Paul is continuing to explain the situation to the Corinthians - why he wrote to them instead of visiting like he said he would.
The Corinthians had been in sin, and rather than approach them in sorrow, he wrote them another letter - a severe letter- hoping to bring repentance.
He had to bring sorrow to them. He wasn't being overbearing and dominating. He was a loving pastor that wanted to see his sheep restored to a right relationship to one another and to God. He knew that,
2Cor. 7:10 ...the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret...
Paul decided it was better to write them - to let them hear the words of exhortation and rebuke. To chew on them, to pray about them, to consider them. Very often, people don't immediately receive the word God speaks to their hearts. And it's so difficult to be the one bringing that sorrowful word and not seeing immediate repentance. If Paul had been there, he would have been caused sorrow. But by writing them, and later hearing from Titus that they had received it, he was made joyful and glad.
I can relate to where Paul was at. Believe me when I say that it is so hard when God says, "Pastor, I want you to bring a severe word of exhortation and rebuke to the flock." "But Lord, I love them. I don't want to do it." "Do it BECAUSE you love them. I'm bringing it to them because I love them." No wonder Paul explains,
2Cor. 2:4 ...Out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears; not that you should be made sorrowful, but that you might know the love which I have especially for you.
It is difficult to bring exhortation and rebuke. As we go through the Word of God, very often we come to difficult passages that challenge the body of Christ to forsake evil in their lives. To bring them into discipleship and discipline. To give up the things of this world. They're not easy to bring to you. But as Paul told another young pastor, Pastor Timothy,
2Tim. 4:1-2 I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and}out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.
Difficult as it is, I hope that I never shrink from my responsibility to bring the Word of God to you - complete with reproof, rebuke, and exhortation. And I hope that I always will do with with great patience and instruction.
It almost seems as if Paul is speaking in riddles here, as his desire is "not to say too much" (v. 5). But remember that there had been a grossly immoral situation in the Corinthian church. A man was having an incestuous relationship with his stepmother. Paul had instructed them in 1Corinthians 5 how to deal with the matter.
1Cor. 5:1-5 It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father's wife. And you have become arrogant, and have not mourned instead, in order that the one who had done this deed might be removed from your midst. For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present. In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
Not being present to excommunicate the man himself, he wrote to them, "testing their obedience" as he says in verse 9.
Now, time has passed. Apparently, the disfellowshipping worked and the man repented of his sin. But should they leave him excommunicated? No. The whole point was the destruction of his flesh that his spirit might be saved. He had come to an end of his flesh. He had come to repentance. He had ceased from his sin. The Lord had forgiven him, and it was time for the church to forgive him too.
It is amazing how many people in the body of Christ are willing to exercise 1Cor 5, but are so hesitant to exercise 2Cor 2. When a person falls into sin, there we are at the exit saying, "Don't let the door hit you on your way out." But when that person is broken and humbled, genuinely repenting, where are those same people holding the door open saying, "Enter into this place of comfort?"
It has been said that Christians are the only army in the world who shoot their wounded. I have seen it first-hand. And, sad to say, I've been on both sides of that gun. But we have the classic example in Jesus Christ's dealings with Simon Peter.
When Jesus was arrested, Simon Peter was confronted. "You're one of His disciples, aren't you?" Peter denied even knowing who Jesus was. He forsook the Lord three times. But Jesus restored him. Brought him back into the fold. Loved him and showed him grace and mercy. Have we done the same? Or are we holding on to bitterness and unforgiveness?
1Pet. 4:8 Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.
So Paul says,
2Cor. 2:8 Wherefore I urge you to reaffirm your love for him.
Bring him back in, lest the devil take advantage of this little sheep whom the flock has rejected.
Paul said that in this situation either he, the man who sinned, or the church could have given the devil a foot hold. He said, "you forgive him, and I'll forgive him..."
2Cor. 2:11 in order that no advantage be taken of us by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his schemes.
Paul wasn't ignorant of the devil's schemes, but many of us are. I know we are because we continually fall for them. What are the devil's schemes? He really only has a few:
Gen. 3:1 ..."Indeed, has God said, 'You shall not eat from any tree of the garden'?"
"How unreasonable! How awful! How can God be good?"
Gen. 3:4-5 "You surely shall not die!"
Gen. 3:5 "For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God..."
1Chr. 21:1 ...Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel.
"Come on David, count them all! Look how big YOUR kingdom has gotten!"
Job 1:11 "...Touch all that he has; he will surely curse Thee to Thy face."
Today he is accusing you. Will you listen? Do you listen? God doesn't and God won't. If you are a Christian, then God won't accept charges of sin on your record. Don't be ignorant of the devil's schemes.
Remember that Paul had gone off in search of Titus, waiting to hear the answer of what the reaction to his severe letter was.
We need a little background to understand these verses. What Paul is doing is comparing the preaching of the gospel to a Roman Triumph.
The Roman Triumph was a great honorary parade given to the conquering commanders of war campaigns. It was an interesting procession, for the parade would include lots of pomp and circumstance, incense burning, treasures displayed, and captured prisoners being led.
Now, in a Roman Triumph, the prisoners were divided into two groups. Those in the front of the procession were the prisoners that would be released into the Roman society. Those in the back of the procession were the ones condemned to die in the arena or to simply be executed.
Think about the clouds of incense burning. To the first group, it was the smell of freedom, of life. But to the second group, that same incense, that same smell, was the aroma of death and destruction.
So Paul says in these verses that God always leads us in HIS triumph in Christ. Christ is the conquering hero, and that smell that brings life is the true knowledge of Him. And as we preach the gospel, spreading that smell around, for some, it is an aroma of life, and to others, an aroma of death.
Notice that there is no neutrality. There are only two groups: life and death. Believer and unbeliever. Saved and unsaved. Children of God and Children of the Devil. There is no middle ground when it comes to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus said,
Matt. 12:30 "He who is not with Me is against Me"
Two groups. You're in one of them. Which one?
Letters of recommendation are often required today as substantiation that you are the person you say you are. Employers want to read what your last boss has to say about you. They want to know if your friends respect you enough to give you a letter of recommendation (if in fact you have any friends at all!).
Those days were not much different. Many ministers carried letters of commendation to validate and verify that they were in fact ministers of God. That they had an effective ministry. Paul says, "I don't need those. I have living epistles, living letters. Your lives are my letters of commendation. Look at how so many of you have turned to Christ from idolatry.
If you were to have a job interview Monday, I'm sure that you could get a couple of letters of recommendation together. But I want you to ask yourself honestly this morning,
"If I had to show living letters as commendation of my ministering, could I do it?"
"If I was asked to prove my worth as a Christian, could I produce several people who's lives had been changed for the better because of my faithfulness to minister to them?"
"Could I produce someone that I'd led to Christ by telling them about the gospel?"
"Could I produce someone who's life was turned around 180 degrees because I was faithful to disciple them in the ways of God?"
"Could I produce someone whose life was changed because I was faithful to help them out with practical and financial needs?
"Could I produce a living epistle of Christ for anything I've done to minister Christ to others?"