Summary: When some people in the church at Corinth accused Paul, he built his defense on the Christlike character by which they knew him. The people who know us best know our character.
In our studies in 1 Corinthians, we saw that Paul had been pretty tough on the Christians in Corinth about their need to correct a lot that was wrong in the church. This included theological error, selfishness, their relationships with God and with each other, and even problems with chaos in their meetings and gluttony and drunkenness at their fellowship meals.
Last week, we discussed the overall direction of the book of 2 Corinthians, in which Paul expresses his pleasure that many of the problems in Corinth were taken care of because of his instructions to them. His opening paragraphs also deal with assurances of comfort and care from God amid the sufferings of Christians and the church. He assures them that God cares for them and comforts them directly and through other Christians who also have suffered.
In our passage today, Paul deals with a lingering problem in the relationship between him and the Corinthian church. While they had made great changes and had heeded Paul’s advice and instruction, there was some lingering doubt or resentment by some in Corinth against Paul. The resentment surfaced in the reaction of those people to Paul’s change in his travel plans. He also gives advice about forgiving a member who had been disciplined by the church and who now was repentant.
From the tone of the entire letter, it is obvious that the church by and large had taken Paul’s instruction to heart and had experienced the positive changes that resulted. They were in general grateful Paul had been so frank with them, because the church had progressed from its bickering and chaos to more Christlikeness.
But there was still some unrest among some of the people. This is a human reaction. Nowhere in the text does Paul tell us who, but we can surmise that there were still some hurt feelings among some of the people, perhaps the some of the leaders of the bickering factions who harbored some hurt or resentful feelings because Paul had so shown them so clearly that they were in error.
Human pride and hurt are hard to deal with, as everyone has experienced. When I have been wrong about something and have been corrected, I may fully accept the correction, but I still may feel embarrassed or somewhat uncomfortable about what I had said or done. Our human side looks for ways to feel better about our words and actions, because we know the people around us remember them, and we often feel they are still judging us because of them.
Paul’s change of travel plans evidently gave some people in the church an excuse to criticize and accuse Paul. In their human reaction to the correction they had received from Paul, some members wanted to use his change of travel plans to criticize Paul and thus have some measure of self-justification. Evidently, they were critical of Paul for not following through on his earlier travel plans, and said Paul had not been honest or forthright with them. Remember, it has been only a few months since they received his first scolding letter. I imagine there were still some hurt feelings, some measure of resentment, and some who still harbored defiance or hard feelings.
Here is the problem. Paul had first told them he planned to leave Ephesus, travel to Macedonia, then Corinth, and then on to Jerusalem, taking with him the contributions from the churches to the Christians in Judea. After writing his first letter to the Corinthians, however, he changed his plan, telling them that he would come to Corinth first when he left Ephesus, go from there to Macedonia, and then return for a second visit to Corinth before going on to Jerusalem. His actual itinerary, however, had him leaving Ephesus and traveling to Corinth for a short visit (Paul calls this a painful visit; see 2 Cor 2:1), and then returning to Ephesus, proceeding to Troas (2:12), and then to Macedonia, from where he wrote 2 Corinthians (7:5). He did not plan to make a second visit to Corinth.
Remember that it could take weeks to communicate over distances in the first century. There was no government mail service, no telephones, no email. The Corinthian church had one expectation, and when Paul changed his plans, there was no way to quickly communicate the change to Corinth.
The change in plans prompted the accusation from some of the people in the Corinthian church that Paul had not been honest with them. They were relying on him to follow through with the itinerary he had given them, and they seemed to dislike and even resent the change. It doesn’t take much imagination to guess that some may have voiced the opinion that Paul had intended all along not to do what he said he would do, and that he was therefore dishonest and deceptive with the church.