2. Corinthians 2 – In the Triumphal Procession of Christ
Read or listen the Second Epistle to the Corinthians - chapter 2 online (ESV, Bible Gateway)
Why did St. Paul not come to Corinth? – 2 Cor 2:1-4
Apparently, when St. Paul made a quick visit from Ephesus to Corinth, he had promised to return at a certain time (ref 2 Cor 1:23-24). But in the end, he had not made this journey. This had stirred up mistrust toward Paul in some of the Corinthians. Paul’s plan was to sail from Ephesus to Corinth and continue from there to Macedonia (2 Cor 1:15-16). But now he came the same back in the opposite order. A new quick visit would have probably just made things worse. Rather, this situation needed some time.
Sometimes we ruin good things by being in a hurry and being hasty. And sometimes we let things stray away and be forgotten without even trying to fix them. Neither is correct.
Verse 1 can be interpreted in two ways. Either Paul didn’t want to come to Corinth (the third time) to make things even more difficult. Or, Paul didn’t want to come to Corinth (the second time) to inflict any pain this time. Probably the first interpretation is correct. Though the Book of Acts does not mention about a third visit to Corinth, Paul himself speaks about it (2 Cor 12:14; 13:1).
Some scholars interpret the “Letter of Tears” in verse 4 as the 1st Letter to Corinthians, but I doubt this, since the description of the writing of this letter in verse 4 does not fit 1st Corinthians. Some scholars see the “Letter of Tears” as 2 Cor 10-13, but most probably this letter has disappeared completely, as the First letter Paul ever wrote to Corinth (see 1 Cor 5:9).
It is important to note two points of St. Paul’s actions. Firstly, love (verse 4) did not make him be silent about these difficulties. True love is ready to confront the facts as they are, not just a covered-up version of things. Also, Paul did not criticize without reason, but to help in making a positive change. Behaving only like a judge isn’t enough, but he must do everything to help them change for the better.
The end of verse 3 might imply that the group of troublemakers were only a small group in the church, while most of them continued to be faithful to Paul. On the other hand, it might portray Paul’s new hope now that the disagreement had been settled.
Forgive! – 2 Cor 2:5–11
Someone from the church of Corinth had offended St. Paul (verse 5) and/or his representative (2 Cor 7:12 might refer to a representative). This person had been punished apparently by excommunicating (ref. 2 Thess 3:14), and afterward he had repented. Therefore, the church must now forgive him and take him back to the community of Christians. If they would not forgive, this person is in danger of rejecting his faith. (verse 7).
Because Paul had already forgiven this person, he doesn’t tell us much about what had happened. The church of Corinth knew also very well what had happened, so Paul didn’t need to repeat it to them. Most probably this person is not the one in 1 Cor 5:1–5, who lived sexually immorally with his father’s wife. This new incident arised perhaps when Paul shortly visited Corinth, and it might be the reason why he left so soon back to Ephesus.
Problems are not solved by hiding them, but also, they should not be brought up constantly without a solution. Who are you to bring up other people’s sins when you are no better? There is no perfect congregation and therefore we must learn how to handle disputes and disagreements in the church.
Do we really know Satan’s deceiving lies? (verse 11, refer to 1 Peter 5:8.) Satan can even disguise himself as “an angel of light” (2 Cor 11:14), where something that seems very spiritual and righteous might in fact be Satan’s work to destroy the church. Therefore, we need the ability to distinguish between spirits (1 Cor 12:10)!
Even in the church we might have two ways of behaving. Doing good always brings forth new blessings. Doing evil takes you even deeper into Satan’s traps and curses.
“Love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8, see also James 5:20) is often misinterpreted as not caring about sins. Perhaps the verse should be “translated” with explaining: “Love conquers a multitude of sins.”
St. Paul in Troas – 2 Cor 2:12-13
It appears that St. Paul and Titus had agreed that Titus would not spend a lot of time in Corinth but return to Paul and tell the news of the Corinthians. This meeting was supposed to be in Troas.
As Paul was waiting for Titus in Troas, it gave him time to preach the gospel there (verse 12). It was by no means self-evident that he could openly preach the gospel. Many times, Paul had to run for his life from city to city because of persecution. There were also situations where Paul was able to preach openly, but there were no listeners (for example in Athens, ref. Acts 17:16-33).
