2 Corinthians 2 – The Strategy of Satan and the Victory of Jesus
A. Paul’s change of plans: more reasons why the Corinthians misinterpreted why he did not come to them a second time.
1. (1-2) Paul remembers his sorrowful visit to the Corinthians.
But I determined this within myself, that I would not come again to you in sorrow. For if I make you sorrowful, then who is he who makes me glad but the one who is made sorrowful by me?
a. But I determined: Carrying on the thought from chapter one, Paul defends himself against the Corinthian Christians. Some among them criticized him because he changed his travel plans and did not come when he planned to. They used this change of plans to say of Paul, “He is unreliable and untrustworthy. We don’t need to listen to him at all.” But Paul explains there were many reasons why he did not come as planned, one of them being he was trying to spare the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 1:23).
b. I would not come again to you in sorrow: Paul’s most recent visit to Corinth was full of conflict and unpleasantness. So he determined that he would not have another “sorrowful” visit with the Corinthians.
i. “Because of the scandals that were among them he could not see them comfortably; and therefore he determined not to see them at all till he had reason to believe that those evils were put away.” (Clarke)
c. If I make you sorrowful, then who is he who makes me glad? Paul also knew that another painful visit would not be good for him. The constant conflict with the Corinthian Christians could really damage his relationship with them.
i. It seems that Paul thought it best to give the Corinthian Christians a little room, and give them space to repent and get their act together. He didn’t want to rebuke and admonish them all the time. Since this was Paul’s heart, he knew that another visit of the same kind would be of little benefit for either Paul or the Corinthian Christians.
2. (3-4) Instead of a second visit, Paul wrote a letter.
And I wrote this very thing to you, lest, when I came, I should have sorrow over those from whom I ought to have joy, having confidence in you all that my joy is the joy of you all. For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you, with many tears, not that you should be grieved, but that you might know the love which I have so abundantly for you.
a. And I wrote this very thing to you: Paul wisely understood that considering all the circumstances, a letter was better than a personal visit. A letter could show Paul’s heart, yet not give as much opportunity for the deterioration of their relationship. It would give them room to repent and get right with God and Paul again.
i. Where is this letter that Paul mentions? Some good scholars see the “sorrowful letter” as 1 Corinthians, but it seems better to think of it as another letter that we don’t have. Does this mean that something is missing from our Bibles? Not at all. Not every letter that Paul wrote was inspired Scripture for all God’s people in all ages. We can trust that what Paul wrote in the missing letter was perfect for the Corinthian Christians at that time, but not perfect for us; otherwise, God would have preserved it. We shouldn’t think that everything Paul or the other Bible writers wrote was necessarily Scripture.
b. Lest when I came, I should have sorrow: Paul hoped that his letter would get all the painful work out of the way. Then when he did visit them personally, it would be a pleasant visit because they would have taken advantage of the opportunity he gave them to get right.
c. Over those from whom I ought to have joy: The bad conduct of the Corinthian Christians was all the more troubling considering how they should have treated the apostle who gave them so much.
i. “All evils, as elements, are most troublesome, when out of their proper place, as impiety in professors; injustice in judges; unkindness or untowardness in a people toward their pastor.” (Trapp)
d. Out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you: Paul did not enjoy confronting the Corinthian Christians. It was hard for him to do, and he did it with many tears. His goal was not that you should be grieved, but instead that the Corinthian Christians would know the love which I have so abundantly for you.
i. It would take some maturity for the Corinthian Christians to receive Paul’s correction this way. It is easy for us to think a person offering correction is our enemy and sometimes is against us. But usually others bring correction because they love us, as Paul loved the Corinthian Christians. His goal was not to grieve them, but to love them.
ii. “Where I have known that there existed a measure of disaffection to myself, I have not recognised it, unless it has been forced upon me, but have, on the contrary, acted towards the opposing person with all the more courtesy and friendliness, and I have never heard any more of the matter. If I had treated the good man as an opponent, he would have done his best to take the part assigned him, and carry it out to his own credit.” (Spurgeon)
e. I wrote to you, with many tears: “St. Paul’s Epistles were written rather with tears than with ink.” (Trapp)
B. Paul’s appeal to forgive the brother who had sinned.
1. (5-7) Paul recommends that the Corinthian Christians forgive the brother who had sinned (and repented) among them.
