2. Corinthians 7 – Godly Grief

Pasi Hujanen
Taisto Sokka

Read or listen the Second Epistle to the Corinthians - chapter 7 online (ESV, Bible Gateway)

Be Perfect – 2 Cor 7:1

Verse 1 belongs to the last passage of chapter 6 (verses 14-18). Some scholars claim that this verse could not be from St. Paul because it speaks of cleansing from “every defilement of body and spirit”. In their interpretation Paul could not have spoken so positively about the sanctification of the body (since they remind how badly Paul speaks of the “flesh”).

Again, it is good to use a simple formula to test this theory: What if we imagine Paul saying the opposite? Could Paul say that the body should not be cleansed? Or could Paul have suggested a partial cleansing of the body? Certainly not!

“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt 5:48). Can anyone present a greater requirement? See also Col 1:28; 2 Tim 3:17.

Paul knew very well (ref. Phil 3:5-9), that perfect sanctification is impossible. Still, it is the goal, and we must try to reach it as well as we can. God does not want only one part of us but our whole life.

Idol worship is difficult in many mission fields. It is very difficult to make a final separation between the new life as a Christian and the old life of paganism or other religions. Still, it is highly necessary (Acts 19:11-20). Half heartedness does not take you far (1 Cor 6:9-11).

The very same dangers threaten us in the “Christian West”. Half heartedness in faith can speak much of how you use money, time, etc.

The Hand of Reconciliation – 2 Cor 7:2-4

Now St. Paul continues the thought which was interrupted in 2 Cor 6:13. There, Paul was building reconciliation between him and the Corinthians. He refers to the disagreements between him and the Corinthians. Unfortunately, we do not know exactly what these disagreements were. Some scholars have suggested that Paul’s opponents accused him of misuse of money, which might be the case in verse 3 and 2 Cor 12:16-18.

St. Paul says that from his side everything is fine. He knew that the Corinthians were lead astray. He did not want to judge the Corinthians (verse 4) but to build a new connection in a profound way (verse 3). Are we able to think and speak good of our neighbours, even those who are very difficult?

“We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbour, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.” (Luther’s Small Catechism, 8th Commandment)

St. Paul was not bitter but proud of the Corinthians. Apparently, this view comes from the good news Paul heard from Titus which Paul refers to in the next verses.

Good News – 2 Cor 7:5-7

Verse 5 reveals the place of writing the Letter. The book of Acts tells us about three congregations in Macedonia: Philippi, Berea, and Thessalonica (Acts 16:11-17:15). The most likely alternative is Philippi.

Paul’s initial plan was to meet Titus in Troas when Titus was returning from Corinth (2 Cor 2:12-13). But Titus’ visit was prolonged and so Paul traversed the Aegean Sea into Europe. Perhaps, the reason for this was that the season of sailing was almost over (Acts 27:9-12).

The difficulties continued in Macedonia. There was outward resistance, but the most difficult part was probably inward unrest: How well did the visit of Titus go? The prolongment of Titus’ trip might have been a sign of good news, but also a possibility of bad news.

When the time came, Titus brought good news (verse 6). We do not know whether Titus’ visit was the decisive factor of receiving good news. Most probably Titus brought with him Paul’s “Letter of Tears” (verse 8, ref. 2 Cor 2:4). These two things together affected the Corinthians to think positively of Paul again.

Often, if one person chooses to change his side to support another person the effect is great. When all people of the group agree it is much easier to function as a group. But when a division comes, we must choose a side. But remember, that choosing the side of the loser, even when it looks foolish, might change the losers to be winners and winners to be losers (verse 7).

Paul received an example of what we had spoken about in the beginning in the Letter (2 Cor 1:3-7): Only the one who has experienced joy and sadness can comfort others.

It shows how severe the situation of Corinth was, for Paul had to send Titus as his representative, who had worked with him already in Antioch of Syria (Gal 2:1; Acts 15:1-2).

Please note, that Paul did not receive good news about the schedule he had planned. Sometimes we feel that God works too slowly in helping us. But God’s schedule is always better than ours.

Godly Grief and Worldly Grief – 2 Cor 7:8-13a

Unfortunately, we don’t know exactly what St. Paul is speaking about. Apparently, the events have gone roughly as follows: Paul was in Ephesus when he heard alarming news from Corinth. Then, he made a short visit to Corinth, but the situation only seemed to get worse. There was a division in the church and most of the Corinthians opposed Paul. Paul then returned to Ephesus and wrote there the “Letter of Tears” (2 Cor 2:1-4). Apparently, Titus brought this letter to the church in Corinth. After some time, Paul left from Ephesus and travelled to Troas, where he was supposed to meet Titus.

It seems that the dispute in Corinth did not concern specifically St. Paul, but that in the dispute they turned against Paul. Perhaps, the dispute was about many people in the church taking the side of these new preachers of “another gospel” (2 Cor 11:4). Even if the disputed matter seemed small, the attitude of the congregants in the situation was very important to Paul. It could even be that they wanted to do wrong intentionally because Paul had said told them what is right and what is wrong. The right was not welcome anymore, because it was the teaching of Paul.

“The Letter of Tears” is lost, so we do not know what Paul wrote in it. It seems that it was a very strict letter because Paul said that he regretted writing it (verse 8). It the letter Paul spoke about certain problems that were only in the church in Corinth and therefore the Holy Spirit did not preserve this letter for later Christian generations to read.

After receiving “The Letter of Tears” the church of Corinth changed. Now they saw once again what is right and according to the will of God, and they repented.

It is important to note that Paul was not concerned whether they followed his words, but whether they fulfilled the will of God. We must have boldness to say what is sin even when people get offended and divided by it. Too often we Christians would like to get rid of the consequences of sin, but not the sin itself.

When the Corinthians understood what is right, their attitude towards Paul changed. The same happened to the attitude toward the one who did the wrong (verse 11). God’s word is living, it pushes Christians to a different way of life.

What is worldly grief (verse 10)? Jesus gave an answer in the Sermon of the Mount (Matt 6:31-34): Eating, drinking, clothing, and tomorrow. Perhaps, all of that can be concluded as the things we need for living in this world.

Apostolic Reception – 2 Cor 7:13b-16

When St. Paul sent Titus to Corinth, he did not know how they would receive him. They had earlier even rejected Paul in his short visit. But the Corinthians received Titus as a messenger of God (verse 15). It was also a sign that their trust in Paul as an apostle had returned.

Despite all the difficulties and disputes with them, Paul had a certain profound confidence in the church of Corinth (verse 14). It was probably because Paul trusted that God would not have let this church to go astray completely. Humanly speaking it seemed that for Paul everything was lost concerning this church.

Is Paul speaking to highly of the church of Corinth in verses 15-16? If we compare them to chapters 11 and 12, we see that Paul still has his reserved opinions concerning the attitude of the Corinthians toward him. Surely the basic confidence was there. But Paul also knew that it would take time for things to be completely resolved. The Corinthians must have had “competing groups” (1 Cor 3) inside the church: Some were more clearly on Paul’s side while others not as much.

Perhaps, in the words of St. Paul we see a hope that things will progress and improve in the future. Paul was quick to get excited, perhaps even the good news from Titus excited him to praise the Corinthians even a little too much.

Some scholars think that Paul did this intentionally: It was the way to break the last bits of resistance against him in Corinth. This must have been a much better way than to continue to speak about past problems (verse 3).