“Moreover I call God for a record upon my soul, that to spare you I came not as yet unto Corinth. Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith ye stand. But I determined this with myself, that I would not come again to you in heaviness. For if I make you sorry, who is he then that maketh me glad, but the same which is made sorry by me? And I wrote this same unto you, lest, when I came, I should have sorrow from them of whom I ought to rejoice; having confidence in you all, that my joy is the joy of you all. For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote unto you with many tears; not that ye should be grieved, but that ye might know the love which I have more abundantly unto you. But if any have caused grief, he hath not grieved me, but in part: that I may not overcharge you all. Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many. So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow. Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him. For to this end also did I write, that I might know the proof of you, whether ye be obedient in all things. To whom ye forgive anything, I forgive also: for if I forgave anything, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ; lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices. Furthermore, when I came to Troas to preach Christ’s gospel, and a door was opened unto me of the Lord, I had no rest in my spirit, because I found not Titus my brother: but taking my leave of them, I went from thence into Macedonia. Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savor of His knowledge by ns in every place. For we are unto God a sweet savor of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: to the one we are the savor of death unto death; and to the other the savor of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things? For we are not as many, which corrupt the Word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ” (2 Cor. 1:23-2:17).
There are a number of verses in this portion of the Word, any one of which might furnish the theme for a lengthy address, but in giving these expositions I cannot pause on every important verse in the way I should like to do, but must occupy you rather with the general trend of the apostle’s words, the main thoughts that are emphasized. I want to confine myself largely to verses 14, 15, and 16, where the saints are seen as led in Christ’s triumph. But to lead up to that and to connect with that which we have had previously, I will go over the intervening verses.
Some of the Corinthians had charged Paul with lightness, with insincerity, with carelessness, because he had intimated that he was going to visit them and then had refrained from doing so. They said, “Yes, he promises one thing and does another.” Now he explains more fully just why he did not visit them at an earlier date in accordance with his first intention. “I call God for a record upon my soul, that to spare you I came not as yet unto Corinth. Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith ye stand.” After having made up his mind to visit them he had heard of their very disorderly conduct, they were going to law one with another, petty jealousies had come up among them, there was a sectarian spirit manifested, some were saying, “I am of Paul,” others, “I am of Apollos,” and still others, “I am of Christ,” as though Christ were the Head of a party instead of the Head of the whole Church. And then there were very grievous things of a moral character among them. One had fallen into very marked sin, so much so that the name of God was blasphemed by the world outside because of the wickedness of this professing Christian, and Paul says, as it were, “If I came to you after learning these things I would have to come among you with a rod, simply to scold you, to speak sternly to you, and I could not do that. I loved you so tenderly that I preferred to stay away and write to you and pray for you, and to call upon God to enable you to judge these evil things. Now I am glad to find that you have judged them.” He told them in the previous letter that they were to put away that wicked man who had fallen into licentiousness, who was guilty of the sin of fornication, for otherwise he would corrupt the whole fellowship. “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump” (Gal. 5:9). “If any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat” (1 Cor. 5:11). They were to refuse Christian fellowship to such an one, they were to put away from among them that wicked person. They had acted upon that, and because they had, he now feels differently toward them. He did not want to come until they obeyed his instructions—“But I determined this with myself, that I would not come again to you in heaviness. For if I make you sorry, who is he then that maketh me glad, but the same which is made sorry by me?” That is, if when I came to you my time had to be devoted to bringing before you these corrupt things that have been permitted in your assembly, it would break my heart. You would be made sad and I would be sadder, so I stayed away and prayed and wrote to you. “I wrote this same unto you, lest, when I came, I should have sorrow from them of whom I ought to rejoice; having confidence in you all, that my joy is the joy of you all.” In other words, he said, I had this confidence that if once these evil things were really brought to your attention, your Christian conscience would make you see the importance of dealing with them, you would not go on tolerating the wickedness. And that indeed had been true. “For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote unto you with many tears; not that ye should be grieved, but that ye might know the love which I have more abundantly unto you.” It was no easy thing for Paul to bring these things to their attention, nor could he do it in a hard, legal way. They were his children in the faith, he loved them tenderly, and it grieved his spirit to find that they had turned aside to evil ways and were bringing dishonor on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. That should ever be the attitude of a true pastor in the Church of God.
