Notes on 2 Corinthians 2:5-11

2 Corinthians 2:5‑11  •  7 min. read  •  grade level: 10
There is, perhaps, no place where the delicacy, as well as faithfulness, of the apostle appears, than in dealing with the case which had so deeply pained his heart, in view of the dishonor done to the Lord at Corinth. For if it betrayed how low the unjudged flesh of a Christian might carry him, it had also discovered the low state of the assembly, and made it a special trial to him who loved them, and a special danger for those who were otherwise alienated. Nevertheless, the grace and truth which came in Christ wrought so mightily by the Holy Spirit in this blessed servant, that even the light-minded Corinthians were roused to repentance quite as decidedly, as to disciplinary activity; and so far communion was restored between them and the apostle. It ought to be doubted that, as he commanded them to put away the wicked person from among themselves, they could not but bow, purging out the old leaven, that they might be a new lump, as they were unleavened. The paschal sacrifice of Christ is inseparable from the feast of unleavened we have to celebrate here below. We cannot shirk the responsibility, if we enjoy the privilege. Sincerity and truth must characterize the believer.
But if the saints in Corinth were only of late awakened to feel and act with honor and holy resentment at such an outrage in God's temple, there was danger now of a strong reaction. Severity is as little according to Christ as laxity or indifference; and those who needed such a powerful appeal to arouse them to vindicate the injured name of the Lord, were now disposed to an extremely judicial sternness, as far from the grace of the apostle, as before from his care for holiness. Thus fellowship of heart was imperiled from the opposite side.
The apostle, however, seizes on what was good, through the action of the Spirit in them, to labor for still more and better. Recovery from a low state is rarely immediate. Correction is needed there, as well as here; and the very fact that the call to righteousness is again heard, may, for the time, so pre-occupy the soul, that love cannot yet act freely. So it was at Corinth, till he who so blessedly represented the Master laid his hands again upon their eyes, which as yet saw men like trees walking, that, restored fully, they might look on all clearly. He had written out of much tribulation and distress of heart to them, with many tears, which refuted the charge of either levity or self exaltation; not that they might be grieved, but that they might know his very abundant love toward them. Now he turns to the one in question, who had grieved him from the first tidings of the sin, than since his epistle had been used to put his and their sin in the light of God before their consciences.
“But if any one hath grieved, he hath grieved not me, but in part (that I may not press heavily) all of you. Sufficient to such an one [is] this rebuke, which [is] by the many; so that, on the contrary, ye should rather forgive and comfort, lest somehow such an one be swallowed up with excessive grief. Wherefore I exhort you to ratify love toward him. For I wrote also for this, and that I might know the proof of you, whether as to all things ye are obedient. But to whom ye forgive anything, I also; for I too, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, [do so] for your sake, in Christ's person, that we might not be overreached by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his devices.” (Vers. 5-11.)
The sorrow which had filled the apostle's heart had, more or less, overspread the assembly; and such is the feeling which becomes it. If the godly Israelite so took up and confessed the sins of the people, how much more those in a far nearer relation to the Lord? Yet we see it deeply in Moses and Joshua, in Hezekiah and Josiah, in Daniel and Ezra. So now grace had communicated to the saints, in measure, the apostle's grief at the Corinthian scandal: not that they, if any; felt so deeply as he, but that he could speak of them all as affected similarly with himself. Thus the hearts of all would be conciliated, and even he that had caused the grief would feel that there was in the apostle anything but the wish to overwhelm him. He adds that the rebuke or punishment already inflicted of the many was enough. This would not have been so if the sentence of excision had not been carried out. Not a word intimates that a mere reproof short of it had arrested the evil, and brought the evil-doer to repentance. The notion, therefore, of the French Reformers (Calvin, Beza, &c.), or others, to this effect is not only unfounded, but unworthy also; for as the first epistle had peremptorily insisted on putting away the offender, the second is equally plain that mutual confidence was in measure restored by their decision and self-judgment in this very case. Verse 9, in particular, is inconsistent with anything less, not to speak of verses 7, 8, and indeed others elsewhere. Nor does verse 6 fairly bear the meaning that he is distinguishing another sort of censure which the Corinthians had administered from the excommunication he had himself enjoined; but that what was already done in accordance with inspired injunctions had effected its purpose, and should not last longer. This is entirely confirmed by the call that follows, rather to forgive and comfort, lest, perhaps, if he continued under so terrible a sentence, broken down as he was, he should be swallowed up with excessive grief. Wherefore he beseeches the saints to ratify love, as they had already testified abhorrence of his sin, by a formal act of the assembly. Thus, too, would the saints prove their obedience in all respects, in gracious restoration of the penitent, as before in solemn judgment of his heinous sin; and the apostle, also, had all this in view when he wrote both epistles.
But it is of deep moment to mark and learn that, though he has to awaken the assembly, both to judge and to restore—for they had failed in both respects—he will have them to feel and act aright, joining them in their acts, and in no way acting for them. Hence he does not at all speak as a spiritual dictator, however real and great the authority given him of the Lord, as he takes pains to allege in both doctrine and discipline. “But to whom ye forgive anything, I also [forgive]; for also I, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, [do so] for your sake in Christ's person, that we should not be overreached by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his thoughts.” It would have been no adequate healing of the assembly to have forgiven the Corinthian offender because the apostle had done so, and commanded it. When the flagrant evil was not judged, he did command excommunication; but when grace had wrought all round in estimating as well as dealing with what was so humbling, he will have them to forgive, and go with them in it. It is not, therefore, “whom I forgive, ye also,” but “to whom ye forgive anything, I also.” He is most careful to press their own place of ratifying love, even when apostolically laying down their duty, that he might have fellowship with them throughout. In the prerogative of mercy he would follow, and what he had forgiven, if he had forgiven aught, would do on their account in Christ's person. How blessed the seal of authority, and how gracious the sanction! May we cherish such a flow of divine affections in presence of good and of evil. Our weakness is immense, the difficulty as various as humanly insuperable, the danger from Satan's wiles constant; but greater is He that is in the saints than he that is in the world; and we know that the enemy's thoughts and designs are leveled pre-eminently at God's assembly, the only divine society on earth.