“Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. Receive us; we have wronged no man, we have corrupted no man, we have defrauded no man. I speak not this to condemn you: for I have said before, that ye are in our hearts to die and live with you. Great is my boldness of speech toward you, great is my glorying of you: I am filled with comfort, I am exceeding joyful in all our tribulation. For, when we were come into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on every side; without were fightings, within were fears. Nevertheless God, that comforteth those that are cast down, comforted us by the coming of Titus; and not by his coming only, but by the consolation wherewith he was comforted in you, when he told us your earnest desire, your mourning, your fervent mind toward me; so that I rejoiced the more. For though I made you sorry with a letter, I do not repent, though I did repent: for I perceive that the same epistle hath made you sorry, though it were but for a season. Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter. Wherefore, though I wrote unto you, I did it not for his cause that had done the wrong, nor for his cause that suffered wrong, but that our care for you in the sight of God might appear unto you. Therefore we were comforted in your comfort: yea, and exceedingly the more joyed we for the joy of Titus, because his spirit was refreshed by you all. For if I have boasted any thing to him of you, I am not ashamed; but as we spake all things to you in truth, even so our boasting, which I made before Titus, is found a truth. And his inward affection is more abundant toward you, whilst he remember-eth the obedience of you all, how with fear and trembling ye received him. I rejoice therefore that I have confidence in you in all things” (2 Cor. 7).
In order properly to understand this chapter we need to remember that some time before the apostle Paul had heard of some very-serious wrong-doings tolerated in the Church of God at Corinth. One offence was of greatest gravity; a man had actually entered into an incestuous, adulterous relationship with his own father’s wife—his stepmother, of course—and the church, instead of immediately dealing with this great sin and seeking to show the man his wickedness, and if he refused to repent excommunicating him from their fellowship, rather gloried in the breadth that would permit them to tolerate a thing like that and go right on without discipline. There were other offences, brother going to law with brother, etc. When the apostle heard of these things he wanted to visit Corinth, and yet he felt that if he did, it would mean he would have to be very stern in dealing with these questions. He disliked this, and, too, the Spirit of God seemed to hinder his going, so instead of that he wrote them a letter, that letter which we have already taken up, the first epistle to the Corinthians, and in it he pointed out these things and called upon them to act in the fear of God. As to the wicked man, the Word of God was, “Put away from among yourselves that wicked person” (1 Cor. 5:13).
After having sent the letter Paul was greatly perturbed. The epistle was divinely inspired, and he was a servant of the Lord, but he was a very human personage, just as we are. After he had sent the letter he began to question the wisdom of it; he wondered whether it might simply stir up the flesh in these Corinthians and alienate them further from God and from himself. He questioned whether perhaps it would not have been better if he had gone to them and dealt personally with them, and wondered just what reaction the letter would have upon them. Finally his distress was so keen he could not wait to hear from them in the ordinary way, so he sent his friend and companion, Titus, to Corinth, to find out exactly how they had acted upon receipt of the letter. After waiting some time, still in perturbation of mind (for he loved the Church of God, he loved the saints in spite of their failures and he was fearful lest when he wanted to help he might have hurt, lest when he wanted to bless his message might have had the contrary effect), Titus came and said something like this, “Paul, your letter had the effect you desired it to have. Those brethren in Corinth have taken it as a message from God, and have dealt with this evil thing and have put this man out of their fellowship. He, on his part, has accepted it as divine discipline and is repenting in bitterness of soul. He weeps over his sin and feels utterly unworthy of further recognition of fellowship with the church. They have determined that they are going to keep that assembly clean from all these evils.” When Paul heard these things he was greatly rejoiced and sat down and wrote this second letter, and in this chapter he comes to the subject before him.
