Second Corinthians Chapter 2
In today’s lesson we will cover, as the title says, the second chapter of Second Corinthians in its entirety. Paul takes up where he left off at the end of chapter one, going on to describe what my New International Version of the Bible calls a “painful visit”. Although the meaning of this is not immediately clear, it will become more so as we examine Paul’s frame of reference, beginning at chapter one, verses 23-24 where we left off last week.
“I call God as my witness that it was in order to spare you that I did not return to Corinth. Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm. So I made up my mind that I would not make another painful visit to you. For if I grieve you, who is left to make me glad but you whom I have grieved? I wrote as I did so that when I came I should not be distressed by those who ought to make me rejoice. I had confidence in all of you, that you would all share my joy. For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you. If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you to some extent – not to put it too severely. The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed with excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. 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.” (2 Corinthians chapter 2, verses 1-11, NIV)
In the last two verses of chapter one, the apostle Paul is apparently referring to some sort of internal dissent going on within the Corinthian church that resulted from Paul’s first letter to them, which is what we just finished studying. Paul appears to feel that his return to Corinth to clear up the controversy would have done more harm than good, so the amount of disagreement over Paul’s first letter must have been considerable, to say the least. Paul gives the church what would amount to ‘tough love’ by today’s standards when he writes, “ Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm”. Paul adds to this two sentences later in verse 3 when he wrote, “I wrote as I did so that when I came I should not be distressed by those who ought to make me rejoice. I had confidence in all of you, that you would all share my joy. For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you.”
Paul is telling this church in no uncertain terms that when he wrote what he did in what has become known as First Corinthians, he did so out of love for them and an intense desire to see them achieve oneness with the Spirit. Further down we find Paul encouraging forgiveness towards someone within their congregation, dispensing some timeless advice about how those who are accused of wrongdoing should be dealt with when he wrote, “Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed with excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him.” This is quite the contrary to what is going on in our country today with our broken criminal justice system and the outmoded approaches to the law, crime and punishment that are currently being used. Just lock people up, that has been the answer in the US for a generation, with the mushrooming incarceration-industrial complex that this policy has created being the end result. The United States now has more people in prison than any other country in the world, and this is nothing to brag about. With a recidivism rate of well over 50%, America’s prison-industrial complex has become the world’s largest revolving door. Over half are in prison for nonviolent drug offenses when they should be in treatment instead of being caged like animals. Putting people in cages isn’t making the crime problem any better, it is making it worse, and it is contrary to the teachings of Christ.
Moving right along now, Paul closes out this portion of his letter with a reminder to us all that forgiveness is one of the key ingredients to a successful Christian life. There is also something in between the lines here that warns us that Satan thrives on a lack of forgiveness when Paul wrote, “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.” People who harbor hatred of others who are different from them, people who hold grudges, and angry people don’t realize what a huge opening in their hearts they create when they maintain the types of mentality Paul is writing about. Jesus said it best when He taught us the Lord’s Prayer, “… and forgive us our sins as we forgive others who sin against us…”. If we want God to forgive us for something in our past that is really bothering us, we should first examine our hearts to see if there is any trace of unforgiveness towards others. If there is, then it’s up to us to deal with it, and that’s between God and each of us. But deal with it we must, for the sincerity of our faith in the sight of God may well depend upon it. Paul then continues at verse 12.
“Now when I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord had opened a door for me. I still had no peace of mind, because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said goodbye to them and went on to Macedonia. But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? Unlike so many, we do not peddle the Word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God.” (2 Corinthians chapter 2, verses 12-17, NIV)
As the apostle Paul goes on by comparing the knowledge of Christ to a fragrance raised up toward heaven to the Father, he contrasts those who are being saved with those who are not – and there are a lot people who won’t make it into heaven when their lives here are over. It is an unfortunate reality of life, but we must accept it and go on. That doesn’t mean we are expected to be frightened out of our wits every time we pray. God doesn’t want us to be afraid of Him because He truly does loves us, but we are to remain ever mindful of the consequences of disobedience to his commandments. Don’t be afraid of God, but fear His wrath if we deliberately sin against him. Paul closes the chapter with a comment about certain folks who were preaching the gospel for profit, apparently turning their churches into businesses without a single thought about how furious Jesus was when He threw the money-changers out of the Temple in Jerusalem! Paul obviously felt that preaching the Gospel was a calling from God and should not be considered a trade or a career choice, nor was it ever intended to be used as a means to solicit money from strangers. I operate my ministry pretty much the same way, in keeping with this tradition started by Paul and the original apostles, some of whom were still living at the time that 2nd Corinthians was first written. I often wonder about famous evangelists who bring in staggering amounts of donations while operating as non-profits. What would Jesus say to those people today? Would He throw them off the sets of their TV studios, tossing chairs and smashing cameras as He went? Probably, but I do not wish to judge, so I will cease commenting on this topic for now. Instead, next week we will go through chapter three.