When the Pastor Makes a Hard Decision
2 Corinthians 7
Pastors have a difficult job in many ways, contrary to the 'He only works on Sundays' mindset many in the church have. For one thing, spiritual stress is unlike stress of any other kind, and it is why we die younger, on average. One of the hard parts of our job is making the hard decisions.
In many cases, the easy thing to do is nothing. We are tempted not to confront a sinner, not to take a hard stand, and not to make risky statements. But often the right thing to do is the hard thing to do, and thank God for His good undershepherds who are willing to do the hard things...like Paul did.
As a background for this chapter we need to remember that there had been a man in the church in Corinth who had been guilty of gross immorality. He had had an incestuous and adulterous relationship with his own father's wife, his stepmother. The church hadn't dealt with that situation, and Paul had reprimanded them in his first epistle and had said they must deal with it. Now as Paul is writing his second letter to them, they had dealt with this man with the result that he repented and confessed his sin. The church had been accurate in dealing with him. Paul's letter had had the right kind of effect. Titus came to Paul with the report that this man had been weeping over his sin and that he felt utterly unworthy of further recognition by the church. It is to this matter that Paul is referring.
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 [2Cor. 7:1].
What promises is he talking about? He is referring to those at the end of chapter 6. God has said that if we will obey Him, He will be a real Father to us, we will be real sons and daughters to Him, and He can deal with us in that relationship. This does not say that if we don't come out and be separate, we will lose our salvation. It does mean that if we do not lead a clean life, God can't treat us as a Father would want to treat His child. Many of us do not know by experience what a wonderful Father we have. We don't give Him a chance to be a real Father to us.
What can we do to change that? Paul tells us, "Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves." How can we cleanse ourselves? We cannot cleanse our own conscience from the guilt of sin. I am unable to wash out the stain of a guilty conscience, but God has done that through the death of Christ and the shedding of His blood. After we have been cleansed from our sins by the blood of Christ, our hearts still need a daily cleansing from the contamination of each day. When I receive the Word in faith and I act upon that Word, I am cleansed from all the filthiness of the flesh and spirit. This is what the Lord Jesus meant when He said, "Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth" (John 17:17). The best bar of soap in the world is the Word of God. It will really clean us up. The Holy Spirit enables us to deal with the sin in our lives.
Paul says we are to cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and of the spirit. All sin is filthiness in the sight of God. Then what is the difference between the sins of the flesh and the sins of the spirit?
The filthiness of the flesh are those sins which we commit in the body. This has to do with unholy lusts, unbridled appetites, drunkenness, gluttony, licentiousness, inordinate affection. These are the sins of the flesh. These are the dirty things. You and I need to be aware of the fact that we are living in a world today that is big on the sins of the flesh.
An illustration of this is the attitude of the world toward liquor. Most people today say that alcohol is all right. What does the Bible say about this? Proverbs says not to even look at alcohol, let alone drink it! And listen to Habakkuk 2:15: "Woe unto him that giveth his neighbour drink, that puttest thy bottle to him, and makest him drunken also, that thou mayest look on their nakedness!" God have mercy on you if you serve cocktails in your home and tempt your neighbor to drunkenness. The Word of God rebukes that.
Another illustration of the filthiness of the flesh is the vilest pornographic content that is imaginable now free online which glorifies the human body and sex. In this permissive society God's Word still condemns the sins of the flesh. If you as a Christian are going to indulge in them, my friend, then God cannot act toward you as your Father. Although you may actually be His son, He cannot treat you as a Father would like to treat His son.
Now Paul mentions the filthiness of the spirit. What are some of those sins? Well, how about gossip? How about vicious slander against some Christian brother? There are many people who would never take a gun and pull the trigger to shoot a man down, but they will take the dagger of gossip and put it in his back when he is not listening. Some saints in the church engage in that kind of practice.
There are the secret sins of the spirit such as vanity and pride. Conceit, haughtiness, unbelief, and covetousness are the dirty sins of the spirit. There are a lot of saints in the church who live by a series of "don'ts" -- 'don't drink, smoke, or chew, or kiss the girls that do.' Not one of them would have a cigarette on the end of his tongue, but the words on the end of his tongue burn more deeply than a cigarette could burn. These are some of the sins of the spirit.