Now he comes to speak particularly of that wicked man who had fallen into the gross sin of immorality and had been put away from Christian fellowship. If every person guilty of immorality in the professed Church could be dealt with and put away today, how much more power there would be in the assemblies of the saints. Of course there is always hidden sin that we cannot deal with, but when it comes to light God’s Word demands that it be dealt with and the wicked person put away. We might say, “Well, but if we excommunicate that man, we will drive him from Christian influence and he will get worse and worse.” God said, “Deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Cor. 5:5). Put him outside of the assembly of God, put him back in the world to which he belongs, because he is living according to the world’s standards, and leave him there until God brings him to repentance. Then restore him to fellowship,
“If any have caused grief, he hath not grieved me, but in part: that I may not overcharge you all. Sufficient to such a man is this punishment (this discipline), which was inflicted of many.” It was not Paul’s discipline. Paul had told them what to do, and they did it. The responsibility rests, not on the apostle, but on the Church of God in a given place. And so the Church had inflicted discipline on this man. Now the man is repentant, he proves by his repentance that though he had failed he was really a child of God after all. What will they do with him now? “So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow. Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him.” If the devil cannot get the Church of God to overlook outbroken iniquity and to go on as though nothing had happened, he will seek to have them go to the other extreme. If discipline is inflicted upon a person and there is sincere repentance, then the devil will try to harden the hearts of God’s people against him. They will say, “We cannot trust that man; he was in our fellowship once, and proved so bad we had to put him out, and we cannot trust him in the future.” No, no, the apostle says; you are not to act like that. That is just as wrong as it is to tolerate sin. It is wrong to keep him out when he repents, for what is the Church of God after all but a company of repentant sinners? And what is heaven? It is a home for repentant sinners. No one will ever get into heaven but repentant sinners. I am speaking of adults for, of course, all the little ones are taken home to heaven. There “their angels do always behold the face of My Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 18:10). The Church of God is simply a gathering, not of people who have never failed, but, of repentant sinners, and if a man repents, bring him back into fellowship. Perhaps he feels so defiled, so bad, that he will never ask for restoration. He will say, “I have disgraced the Lord, I am not fit for fellowship.” Do not wait for him to ask, go to him and confirm your love toward him. “For to this end also did I write, that I might know the proof of you, whether ye be obedient in all things. Ye were obedient when I said, “Put him away;” now let me see whether you are just as obedient when I say, “Bring him back as a repentant person.”
Then he says, “To whom ye forgive anything, I forgive also: for if I forgave anything, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ.” He had already forgiven this offender in his own heart. He says, “I have taken that attitude toward this repentant offender. Once I demanded that he be put away, now I forgive him as simply one with you in this act.” “Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices.” His devices are, first, tolerate sin, and then if you won’t do that but you deal with sin in discipline, then never forgive. How often that spirit is manifested among Christians! There is not a great deal of discipline in the Church of God today. A minister said to me one day, “One of our leading members is well known to be supporting a mistress in a hotel down town, and breaking the heart of his wife and children, yet he is a leader in our church, a very wealthy man. If we were to bring him up for discipline it would split the church, and I do not know what we would do without his money.” I said, “Better split the church and go on with the godly part. God’s Word is clear, ‘Put away from among yourselves that wicked person’ (1 Cor. 5:13). Let him take his tainted money and go.” God does not want the money of a forni- cator, of an adulterer, of a drunkard, of an extortioner, of a covetous man. He does not need such money. God has plenty of money to support His work. Satan says, “Be easy on him; we must not judge one another.” But God’s Word says that we ought to judge those that are within. When there is outbroken sin we are to deal with it. The one side is, put him away. But when he repents and says, “Brethren, I have sinned, but by the grace of God I have turned from my sin; will you restore me to your love and confidence?” what are we to do then? You ought now to forgive. Perhaps he will get so thoroughly under the power of remorse that he will just break completely and say, “I will never be able to retrieve myself. The people of God will never have confidence in me again. What difference does it make what I do?” Show him now that you can forgive as well as discipline. “Lest Satan should get an advantage of us.”
