You will notice that he concludes this paragraph in 2 Corinthians 2:11 by saying, “So that we would not be outwitted by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes.” We might have heard this phrase before, “We are not ignorant of Satan’s schemes.” But have we explored what Satan’s schemes actually are? Satan is constantly at work against us as individuals and as a church. So we must look at what Paul says that Christians must watch out for because we know the schemes of Satan. What Paul will teach these Corinthians now is very important because he is reminding them of the foe they face.
Paul ended the last paragraph telling the Corinthians that it was his full intention to come see them. So why didn’t Paul come to them like he said he would? Paul says that he intended to come to them twice, which would have been a double blessing to them. But he did not do it. Paul says that he was not being duplicitous when he said he would come. Rather, Paul had a very important reason not to come. Open your copies of God’s word to 2 Corinthians 1:23 and we will look at what Paul says about the situation in Corinth and the great message God has for us in this portion of God’s word.
The Reason Paul Did Not Come (1:23-2:4)
Paul says that the reason Paul did not come see them like he said was not because he had a duplicitous heart. Rather, he did not come see them for their own benefit. In 2 Corinthians 1:23 he says that he did not come so that he would be able to spare them. He did not want to make another painful visit (2 Corinthians 2:1). Paul did not want to cause them pain because he may find these Christians not behaving as they ought to. Paul was like a father to them and to cause these Christians pain was to cause himself pain (2:2). So instead of visiting them, Paul determined to write a letter to them so that when he did come it would not have to be another painful visit (2:3-4). In this letter Paul says that he wrote to them out of his abundant love that he has for them. Paul’s joy was closely tied to their joy.
Now we need to consider that this is the path Paul took. I think we understand that Paul could have come to them or written them a letter, commanding them what to do and how to live because he is an apostle of Jesus Christ. Paul has apostolic authority. He just reminded them of this back in 1:21-22 as he tells these Christians that he and his companions were anointed and sealed with the Holy Spirit. That is why they could believe Paul’s words as faithful. But notice that Paul does not apply apostolic pressure. He does not use his authority. He does not say that he is in charge by the power of Jesus and so you have to do what he says. Why not? Listen to the reasoning behind why Paul acted the way he did toward these Corinthian Christians in 1:24.
Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith. (2 Corinthians 1:24 ESV)
Paul says that he is not ruling over them or using his authority to compel these Christians. Rather, he is working with them for their joy, not his own joy. Paul says that I am not trying to make you act as you ought, so he decided not to come to them for a painful visit. This is highly instructive for us. If Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, who possessed the authority of God, understood that he was not use his authority to lord it over the faith of these Christians or compel them, then we have much to learn for how we behave in the family of Christ.
I am disturbed at how often I am seeing in churches today the elders of the church or the preachers of the church think that they have some sort of authority to compel others. They see themselves as put in charge of the church and therefore can lord it over the congregation. I see elders who are not allowing people to take the Lord’s Supper on Sunday night because they think they have the authority to make such a decision. I see elders running the church like a corporation, where they are the CEOs whose decisions are final, and their decisions are not to be questioned or discussed. I see elders who tell preachers if they can preach, how long they can preach, how long worship services can be, how long prayers must be, and the like. I see preachers bullying Christians through fear or through the pulpit into submitting to their desires about how the church should be run. I see preachers running off other Christians because the Christian does not agree with him. I see preachers who think they are accountable to no one and can act however they like in the church. Peter specifically warned the elders against this kind of thinking and behavior.
So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:1–5 ESV)
How did Jesus exercise his authority? Did Jesus uses his authority by fear and bullying? No. Jesus showed his authority through his teachings and through his life example. The authority of the elders and preachers is to teach the message of Jesus and live an example of godliness. The elders oversee what is happening but not by domineering or lording it over others. I am so sorrowful to see how this concept is being lost in many churches. The elders work together with us for our joy (2 Corinthians 1:24). Preachers work together with us for our joy. The authority is to teach the word of God and live a godly example to the flock, not telling everyone what they can or cannot do. The elders and preachers are to work so that you will “stand firm in your faith” (1:24).
