2 Corinthians and Reconciliation

2 Corinthians 5:20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.

The members of the church are Paul’s co-workers in a “ministry of reconciliation.”  If by “ministry of reconciliation” Paul refers to his missionary efforts, he is therefore including the church in those efforts.

If Paul and the church are not reconciled, then how can they be partners in the ministry of reconciliation? Paul’s appeal in these texts is that he is speaking on behalf of God when he says that the church ought to be reconciled with him.  To some extent reconciliation can occur because the church has dealt with a major problem that was a barrier to the improvement of the relationship between Paul and Corinth (2 Cor 2:6-11).

The issue at Corinth was not a doctrinal problem or a theological dispute, it appears rather than an individual in the church has attacked Paul personally. The double reference in 7:12  “to wrong,” “to treat unjustly,” “to injure”  shows that the issue was a disaffection between fellow Christians.

  • The problems stem from a single individual as the primary reason for the disagreement (2:5, 6, 7, 8, 10; 7:12 all speak of a specific person, most clearly in the last 7:12).
  • The problem was serious enough that Paul changed his travel plans and instead wrote the “tearful letter” (1:23; 2:1, 3, 4; 7:8).
  • The attitude of  this one individual’s opposition to Paul was so serious that it poisoned the life of the entire church (2:5).

Who is this person that opposed Paul so strongly and was put out of the church? The key term here is adikasas in 2 Cor 2, “one who was wrong.”   Most commonly, the man is identified as the incestuous man from 1 Corinthians 5.  In 2:9 and 7:12 Paul refers to the fact that he has already written to the church about the man, and we know from 1 Cor that Paul did in fact recommend that the man be expelled from the congregation.  There is a connection between 1 Cor 5 (hand him over to Satan) and this passage, and it is very appealing to read this as saying that the incestuous man repented and returned to the church a changed man.

A second set of suggestions focus on the situation in chapter 6 of 1 Cor, where people are suing one another in the courts over internal “family” matters.  It may be that an individual has come into the church and disagreed with Paul so strongly that he entered the courts and tried to overturn Paul’s “rulings” that we find in 1 Corinthians.

Perhaps there is a public attack on Paul’s ministry and authority in the background here, so severe that Paul must break off travel plans to the church.  There is some speculation that the attack took place in front of Timothy or Titus, or even that Titus was the object of the attack. Whatever the attack was, it is interpreted by Paul as “an act of flagrant disobedience and revolt.” (C. K. Barrett) This could include the party within the church that supported the incestuous man, or simply an attack on Paul’s authority as an apostle.

Because the church has dealt with the problem, Paul feels that at least one hindrance to reconciliation is out of the way, he can return to Corinth now that the insult to him has been removed from the congregation.