Issues Close to Paul’s Heart

1.  The Severe Letter, 7:8-13a

Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while— yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.  (NIV)

Even though the Corinthian correspondence is not officially recognized as being part of the Pastoral Epistles, we learn much about pastoral ministry, especially from this letter.  In this section, we witness Paul, the pastor, attempting to make reconciliation with the Corinthian church.  We learn that if misunderstandings, suspicions, and bitterness are to be dealt with and removed, then the past must be opened up, not covered up.

Love that is Godly love, and spiritual, always seeks to be at peace, and always seeks to heal wounds, no matter who may have inflicted those wounds.  Though scars may remain, wounds can be  healed.

This issue was obviously very emotional to Paul.  He writes in the first person singular throughout this section, as if to convey to the Corinthians how deeply he was touched and how deeply disturbed he was concerning them.

“My letter” refers, not to 1 Corinthians, but to a letter no longer in existence that was apparently written after 1 Corinthians and Paul’s “sorrowful” letter and was delivered by Titus.  At that time, Paul learned from Titus that his letter had caused some problems within the Corinthian church.  As their spiritual father, Paul’s initial reaction was one of “deep regret” that he had written such a stern letter in the first place.  Perhaps upon further reflection, Paul realized that any pain his letter had caused actually brought the Corinthians to a place of repentance.

To understand what Paul meant when he said “regret,” we need to make note of how that word was used elsewhere in the NT.  It can mean a “change of mind.”  That’s how Jesus used the word in the parable of the two sons who were asked to work in the vineyard, Matthew 21:29.  One son refused to go and work, but then was sorry and went after all.  Conversely Hebrews quotes Psalm 110:4 and says that God swore an oath and did not change His mind (Hebrews 7:21).  The word can also mean “repent.”  That’s how Judas felt, but that led to his suicide, Matthew 27:3-5).

Paul uses the word twice in this passage in a positive sense for it led to the repentance of the recipients of his letter.  Any hurt that the letter may have caused was only temporary.  In fact, the Greeks suggests it lasted “about an hour.”

There are four valuable lessons for church leaders and congregations alike:

  • the pleasures of sin are momentary, but it leads to grief, death and destruction.  Conversely, even though pastoral correction may seem painful, it results in repentance and forgiveness.  Then the pain that is caused by discipline and repentance is replaced by joy that lasts for an eternity.  Note carefully the words of Psalm 51:17–The sacrifices of God are [a] a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
  • The second lesson is seen in the ultimate objective of Paul’s letter.  It was written to lead the Corinthians to repentance, and this could be done only by hurting them through his strong and corrective words.  The parable of the prodigal son comes to mind.  He had to suffer deprivation and rejection so he could be brought to the place where he finally came to his senses, Luke 15:17-19.
  • The third lesson may be a bit harder to understand than the previous two.  The pain, or grief, that the Corinthians felt was God’s will.  In fact, the Greek is: “you were grieved according to God.”  This “grieving process” began with the sorrowful letter, but eventually led them to God, because they realized they offended, not Paul, but God by their conduct.  Through His Word (Paul’s letter) God had made known His will to the Corinthians, and through His Spirit, He led them to repentance.
  • The fourth and last lesson is this: Even though they were hurt, it did them no damage.  It was Paul’s duty as their pastor to write that painful letter, to admonish and to discipline his congregation.  Had Paul neglected his pastoral duty, he would have been responsible for their continued spiritual degradation.  Nevertheless, in some respects, Paul suffered along with his congregation in this.  Yet everything happened as God had planned.

Perhaps there is a final lesson here to be learned by all believers. God is sovereign.  And we are much stronger than we think.  The crushing pain of loss or of correction or of any kind of trial or tribulation may make us feel like we can’t go on.  But God has a plan and a purpose that is almost never discernable at the time.  Paul wrote these same people:

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. (2 Cor. 4:17)

2.  The Need to be Generous, 8:1-15

8:6-9 – Now this had made us ask Titus, who has already done so much among you, to complete his task by arranging for you too to share in this work of generosity. Already you are well to the fore in every good quality – you have faith, you can express that faith in words; you have knowledge, enthusiasm and your love for us. Could you not add generosity to your virtues? I don’t want you to read this as an order. It is only my suggestion, prompted by what I have seen in others of eagerness to help, and here is a way to prove the reality of your love. Do you remember the generosity of Jesus Christ, the Lord of us all? He was rich beyond our telling, yet he became poor for your sakes so that his poverty might make you rich.

8:10-12 – Here is my opinion in the matter. I think it would be a good thing for you, who were the first a year ago to think of helping, as well as the first to give, to carry through what you then intended to do. Finish it, then, as well as you can, and show that you can complete what you set out to do with as much efficiency as you showed readiness to begin. After all, the important thing is to be willing to give as much as we can – that is what God accepts, and no one is asked to give what he has not got. (JBP)

In the Greek, Paul had written on very long sentence that comprises verses 3 through 6.  To make the translation readable in English, the original sentence is divided into shorter sentences, with a paragraph division added, and with a word or two added to make for smoother reading.  Verse six likely belongs to the previous paragraph, although many translators make verse six the beginning of a  new paragraph.

