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OUR TRIUMPH IN UNION WITH CHRIST
2 CORINTHIANS 1-7

OUR TRIUMPH IN UNION WITH CHRIST (23)

Paul's Pastoral Heart Seen in Action 

2 Corinthians 7:2-16

Dr. Gordon E. Johnson

Rio Grande Bible Institute

Introduction

If 2 Corinthians shows us anything, it shows us the true pastoral heart of Paul, the spiritual father of the Corinthian church. In the first six chapters he has spoken with love and frank confidence in his friends among whom he had spent 18 months on his second missionary journey. This pastoral heart has been seen also in the extensive digression (2 Corinthians 2:14 -7:1) that highlights the magnificent presentation of the Message of the Cross. But what he has written, be it in a personal application to his children in the faith or the exposition of the Cross, he has written from his heart for the spiritual wellbeing of his children.

In the profound digression Paul has summed up his challenge to the Corinthians: "Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (2 Corinthians 7:1).

Notice carefully the nuances of the final words in this section of the Corinthian epistle. The summary is magnificent: God's blessing are based on his promises, not just on his rightful demands; they as his spiritual children are especially beloved; Paul himself shares with them the onus of obedience; the cleansing from filthiness, a Old Testament emphasis and it must be all inclusive, the flesh as the exterior and spirit as interior as God sees it; finally, the result is holiness in the fear of God, another Old Testament concept. What a masterful conclusion!

The Background of Titus' Return Visit    2 Corinthians 2: 12, 13

We are reminded from the opening words of the epistle that Paul is writing a very personal letter to his converts from Macedonia en route to Corinth with a real uneasiness as he waits to hear from Titus; Paul had earlier commissioned Titus to go and assess the mood of the Corinthian believers. We will now see the very human side of Paul's ministry, human yes, but still a reflection of Christ in him. Paul's motto always being: "Yet not I but Christ lives in me."

Paul has just dealt with Corinthian misunderstandings in chapter one; now he states his pressing concern: "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" (2:12, 13). Immediately thereafter while still not knowing the outcome, Paul digresses, a blessed digression, with the magnificent presentation of the Message of the Cross in the  extensive passage 2:14 - 7:1.

Paul's Comfort on Hearing Titus' Report    2 Corinthians 7: 2-7

Paul has just prefaced the encounter with Titus with a further appeal to the Corinthians. His earlier appeal is still ringing in their ears: "O Corinthians! We have spoken openly to you, our heart is wide open . . . Now in return for the same (I speak as to children), you also be open" (6:11, 13).

Paul now proceeds to pick up that thought: "Open your hearts to us. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we had defrauded no one" (7:2).  Paul may be inferring that such indeed the slanderous accusations made against him, but he returns with: "You are in our hearts, to die together and to live together" (3b). What a Christ like response, no rancor, no self pity for what he had suffered at the hands of his detractors!

Now Paul exults in the reward of his confidence that he has felt in his heart toward them. That pastoral heart has been vindicated. "Great is my boldness of speech toward you, great is my boasting in your behalf. I am filled with comfort.  I am exceedingly joyful in all our tribulation" (4).

Titus' return and his good news made Paul re live the opening verses of the epistle when they had a "sentence of death" in themselves that they should not trust in themselves. God delivered them, does deliver and will deliver (2 Corinthians 1: 9, 10). Paul is walking in the full expression of the comfort or encouragement that the crucified life gives to the worker, even in the most difficult circumstances of ministry.

When the apostle speaks of being "we were troubled on every side, outside were conflicts, inside were fears" (5). He is not yielding to the flesh. He is rather facing ministerial reality in the Spirit. Sanctification is no stoicism in the face of reality but rather not allowing such human fears to govern his will and actions. In the midst of the suspense of waiting, they were not immune to the future difficulties, but God's comfort or encouragement brought relief to their hearts.

We now hear the echoes of earlier victory with which the epistle began. "Blessed be the God  and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort who comforts us in all our tribulation . . ." (1:3,4). Later "We have this treasure in earthen vessels that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed . . ." (4:7.8). Paul and his associates are living out the victory o f the Cross. There is no place for depression ever.

