Paul's 2nd Letter to the Corinthians and Paul's Letter to the Ephesians

 April 4, 2014

Tom Lowe

The Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians


               Lesson II.A.2: Paul’s Charge Concerning the Offender. (2:5–11) 

2nd Corinthians 2:5-11 (NKJV)

5 But if anyone has caused grief, he has not grieved me, but all of you to some extent—not to be too severe.

6 This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man,

7 so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow.

8 Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him.

9 For to this end I also wrote, that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things.

10 Now whom you forgive anything, I also forgive. For if indeed I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven that one for your sakes in the presence of Christ,

11 lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices.


After explaining in general terms why he had delayed his trip to Corinth (see 1:12-2:2), Paul addressed the specific confrontation that most likely had led to his decision to cancel his visit. Paul doesn’t name the offender who had caused the trouble the last time he was in Corinth, but he does instruct the church on how to handle this man. As this letter will explain later, the Corinthians had obeyed Paul’s previous instructions in the letter Paul had written with tears (see 2:1-4{3]; 7:8-10{4]). They had accepted responsibility for the offense. Truly sorry for their initial mismanagement of the unfortunate event, they had punished the offender.

Paul was concerned for the offender’s spiritual welfare. He interrupted his explanation of his recent travel plans (compare 2:1-4{3] with 2:12-13{5]) to instruct the church how to treat this man. This reveals Paul’s pastoral concern. Although the primary purpose of Second Corinthians is to reassert Paul’s apostolic authority in the face of mounting criticism, Paul didn’t want the spiritual condition of anyone in the church to be jeopardized—even if it was the man who had offended him personally (see 2:5). He explained it was time to forgive the man. Paul had probably heard from Titus that the punishment by the entire church had driven the man to sorrow (see 7:6-7){6]. If given the chance, his sorrow could be transformed into godly sorrow that would lead to repentance. The offender needed forgiveness, acceptance, and comfort. Paul was concerned that undo severity would give Satan a foothold in the church by permanently separating the man from the congregation of believers. It was essential, therefore, that the church act quickly to forgive and restore this man, while he was still repentant. Church discipline should always seek the restoration of the offender. Two mistakes in church discipline should be avoided—being too lenient by not correcting mistakes and being too harsh by not forgiving the sinner. There is a time to confront and a time to comfort.

This passage is one of the best texts in all of Scripture on the godly motivation and rationale for forgiveness.



5 But if anyone has caused grief, he has not grieved me, but all of you to some extent—not to be too severe.

These verses emphasize that the reason Paul was concerned about this man’s offence was not to correct an injury Paul had suffered. If that had been the case, then Paul might take his own instructions to heart: to simply ignore the injustice (see 1 Corinthians 6:7){7]. Instead, Paul’s point is that the whole church (all of you) had suffered because of this man. His conduct had not only hurt Paul, but had hurt the good name of the whole Corinthian church. The fact that one man has opposed Paul is far less important than that he has carried the church with him into rebellion against Paul’s God-given authority. At first the Corinthians had regarded this man’s actions as a personal problem requiring no action on their part, a view which Paul had dispelled in his letter and which they now realized. Discipline had been exercised, but there were some who felt that it had not been sufficiently severe, and who wanted to impose a still greater punishment. Paul was against this, because he felt that to exercise further punishment would do more harm than good.

Most likely, the man’s actions had amounted to a direct attack on Paul’s apostolic authority. The teaching of the “false apostles,” who had infiltrated the Corinthian church, and had started discrediting Paul’s authority, might have inspired this man to challenge Paul’s authority in public (see Paul’s censure of these “false apostles” in 11:1-15). Paul would perceive this not only as an attack on his authority but also an insult to the entire church, which had been founded on the Gospel message that Paul had delivered to them. If Paul were fundamentally untrustworthy, then his message couldn’t be trusted either (see Paul’s message in 1:19-20){8]. This would be an offense with broad implications. If the problem the apostle alludes to is not an attempt to discredit him as an apostle, then it was probably the incest he brought to light in his first letter. Regardless of who the offender may be, Paul never once mentions his name nor does he provide the specifics of the offense, but that may be because the Corinthians knew all about the dilemma he is referring to.

