Paul’s Sorrow for Corinth – 2 Corinthians 7:5–9

After sending the tearful letter with Titus, Paul planned to meet with Titus in Troas for a report. When this meeting did not happen, Paul grew concerned the Corinthian church was upset with him. Titus was a Greek co-worker of Paul mentioned in several letters, including a short letter written to him while he was working with churches in Crete. Titus is a long-time co-worker, since Paul had taken Titus to Jerusalem before Acts 15 to show that God was working among the Gentiles (Gal 2:3).

Image result for apostle Paul weepingPaul said in 2 Corinthians 1:8-11 he was in “deadly peril in Asia,” probably indicating a time of suffering in Ephesus. This may have included an arrest although it is not mentioned directly in Acts, Philippians may imply Paul was arrested and placed in custody in Ephesus. In 1 Corinthians 15:32 he refers to “fighting the wild beasts in Ephesus,” which could refer to literal animals, or vicious opponents who behaved like animals. Paul listed many afflictions described in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9, and perhaps even his “thorn in the flesh” (12:7) is in mind here.

“Fightings without and fears within” implies he had considerable internal fear concerning this persecution or even the success of his mission in Ephesus and later in Troas. Why world Paul be afraid? “It probably seemed to Paul that from the human point of view his whole future as apostle to the Gentiles was related to the Corinthians’ reaction to his assertion of authority in the letter delivered by Titus. And now the non-arrival of Titus tended to confirm his worst fears.” (Garland, 351, citing Harris).

Paul’s missed connection with Titus may have aroused fears for Titus’s own safety, since many thing could have happened to him when he traveled to Troas. This tends to be human nature, if someone is very late arriving we tend to create a worst case scenario and worry about that (perhaps unlikely) possibility.

Another aspect of this fear may have been a result of the attacks he faced in Corinth. What if his opponents convinced the church to reject Paul as an apostle and no longer listen to him as the Lord’s appointed representative? The very fact he is being challenged by someone in the congregation was humiliating to him personally, he has lost honor and been humbled by his challengers in the church.

Titus was not sent to the church to attack them or forcibly get them back in line with Paul’s orders. He was sent to deal with a serious spiritual challenge, there was real sin in the church that needed to be confronted and excised from the congregation. Paul is not like a medieval bishop who imposes an unwelcome order on a fearful congregation!

Paul describes his time of uncertainty as “mourning,” but the news from Titus was a cause for rejoicing. The church was not upset from the tearful letter, they were in fact comforted, Titus was comforted by their response, and finally Paul himself was comforted by the news from the church. This church was on grief over the letter, but the grief is “contrition over their past behavior or a sense of loss from Paul’s decision to continue to stay clear of Corinth” (Garland, 353).

In summary, the “tearful letter” was a necessary thing, but now that they have responded positively, Paul apologizes for the pain he caused the church. Paul was confident the church world respond to his tearful letter, even if there was come fear it might cause them pain. But not all grief and pain is bad, in fact godly grief produces a great deal of positive virtues. If Paul had upset them with his strong challenge, that pain is a positive benefit if they are reconciled to him.


18 thoughts on “Paul’s Sorrow for Corinth – 2 Corinthians 7:5–9

  1. As mentioned, it is hard to know the tone of Paul’s words in this chapter of second Corinthians. I believe that Paul wrote the beginning chapters of second Corinthians in hope, fear, and concern for the church in Corinth. Paul sent this letter “with hopes of restoring his relationship with them, after which he would return to them again (2:3)” (p.143). Paul wrote this letter through tears and out of distress and anguish (2:4). There were opponents in Corinth who were undermining Paul’s preaching of the gospel. These “super apostles” were inferior to Paul and caused the believers in Corinth to question Paul’s teaching. Paul identified the “super apostles” as a main source of conflict in Corinth because they claimed to be experts on the Jewish Bible, to have more knowledge about Jesus, and to be more dedicated to God’s word (11). Perhaps the fear that Paul was feeling can be contributed to these “super apostles” and his concern for the Corinthians to be led astray from Jesus’ word once more.

  2. Paul seems to understand that, just as a parent with a child, there are times when we have to be harsh with the people we love. Better to be harsh and apologize once everyone is safe than to worry about how people will be offended and risk someone dying (spiritually speaking in this instance). Paul certainly feels bad for causing grief, but he realizes it was for the greater good. 2 Corinthians 7:10 says, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” He is “emphasizing his great pleasure that this period of difficulty is behind them and that they have been reconciled to each other in a relationship of harmony” (TTP 156).

