Contributor: Isekhua Evborokhai
In last week’s study, we saw the Apostle Paul responding to the Corinthians who were criticising him saying he was unreliable and inconsistent because he changed his travel plans. In his response, we learnt that his decision was for both their benefits; and that he could have avoided all the chaos if he had explained his reason in his initial message to them through Titus. But more importantly, he was humble enough to respond to them without any bile or guile. In today’s study, we will follow through with the remaining verses from chapter 2 and learn some valuable lessons in Church Discipline and Forgiveness as well as our triumph in Christ
The Perfect Template for Forgiveness – Verses 5-8
“Remember that the man I wrote about, who caused all the trouble, has not caused sorrow to me as much as to all the rest of you—though I certainly have my share in it too. I don’t want to be harder on him than I should. He has been punished enough by your united disapproval. 7 Now it is time to forgive him and comfort him. Otherwise he may become so bitter and discouraged that he won’t be able to recover. 8 Please show him now that you still do love him very much” [LB]
In verses 5 – 8, Paul appeals to the Corinthian church to forgive the brother who had sinned (and repented) among them. Let’s delve into these verses:
"Remember that the man I wrote about, who caused all the trouble:" This is real pastoral wisdom and compassion on display! He refers to a specific person among the Corinthians, without naming him. You will recall from 1 Corinthians 5; there was a man sleeping with his father’s wife. The Corinthian church obeyed and issued punishment to the man as instructed by Paul. Apparently, he repented, but the Corinthian Christians would not receive him back! So here, Paul was telling them not be too severe, to consider their punishment sufficient, and to forgive and comfort the man. Their harsh stance towards this man had a real danger: “Lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow.” By withholding restoration and forgiveness from the man, they risked ruining him, causing him to be swallowed up with too much sorrow.
The Corinthian Christians were often extreme! Either being too lenient (as they were initially, condoning the sin) or as it now, too harsh. From Paul’s letter, we learn that for forgiveness to be complete; there must be comfort. Forgive and comfort him Paul admonishes. There is the judicial forgiveness which is hard, and leaves the soul always conscious of the past. But comfort takes the soul to heart, and leaves it grateful and assured. That is how God forgives, and so should we who are His children. Joseph’s experience when he forgave his brothers in Genesis 50: 19-21 is the perfect template for forgiveness.
“And Joseph said unto them, fear not: for am I in the place of God? But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive. Now therefore fear ye not: I will nourish you, and your little ones. And he comforted them, and spake kindly unto them.”
The restoring work of the church towards sinners is just as important as its rebuking work. When the offender is made to feel that, while his sin is punished, he himself is loved; and that the end aimed at is not his suffering but his good, he is more likely to be brought to repentance."
The Reason for Complete Forgiveness and Reassurance Read Verses 9 - 11
“I wrote to you as I did so that I could find out how far you would go in obeying me. When you forgive anyone, I do too. And whatever I have forgiven (to the extent that this affected me too) has been by Christ’s authority, and for your good. A further reason for forgiveness is to keep from being outsmarted by Satan, for we know what he is trying to do.” [LB]
Paul wrote strongly in 1 Corinthians 5, and the Corinthians met the test by doing what Paul instructed them to do. Now, he puts them to the test again, telling them to show love to the now repentant brother. Sometimes we find it easier to be obedient when it came to being "tough" than when it comes to being “loving.” You will see here also that Paul expects the Corinthian Christians to take the lead in showing the man forgiveness and restoration. “When you forgive anyone, I do too.” Jesus talked about the same in Luke 17:3 "So watch yourselves. "If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them."
Verse 11 says: "A further reason for forgiveness is to keep from being outsmarted by Satan, for we know what he is trying to do.” Other versions say “Lest Satan should take advantage of us:”
Paul knew this was of special concern, because Satan is looking to take advantage of our mistakes, as a church and as individuals. The phrase “Take advantage” (the Greek word pleonekteo) is used in four other verses in the New Testament (2 Corinthians 7:2, 12:17-18, 1 Thessalonians 4:6). It has the idea of cheating someone out of something that belongs to them. When we are ignorant of Satan's strategies, he can take things from us that belong to us in Jesus, things like peace, joy, fellowship, a sense of forgiveness, and victory. For we are not ignorant of his devices (for we know what he is trying to do.”): To withhold forgiveness from the repentant is to play into the hands of Satan. And there is nothing more dangerous than to give Satan a chance of reducing a sinner to despair. Whenever we fail to comfort those that are moved to a sincere confession of their sin, we give Satan the opportunity to do this.