Paul’s concern in all of this was to assure the Corinthians that he wasn’t trying to defend himself. This wasn’t a personal vendetta; instead, it touched on the foundations of Christian faith. The distinction expressed in this verse should be made in churches today. Personal agendas or preferences should not block the clear proclamation of the Gospel. But when an issues touches on the authority of Jesus or the truth of the Gospel, that issue must be taken seriously, for it affects the life of the entire church. We, too, need to muster the courage to pass judgment on quarrelsome, selfish ambition in our churches, just as Paul did in the first century (see Philippines 2:3{9]; James 3:4{10]).

Let me remind you that in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church, he rebuked them because they were committing gross immorality in the congregation. In fact, they had a case of incest in their congregation, and they were shutting their eyes to it. (Yet they were acting as if they were very spiritual!) This kind of gross immorality was even shocking to the heathen; yet the congregation was ignoring it. Paul had written them to get this matter straightened out. He read the riot act to them. He told them “. . . put away from yourselves that wicked person” (1 Cor. 5:13).

The congregation did listen to Paul. They excommunicated the man, which was the right thing to do. Then the man came under great conviction. Now what should they do? They should forgive him.

The Greek construction of this clause, “if anyone has caused grief” assumes the condition to be true. Paul is acknowledging the reality of the offense and its ongoing effect, not on him, but on the church. With this deflection of any personal vengeance, he sought to soften the charge against the offender and allow the church to deal with the man and those who were with him objectively, apart from Paul’s personal anguish or offense.

6 This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man,

Paul’s stern letter had produced the desired effect. The majority of the Corinthians had realized that tolerating this man and the sin he encouraged would ruin the congregation. They couldn’t function as the holy people of God with such a rebel among them. If the person referred to is the fornicator mentioned in 1 Corinthians 5, then these verses indicate that the church did hold a meeting and discipline the man, and that he repented of his sins and was restored.

It is not entirely clear what action the Corinthian church took against this offender. They may have excluded him from partaking of the Lord’s Supper, a punishment Paul himself had suggested in 1 Corinthians: “Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Cor. 11:27). But most likely the man was excommunicated, which is what I believe the following verses suggest. The main point is that most of the believers in the church were united in judgment against this man. This united front showed the seriousness of his sin and, no doubt, helped lead him to repentance.

The clause “punishment . . . inflicted by the majority” indicates that the church in Corinth had followed the biblical process in disciplining the sinning man (Matt. 18:15-20; 1 Cor. 5:4-13; 2 Thess. 3:6, 14{11]). The Greek word for punishment, used frequently in secular writings, but only here in the New Testament, denoted an official legal penalty or commercial sanction that was enacted against an individual or group (city, nation). The word “majority” does not necessarily mean that there was a minority other than the man himself. If there was any disagreement, it was probably because some in the church thought the punishment was not severe enough.

Church discipline is not a popular subject or a widespread practice. Too many churches sweep such things “under the rug” instead of obeying the Scriptures and confronting the situation boldly by “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). “Peace at any price” is not a biblical principle, for there cannot be true spiritual peace without purity (James 3:13-18). Problems that are “swept under the rug” have a way of multiplying and creating even worse problems later on.

7 so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow.

8 Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him.

Evidently, the reproof that the Corinthians had meted out was sufficient—at least. Titus had reported that it was (see 7:8-10){4]. The unnamed offender had realized the seriousness of his actions. Paul was extremely concerned that the Corinthians forgive{1] and console the offender at the appropriate time. He did not want the offender to be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. Paul wasn’t concerned for his own vindication in this distressing incident but instead for the offender’s spiritual welfare. Unlike Paul, there are some people who take everything personally. Criticism, even when it is kindly meant and kindly given, they take as a personal insult. Someone very close to me is like that, and therefore, I am very careful about how I phrase any comments and suggestions that I have for her. It would be well to remember that criticism and advice are usually offered, not to hurt us, but to help us. But let’s be honest, does anyone really enjoy being criticized—I don’t think so!