“Furthermore, when I came to Troas to preach Christ’s gospel, and a door was opened unto me of the Lord.” He had been very near to them; he was at Troas, which is just across the water, and he would have liked to go ahead with the wonderful opportunity for service which came to him, but he was so restless thinking about their difficulties that he could not remain. “I had no rest in my spirit, because I found not Titus my brother: but taking my leave of them, I went from thence into Macedonia.” But no matter what circumstances he is called upon to pass through he says, “Thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savor of His knowledge by us in every place.” Or, it may be rendered, “Thanks be unto God, which always leadeth us in Christ’s triumph.” This is a very lovely picture. As Christ’s servants we are continually being led in His triumph. What does he mean by that? It is not merely that Christ always makes us victors, but whatever circumstances the people of God may be called upon to pass through we are always led in Christ’s triumph. It is a striking figure of speech, a wonderful picture that he puts before us.
When a Roman general had been out into some distant land to put down an uprising, or to win new lands for the Roman empire, to defeat great armies, the senate frequently voted him “a triumph.” When he and his army returned to Rome a public holiday was declared, and all the people thronged to the main thoroughfare to see this general enter in triumph. Here is a long line of captives, representatives of the people he has subjugated. They are in chains, and are holding censers in their hands, and sweet, fragrant incense arises. Then comes the general, and behind him another long line of captives bearing censers. These in front are to be set at liberty, and the fragrant incense is the odor of life to them. Those behind are condemned to die, and are going on to the arena; they are to be thrown to the wild beasts or put to death in some other way, and the fragrant incense that arises from their censers is a savor of death. The general marches on in triumph. There are some with a savor of life, there are others with a savor of death. The apostle says, as it were, Christ, our great Redeemer, has won a mighty victory over all the powers of hell. He has led captivity captive and given gifts unto men. He has annulled him that had the power of death, and God has voted Him a triumph; and now Christ is marching triumphantly through the universe, and He is leading us in His triumph, and we who are His captives by grace are a sweet savor unto life, but even men who refuse His grace must glorify God in their judgment, and they are a sweet savor, but unto death. So he says, “Thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savor of His knowledge by us in every place. For we are unto God a sweet savor of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: to the one we are the savor of death unto death; and to the other the savor of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things?” As we march on with Christ proclaiming His gospel, that gospel is to God a sweet savor, whether men believe it or refuse to believe it. But to all who believe it, it is a sweet savor of life; to all who refuse to believe it, it is a savor of death, but its fragrance is just as precious to God whether believed or refused.
“Who is sufficient for these things?” Let me put it this way: I stand up and try to preach, I attempt to give the gospel of the grace of God knowing my message is to have a double effect, some people are going to believe it, and it will add to their joy for all eternity. Some people are going to refuse it, and it will make it worse for them than if they had never heard it at all. I may say, “My God, I would rather not preach than make it worse for men in eternity.” But God says, “Go on and preach My Word; it is your business to give it out whether they receive it or reject it. The responsibility is theirs.” “Who is sufficient for these things?” “Our sufficiency is of God” (chap. 3:5).
“For we are not as many, which corrupt the Word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.” That word “corrupt” is a Greek word used for small trading, and suggests the thought of what we call, “grafting.” We are not of those who huckster the Word of God; in other words, we are not of those who are giving out the Word of God for the money we can get out of it, We are not selling the Word of God; we are seeking to minister God’s truth for the blessing of His people and the salvation of souls. What a wonderful thing to be led in Christ’s triumph! He went down into death, He came up in triumph, having spoiled principalities and powers. He has made a show of them, triumphing over them, and we are linked with Him who says, “I am He that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore” (Rev. 1:18).