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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)
Established November 2008 Published Weekly on Friday
This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men (and women) to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1Timothy 2:3-4)
I want to welcome everyone to HBS, and then I want to send a special “greeting” to the folks who have recently joined us on the www. Our small, intimate group continues to grow. When I was traveling from house to house with my white board and Bible a few years ago, our group consisted of about 8 people. Today we’re averaging right around 600 people per week, give or take a few. Praise God.
Thank you for your attendance and for your interest in understanding what God has said to us through His Word. Together we are growing in grace and knowledge of our Lord: But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. (2Peter 3:18)
Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all (1 Timothy 4:15).
I think a quick lesson review will benefit everyone before we begin chapter 7.
2 Corinthians was written around 55-56 AD while our Apostle Paul was in Macedonia.
We know of four letters he wrote to this church in Corinth but we only have two of these:
1) The letter referred to in 1 Corinthians 5:9 (we don’t have this letter)
2) 1 Corinthians
3) The severe letter 2 Corinthians 2:3-4 (this letter was lost and/or destroyed)
4) 2 Corinthians.
After writing 1 Corinthians, Paul continued his ministry at Ephesus until he heard his well-written letter had not accomplished its desired purpose. A group of false teachers came to Corinth presenting themselves as apostles. They challenged Paul’s integrity and his apostolic authority (2 Corinthians 11:4, 12:11).
Paul decided to make a quick trip to Corinth to confront this serious situation (2 Corinthians 12:2, 13:1-2). This was the painful and less than beneficial visit. Paul returned to Ephesus and wrote the Corinthians a severe letter out of great distress, anguish, and with many tears (2 Corinthians 2:4). Titus probably carried this letter to Corinth (2 Corinthians 12:8). Paul had second thoughts after writing it. He was concerned about how the Corinthians would react to it. He left Ephesus (Acts 19:23-41) for Macedonia by way of Troas where he expected to meet Titus to receive news of the effect of the severe letter. But Titus was not there (2 Corinthians 2:12-13). This disturbed Paul greatly and added to his depression. Eventually these two did meet and the news from Corinth was basically good. Some of the Believers had a change of heart and attitude, i.e. they repented, which pleased Paul (2 Corinthians 7:5-16).
The report from Titus was encouraging. The Corinthians were still a work in progress just as we all are, but the situation showed signs of improvement at Corinth and this prompted the writing of 2 Corinthians, which is not a well constructed letter at all when compared to his other writings.
Paul Reveals His Heart
2 Corinthians 7
1: Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
Therefore, Paul concludes his previous discussion (6:14-18) about the need to separate from worldly influences in order to live a life that pleases God. The commandment to come out from their midst (6:17) is coupled with these promises: “And I will welcome you,” and “And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me.” Paul wants the Corinthians (and us) to know in order to have a close relationship with God they have to put distance between themselves and the world’s influences. I heard a pastor say one morning, “You can’t fully commit to loving God while still clinging to the toilet bowl a.k.a. the world.” (1 John 2:15) Do you get it?
Paul then gives them two things to do in light of these promises of God: Beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
Cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit – here Paul includes himself as he informs the saints in Corinth they have to make an effort to cleanse their hearts, making a serious effort to overcome the sin in their lives. Sinful living is inconsistent with who Believers are in Christ Jesus. Paul teaches this rudimentary truth in Romans 6:14-15: For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be!
God’s Grace does not give you liberty to commit sin – to partner with the world (v14). Can you and I continue living like lost people once we become saved people? Yes. Should we continue living like lost people once we become saved people? No!
Let’s look at Romans 6:1-2: What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that (God’s) grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who (did what) died to sin still live in it?
Now we didn’t die I think that’s rather obvious, you’re still here; I’m still above ground too, but something else did die, according to this book. What was it? It was our sinful flesh. In Ephesians 4:17-24 Paul refers to our flesh as the “old man” or our “old self” depending on your Bible translation. I’ve also heard people compare our flesh to old Adam the person responsible for bringing sin and death into the world and there’s nothing wrong with that because it’s true (Romans 5:12-14). Anywhere you read the expression “our flesh,” you could substitute the term either “old man,” “old self” or “old Adam” and not alter the meaning of the passage. The terms are interchangeable.
No one does it better than Paul in describing the conflict of the two natures, our flesh and the inner man, our Spirit in saying: For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want (Romans 7:19). Said another way, our flesh pursues things contrary to the Spirit of God. Turn to Galatians 5:17: For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.
This is one the rudimentary teachings of our faith. So when Paul informs the saints at Corinth they need to cleanse themselves from all defilement of flesh he’s not saying take a bath and use hot, soapy water. He’s referring to their sin nature, which they received from Adam. He’s saying they are to cleanse themselves from all defilement of flesh and Spirit, perfecting holiness (or the sanctification process) in the fear of God.