Now Paul says that we should "cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." The writer to the Hebrews puts it this way: "And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed. Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord" (Heb. 12:13-14). Christ is my righteousness. Christ is my holiness. The problem is that my life and His perfection are really far apart. God says we are not to have such a big holiness gap. He wants us to be holy in our lives.
Receive us; we have wronged no man, we have corrupted no man, we have defrauded no man [2Cor. 7:2].
Paul assures them that he has corrupted no man. He has defrauded no man. He didn't come to them to take up offerings for all sorts of projects.
I speak not this to condemn you: for I have said before, that ye are in our hearts to die and live with you [2Cor. 7:3].
Paul loved these Christians. They were constantly on his Pastor's heart.
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 [2Cor. 7:5-9].
Remember that in Paul's first epistle to them he did the hard thing and wrote a very sharp letter. He called them "babes" and "carnal." He pointed out the gross immorality among them, and he commanded them to deal with it and put it away. And they did deal with it as Paul had instructed them. When Titus arrived in Philippi to join Paul, he brought the news that the church in Corinth had dealt with the situation and that the guilty man had repented of his gross immorality. So Paul wrote in the second chapter of this second epistle that now they should forgive him and comfort him so that he wouldn't be swallowed up in sorrow. He is to be taken back into the fellowship.
After he had left Ephesus, he had gone to Troas, and there he waited, but Titus didn't come. Then he began to rebuke himself. He thought, Maybe I shouldn't have written such a sharp letter to them after all. Or maybe I should have gone to them directly. He went on to Philippi, and it was there that Titus met him and brought him word from Corinth.
It is possible that someone hearing this should sit down and write a letter to an individual whom he hurt years ago. If that someone is you, tell him that you are sorry and want to make things right. Do you know what you would do for him? You would make him exceedingly joyful. We all need to do more of that.
Paul gets very personal when he says, "When we were come into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on every side; without were fightings, within were fears." This is so personal I almost feel that we shouldn't read it. But God used a man to comfort Paul: "Nevertheless God, that comforteth those that are cast down, comforted us by the coming of Titus."
You could help some dear saint of God and be a comfort to him. My friend, when was the last time you went to your preacher and put your arm on his shoulder and said, "Brother, I've been praying for you. I see that you are working hard and standing for the things of God, and I just want you to know I am standing with you." He would appreciate that.
The Corinthians had said nice things about Paul. Don't be too hesitant to say something nice about someone else. Really, your tongue won't fall out if you say some nice things.
"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." You see, repentance and the shedding of tears are not the same. "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 [2Cor. 7:10].
Here we find God's definition of repentance -- real repentance. Repentance is a change of mind. As far as I can tell, the only repentance God asks of the lost is in the word believe. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ! What happens when one believes? There is a change of mind. There is a turning from something to Someone. Listen to what Paul wrote to the Thessalonians: "...how ye turned to God from idols..." (1Thess. 1:9) -- that was a change of mind. How did it come about? They first turned to Christ. When Paul had come to them, he hadn't preached against idolatry, he had preached Christ to them. And they turned to Christ. But they were idolaters. So when they turned to Christ in faith, what else happened? They turned from the idols, and that turning from idols was repentance. That is the repentance of the unsaved; it is the repentance to salvation.
God also emphasizes repentance for the believer if he is going in the wrong direction, walking in sin. For him there is to be a turning, a repentance. A lot of people simply shed tears, which may not indicate true repentance. That kind of sorrow is the sorrow of the world and works death. True repentance is godly sorrow, which "worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of" -- that is, repentance without regret.
ill.--Once there was a boat on the Mississippi River that had a little bitty boiler and a great big whistle. When it would blow its whistle while going upstream, the boat would start to drift downstream because the boiler was so small it couldn't propel the boat and blow the whistle at the same time. There are a lot of people who have a great big whistle and a little bitty boiler. They shed a lot of tears and make a big display, but there is no real repentance. They shed tears, but they keep on going in the same direction, and begin to drift in their spirituality. But with these Corinthian believers their repentance was real.
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 [2Cor. 7:11-13].
He commends them for the fact that they really repented.
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 remembereth 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 [2Cor. 7:14-16].
Paul did the hard things, and reaped a fruitful reward for it. Do the hard things God wants you to in your life, and reap the reward!
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