Just as on his last visit, Paul had passionately urged the Corinthians to punish the offender (13:2){12], here he encouraged the Corinthians to reaffirm{2] their love for the offender. The intent of church discipline should be reform, not punishment. The goal should be to bring the offender to repentance, and if he repents, the church—that is, the entire church—should forgive him and restore him to the fellowship. Satan can use any unforgiveness that remains to gain a foothold in the church.

God is the ultimate judge and the ultimate punisher of every person’s deeds (James 4:12){13}. On this earth, however, the church has the responsibility to discipline members who are straying from the truth of the Gospel or the righteous life that God demands. In this situation, the discipline had promoted genuine repentance. Thus the Corinthians were to restore the man who was being disciplined, showing him genuine Christian love. Paul was asking the Corinthian church to confirm the membership of this man in the community of love—that is, the church—in a public and official manner. Paul doesn’t quote Jesus on this matter, but he was, in effect, following Jesus’ own instructions: “Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him” (Lk. 17:3). Paul knew there was—and is—no place in the church for man-made limits on God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness toward repentant sinners. Such restrictions could only rob the fellowship of the joy of unity (Matt. 18:34, 35{14]; Mk. 11:25, 26). The Christian duty is not to render the sinner harmless by battering him into submission, but to inspire him to goodness. Over-severity may well drive him from the church and its fellowship, while sympathetic correction might well bring him in.

Knowing the proper time to rebuke and the appropriate time to forgive is the key to compassionate church discipline. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul was teaching the Corinthian church to discern the proper occasion for both (see 13:1-5; 1 Cor. 5:1-5). This kind of discernment is crucial for a church plagued with problems, as the Corinthian church was. Christians in positions of authority must consistently check their motives when it comes to church discipline. They must ask: Am I keeping the spiritual welfare of my church members—especially that of the offender—in mind?

True discipline is an evidence of love (see Heb. 12). Some young parents with “modern views” of how to raise children refuse to discipline their disobedient offspring because these parents claim they love their children too much. But if they really loved their children they would chasten them. Every parent that disciplines a child must follow that discipline with assurance of forgiveness and love, or the discipline will do more harm than good.

9 For to this end I also wrote, that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things.

Paul reiterated his reason for writing the “severe letter” to the Corinthians. First of all, he hoped the letter would rectify the troublesome situation before he arrived (see 2:3){3]. When he visited them, he wanted to encourage them in their faith instead of correcting them. Second, he wanted to test their obedience; by “in all things,” he wanted to show that incomplete obedience is intolerable. Third, he wanted to tell them of his love for them.

After taking pains to emphasize how he was working with the Corinthians for their joy instead of tyrannically controlling their faith (1:24){15], Paul praised their obedience to the Gospel. As Paul explained to the Romans, God had assigned him to the apostolic task of calling people to obedience to God, which comes out of faith in Christ (see Rom. 1:5){16]. Later in 2 Corinthians, Paul would unequivocally assert his authority as an apostle to punish disobedience. He had been empowered by Christ with apostolic authority (10:4-6){17]. But Paul’s authority didn’t involve commanding obedience to himself but, instead, to Christ and the Gospel. Paul explained this thoroughly to the Galatians. His message was the Gospel revealed to him by Jesus Christ Himself. A preacher of any other gospel than the one he preached would be eternally condemned (Gal. 1:6-12). In 1 Corinthians Paul maintained that he had preached only the message of Christ crucified. He had added nothing to it. Although both Jew and Gentile consider it foolish, the message possessed the power of God. Paul did possess the authority to demand obedience to the message and to the God of the Gospel. He announced his authority to the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 4:2){18]. When Paul defended his apostolic authority to the Corinthians, he was careful to explain that he possessed the authority to build up the church, not to tear it down (see 10:8{19]; 13:10).

The good news was that the Corinthians were obedient to the gospel. Titus’ report from Corinth revealed that they had listened to Paul’s rebuke and had obeyed his instructions. Their complete obedience in these matters caused Paul to rejoice (7:13-16).