The sterling example of  the generosity of the Macedonians (verses 1-5) encouraged Paul to make arrangements for the completion of the Corinthian offering.  It is also our first lesson in this group of verses.  The Corinthians, for all their education and sophistication, could not have possibly missed the implication one small Greek word:  eis.  It basically forced an unflattering comparison between the Macedonian congregation and the Corinthian congregation.  Unlike the Macedonians, the Corinthians were not facing persecution, nor where they in desperate financial straits. How willingly they ought to be giving!

The essence of verse six is that the grace which motivated the Macedonians should be the same grace that motivates the Corinthians.  Here is a major lesson to be learned by church leaders and laymen alike:  the real test of any person lies in what they give.  There are three books essential for a true worship  service:  the Bible, the hymnal, and the checkbook.  Giving is part of our worship to God.  And if we don’t have this “grace of giving,” we should pray to God and ask Him to give us a generous and giving spirit.   By using the word charis (grace) in seven in connection to the virtue of giving, Paul places generous giving alongside faith, speech, knowledge, and love as an expression of God’s grace within a person.  It seemed the Corinthians had much going for them, all they lacked was this grace of giving.

Verse eight gives the reader another insight into the Pastor’s Pastor.  Although he had full pastoral authority, Paul didn’t use it to issue a firm directive to the Corinthians, but rather, he made a suggestion .  Why did he do this?  It was because he wanted their giving to be “spontaneous,” not forced or the result of being “shamed into it.”  Many a pastor could take a lesson from how Paul viewed giving: it should be from the heart, it should be something a person feels compelled to do based on grace, not on a plea from the pulpit.  Many preachers and bible teachers preach tithing as a basis of giving.  Of course, the tithe was basic in the Old Testament, but, if you  study tithing in the OT, it becomes clear there were actually three tithes.  One tithe supported the government, similar to our taxes today.  One was for the poor, which we would equate with a sort of welfare tax.  And the final tithe supported the Temple, a kind of Temple tax.  So, tithing should never be the basis of our giving.

When it comes to giving in the Corinthian church, Paul has:

  • appealed to the example of the Macedonians
  • the promising beginning of the Corinthians themselves
  • their desire for spiritual excellence

Now, Paul turns to the supreme example: that of Jesus Christ.  Again, a tiny Greek word illumines Paul’s thought process for us.  This time, the word is gar, translated mostly as “for.”  It suggests that Paul saw in Christ the finest example of one who showed earnestness and generosity in giving as a demonstration of his love.  The Macedonians had it, for they gave out of their need.  Christ had it because He gave out of selflessness, without regard for Himself.  Paul’s point is this: if the sacrificial giving of the Macedonians didn’t move these people to give, then perhaps Christ’s example would.

Christ’s example is this: He “became poor” (eptocheusen) by the act of incarnation.  From wealth to poverty.  Paul depicts the riches of heaven as being incalculable.  Jesus willingly surrendered them to live in the poverty of humanity.  This is actually in contrast to the Macedonians, who gave out of their poverty, but on a level with the wealthy Corinthians!  If Christ could give when He was incalculably rich, then the Corinthians should be able to do so, as well.

Verse ten seems to indicate that the Corinthians had made some sort of pledge in the past to give a certain amount of money but hadn’t followed through.  Some Christians think that making pledges is wrong, yet we make pledges all the time: we pledge to pay our rent or mortgage, we pledge to make our car payments, and here we read of a church that had pledged to give money to the work of God.  Paul simply encourages them to honor their pledge.

The phrase “as your means allow,” or “as well as you can” (JBP) shows us another insight into Paul’s temperament.  He doesn’t want to inflict any undue pressure on the Corinthians, he doesn’t intend for this  wealthy church to literally become impoverished for the people in Jerusalem.  God wants His people to be generous but not thoughtless.  People should  never be put in a position where they have to admit that their resources are too scant.  Calvin aptly wrote:

If you  offer a small gift from your slender resources, your intention is just as valuable in God’s eyes as if a rich man had made a large gift out of his abundance.

Paul does not tell the Corinthians to give too much nor does he tell them do follow to the letter the example of the Macedonians: give beyond their resources.  With deftness, he tells them to do what they can, and no more.  What a refreshing contrast to the many preachers who stand behind their pulpits and tell their congregants to do the opposite.

Verse twelve seems unduly complicated in English and in the Greek, it isn’t even a complete sentence.  Is the readiness of the Corinthians  acceptable?  Who is the subject of the verb “to have”?  What  is the direct object of this verb?

For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have. (NIV)

The Corinthians had demonstrated their continued readiness.  It was their lack of follow-through that frustrated Paul.  It seems logical that the gift itself is what was acceptable, and that’s how the translators of the NIV read it.  Betz commntes:

Though willingness is basic to the act of gift-giving, even more important is the matter of the gift’s acceptability to the recipient.

Paul concludes, saying, “If the readiness is there, then the gift is acceptable.”  If one doesn’t have it to give, he can’t give it..  The Apocryphal book of Tobit give a similar piece of advice:

If you have too  little, do not be ashamed to give the little you can afford. (4:8)

God assess the value of a  monetary gift, not in terms of the actual amount given, but by comparing what is given with the total financial resources of the giver.  That is the real lesson of Mark 12:41-44 .  No one is expected to give “according to what he does not have.”

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