  3. I think anyone in Paul’s situation would be filled with fear. Nobody wants to call someone out when they are doing wrong, but like Moses said we have to be harsh in order for people to understand the love of that person and that we want what is best for them. I think it is interesting that he calls the time of uncertainty mourning because I would have not thought of it that way. I do think the time of not understanding is a time to be sad, but also a time to allow God to work through your unknowns. Paul understood that he could not know everything unless he followed what path God had for him. He had to walk each step in order for God to reveal what that meant. He was comforted by the idea that he may not know what is supposed to happen right now,but in time God will share that. “Paul exudes confidence that the corporate and individual lives of Jesus-followers are subject to the transformation that results whenever God is encountered ‘in the name of the Lord Jesus-Christ’ (1 Cor 6:11) by means of ‘the spirit who searches all things, even the deep things of God’ (1 Cor 2:10) (Longenecker 135).

  4. Often, when individuals are graced with various troubles in their lives, they tend to either fight or flight. The flight or fight theory expresses that it is common for people in conflict to either completely stand up to the problem [at times through aggression] or quickly run away. After reading all the realities which could have caused Paul to be fearful, it is a surprise that he continued to complete the tasks in front of him. Though he admitted that fear did consume his mind, Paul never ran away. Interestingly enough, he also did not seem to confront the problems [church of Corinth] in an aggressive, non-productive way. A great amount of maturity could be learned from Paul—having the ability to express ones’ feelings, while not allowing them to dictate anything. With this mentality, there is no room for simply dealing with your problems but rather making the best out of them. After understanding that he could have easily caused the church pain, Paul apologized and then continued on, saying “I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while — yet now I am happy…because your sorrow led you to repentance” (2 Cor 7:8-9). He knew that he was not challenging the church out of spite but rather love.

  5. Paul really did know just what to say. I am not one to be confrontational, for Paul to have the courage to tell them what was what is impressive. I think that in ministry or our jobs, it is easy to want to be the “nice guy.” You want everyone to come to you in their times of need, not feel afraid to come talk to you. There is a delicate line between constructive criticism and purposefully hurting people. I think that Paul had the right balance. He wanted them to hear the message loud and clear. “From this, Paul makes a transition to recount his ongoing relationship with the Corinthian Christ-followers, emphasizing his great pleasure that the period of difficulty is behind them and that they have been reconciled to each other in a relationship of harmony,” (TTP 156). That is what is so tremendous about this relationship. That even with the harsh words, they still remained faithful friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, who understood there need to be a change. It is really incredible to see how God worked through Paul.

  6. I think it’s important to note that sorrow isn’t always a bad thing, and that it is sometimes willed by God. It’s sort of like reaffirming a moral compass, and God shows the direction. Paul was fueled by his sorrow and guilt enough to reach back out, and Longenecker confirms to us that it ended up being a blessing in the end, as far as Paul and the church of Corinth goes. I imagine it was very heartbreaking for Paul to call out a community he loved, but sometimes that feeling in our gut is from God himself.

  7. Paul took a big step out of trust in the Lord to speak to the Corinthians in the way that he did. 2 Corinthians 3:12 says, “Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold” (NIV 2 Corinthians 3:12). Paul also moved around a lot and I think had anxiety at times, but I think that he learned a lot of life lessons, such as perseverance. God gives us the grace in each season to fulfill what He has called us to do. If it weren’t for God’s strength and grace in Paul’s life, everything would’ve gone very bad. Even if Paul was hanging by a thread, he still pushed through in his ministry.

  8. In our culture, we see bad things that happen and suffering as a bad thing. The saying, “why do bad things happen to good people” is one that I am not fond of. Those bad things are what make us as people grow and learn. People generally learn better through failure than they do through always succeeding. If they were to only succeed in things then they would go through life thinking they were perfect and then when something bad did actually happen they would not know how to deal with it. They would never fear God because their life was perfect and they have so much good going for them. No, people do not need to get punished if their lives are going well but most people to not learn to lean on God until they are at the lowest of lows. Those who have goon through “hell and back” are often the people who love and are the most God-fearing people. They know how horrible life can be so they in turn know they cannot do life by themselves. Paul thought he was high and mighty before his Damascus road incident and at that time he was humble by God. In the following years Paul was injured and beaten due to his love of God but after each time his faith grew stronger as he knew God would always get him through those hard times. We need to then be there for those who are going through a rough time in life as we can learn from other’s. “Paul describes his time of uncertainty as “mourning,” but the news from Titus was a cause for rejoicing. The church was not upset from the tearful letter, they were in fact comforted, Titus was comforted by their response, and finally Paul himself was comforted by the news from the church” (P. Long). We in no way can judge how others are acting as we do not the struggles that they are dealing with. Sometimes we need people to check us in our wrong doings and in how we are dealing with some things. As Paul did for those of Corinth he made sure that they were walking in the light of God.