10 Now whom you forgive anything, I also forgive. For if indeed I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven that one for your sakes in the presence of Christ,

For Paul, forgiveness was the central part of the Gospel. Out of His own free will, God forgives those who believe in His Son (Rom. 3:24{20]; 5:15). It is only through God’s grace—that is, His undeserved favor—that anyone is saved at all (Eph. 2:5, 8){21]. So the Corinthians’ forgiveness of the offender among them was fundamentally based on Christ’s forgiveness of them (Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13{22]).

This verse downplays Paul’s own part in the entire incident. Paul did not want to imply that he was governing the Corinthians’ faith (see Paul’s denial of any motives like that in 1:24{15]). Hence, he phrased the pronouncement of forgiveness in the opposite way as would be expected. Since the offence was primarily directed against Paul (see v. 5), he could have been the first to pronounce forgiveness. Instead, he emphasized that it was the Corinthians who should forgive. The actual decision to restore the offender Paul leaves to the church, but he earnestly pleads that they would do so. He would merely agree with their verdict. In this self-deprecating manner, Paul even suggested that he didn’t have anything to forgive. In this way, he was reiterating the point that the offence had been against the entire church, not merely himself.

But there is yet another party that has been hurt by this man, whoever he might be. The problem was not simply between a sinning brother and a grieving apostle: it was also between a sinning brother and a grieving Savior. The man had sinned against Paul and the church, but he had most of all sinned against the Lord. When timid church leaders try to “whitewash” situations instead of facing them honestly, they are grieving the heart of the Lord.

The Greek phrase for “in the presence of Christ” is literally “in the face of Christ.” Paul was making the point that all of the deliberations of the church were in Christ’s presence. Paul knew that his entire life was lived in the sight of God, who knew everything he thought, and did, and said (see v. 17{23]; 4:2; 2 Tim 4:1). In downplaying his own authority in this situation, Paul was pointing to the ultimate authority: Christ Himself. It was before Christ that the church would forgive the offender, and it was before Christ that Paul—hundreds of miles away—would forgive the same offender.

The emphasis in this letter on church discipline is an indication of its importance. Yet it is a subject that is all but neglected in many evangelical churches today. It is another instance where we can profess to believe in the inspiration of the Scriptures, yet refuse to obey them when it suits our purposes.

11 lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices.

Paul spoke of Satan more in his letters to the Corinthians than in any other of his New Testament letters. He saw the telltale signs of a demonic attack on the church at Corinth. Second Corinthians unambiguously identifies the “false apostles” in the Corinthian church with the clever deceptions of Satan (see 11:4){24]. Moreover, Paul identifies Satan as the one who was tempting some in the church into sexual immorality (see 1 Cor 5:1-5; 6:12-20) and others to participate in the idolatrous feasts of their pagan neighbors (see 1 Cor. 10:18-22). As Christians we have certain things in common:

1.       A common foe—“Satan.”

2.      A common danger—“Satan could take advantage of us.”

3.      A common protection—we are not ignorant of his devices.”

Never think that Satan can’t outwit you, because he most certainly can. You are not strong enough or smart enough to defeat Satan. I like that saying “your arms are not long enough to box with God.” Well, Satan’s arms are also too short. When Satan attacks, we need to pray and place ourselves behind the Word of God—and allow God to fight for us. He is the heavy-weight champion of the universe.

This passage identifies another one of Satan’s evil schemes. In their zeal to purge the church from sin, the Corinthians were punishing the offender without keeping in mind the purpose of discipline: to inspire repentance and promote reconciliation to God. Under Satan’s influence, the offender’s sorrow could easily be turned into resentment (see 2:7) instead of repentance (see Paul’s comparison of godly sorrow with worldly sorrow in 7:10{25]). Paul pleaded with the Corinthians to guard against such a tragic outcome. He wanted them to restore the offender to the fellowship so that the incident would not become an occasion for Satan to drive a wedge between the church and Paul. The devil wants to produce sin and animosity that will destroy the church unity. He uses every possible approach to accomplish this—from legalism, to libertinism, to intolerance to excessive tolerance (see11:13-14; Eph. 4:14; 6:11-12; 1 Pe. 5:8{26]). Satan targets the believer’s mind. This was one of Satan’s schemes (see 11:13-14){27] which Paul had worked so strenuously to thwart.