Let’s also consider this, when we sin the Spirit is defiled along with our flesh. The heart and mind of the individual, along with their desires, motives, and thoughts are the cause of outward defilement. Look at what Jesus said: But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart (the inner man), and those defile the man (and the woman)… Matthew 15:18-20, 23:27-28; Proverbs 23:7).
So, even though the Corinthians were saved and their salvation was never in doubt (Romans 8:1), their spiritual growth or faith walk with the Lord was (1 Corinthians 3:1-3). The Greek word for walk is Peripateo (pronounced: per-ee-pat-eh’-o), Verb, Strong’s Greek #4043, meaning: to walk, live, the manner in which a person conducts their life.
To grow in grace (faith) means to grow spiritually. It means to mature in the knowledge of God and in godly living. The ultimate goal of the Believer is to become like Christ. Just as a person grows from an infant to a mature adult, a true Believer should grow spiritually from an infant to a mature Believer in Christ Jesus: …like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord (1 Peter 2:2-3).
To grow in grace and/or faith involves growing in God’s Word, rightly divided, and in its application. In the book of Hebrews Paul speaks against those Believers who failed to do this very thing: For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he (or she) is an infant (Hebrews 5:12-13).
The dictionary defines righteousness as “behavior that is morally justifiable or right.” The Bible’s standard of human righteousness is God’s own perfection in every attribute, attitude, behavior, and every word; that’s more than a step or two above the world’s standard. We can best observe these characteristics through two things God gave mankind His laws and His Son, Jesus Christ.
When you get right down to it, there are only two paths to follow in life; the path of our flesh (Galatians 5:16-21) or the path of the Holy Spirit (John 14:6; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4). If your heart truly belongs to God, if you’re consumed with the desire to please Him, to glorify Him in all you do, then you are on the path to growing in grace and to being spiritually mature in Christ Jesus. Will you stumble now and again? Yes, we all do. But we don’t leave the path… we’re running the race not only to finish but to finish well (1 Corinthians 9:24; 2 Timothy 4:7-8).
Let’s go to verses 2-4.
2 Corinthians 7
That’s one positive sounding paragraph and the right approach, if your desire is to bring about repentance (change) in an individual or a group, depending on your audience, which is certainly the case here. In 2 Corinthians 6:11-13, Paul wrote: Our mouth has spoken freely to you, O Corinthians, our heart is opened wide… open wide to us also. Then in 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1, he dealt with their worldliness; those partnerships that kept them from having an open and honest relationship with Paul.
Now with the words make room for us in your hearts Paul returns to the idea he left off with in 2 Corinthians 6:11-13. He was completely honest with the saints in Corinth; he’s telling them now they must follow suit; they need to be honest with him. They need to open their hearts to the truth about Paul and his ministry.
I began this lesson with a brief review not only to help everyone refresh their memory but also to remind y’all this letter was written after Paul had received word from Titus his severe letter had a slight, positive effect. Some of the Corinthians had a change of heart and attitude. Paul became depressed after sending the letter, but he had received good news with Titus’ report – some of the Corinthians repented. There are still some unresolved issues that need to be worked out and Paul is writing now about those things, but notice he is careful to do three important things first:
First he states and I’m paraphrasing, “I have a clear conscience.” Paul wrote: We wronged no one, we corrupted no one, (and) we took advantage of no one. Paul’s not talking about during his entire lifetime, at one time he was the chief persecutor of those who believed that Jesus was the Son of God or followers of the way (See Acts 9:2, 11:26). He certainly did some mean-spirited things in those days. He means as God’s called apostle to the Gentiles. While he was ministering at Corinth, for example, he did not wrong anyone, corrupt anyone or the gospel, and he did not take advantage of anyone Jew or Greek, in spite of what his opposition was saying about him.
Second, he said, “I do not speak to condemn you.” Too many times when a person comes to help another the first thing they do is condemn them or their behavior - “I told you alcohol would ruin you one day, but you wouldn’t listen…” – kind of thing. It may be the truth, but it is the truth minus something significant and that would be agape love. Furthermore, it does not fulfill the law of Christ. Although this book does not clearly define the law of Christ, Paul writes in Galatians 6:2: Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.
Paul also mentions the law of Christ in 1 Corinthians 9:20-21: To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without the law. Paul became all things to all men, so that he might save some (v22b).
Think this through. When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had left the Sadducees speechless, they met together. One of them, a legal expert (in the Mosaic Law) tested him. “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the Law?” He replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. This is the greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.” (Matthew 22:34-46 – Common English Bible; Luke 44:13-27). Clearly, the law of Christ can be found here.