Grabbing Every Opportunity to Preach! – Verses 12-13
“Well, when I got as far as the city of Troas, the Lord gave me tremendous opportunities to preach the Gospel. 13 But Titus, my dear brother, wasn’t there to meet me and I couldn’t rest, wondering where he was and what had happened to him. So I said good-bye and went right on to Macedonia to try to find him.” [LB]
Paul has been dealing with criticism from the Corinthian Christians, saying he is unreliable and inconsistent because of his travel plans. Here he mentions another reason; that while he was away, he was busy at the Master’s business! The Lord gave me tremendous opportunities to preach the Gospel.: Paul was interested in ministering where God was opening doors. The only way our work for God will be blessed is when it is directed service. In verse 13 we learn that even though there was an open door, Paul felt he could not do all that he needed to if he did not have Titus there. Paul did not regard himself as a one-man show, he knew he needed other people with him and beside him.
Jesus, The Triumphant Leader – Verses 14
“But thanks be to God! For through what Christ has done, he has triumphed over us so that now wherever we go he uses us to tell others about the Lord and to spread the Gospel like a sweet perfume.” [LB]
Here in verse 14, Paul takes an image from the Roman world, seeing Jesus as the victorious, conquering general in a triumph parade. A Roman triumph parade was given to successful generals when returning from their conquests. Paul wanted the Corinthian Christians to realize that he was being led his general, Jesus Christ. It is almost as if he sees Jesus' triumph parade winding its way through the whole Roman Empire, through the entire world. Incense, was also a common feature at the Roman triumph parade. In Paul's mind, this fragrance is like the knowledge of God, which people can smell when the triumph parade winds by. The Fragrance of Christ! It does not consist so much in what we do, but in our manner of doing it; not so much in our words or deeds, as in an indefinable sweetness, tenderness, courtesy, unselfishness, and desire to please others to their edification. It is the breath and fragrance of a life hidden with Christ in God, and deriving its aroma from fellowship with Him.
The Triumph Parade Means Different Things to Different People. Verses 15-16a
“As far as God is concerned there is a sweet, wholesome fragrance in our lives. It is the fragrance of Christ within us, an aroma to both the saved and the unsaved all around us. 16 To those who are not being saved, we seem a fearful smell of death and doom, while to those who know Christ we are a life-giving perfume.” [LB]
To the one we are the aroma of death to death, and to the other the aroma of life to life: The smell of incense burnt to the gods in a Roman triumph parade would be a great smell to a Roman. But it would be a bad smell to a captive prisoner of war in the parade, who would soon be executed or sold into slavery. In the same way, the message of the gospel is a message of life to some and a message of condemnation to those who reject it (John 3:17-21). The same happens to the present day to those who receive and to those who reject the Gospel: it is the means of salvation to the former, it is the means of destruction to the latter; for they are not only not saved because they do not believe the Gospel, but they are condemned because they reject it.
Conclusion: Paul Characterizes His Ministry Based on His Integrity. Verses 16b-17
“But who is adequate for such a task as this? 17 Only those who, like ourselves, are men of integrity, sent by God, speaking with Christ’s power, with God’s eye upon us. We are not like those hucksters—and there are many of them—whose idea in getting out the Gospel is to make a good living out of it.” [LB]
Who is adequate/capable for these things? When Paul thinks of the greatness of God's plan, he wonders who is sufficient to play a role in it. "In himself, no one is. But someone has to preach Christ and Paul proceeds to show that he is sufficient." This is a great work, first to consult the mind and will of God, and find it out by study and meditation; then faithfully to communicate it unto people, without any vain or corrupt mixtures (which do but adulterate the word preached); then to apply it to the consciences of those that hear us. Who is sufficient for these things? that is, to discharge the office of the ministry in the preaching of the gospel, as men ought to preach it." Not like others who are preaching the Gospel; "adulterating" or "watering down" for their personal gains. Revelation 2:24
Parts of this study was culled from https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/archives/guzik_david/studyguide_2cr/2cr_2.cfm