When there is an unforgiving spirit in the congregation because sin has not been dealt with in a biblical manner it gives Satan a “beachhead” from which he can operate in the congregation. Satan is always ready to step into a situation such as this with his cunning devices. In the first case, he will wreck the testimony of the assembly through tolerated sin, and in the second, he will overwhelm the repentant sinner with too much sorrow, if the assembly does not restore him. If Satan can’t destroy by immorality, he will try by the immeasurable sorrow following repentance. The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin so that we will confess it and turn to Christ for cleansing; but Satan will accuse us of sin so that we will despair and give up. When an offending brother or sister is disciplined according to the Bible, and repents, then the church family must forgive and restore the member, and the matter must be forgotten and never brought up again.



scripture reference and special notes

{1] Forgive, here means “to give freely or graciously as a favor.”

{2] Reaffirm, here means “to ratify.”

{3] (2 Cor. 2:1-4) “But I determined this within myself, that I would not come again to you in sorrow. 2 For if I make you sorrowful, then who is he who makes me glad but the one who is made sorrowful by me? 3 And I wrote this very thing to you, lest, when I came, I should have sorrow over those from whom I ought to have joy, having confidence in you all that my joy is the joy of you all. 4 For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you, with many tears, not that you should be grieved, but that you might know the love which I have so abundantly for you.” Paul decided to wait for their repentance and for them to amend the situation before he came to them again. 

{4] (2 Cor. 7:8-10) “For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it. For I perceive that the same epistle made you sorry, though only for a while. 9 Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. 10 For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.” The difference between repentance, and sorrow and regret, is seen when we bear in mind that it means the change of mind and heart wrought by godly sorrow for sin. The state implied by repentance always leads to a change of life.

{5] (2 Cor. 2:12-13) “Furthermore, when I came to Troas to preach Christ's gospel, and a door was opened to me by the Lord, 13 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.” A door of opportunity had opened to the apostle to go into Macedonia and preach the Gospel. But he was bothered by not finding Titus in Troas and by thoughts of the Corinthians and the opposition from certain men he had experienced on his last visit.

{6] (2 Cor. 7:6-7) “Nevertheless God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, 7 and not only by 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.” The very coming of Titus was some comfort to him. It was matter of joy to see him, whom he long desired and expected to meet with. The very coming of Titus and his company, who was dear to him as his own son in the common faith (Tit. 1:4 ), was a great comfort to the apostle in his travels and troubles. But, the good news which Titus brought concerning the Corinthians was a matter of even greater consolation.

{7](1 Corinthians 6:7) “Now therefore, it is already an utter failure for you that you go to law against one another. Why do you not rather accept wrong? Why do you not rather let yourselves be cheated?”

{8] (2 Cor. 1:19-20){8] For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us—by me, Silvanus, and Timothy—was not Yes and No, but in Him was Yes. 20 For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us.

{9](Phil. 2:3) Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.

{10] (James 3:4) Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires.

{11] (2 Thess. 3:6, 14) But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us. 14 And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed.

{12](2 Cor. 13:2) I have told you before, and foretell as if I were present the second time, and now being absent I write to those who have sinned before, and to all the rest, that if I come again I will not spare--

{13] (James 4:12) There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?

{14] (Matt. 18:34-35) And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. 35 So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses."

{15] (2 Cor. 1:24) Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are fellow workers for your joy; for by faith you stand.

{16] (Rom. 1:5) Through Him we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations for His name,

{17] (2 Cor. 10:4-6) For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, 5 casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, 6 and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled.

{18] (1 Thess. 4:2) for you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus.

{19] (2 Cor. 10:8) For even if I should boast somewhat more about our authority, which the Lord gave us for edification and not for your destruction, I shall not be ashamed—

{20](Rom. 3:24) being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,

{21] (Eph. 2:5, 8) even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,

{22] (Col. 3:13) bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.

{23] (2 Cor. 2:17) For we are not, as so many, peddling the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as from God, we speak in the sight of God in Christ.

{24] (2 Cor. 11:4) For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it!

{25] (2 Cor. 7:10) For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.

{26] (1 Pe. 5:8) Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.

{27] (2 Cor. 11:13-14) For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light.

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