The first verse properly belongs to the previous chapter: “Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved.” That leads us to ask what promises, and so we turn back to chapter six to find out, and we read in the last two verses, “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be My sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” God has given promises of blessing that will accrue to us if we walk in separation from evil, and now we must see to it that we meet the conditions. “Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” How do we cleanse ourselves? We cannot cleanse our own consciences from the guilt of sin. God has to do that. Our consciences can be cleansed from sin only by the precious atoning blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. I could not wash out one stain from a guilty conscience. But if a Christian, having been cleansed from my sin by the blood of Christ, my heart needs daily cleansing, and that is by faith in the Word which God has given. As I receive that Word in faith and I act upon it, I cleanse myself from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit.
What is the difference between filthiness of the flesh and filthiness of the spirit? There are two classes of sin, and all sin is filthy in the sight of God. Filthiness of the flesh refers to sins of the body, and there are so many of them, unholy lusts, unbridled appetites. Drunkenness, gluttony, licentiousness, inordinate affection, are all sins of the flesh, and though at the present time our abominable philosophies throw a glamour over these things they are utterly vile in God’s sight. My own heart is stirred to indignation as I pick up the newspapers or magazines of the day, for there is hardly one that does not seem to be glorifying sin. Alluring advertisements suggest that the grandest thing in the world is to indulge in the free use of strong drink. There are beautiful pictures of lovely women drinking with their men friends, and of the whole family gathered around the table being served cocktails. All this in reputable magazines going into Christian homes to teach our children that drinking is a fashionable and decent and respectable thing, when God’s Word says, “Woe unto him that giveth his neighbor drink, that puttest thy bottle to him, and makest him drunken also” (Hab. 2:15). “Look not upon the wine when it is red” (Prov. 23:31). All men’s efforts to make money by causing us to become a nation of drunkards is something for which they will have to account to Almighty God some day. My heart is stirred when I think of these things. You see the same thing in regard to the vile habit of tobacco. Pick up the magazines that come to your home, and you will see some dainty young woman with an abominable cigarette in her fingers. They are trying to teach our girls that if they would be up-to-date they must become cigarette fiends. I cannot understand Christian women tolerating things like that. There is not one good reason why Christian women, or men either, should poison their bodies with tobacco.
And then again take our bookstands. They are filled with the vilest pornographic literature, glorifying fornication and adultery, as though man reaches the highest and noblest in life when he throws the reins upon every low appetite and lives to please himself in absolute indifference to purity and decency and goodness. Christians ought to be very careful to give everything like this a wide berth. “Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh,” let us avoid everything that has to do with the filthiness of the flesh.
What about filthiness of the spirit? Vanity, pride, conceit, haughtiness, and unbelief are just as evil as these other things in the sight of God. Take this dainty girl who stands in front of her mirror trying to make a work of art out of her face in order to attract the attention of the opposite sex, that vanity that is so characteristic of her is as truly filthy in the sight of God as the other sins I have been mentioning. Take that man who is so haughty and proud, and is seeking power and authority over his fellows, constantly looking for admiration on the part of men who like himself are going on to the grave, that haughtiness, that pride, is in God’s sight abso- lutely filthy. “Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” Mark this, none of us have yet attained to perfect holiness. We are commanded to “follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). But we follow that which is still before us; we have not attained to holiness, but we are to aim at “perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” As we submit ourselves to the Word and seek to judge those things that we see to be contrary to the mind of God, we will grow in grace and thus become holier men and women as the days go by.
Beginning with verse 2 and going on to the end of the chapter, the apostle sets before the Corinthians the exercises that he had in regard to them, and the joy that now fills his soul because they are indeed “perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” First, he mentions his claim to their obedience, for he had no right to be heard if in himself he was not seeking to live out what he taught them. But he says, “Receive us; we have wronged no man, we have corrupted no man, we have defrauded no man.” Many a one who has taken the position of a servant of Christ, who is recognized as a minister of the gospel, has failed terribly because of lack of care right here. Paul can face the whole world and can say, “We have wronged no man, we have corrupted no man, we have defrauded no man.” He did not teach that which would injure others; he did not by his behavior set a bad example to others; he had no part in turning the grace of God into lasciviousness, as some had done, or in defrauding another. He never had to do with money matters that were shady; he did not collect money for one purpose and use it for another; he did not pretend to be raising funds to do certain things with them and then allow them to be turned aside into some other channel. He was straight in all his dealings, and that is what God expects of every servant of His.
