Posted: 02 Mar 2011 11:00 PM PST
DESPITE HIS INTENTIONS, PAUL did not visit the Corinthians as he had hoped. He may have visited them on his way to Macedonia; he certainly did not do so, as he had expected, after leaving Macedonia (2 Cor. 1:16; see meditation for March 1). Apparently some of the Christians in Corinth held this against him, accusing him of being fickle. Paul replies that he is not the sort of person who says yes when he means no, or the reverse (2 Cor. 1:17). The reason he did not go to Corinth, as he intended, was to spare them (2 Cor. 1:23). How so?
The answer to that question is found at the beginning of 2 Corinthians 2, which provides dramatic insight into the relations between the apostle and one of the more prominent churches he founded. The reason Paul did not fulfill his intention to visit Corinth is that he became convinced it would be "another painful visit" (2 Cor. 2:1). An earlier visit, possibly on his way to Macedonia, had proved disastrous. Either before or after that visit (the sequence is not quite clear) Paul also sent a letter, writing "out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears" (2 Cor. 2:4). The purpose of that letter was not to grieve them, but to assure them of the depth of his love for them (2 Cor. 2:4). Apparently the substance of that letter was a strong exhortation that they impose sanctions on someone within the church who was sinning grievously.
It has often been argued that that tearful letter is 1 Corinthians, and that the man Paul wants disciplined is the man who is sleeping with his stepmother (2 Cor. 1 Cor. 5). Certainly that is a possible interpretation. On the whole, however, 1 Corinthians does not sound like the letter Paul briefly describes in 2 Corinthians 2:4. It is more probable that he is referring to another letter, of which we have no other knowledge, one that insisted that the Corinthian church take action. At least some at Corinth have given Paul a very hard time over the issue. Now, however, good sense has prevailed, along with submission to the apostle (2 Cor. 2:9). The church has punished the recalcitrant sinner, who duly repented, and now Paul encourages the believers to bring the sanctions to an end and forgive the man (2 Cor. 2:5–10). Too severe a judgment may itself tempt the church to harshness, thereby falling into another of Satan's many ruses for outwitting believers and destroying them.
It is enormously encouraging to recognize in these interactions the vibrant vitality of early Christian relationships. Staid maintenance of the status quo may not be a sign of life; it may even be a sign of death. Where there are many new converts, there will be problems—and life.
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