But if anyone has caused grief, he has not grieved me, but all of you to some extent; not to be too severe. This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man, so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow.
a. If anyone has caused grief: Paul displays real pastoral wisdom and compassion. He refers to a specific person among the Corinthians, but he does not name the man. Certainly, this man is happy his name was not recorded in God’s eternal word.
b. Who is this man? He is probably the same one that Paul told the Corinthian Christians to confront in 1 Corinthians 5. The phrase such a man is used in both books to describe the man sinning in an incestuous affair. He lived immorally with his stepmother.
i. Some commentators disagree and think Paul speaks of another man all together. They believe this man sinned by insulting Paul to his face during his “painful visit.” But 2 Corinthians 2:10 says that Paul expected the Corinthian Christians to forgive the brother first, then he would forgive. If the offense had been something personal towards Paul, we would expect it to be the other way around. In fact, Paul plainly says he has not grieved me. His first offense was not against Paul. So, it is likely that such a man was the one Paul said must be confronted in 1 Corinthians 5.
c. Not to be too severe: Apparently, the man was put under the church’s discipline, even as Paul instructed in 1 Corinthians 5. He received this punishment which was inflicted by the majority. After receiving the punishment, the man apparently repented, but the Corinthian Christians would not receive him back! Therefore, Paul tells them to not be too severe, to consider their punishment sufficient, and to forgive and comfort the man.
i. In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul sharply rebuked the Corinthian Christians for their casual attitude towards this man and his sin. He commanded them when you are gathered together… deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh (1 Corinthians 5:4-5). Paul told them to put the man outside the spiritual and social protection of the church family until he repented.
ii. It worked! The Corinthian Christians applied the punishment, and apparently the man repented. Now, Paul must tell the Corinthian Christians to restore the repentant man.
d. Forgive and comfort him: They were just as wrong in withholding forgiveness and restoration to the man when he repented as they were to welcome him with open, approving arms when he was in sin. The Corinthian Christians found it easy to err on either extreme, either being too lenient or too harsh.
i. Paul told them to do more than forgive; he also told them to comfort. “There may be a judicial forgiveness which is hard, and leaves the soul always conscious of the past. Comfort takes the soul to heart, and forgets. That is how God forgives, and so should we who are His children.” (Morgan)
ii. “If discipline is largely lacking in the Church of today, so also is the grace of forgiving and comforting those who, having done wrong, are truly repentant. How often, alas! souls have been indeed swallowed up with overmuch sorrow because of the harshness and suspicion of Christian people toward them in view of some wrong which they have done… Love never slights holiness; but holiness never slays love.” (Morgan)
e. Lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow: Their harsh stance towards this man had a real danger: By withholding restoration and forgiveness from the man they risked ruining him, causing him to be swallowed up with too much sorrow.
i. “It is a saying of Austin, Let a man grieve for his sin, and then joy for his grief. Sorrow for sin, if it so far exceed, as that thereby we are disabled for the discharge of our duties, it is a sinful sorrow, yea, though it be for sin.” (Trapp)
ii. Restoring work towards sinners is just as important as rebuking work. Trapp cites an extreme example of the failure to restore: “The Papists burnt some that recanted at the stake, saying, that they would send them out of the world while they were in a good mind.”
2. (8-11) Understanding Satan’s strategy in the matter.
Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him. For to this end I also wrote, that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things. Now whom you forgive anything, I also forgive. For if indeed I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven that one for your sakes in the presence of Christ, lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices.
a. Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him: Since the man responded to the correction and repented, it was time for love and healing. They needed to reaffirm their love to him.
i. “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.” (Hodge)
b. That I might put you to the test: Paul wrote strongly in 1 Corinthians 5, and the Corinthian Christians met the test by doing what Paul said to do. Now he puts them to the test again, telling them to show love to the repentant brother.
i. Paul wanted the Corinthian Christians to be obedient in all things. Would they find it easier to be obedient when he asked them to be “tough” than when he asked them to show love and restoration?
c. I forgive also: The offending man had also sinned against Paul in some way, either directly or indirectly. Paul expected the Corinthian Christians to take the lead in showing the man forgiveness and restoration.
i. Even if the church must treat someone as an unbeliever as a matter of church discipline, we must remember how we are to treat unbelievers: with love and concern, hoping to win them to Jesus, anxious for repentance.
ii. There is no inconsistency: If your brother sins, rebuke him. If he repents, forgive him. (Luke 17:3)
d. Lest Satan should take advantage of us: Paul knew this was of special concern because Satan looks to take advantage of our mistakes, as a church and as individuals.
i. Trapp describes how Satan loves to take advantage: “That wily merchant, that greedy blood-sucker, that devoureth not widows’ houses, but most men’s souls.”
ii. Take advantage (the ancient Greek word pleonekteo) is used in four other verses in the New Testament (2 Corinthians 7:2, 12:17-18, and 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 is able to take things from us that belong to us in Jesus, things like peace, joy, fellowship, a sense of forgiveness, and victory.
e. For we are not ignorant of his devices: Their failure to show love to the repentant man could be used as a strategy of Satan.
i. To withhold forgiveness from the repentant is to play into the hands of Satan. “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 play into Satan’s hands.” (Calvin)
f. His devices: Satan has specific devices (strategies) he uses against us to take advantage of us. Paul could say that he was not ignorant of Satan’s strategies, but many Christians cannot say the same thing.
i. Satan’s strategy against the sinning man was first focused on lust, then he used hopelessness and despair. Satan’s strategy against the church was first the toleration of evil, then using undue severity in punishment. Satan’s strategy against Paul was to simply make him so stressed and upset over the Corinthian Christians that he lost peace and was less effective in ministry.
ii. Calvin defined these devices as “the artful schemes and tricks of which believers ought to be aware, and will be if they allow the Spirit of God to rule in them.” Are you allowing the Spirit to make you aware of Satan’s strategy against you right now? What weak point is he trying to exploit? Where is Satan trying to get a foothold into your life? Are you ignorant of his devices?
C. The triumph of Jesus Christ.
1. (12-13) What Paul did on his way to Macedonia.
Furthermore, when I came to Troas to preach Christ’s gospel, and a door was opened to me by the Lord. I had no rest in my spirit, because I did not find Titus my brother; but taking my leave of them, I departed for Macedonia.
a. A door was opened to me by the Lord: Paul was interested in ministering where God opened doors. The only way our work for God will be blessed is when it is directed service.
i. Where we see a door… opened, we can have faith that God will bless the ministry. “Where the master sets up a light, there is some work to be done; where he sends forth his labourers, there is some harvest to be gotten in.” (Trapp)
b. I had no rest in my spirit, because I did not find Titus my brother: 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.
In 2 Corinthians 2:13, Paul mentions his departure for Macedonia. In 2 Corinthians 7:5, he writes about his arrival in Macedonia. In between – from 2 Corinthians 2:14 through 7:4 – is sometimes called “the great digression.” In this extended section, Paul describes and defends his ministry as an apostle.
2. (14) Jesus, the triumphant leader.
Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place.
a. Thanks be to God who always leads us: Paul dealt with criticism from the Corinthian Christians, who said he was unreliable and fickle because of his travel plans. He has explained himself and his reasons for not arriving when he had previously planned. More than anything, he wanted the Corinthian Christians to know he is following Jesus Christ as his General. More than any plan he may declare to the Corinthian Christians, Paul’s plan is to follow Jesus Christ.
b. Who always leads us in triumph in Christ: Here, Paul takes an image from the Roman world, seeing Jesus as the victorious, conquering general in a triumphal parade. A Roman triumphal parade was given to successful generals as they returned from their conquests.
i. “The idea is borrowed from an ancient Roman triumph, which to the eyes of the world of that day was the most glorious spectacle which the imagination could conceive.” (Meyer)
ii. “In a Triumph the procession of the victorious general marched through the streets of Rome to the Capitol… First came the state officials and the senate. Then came the trumpeters. Then were carried the spoils taken from the conquered land… Then came the pictures of the conquered land and models of conquered citadels and ships. There followed the white bull for sacrifice which would be made. Then there walked the captive princes, leaders and generals in chains, shortly to be flung into prison and in all probability almost immediately to be executed. Then came the lictors bearing their rods, followed by the musicians with their lyres; then the priests swinging their censers with the sweet-smelling incense burning in them. After that came the general himself… finally came the army wearing all their decorations and shouting Io triumphe! Their cry of triumph. As the procession moved through the streets, all decorated and garlanded, amid the cheering crowds, it made a tremendous day which might happen only once in a lifetime.” (Barclay)
iii. “That is the picture that is in Paul’s mind. He sees Christ marching in triumph throughout the world, and himself in that conquering train. It is a triumph which, Paul is certain, nothing can stop.” (Barclay) And, Paul sees himself as sharing in the triumph of Jesus, the Captain of the Lord’s Army, and Paul is one of the Lord’s chief officers!
c. Leads us: Paul wanted the Corinthian Christians to realize that he followed his general, Jesus Christ. Paul can almost see Jesus’ triumphal parade winding its way through the whole Roman Empire, throughout the entire world.
d. Diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge: Fragrance, in the form of incense, was common at the Roman triumphal parade. In Paul’s mind, this fragrance is like the knowledge of God, which people can smell as the triumphal parade comes by.
i. No sense remains in the memory like scent. There is nothing we remember more strongly than pleasant smells, except perhaps unpleasant smells. “Thus the apostle wished that his life might be a sweet perfume, floating on the air, reminding me, and above all reminding God, of Christ.” (Meyer)
ii. “A sweet savour 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. Wrap the habits of your soul in the sweet lavender of your Lord’s character.” (Meyer)
2. (15-16a) The triumphal parade means different things to different people.
For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life.
a. To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life: The scent of incense burnt to the gods in a Roman triumphal parade smelled wonderful to a Roman. The same aroma was a bad smell to a captive prisoner of war in the parade, who would soon be executed or sold into slavery.
b. We are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing: 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).
i. “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.” (Clarke)
3. (16b-17) Paul briefly characterizes his ministry.
And who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, as so many, peddling the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as from God, we speak in the sight of God in Christ.
a. Who is sufficient for these things? When Paul thinks of the greatness of God’s plan, he wonders if anyone is sufficient to play a role in it. “In himself, no one is. But some one has to preach Christ and Paul proceeds to show that he is sufficient.” (Robertson)
i. “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.” (Poole)
b. For we are not, as so many, peddling the word of God: The word peddling has the idea of “adulterating” or “watering down” for gain, and was especially used of a wine seller who watered down the wine for bigger profits. Paul was not like others who watered down the gospel for gain.
i. Trapp on peddling the word of God: “This is one of the ‘devil’s depths,’ Revelation 2:24; whereunto God’s faithful ministers are perfect strangers.”
c. As of sincerity: Sincerity is the ancient Greek word eilikrineia, which means “pure” or “transparent.” Barclay says, “It may describe something which can bear the test of being held up to the light of the sun and looked at with the sun shining through it.” Paul’s message and ministry did not have hidden motives or agendas.
d. We speak in the sight of God in Christ: Paul was always aware that his first audience in ministry was God Himself. Every word he spoke, he spoke in the sight of God.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission