the “tearful” letter, which he gave to his friend and trusted colleague Titus to take to Corinth. He asked Titus to spend some time in Corinth so that he could get to know them and gauge their reaction to what he had to say. They then arranged to meet in Troas to discuss the situation. Following Titus’ departure, Paul travelled north from Ephesus to Troas to meet Titus and when he couldn’t find him Paul set out for Macedonia to look for him there. Part of this passage talks of Paul eventually finding Titus and the joy that Paul felt as a result.
As I mentioned a moment ago, these verses do seem a lot brighter although the feeling that we may get from 7:2-3 is that Paul still seems very down. The way that I read these verses says that he can’t seem to grasp what he has done to cause the rift between them, and I’m left wondering if it was six and two threes?
We left off last week with Paul urging the Corinthians to open their hearts to him just as he and his friends opened their hearts to them. He continues that thought in the opening words of 7:2 by asking them to “make room for us in your hearts” and he continues by telling them that, “we have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have exploited no one”. Those comments suggest two things to me. Firstly, he is struggling to understand precisely what he has done to upset them, and secondly it suggests a great deal of openness, honesty and integrity on Paul’s part. Notice though that despite this rift between them, Paul says that he takes “great pride in you” (7:4). A further comment makes me think that he was probably reminiscing to himself as he also says “I am greatly encouraged”. When we reminisce we all tend to remember only the good things don’t we? We seem to have an involuntary mental block when we get to any of the bad things that may have happened in our past, and it seems to me that Paul is no different. He ends 7:4 by telling them that “my joy knows no bounds”. How could that be? Given all that had happened in his relationship with the Corinthians how could he still be full of joy? As I’ve just said, perhaps he was only remembering the good times.
Whether or not it was as a result of his problems with the Corinthians, but Paul seems to have been very restless finding it difficult to settle in any one place. As he writes this letter he is in Macedonia and describes his state on his return there. He writes that he “had no rest”, was “harassed at every turn”, and experienced “conflicts on the outside, fears within” (7:5). He was concerned for the believers in Corinth and anxious for news of them. He was also very concerned for the welfare and safety of Titus. He did eventually find him in Macedonia, possibly in Philippi, even though it sounds a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack! Having found Titus Paul talks of “God, Who comforts the downcast” a comment which reminds us of 1:3 where Paul had talked of the “God of all comfort”. Paul was undoubtedly downcast but is now overjoyed at not only seeing Titus at last but also getting up to date news from Corinth. These two events, linked together, gave him great comfort.
Titus was able to update Paul on the situation in Corinth and told the Apostle about their longing for him, their deep sorrow and their ardent concern for him. I wonder if those comments in 7:7b indicate that reconciliation was well under way? Whether they did or not, the news that Titus brought caused Paul to say “my joy was greater than ever”. In any tricky diplomatic situation, someone has to make the first move. Unfortunately that isn’t always easy since no one ever wants to admit to being in the wrong which is why an intermediary can help. Titus was that intermediary as he was a good friend of Paul and could be relied upon to faithfully represent Jesus Christ.
Paul’s Lack of Regret
Paul had written this third, now missing, letter in order to rebuke the Corinthians for their wayward behaviour and attitudes. Such was the nature of the letter that Paul described it as the “tearful” letter as he had agonised over what to say and he is now concerned that he may have been rather harsh towards them and consequently may have caused more upset. Paul being Paul though now says to them “I do not regret it” (7:8). That comment reminds of the occasion on 12 September 1992 when the then Chancellor, Norman Lamont, led the UK out of the ERM on what became known as Black Wednesday. It was a bad day for the Government and for the country and yet Mr Lamont allegedly lay in his bath that evening and sang, “je ne regrette rien”, a well known song by Edith Piaf. Despite all that had happened, Mr Lamont had no regrets whatsoever!
Paul though was slightly different to Mr Lamont in that he went on to say that “I did regret it” (7:8), and he recognises that “my letter hurt you” before adding, “but only for a little while” (7:8). There seems little doubt that the rift between them lasted more than a little while, hence Paul writing this letter of rebuke as a means of leading them to repentance. As he adds in 7:9, even though his letter hurt them, it had the desired effect. He reminds them in that verse, “your sorrow led you to repentance”. I’ve mentioned before that were those in the church who doubted Paul’s credentials as an Apostle, who didn’t like his style of ministry, who doubted his integrity in financial matters, something we’ll think about next week, and who were annoyed at the change in his travel plans. Paul feels that their sorrow was genuine and was just what God wanted since it was that sorrow that led them to repent of all that they had done wrong against God and against him. It was what they had done against God that upset Paul most of all which is why he refers to them becoming “sorrowful as God intended” (7:9). Being sorry in that way is what God wants to see for us all to be able to sincerely repent of the wrong that we have done. It is this type of sorrow that “brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret” (7:10). On the other hand it is what Paul refers to as worldly sorrow that “brings death” (7:10). Worldly sorrow brings no change in someone’s life and is frequently shallow or only skin deep. It is Godly sorrow that brings about the change in our lives that we so desperately need since it leads to salvation. When we come before God to repent in Godly sorrow, it not only involves our turning towards Him but also our turning away from the things that God is against and that caused us to sin in the first place. That is what happened to the Corinthians and was the effect that Paul was looking for when he sent that “tearful” letter. That is why he went on to say “I do not regret it”!