  9. Despite the circumstances that happened to Paul and the Corinthians, Paul was actually happy that he sent that letter of correction. Paul said, “Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner.” (2 Corinth. 7:9). This letter made the Corinthian believers want to repent, not because they were simply sorry but because they knew they had broken the heart of God and wanted to make it right with Him. Paul later says, “But the sorrow of the world produces death” (2 Corinth. 7:10). It is interesting that Paul differentiates between Godly sorrow and worldly sorrow. The latter deals with how it affects us and our reputation, the second is how it hurts your lover’s heart and you are willing to change your heart and mind in how you view things. This was the Challenge in the Corinthian church. They had so many privileges and conflict between the culture of the Kingdom and their very own culture.

    Think Through Paul states, “The new creation that Paul’s ministry enhances is magnificent, with the sinfulness that runs rampant throughout God’s world being replaced by the righteousness of God.” (TTP 156)

    We can certainly say that the Corinthians went through a massive paradigm shift in how they saw their culture and God’s. They were beginning to grasp how they were new creations in Christ after Pauls initial letter.

  10. The stress and worry that Paul faced with the Corinthian church must have given him a few ulcers. The Corinthian church was rebelling strongly against Paul and his teachings. The church had begun to follow the lead of some false teachers in Paul’s absence. Paul had to begin to fight to regain the trust of the Church back in 2 Corinthians, and “Paul knew their obedience would not be won easily” (Longenecker, 144). On top of all of this, Paul’s travel plans had been side tracked (2 Corinthians 1:15-16) and he was facing great persecution (1:8). Paul was facing many burdens at this time, worrying if he beloved brothers and sisters were still turning to false teachers and could have shoved Paul out of their lives. However, when Titus and Paul finally reconnect, the report from the Corinthian church is opposite of Paul’s worst fears. The church had been excelling in everything (2 Corinthians 8:7). This has allowed Paul to rejoice, and I imagine take a huge burden off of his plate. The fact that Paul wrote such powerful words to the church in Corinth upon multiple occasions show the amount of love that Paul showed for this congregation. This is the Bible’s equivalent of a take-me-back-after-you-have-dumped-me phone call. Through the Lord’s grace, the Corinthians made peace with Paul and returned to righteous ways.

  11. Paul had numerous concerns when working with the Corinth church. But one issue that came about during his time in the region was the relationship with the churches. As stated by 2 Corinthians 7: 2-4, Paul expresses his encouragement and optimism about the people and the Corinth church (NIV). In essence, Paul is using this moment to showcase the progress of the church, and knowing where their foundational values lie. At the same time, it is clear that Paul wants the best, and is beyond thankful that his plea with the people of Corinth put them back on track. According to Longenecker, he asserts that the letter was meant to serve a specific purpose for the church (Longenecker, p. 144). When it comes down to it, Paul wanted the church to be honest with their selves, and understand their past sins. Moreover, he wants the members of the church of Corinth to use the letter as a moment of reflection, hopefully returning to the Lord. Ultimately, the message from Paul is meant to change the culture that was going on during the time period. At the end of the day, the report used by Paul demonstrates that they were seeking to see the Holy Spirit work through them.

  12. Although Paul was worrying about the Corinthians and what he was communicating to them, but in the end he was joyful as everything came together. Paul had to wait for Titus to deliver the letter, which caused him some stress. Paul said that God comforted him by bringing Titus (2 Cor. 7:6-7). Paul’s painful letter caused the Church to grieve, but when Titus comforted Paul by coming back to him and comforted the Corinthians for Paul, allowed the relationship between Paul and the Corinthians to be restored. “emphasizing his great pleasure that the period of of difficulty is behind them and that they have reconciled to each other in a relationship of Harmony (TTP, p.156). Though Paul;s letter grieved the Church, he was rejoicing because they were grieved into repentance (2 Cor 7:9), and godly repentance that leads to salvation (2 Cor. 7:10). That is what caused Paul to rejoice that the Corinthian Church turned to God and away from their sin through his hard letter to them.

  13. Paul’s relationship with the Corinthian believers is certainly an interesting one. This is one of the churches that Paul ministered to for a considerable amount of time (Acts 18:11). Because of this time together, Paul has developed a love for the Corinthian believers (2 Cor. 7:3). It is therefore, so much harder for Paul that the Corinthian believers are still struggling to mature in their faith and may even be questioning Paul’s authenticity or authority due to personal attacks on Paul (2 Cor. 2:5-11; 7:12). This is part of the reason why Longenecker says that, “it is in 2 Corinthians that we see Paul at his most vulnerable” (p. 141).