Paul is following the law of Christ. He loves these people regardless of how they’re behaving “for I have said before that you are in our hearts to die together and to live together.” Paul’s saying he’s not going to abandon these Believer’s for any reason.
I’ve lost track of the number of conversations I’ve been in or overheard where people condemned not only someone’s behavior but that individual as well, and it didn’t matter if that person was a Believer or an unsaved individual they were thrown under the bus. They totally dismissed the things God said: we all are created in the image of God; THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. BLESSED ARE THOSE WHOSE LAWLESS DEEDS HAVE BEEN FORGIVEN, AND WHOSE SINS HAVE BEEN COVERED. BLESSED IS THE MAN WHOSE SIN THE LORD WILL NOT TAKE INTO ACCOUNT. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors… (Genesis 1:26; Romans 3:10-11, 23, 4:7-8; 2 Corinthians 5:11-21)
Where in your Bible does it say the Body of Christ is a private club and sinners are not welcome?
Then the third thing, after there’s a change of heart (repentance), he encourages them: “Great is my confidence in you; great is my boasting on your behalf. I am filled with comfort; I am overflowing with joy.” The only other place in the N.T. where this word appears is in Romans 5:20 and it’s only a word that Paul uses. It’s a word he chooses to use when his heart is full and he finds it difficult to express in words what he wants to say – ever been there? Today people send chocolate and flowers, asking the florist to write an appropriate sentiment to go along with the gift. Paul didn’t have that option, so he came up with this word that means to superabound, greatly. Paul’s confidence and pride in these Believers is reassuring; it lets them know he’s committed to them.
Great is my boasting on your behalf – this comment is meant to encourage them to take that next step in their faith walk, in regard to the collection to the poor saints in Judea (2 Corinthians 9:4) so that neither he nor they will be put to shame by this confidence (2 Corinthians 8:6-8).
For even when we came into Macedonia our flesh had no rest, but we were afflicted on every side: conflicts without, fears within. But God, who comforts the depressed, comforted us by the coming of Titus; and not only by his coming, but also by the comfort with which he was comforted in you, as he reported to us your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me; so that I rejoiced even more.
Here Paul resumes his interrupted account related to Titus’s report which he began in 2 Corinthians 2:13. Paul was deeply concerned about the Corinthian church. For even when we came into Macedonia our flesh had no rest. (Paul’s referring to himself in this comment).
But we were afflicted on every side: This is a brief summary of the pressures Paul endured in his life and in his ministry (See 2 Corinthians 1:4-10, 4:7-12, 6:3-10).
Conflicts without, fears within – most people readily agree Paul means to say he suffered problems with Believers and unbelievers alike (2 Corinthians 11:28). Paul was fully aware of Satan’s schemes. Ultimately the devil was influencing the conflicts without, causing fears within, i.e. putting up road blocks in the gospel’s path (2 Corinthians 11:3; 1 Corinthians 7:5).
But God, who comforts the depressed, comforted us by the coming of Titus – here Paul reveals one of God’s attributes. He is the God of all Comfort (2 Corinthians 1:4). Paul said specifically God comforted us by the coming of Titus. However, I’m certain God comforted Paul in other ways too. I say this because of what Paul wrote: and not only by his coming, but also by the comfort with which he was comforted in you, as he reported to us your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me; so that I rejoiced even more (v7). Suddenly, some of the pressure was lifted from Paul’s shoulders and his heart, he felt rejuvenated; especially after he and Titus were reunited.
2 Corinthians 7
For though I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it – for I see that that letter caused you sorrow, though only for awhile – I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.
The sorrowful letter Paul refers to in verse 8 is the severe letter of 2 Corinthians 2:3-4. It has either been lost to antiquity or it was destroyed by its owners. We don’t have it and the reason(s) why become a moot point unless the discussion drifts to the effect this letter had on some of the Believers in Corinth that is. Paul’s stern letter caused sorrow but (he said) I do not regret it; though I did regret it for I see that letter caused you sorrow, though only for awhile…
I don’t know if you’ve ever written a letter, mailed it, and then regretted that action. Letter writing is a lost art today, but in Paul’s day it was the primary means of long-distance communication. After Titus took this letter, there was no way to recover it, so this explains some of Paul’s depression (v5). So deep was his love and his concern for this church, it took the comfort of God and the arrival of Titus, bearing good news concerning the letter and the Corinthians’ repentance to revive Paul.
I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance (a change of heart or attitude); for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.