Having heard all this news from Titus, Paul was able to point out to the Corinthians what this Godly sorrow had produced in them: earnestness, eagerness to clear themselves, indignation, alarm, longing, concern, and readiness to see justice. That’s quite a list that needs thinking about a little. Titus had explained in detail to Paul the reaction that his letter had produced, and it seems that it most certainly opened the eyes of the Corinthians to all that they had been doing wrong. We all need that from time to time don’t we? We carry on doing things oblivious to the fact that what we are doing may not be right in God’s eyes; we become blind to our own failings and we need someone else to stand back, observe and then point them out. I suspect that we would prefer that to be done gently rather than in the way that Paul did through this severe letter, even though the letter did have the desired effect. It produced indignation and displeasure among them at what had been happening. It caused them to develop an intense longing and concern to repair the damaged relationship that existed between them and Paul; and it prompted them to want to see justice done against those who had been the main cause of this rift. Although there were those within the church who were the cause of all these problems, Paul recognises that the people to whom he wrote were “innocent in this matter” (7:11b). Paul finishes this paragraph by reminding them that he didn’t write the letter “on account of the one who did wrong, nor on account of the injured party” (7:12) by which I assume he means himself, but rather that it would lead them to turn back to God and allow them to see for themselves “how devoted to us you are” (7:12b). It’s amazing to see just how much damage can be done by a small faction within a church, and I suspect that that was the problem within the Corinthian church. Paul knew that but wanted the faithful Corinthians to see it for themselves and resolve the problems themselves. His letter was merely the catalyst for this to happen, and it was a catalyst that worked.
Having dealt with the letter and its outcome, Paul moves on to talk about happier matters. What fills you with joy? Is it seeing blue skies and sunshine; perhaps it is seeing the flowers growing in a garden; or seeing your grandchildren. Perhaps for some of us it is seeing the football team we support actually winning a match! For Paul it was none of these things; what gave him great joy was finding Titus and hearing the news from Corinth. Earlier in this passage Paul had seemed downcast and in need of comfort and support.
Both of those needs were satisfied though by seeing Titus, and Paul is very clear in 7:6 that God “comforted us by the coming of Titus”. Suddenly Paul was cheered up a lot and in 7:13b-16 tells the Corinthians of the joy that he felt at seeing his old friend Titus. What made Paul especially happy was seeing just how happy Titus was, saying that “his spirit has been refreshed by all of you” (7:13b). Does seeing someone we know happy make us happy, or do we just shrug our shoulders and take no notice? There isn’t enough happiness in today’s world and we should all be uplifted when we do see someone who is happy. I’m not talking about being happy for the sake of it but true happiness, a happiness that really only comes from having faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.
What seems to have made Paul extra happy was that he had boasted to Titus about the Corinthians and they had not let him down, everything he had said about them proved to be true. It is very obvious from these comments that Paul had a great deal of affection for the Corinthians and he was pleased to see that Titus also had great affection for them. Titus remembered that they “were all obedient” and received him with “fear and trembling” (7:15b). The Corinthians knew that Titus had been sent by Paul to gather together the news and then report back to Paul on the current state of affairs. That may be why Paul says that they received Titus in “fear and trembling”; they may have been more than a little worried at what Titus may find, and more importantly, say to Paul when they next met. They needn’t have worried! Titus gave them such a glowing report that Paul was able to conclude by telling the Corinthians that “I can have complete confidence in you” (7:16).
This was a difficult letter for Paul to write. He and the Corinthians had fallen out big time and at one point it seemed possible that the rift between them was too great to resolve. Paul had written that “severe letter” to them and that didn’t initially help the situation. However, it certainly seems to have made the Corinthians think and confront their own problems, so much so, that everything was resolved amicably.
Paul had obviously been worried about this and had been downcast and no doubt a bit lonely. The mood in this passage and this chapter soon changes though when he meets his old and trusted friend, Titus. It’s good when we meet old friends isn’t it, they can provide us with a lift when we are down and that is why Paul was able to say that it is God “who comforts the downcast” (7:6). That comfort came in the form of Titus who was able to bring Paul nothing but good news about the state of the Corinthian church.
For me, there are three things that come out of this passage. Firstly, when we are downcast or very unhappy, God is there to comfort us. Secondly, friends are very important especially when they are sent by God to help us. Thirdly, we all need as individuals and as a church to confront and deal with any issues that may cause dissension and harm our unity with Christ. If we do that then we may be able to say that God can have complete confidence in us.