In his second mission trip St. Paul was led by the Holy Spirit to Troas (Acts 16:6-8), but there he had a vision to go to Europe (Macedonia was a kingdom in modern Greece, Europe; Acts 16:9-10). It appears that Paul did not have time to start a church in Troas that time. Perhaps now was the time to start that church in Troas when Paul was waiting for Titus.
But even this time Paul couldn’t stay in the city for long. The situation in Corinth was so pressing that he decided to continue his journey to Macedonia. Possibly Philippi was the first city he came to in Europe.
St. Paul called Titus as “my brother” (verse 13). He was not just any brother but “a special case”. Titus was one of Paul’s long term fellow workers. He was one of the first originally pagan Christians who became a preacher of the gospel (Gal 2:1-3). It appears that he converted to Christianity through the work if Paul (Titus 1:4). Paul repeats his name in this Letter a total of 9 times.
It is important that everyone of us has a very close Christian friend whom we can confide in and share to them all our concerns and joys. This is essential more especially to any spiritual leader.
Raising and mentoring new spiritual leaders has always been a great challenge. St. Paul was also concerned that his work would not die with him, but that Titus and Timothy and many other students of Paul would continue this work even after he died.
We spiritual teachers must remember, that even when we try to reach great crowds of people, it should never be done in the expense of ministering to individual people. Often some have been called to preach to great crouds while others are called to minister and teach few individual people. The first are highly praised but the others not. But if there in nobody investing a lot of time to individual Christians, there will be no well-trained mega preachers.
The Triumphal Procession of Christ – 2 Cor 2:14-17
St. Paul takes a break from talking about his journey and continues the story only in 2 Cor 7:5. In 2 Cor 2:14-7:4 he speaks about other important topics.
Paul speaks about his ministry as being part of the Triumphal procession of Christ. The Triumphal procession describes Jesus Christ as a victorious king who has all his army, but also prisoners, with him. Paul himself isn’t a winner, but Jesus has gained victory over him. Faith has won against the sinful flesh. Therefore, Paul is a “prisoner” won by Christ into everlasting life. This is the part of all Christians in Christ’s Triumphal procession.
Often these metaphors used by Paul are not so easy to interpret. It might be even disturbing or problematic to understand this reference to an army of soldiers.
One thing from this metaphor is clear: In this procession there are both winners and those who have been won by the winners. In an earthly triumphal procession, the part of those who are won is very dark: some of them were executed and some became slaves. The Ancient Roman wealth was based on the number of slaves brought from battles. The winners on the other hand received a reward and some of them were relieved from their duty as soldiers. But in the procession of Jesus Christ a similar distinction between two groups is difficult to make. In the metaphor Christians are those won by Christ. But perhaps an earthly analogy can be made that those who are not in the procession of Jesus will perish.
St. Paul’s speech about “the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ” seems to correspond to the incense burnt in an Ancient Roman procession. Paul calls Christians the fragrance of Christ. We are the representatives of Christ of Earth. Each country carefully chooses their ambassadors, since these will represent the country wherever they are sent. Thankfully, Christ doesn’t have so high requirements, although our mission is even greater and more valuable: We do not represent a country but God himself.
Wherever we are, our mission as representatives of Christ is for some a joy of salvation and for others a grief of destruction (verses 15-16). Whoever rejects the invitation of Christ will surely perish forever. Christ is the greatest divider of people in the history of the whole world.
When Paul asks, “Who is sufficient for these things?”, he does not give an answer (verse 16). It is evidently clear that no one is. But by the mercy of God, we are saved, and we can invite others also into this salvation.
Peddling of God’s word (verse 17) can mean two things. Firstly, it is requiring or insisting to get a reward from preaching the gospel. Paul was determined not to do so (1 Cor 9:3-18; 2 Cor 11:7-12). Secondly, it is a kind of “sales version” of the gospel: Preaching what people want to hear instead of the will of God. The opponents of Paul had peddled with God’s Word by both ways. Paul did not enter this kind of auctioning of the gospel but remained faithful to God and His Word (ref. 1 Peter 2:2).