Once again, Paul only writes to Believers, (churches and individuals) however he knows unbelievers will hear these letters being read in the churches as they are passed around. Here he’s acknowledging it hurts when someone informs you you’re messing up; when someone tells you the truth about yourself and it isn’t good. When a Believer receives the truth about themselves from someone, they are going to react in one of two ways: repentance without regret, i.e. godly regret leading to salvation or the sorrow of the world, i.e. worldly grief, which produces death.
There you were tooling along thinking everything was right with the world, when suddenly someone had the gumption to speak up. They spoke the truth and like an arrow it stabbed you in the heart and it hurt. If you’re honest, you agree with them even though you don’t come right out and say it. At first, you may get defensive, you may even argue a bit, but you know they spoke the truth. It hurts, but it’s godly hurt which leads to a change of heart; an attitude of repentance.
Please understand repentance is an action you take. I was raised to believe it’s a feeling of remorse; put on the old sack cloth and ashes – kind of thing. It isn’t that at all. The feeling sorry is the hurt and it should lead you to action, to change, this is repentance. That is where the word repenting comes from. The prophet Isaiah put it this way: Let the wicked forsake his (or her) way And the unrighteous man (and woman) his (or her) thoughts; And let him return to the Lord; and He will have compassion on him (and her)… (Isaiah 55:7).
Paul says repentance leads to salvation. He isn’t talking about salvation from sin. The Corinthians were already Believers. He is talking about salvation from self, a sense of freedom, of deliverance from the flesh.
Let’s move on to verses 11-12.
2 Corinthians 7
For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you: what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong! In everything you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in the matter. So although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the offender nor for the sake of the one offended, but that your earnestness on our behalf might be made known to you in the sight of God.
There’s some work yet to be done in Corinth, Paul’s not saying they’ve arrived! He’s only referring to their repentance in this matter (v11). Obviously, there were signs of spiritual life in Corinth. But Generally speaking, people do not want their conscience disturbed, so the message of repentance is seldom preached. However, all those who proclaim to teach the truth must pray and labor, as did our Apostle Paul, for the Spirit’s convicting work in the conscience (John 16:8; Acts 17:30). If sin is “winked” at in our churches or in our lives and repentance belittled, a Believer’s faith walk will lack depth and stability. As they say, “The proof is in the pudding” or in Paul’s severe letter in this case. For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you Corinthians. True repentance brings a Believer to the point of saying, “I have sinned” and it affects change.
For this reason we have been comforted. And besides our comfort, we rejoiced even much more for the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by you all. For if in anything I have boasted to him about you, I was not put to shame; but as we spoke all things to you in truth, so also our boasting before Titus proved to be the truth. His affection abounds all the more toward you, as he remembers the obedience of you all, how you received him with fear and trembling.
We rejoiced even much more for the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by you all. Please note Paul uses the word spirit as a synonym for Titus and not just one aspect of the body, soul, and spirit (2 Corinthians 4:13). The saints at Corinth treated Titus with respect and received him warmly. This was a load off of Paul’s mind because they treated Timothy badly. Titus was a student of Paul, a new Believer himself; he was aware of the carnality of these Corinthian Believers. So it was a boost to his morale to witness the Corinthians’ repentance firsthand.
Some people hold to the fact that it was Paul’s severe letter that brought about this change of heart without mentioning the work of the Holy Spirit in the Believer’s life. But let’s give credit where credit is due, folks. We’re not aware of the contents of this “stern letter,” but Paul probably said what needed to be said. Amen. People were hurt after reading it. Some were angry and stayed that way, however, some of these people decided Paul was right and they were “wrong.” That’s the power of the Holy Spirit at work in God’s Church and not merely some words written on paper (Romans 8:27; Philippians 2:13; 2 Timothy 1:7).
For if in anything I have boasted to him about you, I was not put to shame; but as we spoke all things to you in truth, so also our boasting before Titus proved to be the truth.
Everything Paul communicated to Titus about these Corinthians, while the problems were ongoing, was proven true by their actions. This is one of the joyful things about change, i.e. repentance – it restores people’s confidence again it enables them to boast about you as they once did. Paul had boasted to Titus in hope that the Corinthians would respond favorably to his severe letter – Paul’s boasting to Titus proved to be true.
16: I rejoice that in everything I have confidence in you.
Considering everything we’ve learned about this church up till now that’s quite a statement, but make no mistake, that comment is more than just words because it reveals Paul’s heart. It conveys the message that Paul is not going to abandon these people, no matter what, and that relationships matter to Paul so they should matter to the Believers in Corinth too.
As I said earlier, there were unresolved issues in Corinth and Paul wasn’t going to let these slide. “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:31-32).
People were upset with Paul and his apostolic ministry in Corinth; issues remained unsettled there. People within the church were still at odds with one another over one thing or another and these “wrinkles” needed to be “ironed” out; but our Apostle Paul was up to the task.
(To be continued)
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