Today: [2 Corinthians 7:] An All Out Church Fight: In chapter 7 we find the Corinthians in an all-out church fight over the authority of Paul to meddle in their affairs. Have you ever attended a church that suffered a split or some other public disruption? What was your response? Paul as an apostle seeks to hold the church together while dealing with deep problems in the congregation and leadership. A constructive lesson in how to survive such things with our connection to God and one another remaining intact.
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[2Co 7:1-16 KJV] 1 Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. 2 Receive us; we have wronged no man, we have corrupted no man, we have defrauded no man. 3 I speak not [this] to condemn [you]: for I have said before, that ye are in our hearts to die and live with [you]. 4 Great [is] my boldness of speech toward you, great [is] my glorying of you: I am filled with comfort, I am exceeding joyful in all our tribulation. 5 For, when we were come into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on every side; without [were] fightings, within [were] fears. 6 Nevertheless God, that comforteth those that are cast down, comforted us by the coming of Titus; 7 And not by his coming only, but by the consolation wherewith he was comforted in you, when he told us your earnest desire, your mourning, your fervent mind toward me; so that I rejoiced the more. 8 For though I made you sorry with a letter, I do not repent, though I did repent: for I perceive that the same epistle hath made you sorry, though [it were] but for a season. 9 Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. 10 For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. 11 For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, [what] clearing of yourselves, yea, [what] indignation, yea, [what] fear, yea, [what] vehement desire, yea, [what] zeal, yea, [what] revenge! In all [things] ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter. 12 Wherefore, though I wrote unto you, [I did it] not for his cause that had done the wrong, nor for his cause that suffered wrong, but that our care for you in the sight of God might appear unto you. 13 Therefore we were comforted in your comfort: yea, and exceedingly the more joyed we for the joy of Titus, because his spirit was refreshed by you all. 14 For if I have boasted any thing to him of you, I am not ashamed; but as we spake all things to you in truth, even so our boasting, which [I made] before Titus, is found a truth. 15 And his inward affection is more abundant toward you, whilst he remembereth the obedience of you all, how with fear and trembling ye received him. 16 I rejoice therefore that I have confidence in you in all [things].
In v. 1 Paul exhorts the Corinthians in view of the promises of God to cleanse themselves from “all filthiness of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God…” What filthiness is he referring to? Is it just general uncleanness or something specific? It is helpful to look at these things not just one verse at a time but rather to seek to comprehend them in the scope of the letter as it is written. The uncleanness Paul is dealing with covers the things he has been dealing with in the last several chapters, things which are summed up in v. 17-18 of chapter 6 “come out from among them and be separate and I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters…” Because God has promised to deal with us as sons and daughters, we are to find the motivation to make the hard choices in life to please God and not ourselves.
In v. 2 Paul extends his declaration demanding the Corinthians to receive him for he has corrupted no man nor defrauded no man. This tells us that in Paul’s mind the transgressions he is dealing with has to do with sectarian attitudes, high mindedness and following after populist leaders who were telling the people what they wanted to hear rather than the godly apostolic counsel Paul is giving. Paul reminds them of their previous support of his ministry and how fervently they once loved him. What is he dealing with? He is dealing with people with an offended spirit. They have decided to set Paul aside because in his previous letter in their mind he meddled in affairs not belonging to him.
In v. 8 Paul admits that he made them sorry with his previous letter but nonetheless refuses to repent. Reading between the lines then we understand that there were leadership elements in the Corinthian church that were holding Paul up to scorn and ridicule because they didn’t like the fact that he intruded into things that in their mind should have been kept “in house” but had been revealed to Paul by the house of Chloe and the house of Stephanus. Paul makes it clear that he isn’t pleased that they are upset, but neither is his apologizing for doing so because it was necessary (you will recall) because the church was tolerating rampant sin in their ranks that was allowed to go unchecked.
What about you? Is there any situation in your life at which you would tolerate a minister or pastor to interfere? In Christian culture today we set high walls between the personal and the spiritual. We have unwritten rules and expectations that our fellow believers and leaders look the other way and not meddle in our personal lives. Leaders, on the other hand, are hesitant to get involved in situations because of the risks involved. Churches and ministries have been destroyed financially because a disciplined member sued at court because they were dealt with according to biblical patterns for handling such things. In your own life is there any situation whereby you could imagine tolerating what would otherwise be an invasion of privacy by a spiritual leader? If not why not and is that a biblical way of thinking or just Christian tradition? We have to compare our thinking about such things to what the bible actually says and if we have any intellectually honest ask ourselves on what basis do we presume to exclude ourselves from such matters just because they make us uncomfortable. Is our comfort level a justification for nullifying the word of God?
Why was Paul disciplining the Corinthians? Not for his own pleasure. He was hoping for what he called (v. 10) godly sorrow. Godly sorrow brings repentance. Paul isn’t interested in just condemning them for their failures. He wants to provoke in them a thoughtful response whereby they will seek (v. 11) to “clear” themselves of the offense before God. He desires to see this, and to some degree, he was successful because the church did deal with the man who was living in a conjugal relationship with his father’s wife, but there was also a great uproar at the same time protesting that Paul should have minded his own business. Paul is following up with these detractors saying that he didn’t address things just because he wanted to see the offender repent but because he wanted the people in Corinth to know how much he loved them.
In the midst of all of this difficulty that Paul is referring to he had previously sent Titus to them and even though the controversy was blowing at gale strength there were still those in Corinth who received Titus in Paul’s name and treated him respectfully. So we see division in the Corinthian congregation – some who respected and honored Paul and others who rejected him altogether as a pretentious troublemaker. Paul turns his attention to those who stood by him, assuring them that based on Titus’ follow up report to him that he was not ashamed in the least because of their affectionate respectfulness toward Titus so much so that Titus carried in his heart and lingering appreciation for how kind they were and how with great care and fear and trembling they received the correction he came from Paul to deliver.
Paul concludes the chapter expressing his confidence that the Corinthians are going to get it right and come out of this place of difficulty created by the matter for which he has disciplined them. I wonder if your church would survive the upheaval brought upon the Corinthians by Paul? These matters that were the occasion of Paul’s first letter to them and the aftermath that made his second letter necessary – these things have resulted in what we would call an all-out church fight. If you were in the midst of such a controversy in your church what would be your response? Many times when unrest boils over in a congregation people just leave and go find somewhere else to go. In Corinth, they didn’t have that option. There was no other church and to abandon the church in their thinking at the time was to place themselves not only out of fellowship with the body but out of fellowship with Christ altogether. What about now? Are we enlightened so much that we feel comfortable discarding the church or connection to a body of believers without a second thought? Many today have chosen to opt out of an organized church and not only that they have no accountability structure outside the organized church that they feel bound to answer to. They are rogue Christians and feel entirely at their leisure to do so. Surely there are many reasons to absent yourself from the brick and mortar church at times, but we are never within that bounds of propriety to vacate our responsibility to be a part of the body of Christ in whatever form it may be sought out and make a connection to it in substantive and real ways.
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