    I wonder if that all of these issues that lead Paul to write his “tearful letter” caused him to fear that perhaps his whole ministry could come crashing down. Regardless of his getting some acceptance with some prominent Christians back in Jerusalem, there still was plenty of opposition to Paul’s message. If this opposition combined with the struggles in Corinth caused many in that body of believers to break away from Paul, would believers in other cities that Paul ministered to break away as well due to Corinth’s prominence? This is probably a little farfetched, but it is a scary thing that years of work and toil could all be undone. When Paul met Titus with his great news, however, Paul surely was very comforted (2 Cor. 7:6).

  14. Writing short paper #2 helped me understand Pauls grieving much better. Knowing that the letter to Corinth was one of the youngest churches to receives instructions about Jesus, it makes sense for the Corinthians to have trouble understanding and even believing what they are hearing.
    This is the very reason Paul struggled and feared during this time.
    Paul was called to be an apostle. Paul wouldn’t be doing anything of this ministry if he didn’t love them. So once Paul heard from Chloe’s people that there is some push back on Paul’s authority. Longenecker explains Paul’s relationship with the Corinthians and states that “Chloe’s people and Stephanas and his entourage bring reports and questions to Paul in Ephesus (Longenecker 150).” these questions and concerns addressed how people felt about his authority to bring such news and direction for people who believe in Jesus. This is what would bring sorrow to Paul. Paul loves them deeply and wants the best for them yet they aren’t participating how he wished it would go. This in return frustrated Paul. This is only one of the main reasons for Paul’s sorrow. The corinthians were a young church, therefore they fell into old pagan habits as in choosing who they want to follow.

  15. Corinthians, this situation was painful for all involved. It was hard on the church, I imagine causing division. Titus probably was pained by his role of acting as a mediator. Paul was pained that someone in the congregation was challenging him. This situation reminds me of when parents who are disciplining their children tell them “this hurts me more than it hurts you.” That statement always seems untrue and hurtful when the parents say it. But Paul’s tearful letter expressed to the Corinthian church how much the situation pained him. Paul has a very natural reaction to assume the worst when he does not find Titus. I know I do this same thing many times. In painful situations, I often jump to the worst possible conclusion. I assume that anything that could go wrong is going wrong. I do this as kind of a security measure though, because I have found that if I assume the worst, I can never be disappointed. Either the worst that I expected happens, this is not common though, or things turn out better than I had expected because the worst did not happen. I cannot make assumptions because I do not know Paul personally, but Paul certainly suffers from human nature as well and jumped to the worst case scenario. I think especially though, after Paul being in “deadly peril in Asia” Paul’s failure to make contact with Titus brought about legitimate concerns for safety and health. Also, because of the strain on his relationship with the Corinthians, and sending Titus as a go between, Paul may have feared that the Corinthians were detaining Titus and that he was in danger. When Paul does make contact with Titus, he is able to rejoice, because he is able to be on the road to reconciliation with the Corinthians.

  16. This is a confusing verse without reading the ESVSB notes. I understood that Paul was going to another place, sending Titus to go to Corinth with his letters. However, when Titus saw what was happening: what the people were doing, he went back to Paul to tell him what was happening in which then, Paul wrote this sorrowful letter to them. Am I off on something? Did anything change? I know that they apologized to Paul, and he apologized to them so they could be reconciled with each other but did that change anything?

  17. Your exploration of Paul’s perceived danger in Asia, potentially including arrest and suffering in Ephesus, adds depth to the understanding of the challenges he faced. The metaphor reference to “fighting the wild beasts in Ephesus” sparks curiosity and opens a way for interpretation, whether symbolic of literal threats or the fierce opposition encountered during his mission. The fear resonating from “fightings without and fears within” sheds light on the internal struggles Paul endured, especially concerning the Corinthians’ reaction to his assertive authority. The potential rejection and challenges to his apostleship within the Corinthian church are presented highlighting the personal toll on Paul.

    Your comparison of Paul’s approach to that of a medieval bishop is thought provoking. The distinction between Titus being sent to address spiritual challenges rather than imposing unwelcome orders aligns with Paul’s commitment to fostering genuine spiritual growth within the congregation. This perspective adds depth to the understanding of Paul’s leadership style. The emphasis on Titus addressing real sin in the church as opposed to other measures resonates with the principles of humility and redemption. Paul’s experience of “mourning” during the period of uncertainty, contrasted with the eventual rejoicing upon receiving positive news from Titus, highlights the emotional rollercoaster involved in pastoral care and leadership. The acknowledgment that the “tearful letter” was a necessary step, with the positive response from the Corinthians, demonstrates the redemptive power of godly grief.

Leave a Reply