2 Corinthians 2
We’re not a for-profit business
The last thing you needed was a visit from me1 I made up my mind not to come there and get everybody upset once again. 2 If I get all of you folks upset with me, who’s left to brighten my life? The people I got upset? 3 That’s why I wrote my earlier letter. I didn’t want my next visit to, again, stir up hard feelings among the very people who should bring joy to my life. You do know, I hope, that what brightens my life is knowing that you’re happy.
4 Writing that letter was incredibly difficult. Heart wrenching. I couldn’t write it without crying. I want you to know that I didn’t write it because I wanted to hurt you. I needed to write it to show you how much I love you.
It’s time to forgive the man5 The man there who started all this trouble hasn’t hurt me nearly as much as he has hurt all of you. I don’t mean to exaggerate it, but he’s the source of all this sadness.
6 You’ve punished this man enough. 7 It’s time now to move on. Forgive him. Comfort him. Don’t let him drown in his own misery. 8 Show him some genuine love. 9 I wrote that earlier letter to see if you would follow my instructions, if you were up to the test.
10 I want you to know that while I’m asking you to forgive this man of everything he did, I’m forgiving him, too. In fact, whatever forgiving I need to do in relation to all of this, I do it for your sake—with the Messiah as my witness. 11 We have to do this. Otherwise, Satan is smart enough to know how to exploit our failure to move on past this.
Stopover in Troas12 When I got to Troas, the Lord opened up a wonderful opportunity for me to preach the good news about the Messiah. 13 But I felt uneasy about staying there because I couldn’t find my dear colleague Titus anywhere in town. So I told the people goodbye and left for Macedonia.
Christians smell like victory14 We owe a big thanks to God. That’s because he’s leading us in the Messiah’s victory parade. Wherever we go, we spread the story of Jesus like it’s a sweet fragrance—the smell of victory. 15 The world is full of people. Some are being saved. Others will be lost. Out of this crowd, our lives rise up to God like the fragrance of the Messiah, drenched in victory. 16 Yet to people who are spiritually dying, we stink. To them, we are a toxic stench—the smell that kills. But to the people who are being saved, we smell like the fragrance of a spring day bursting with new life. My goodness, who could possibly deserve the honor of leading a ministry like this?
17 Folks, we’re not like other ministers who are selling the words of God. We’re the opposite. We give you the Messiah’s message. God sent us to do that, and he’s watching us when we speak. So when we open our mouth, absolute sincerity is what you’re going to get.
This indicates Paul may have made an unpleasant visit to Corinth. But it’s one that isn’t reported in Acts, a Bible book that highlights the mission travels of Paul. In all, Paul seems to have made three trips to Corinth. During the first trip, he spent a year and a half starting the congregation in about AD 50 or so. A few years later, he made the mysterious “painful visit.” After writing this letter of 2 Corinthians, he made a third visit, in about A.D. 56. Many Bible experts say it was in Corinth during this third visit that Paul wrote his most memorable letter: Romans, regarded as the first systematic theology of the Christian faith.
This earlier letter that Paul talks about is known among Bible experts as the “Severe Letter” or the “Letter of Tears.” Some scholars say this painful letter, which Paul refers to in 2 Corinthians 2:3-4 and 7:8, is lost. Others say the letter is at least partly preserved in the hard-hitting chapters of 2 Corinthians 10—13.
Paul doesn’t make clear what is going on (the Corinthian church members would have known). Apparently, someone has caused Paul grief in some way and that grief has affected the entire community. Seemingly at Paul’s urging, that person was disciplined and now Paul is saying that the offending party has been punished enough.
Troas is a town on the northwestern coast of what is now Turkey. It was about a two-day voyage from Greece. Troas is where Paul had a vision of a man calling for him to come to what is now Europe, to tell the people about Jesus (Acts 16:9-10).
Macedonia was a region in what is now northern Greece and the Republic of Macedonia, which is just north of Greece.
When Paul explains why he didn’t visit the church of Corinth, he might sound a little like he’s making it all about him. How do you react to that idea, which seems reflected in these quotes:
- “If I get all of you folks upset with me, who’s left to brighten my life? The people I got upset?” (2:2).
- “I didn’t want my next visit to, again, stir up hard feelings among the very people who should bring joy to my life” (2:3).
Paul said when he wrote an earlier painful letter, he didn’t write it to hurt the Christians in Corinth. “I needed to write it to show you how much I love you” (2:4). Bible experts say they aren’t sure what Paul said in that letter. Some scholars say the letter, or perhaps at least part of it, shows up in four intense chapters at the end of this letter: 2 Corinthians 10—13. Whatever it was that he wrote, to the people in Corinth it must have felt like a beat down. How do you think hard words like that show love, or anything other than anger?
Paul turns his attention to a man who has been ostracized by the church. We don’t know who that man is or what he did. Some Bible experts speculate that he was the man who was sleeping with his stepmother (1 Corinthians 5:1-5). Other Bible scholars say the only thing we know for sure about the man is that he offended or hurt Paul during Paul’s second visit to Corinth (2 Corinthians 7:12). Some of us have seen people in the church offend the church leader. What do you think are some contenders for the offense committed against Paul?
Paul closes this chapter in a way that could make it look as though he’s full of himself. He talks about his ministry of spreading “the story of Jesus like it’s a sweet fragrance—the smell of victory” (2:14). He asks “Who could possibly deserve the honor of leading a ministry like this?” (2:16). Well, apparently he could. In the closing verse, he describes himself as that leader, who is “not like other ministers” (2:17). As you read his nearly poetic spiel, do you think it sounds like Paul is bragging?
LIFE APPLICATION. When we have problems with someone, it’s not always a good idea to sit down and start talking with that person. If we talk too early, when we are so angry we might qualify as temporarily insane, we might end up talking too loud and too long, saying far too much. Maybe that’s why Paul decided against revisiting the church in Corinth (2:1). In what kind of conflicts do you think it’s a good idea to pull back, shut up, and think for a while?
LIFE APPLICATION. Paul said it was time to stop ostracizing the man who had caused the trouble in Corinth. “You’ve punished this man enough. It’s time now to move on. Forgive him. Comfort him. Don’t let him drown in his own misery” (2:6-7). How do we know when it’s time to let go of the pain someone has caused us and to move on to forgiveness?