An additional blessing was the benefit that came to Titus in seeing and being a part of the change in the attitudes of the Corinthians church. "And not only his coming, but also by the consolation with which he was comforted in you, when he told us of your earnest desire, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced even more" (7). Titus was confirmed by Paul's example as his mentor and the reality of the Message of the Cross as an added blessing.

The Message of the Cross and True Repentance in the Believer    2 Corinthians 7:8-16  

It has been said that Paul does not define in depth repentance nor preach it as did John the Baptist. Compare, however, Romans 2: 4, 5 and 2 Timothy 2:24-26 with reference to the unbeliever and apostates. He did indeed include specifically repentance in his sermon on Mar's Hill (Acts 17:30-31). It is true that the word repentance itself appears only a few times in his writings. 

But Paul was a preacher of grace, God's grace rightly understood in the frame work of the Cross.  Faith in Christ, not repentance, was what saves and breaks the bonds of sin. For Paul faith was the hand out stretched already confessing bankruptcy to receive the offer of grace, grounded in the power of the blood of Christ.  For him repentance was subsumed and basic to faith and, in a sense, preceded it under the Spirit's ministry. For Paul there could be no human effort associated with God's offer of grace.

However, of special interest is this passage in which Paul deals with repentance in the most profound manner, not in terms of initial salvation, but of a breaking, a humbling change of direction of the believer in full acknowledgement of sin. Paul's response is the classic passage of what true repentance actually is, and that in the life of the believer. A constant spirit of repentance is always becoming to the believer.

Paul begins with a reference to a severe letter of rebuke. While he regrets the need for the letter, he cannot retract the truth needed. Hence he rejoices in the positive result that God gave. There is a dispute whether  this severe letter was the First Corinthians or another unknown epistle. The issue of which letter is of little consequence; what is important is the depth and sincerity of repentance.

The Classic Definition of Repentance in the Believer   2 Corinthians 7: 10, 11

The biblical text speaks for itself. "Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer from us in nothing. For godly sorrow produces repentance to salvation not be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death" (10). Remember Paul is writing to believers.  The salvation referenced here is a fuller salvation, a deeper, closer walk with the Lord.  Job, the "perfect" man after his fiery trial said: "I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42:5, 6).

What follows is the most intense reference to repentance in the New Testament, paralleling David's heartfelt confession in Psalm 51, the Old Testament epitome of true repentance. "For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: what diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in the matter" (11). This is not verbal redundancy, rather a sevenfold description of their collective godly sorrow. Remember again this is what our identification with Christ at the Cross does to us, if we will allow it; we see our sin as God sees it, it humbles us, it breaks our pride, it leads to a resurrection life in Christ.

Their repentance was not a personal closet acknowledgement of sin. That costs our pride noting at all. Even Judas Iscariot confessed his sin to the high priests (Matthew 27:3, 4). Such superficial verbal statements never break the power of our pride as believers. If your "ego" is left intact or justified in some way, you have not truly confessed or repented.

As a general rule confession should be as public as the sin has been. Private sins are faced fully in God's presence and rarely in public. The Spirit may, however, ask us to confess our sin publicly. But sins of pride - the overriding root sin - and many others sins of attitudes are public sins and demand a willingness to right wrongs with those against whom we may have sinned or publically confess them.  It is characteristic of times of revival that there is much public confession. That is not coincidental. When we see our sin as God sees it, we will humble ourselves and the chains of self will be broken.

 A Personal Repentance

My first invitation to be a conference speaker (1952) was in St Vincent MN, After preaching on Genesis  22, the Offering Up of Isaac in t he morning service, in the afternoon God has a very deep dealing with my heart, I heard no voice but the Spirit asked me to confess publically my spiritual pride and struggles with evil thoughts. It was a humbling experience but it broke the albatross of my pride. Romans 6.6 became my life verse. Knowing this that Gordon Johnson was co crucified with Christ that his body of sin should be annulled that hence he should not serve sin (my personal paraphrase), 

That day I experienced a "virtual death and resurrection." Of course our identification with Christ in death to sins and alive in him remains a process and a walk of faith. But life and ministry was transformed sixty years ago. To this day that confession remains a pivotal moment  and for day I thank God for the Cross.

Yours in the Message of the Cross

Gordon E. Johnson

E mail  gejohnson1928@gmail.com  Please note: I no longer use juno.com     www.kneillfoster.com