Remember that Paul has written the Corinthians before this letter and that he has also been there. We are dealing with a slice of the history of their interactions. Added into that, we must consider that the Corinthians have both written and spoken to Paul, with other verbal messages sent via trustworthy messengers.
In short, we must admit there will be times when Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians will be a bit obscure and many times when we are looking at the far end of a discussion. A header like the NASB uses here, “Paul Reveals His Heart,” can lead us to short-change this, thinking that the Corinthians did not understand Paul before they got this letter. Rather, let us take 2 Corinthians 7 as evidence of the generally human nature of Paul’s relationship with the churches he started.
It is true, though, that this chapter helps reveal Paul’s heart. That revelation is to us, though, as it is more of a reminder to the Corinthians. They had seen his conflicts and depression (v.5) and been up close and personal to his struggles. They knew his heart, but the absence of Paul and the presence of trouble had raised questions. He had been direct, perhaps even harsh, and that led to questions about his true feelings. As one pieces together the two letters to Corinth, it is apparent that there were significant problems in the church and those problems centered on specific people, and those were people who were in opposition to Paul.
For those times, a group of disciples would not be surprised to be abandoned by their teacher if they failed that teacher or sided with his enemies. The Corinthians were, perhaps, in need of reassurance that Paul would stand by them now that they had returned.
And this is the reassurance they receive in this chapter, as Paul points out in 2 Corinthians 7:9-10. He highlights that his goal was not merely to make them sorrowful, but to push them into repentance. Having accomplished that goal, he is not merely satisfied that the relationship between him and the church can be restored, he is enthusiastic and so are his companions (2 Corinthians 7:13).
It was not his desire for pain and strained relationships, but for there to be repentance, redemption, and restoration. This could only happen, as shown in 2 Corinthians 7:12, when the offenders had been dealt with. Paul’s letters do not give in-depth information about the situations (except 1 Corinthians 5:1-5) involved. The focus is not about sin—the focus is on the restoration of a relationship with God first and among God’s people following after that.
First and foremost, our response to this is to examine our own hearts and lives for areas that we need to repent of. One cannot go about confronting the sins of others without first addressing our own. That does not mean we must be perfect before we confront—but we most certainly must be striving in a positive direction.
Second, let us remember the goal of confronting anyone within the church about sin: repentance, redemption, and restoration. The idea is not that we engage others regarding sin in their lives for the purpose of dominance and control. There are few things more likely to destroy us than the desire to control others—and this is an area that can be particularly tempting.
Third, our focus should be on the hope of the Gospel and the potential for restoration. While some sins are egregious and need publicity for the sake of addressing them, we must be cautious not to allow the broadcasting of sin for the sake of schadenfreude or other unhealthy habits.
Note: in cases of child abuse or sexual abuse, publicity is often necessary to protect those who are innocent, promote victims coming forward, and to prevent new victims. We have often erred in this and suppressed problems thinking we were helping promote the Gospel. We weren’t. We were harming innocent people.
Fourth, we need to remember what Paul already demonstrates to the Corinthians: he is not going to abandon them like some teachers would abandon unfaithful disciples because they are not his disciples. They belong to Jesus, just like he does. We are all disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ—and as such, we are to engage with all He brings our way.
1. The information about Titus tells us a bit about Paul’s letter carriers and message runners.
2. The CSB Study Bible (and others) take 7:8 as evidence of what is called “Paul’s Painful Letter,” which is now considered lost. Given some of the newer thoughts (see Richards Paul and First-Century Letter Writing, among others) about the idea that the Pauline epistles we have come not from church-kept copies but instead from Paul’s personally-kept copies, this letter may be lost because Paul felt it should not be saved. Consider that: he may have wanted it gone forever.
3. I took a stab at the NASB headings above, but realize something: those are not Scripture and they are open to discussion. Sometimes they help with reading and finding places, but remember that artificial divisions can hurt our comprehension.