Notes on 2 Corinthians 2:1-4

2 Corinthians 2:1‑4  •  5 min. read  •  grade level: 9
The apostle now explains more fully his motive for not going before to Corinth. They ought, from 1 Cor. 4, to have gathered plainly enough why it was. But the flesh never appreciates motives of the Spirit; and the enemy takes pleasure in embroiling the saints, if he fail with those that serve them for Jesus' sake. Now, however, that grace had begun to work in the Corinthians, the language is modified accordingly. The apostle had then asked if he was to come with a rod, or in love and a spirit of meekness. Here, as he had already stated that it was to spare them he had not as yet come to Corinth, he follows up with words that show how far from him it was to lord it over their faith, as some might have drawn from his threat of a rod.
“But I judged this for myself not to come again [or back] unto you in grief.1 For if I grieve you, who then [is] he that gladdeneth me, if not he that is grieved by me? And I wrote2 this very thing, that I might not on coming have grief from those from whom I ought to have joy, having trust in you all that my joy is [that] of you all. For out of much tribulation and distress of heart I wrote to you with many tears, not that ye should be grieved, but that ye may know the love that I have very [lit. more] abundantly unto you.” (Vers. 1-4.)
It is a mistake that these words imply a former visit in grief; and therefore a second intermediate and unrecorded one, distinct from the first. The work began, as described in Acts 18. The next visit of which scripture speaks was in Acts 20:2, 82And when he had gone over those parts, and had given them much exhortation, he came into Greece, (Acts 20:2)
8And there were many lights in the upper chamber, where they were gathered together. (Acts 20:8)
, after both epistles were written—the first from Ephesus (1 Cor. 16:88But I will tarry at Ephesus until Pentecost. (1 Corinthians 16:8)), the second from Macedonia—but whether from Philippi (as is the traditional idea), or from some other place, as Thessalonica, does not appear. Tradition is certainly wrong in asserting that the first also issued from Philippi, as it may be about the second. 2 Cor. 12:14, 21; 13:114Behold, the third time I am ready to come to you; and I will not be burdensome to you: for I seek not yours, but you: for the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children. (2 Corinthians 12:14)
21And lest, when I come again, my God will humble me among you, and that I shall bewail many which have sinned already, and have not repented of the uncleanness and fornication and lasciviousness which they have committed. (2 Corinthians 12:21)
1This is the third time I am coming to you. In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established. (2 Corinthians 13:1)
, in no way indicate the fact, but the intention of a second visit, put off because of their state, and in the hope that the delay might give occasion to the intervention of grace, and thus the need of judicial severity be spared, on the apostle's part, toward many in the assembly. Indeed chapter 13: 2 seems plainly to indicate that he had not really been a second time: “I have declared beforehand, and say beforehand, as present the second time, and now absent,” &c.
There is no evidence, in my judgment, that he had gone once to correct abuses, and to exercise discipline. He was anxious to avoid any such necessity; and therefore, instead of going as intended, he went to meet Titus, spite of work most attractive to him, that he might know how his first letter had fared at Corinth.
Actually he had not been; this was the third time he had the purpose of going; and it was the putting off the visit when intended which gave rise to the charge of light-mindedness. The change was due to their failure, and in no sense to his. On the contrary, he preferred in love to them to be grossly misconstrued, and so, instead of explaining to others, he decided this for or with himself, not to come back to them in grief.
At that time his visit would have been sorrow all round—to him certainly—at the sight of the saints, divided by party zeal, entangled by fleshly lusts, dabbling with the world, tampering with idolatry, un-worthily communicating, disorderly in the assembly, and denying—implicitly at least—fundamental doctrine, and not less surely to them, if he convicted their consciences, and dealt with their state as it deserved. Graciously, therefore, had he deferred his visit till the issue of his first letter appeared, wherein he had brought the light of God to bear on all these evils and more, of which report mainly, not a fresh visit, had apprised him. The good news he had received of the effect produced by his letters opened his heart, and let out the deep affection he had for them, spite of their grievous faults. For he is convinced that their grief was his, as also that his joy was theirs. What a wondrous power there is in Christ to produce communion in grief over evil, in the joy of grace, above self and its divisive character and consequences! His desire was the happiness of the saints. No wonder, then, he shrank from going where and when his visit must be one of grief. “For if I grieve you, who then is it that is to gladden me, if not he that is grieved by me?” That is, none but they could satisfy his heart. What love, and delicacy too! He individualizes the saints in this phrase: “And I wrote this very thing, that I might not on coming have grief from those from whom I ought to have joy: having trust in you all that my joy is [that] of you all.”
It is clear thence that it is not only inflicting, but receiving; grief of which the apostle speaks, as indeed it is always according to God in His church, whatever it be in the world. His motive in writing was the removal of what ought to pain them as it did him, that he and they might at his coming rejoice together, Christ being the spring, who can tolerate nothing offensive to God in His temple, which the saints are. And the circumstances, as well as inward feelings of the apostle, were eminently adapted to bring about the result. “For out of much tribulation and distress of heart I wrote to you with many tears, not that ye should be grieved, but that ye may know the love which I have very abundantly unto you.” It was very abundant love, but hardly more than to others, as some conceive.