Friends, Paul is describing some of the schemes of Satan and one of those schemes is for us to turn the church into a corporation and the elders operate as if they have power and control. This is Jesus’ church and no one else’s church. We are all working together for God. The elders are helping us do what is right and stay on a spiritual course with Jesus. This is why we join a church and become members of one another, to help each other follow our Lord.
This is true if a church is without an eldership. No one is to take control and use fear, intimidation, or anything else to get their way in a congregational meeting. We are working together and may we never slip into an idea that someone has power, authority, or control in the Lord’s body. Not even Paul saw himself in that light and he was designated by Jesus himself to be his apostle. One of Satan’s schemes against us is to lose our humility toward one another and act as if we have power or authority to compel others. Notice that this is what Peter said in verse 5. All of you, young to the elders, clothe yourselves with humility. Satan’s scheme is pride in our hearts, not acting in humility toward one another.
Forgiving Others (2:5-11)
There is another scheme that Satan uses against us which Paul addresses in 2:5-11. Paul speaks of a person who had caused him pain. Some think that this person was the one who was in unrepentant sin in 1 Corinthians 5. However, it is unlikely that this is the same individual based on the descriptions we will see throughout this letter. It seems that this person Paul speaks of has been an ardent opponent of Paul and has caused problems in the church as he attacks the credentials and character of Paul. But Paul is not concerned about himself but the pain this person has caused these Christians (2:5). Rightfully, the church together, not just a few individuals or just the elders but the whole church together, has acted in accord with 1 Corinthians 5 against this person’s sin. The church took action but notice what it has accomplished. This individual has repented of his sin and returned to the church. It seems that Paul wrote to the church and told them what to do about this person and they have acted against this sin (2:9). Paul wrote to see if they would be obedient to what God has called them to do.
Please consider how important it is for us obey what Jesus and Paul taught regarding sin in Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5. We must address sin and try to bring about repentance. We cannot pretend that a person is not sinning because that does not show love for that person. We must be concerned for people’s eternal souls first and foremost. We must act in a way to show that sin is an offense to God and something that severs relationships. We cannot ignore sin. We cannot overlook sin. We cannot pretend that sin is not important or does not matter. We cannot let people remain in their sins. We are responsible for each other and must be watching out for each other. So if we see our brother or sister stumble, we first go to them to try to restore them (Matthew 18:15; Galatians 6:1).
Not only are we commanded to handle sin this way, we must see the benefit. Paul tells these Corinthians that he is joyful that these actions worked. Now the church must receive this person back. Listen to verse 7, “So you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.” This person has shown a godly sorrow that has led to repentance. What is the church to do when a person repents? Paul says that we must reaffirm our love for that person (2:8). Paul says that we are to comfort and forgive that person (2:7). This is to be our response. We have seen people who have turned their back on the Lord and fallen away from the faith. We have seen their sinful ways and they have not decided to repent and turn back to God. But if one of those people were to show godly sorrow that leads to repentance, our response must be to forgive, comfort, and love that person.
Notice that Paul says this is important because we do not want to be outwitted by Satan in regards to this. To withhold forgiveness toward the repentant plays into the hands of Satan. Our aim for those who sin is restoration, reconciliation, and reinstatement. Our aim is not discipline, grudges, or mistreatment. We must help and encourage each other because we are in such a fight against Satan. We are not here to run people off but to call people to repent and we will receive you with open arms, with love and comfort.
Friends, this is what the church is to look like: people who do not lord their faith over one another but are working together for your joy. We are to be a humble people who love one another in a way so that we are standing firm in the faith together. One of Satan’s schemes is to make us proud and arrogant against one another. We must always think properly about ourselves. We are servants one of another. I am not greater than you. The elders are not greater than you. You are not greater than the elders or me. Jesus is the chief shepherd and we are working together for faith. In working together for the faith, if we see someone straying or stumbling, we must out of love for that person’s soul bring it to the attention of that person. We cannot ignore sin because that is not love and not what God wants us to do. Overlooking sinful actions is not what we are to do. We must try to encourage repentance. When godly repentance is shown, we are called to comfort, forgive, and reaffirm our love for that person so that they are not taken away by Satan’s schemes. We want to show full restoration of that person so they can enjoy the forgiveness of God as seen through our actions. When someone comes back, we must be overjoyed and full of love for the person just as God is when one of his lost sheep returns (Luke 15).