Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians
The great issue of both the letters to the Corinthians was that of the testimony of the Church in the city of Corinth and in the world. When we read these letters, of course we become very much taken up with all the details: in the First Letter, with the miserable details; the many things that are being dealt with. It is, for the greater part, not a happy or pleasant letter to read: perhaps you have given it up many times before you have got to the end, nut understanding very much, and not liking a good deal more. But we need to stand back from it, and ask: What is it all about, after all? Let us not upset ourselves about all the details, for the moment; they all go to make up some one particular issue. What is the issue?
Well, as I have said, the issue of the letters to the Corinthians is the Lord's testimony in the Church, in the city and in the nations. Let us be clear about that. In the First Letter, there is, as you know, very much said about the world, and how the church in Corinth was failing to overpower the world, because the world had already overpowered it from the inside. The testimony was destroyed from within, and therefore there was no real impact upon the world. The natural, the carnal man had found his way into the church, and the church had therefore lost its testimony. It will always be like that. If anything of the natural man and the carnal man makes inroads, in any locality, into the church, that will be the end of the testimony in that church, and in that locality, and, so far as that company is concerned, in relation to the world. When the natural man comes in the testimony goes out.
Testimony Destroyed By Carnal Elements
In the First Letter, then, the whole question was one not merely of local conditions but of the local conditions destroying the testimony of the Church in the city. And therefore all those conditions had to be dealt with, had to be exposed, uncovered, and brought to the Cross of Christ. Of course, what we have in 1 Corinthians is satan's second great strategy toward paralyzing the Church's testimony. His first strategy, his first line with the Church, was open persecution, to try to destroy, to obliterate the Church's testimony in the city of Jerusalem and in the nation. As we know, it failed! But now satan comes back along a second line of strategy: that is, he insinuates, into the very ranks of the church, men according to his own mind - carnal elements - the natural man, the carnal man. They serve the devil's purpose so well; they effect the very thing he is after. When he finds he cannot succeed by open persecution, he comes around, as it were, to the back entrance, and introduces carnal and natural elements in by that door - and that has done it! The testimony goes out; it is destroyed.
But in between these two letters to the Corinthians, something happened. In chapter 7 of the Second Letter we read: "Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye were made sorry unto repentance; for ye were made sorry after a godly sort, that ye might suffer loss by us in nothing. For godly sorrow worketh repentance unto salvation, a repentance which bringeth no regret" (7:9, 10). The Apostle has a good deal to say about what had evidently taken place after his first letter. There was repentance, there was judging of themselves and of the conditions; there was, as he said, 'a clearing of themselves' (v. 11). There was a real distress and exercise about their condition, and this had taken place between the two letters. We may say that they had brought the situation to the Cross, and that had changed everything. And now that things had been dealt with on the inside, the whole matter of the testimony to the world, in the city, could be reconsidered, and a counter-attack could be made by the church upon the enemy.
So that is what is in this Second Letter - the recovery of the testimony in the locality and out to the world. It all brings out into very clear relief the constituents of effective testimony - or, to use Isaiah's figure, the shining forth of the light. Let us look at some of the things that Paul says about this.
The Value of Triumphant Love
"For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote unto you with many tears; not that ye should be made sorry, but that ye might know the love which I have more abundantly unto you" (2 Corinthians 2:4).
(continued with # 4)