And then he says, as it were, “I am not saying this about myself to condemn you, but I want you to know that I am entitled to be heard because I am living what I preach. I love you too much to want to condemn you; you are my children in the Lord, and I am concerned about you, and I want to help you, not to hinder you. My boldness of speech is great, I have told other people of the wonderful work of grace that has taken place in Corinth, and I was in great distress when you were going wrong, but now I am joyful even though I am passing through tribulation.”
“When we were come into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on every side; without were fightings, within were fears. Never- theless God, that comforteth those that are cast down, comforted us by the coming of Titus.” What was the comfort Titus brought? “Not by his coming only, but by the consolation wherewith he was comforted in you.” It did him good to hear how earnest they were in putting away the evil-doer from their assembly. Titus told Paul of their “earnest desire,” and their “mourning.” It was not vindictiveness that put him away—they mourned over him. Paul rejoiced in their loyalty to him as the one who had led them to Christ. The previous epistle, he found, did upset them. He was not sorry now that he wrote it, but says, “Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance…for godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of.” This is the divine principle. Of course he is speaking to them as Christians. They had been saved by acting upon the truth revealed to them. But the same principle always prevails. “Godly sorrow worketh repentance not to be repented of.” “Repentance unto salvation”—that leads a man to judge himself in the presence of God, and thus be in the place where God can bless him.
“For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter.” They were determined to see that the Church now was clear of all complicity with evil, they were stirred to the very depths of their souls. The evil must be dealt with if blessing would come, and they valued God’s favor above all else.
And so Paul says, “Though I wrote unto you, I did not do it in order to punish the man that did the wrong, nor in order to comfort the man who was wronged.” It is impossible, you see, for any one to commit that sin without doing wrong himself and wronging others. But he makes it clear that he wrote to show that he really loved them and wanted them to be right with God—“that his care for them in the sight of God might appear unto them. Now because of the way they had acted his heart was filled with gladness, and his boasting that he expressed when talking about them had been fully justified, and Titus’ inward affection was more abundant toward them, whilst he remembered the obedience of them all, how with fear and trembling they received him. What a happy outcome this was, and what a lesson it ought to have for us today! We are continually praying for revival, but we can pray for that from now until doomsday and will not get it, unless as individuals we judge any evil that is in our own lives. It will never come until we as individuals put away all filthiness of the flesh and spirit. That is what God is waiting for, for His people individually to get right with Him. Mark, it is not for us to look at others and say, “O Lord, Thou knowest what a terrible state Thy people are in. Help them to get right with Thee.” No; it is, “Show me any extent to which any Bin has found lodgment in my heart and life, and give me grace to judge it in Thy holy presence, that I may put away ‘all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.’”
A woman came to a servant of Christ and said, “I wish you would go and talk to my husband; he is getting where he never stays home at night; he sets the children such a bad example; and if I talk to him, he slams the door and out he goes.”
The minister happened to know something of that home, and said to the woman, “Before we pray for your husband there is something I want to talk to you about. What about that vile temper of yours? Go to God and say, ‘O God, I come to Thee confessing my vile, wicked temper; my bad temper is driving my husband from home; it is alienating my children; my bad temper is bringing dishonor on the name of the Lord. Deliver me from that bad temper, that thus I may be able to present the sweetness and graciousness of Christ, and so help my husband and children.”
Did she do it? She jumped to her feet and ran out in another fit of temper. Let us “perfect holiness in the fear of God” by cleansing ourselves from “all filthiness of the flesh and spirit,” and then we may expect blessing.