Paul was having to defend himself from the charge of fickleness in this letter; because he had not yet come to the Corinthians as he had planned. Instead of coming, he had written a harsh letter to them (one that we do not have; written between 1 and 2 Corinthians), in the hopes of spurring them on to deal with a serious sin problem that they had tolerated (See 1 Corinthians 5:1-8). And now, in this morning's passage, Paul gives a fuller explanation for why he had not yet come.
In much of this letter, we see the apostle's loving, 'pastor's' heart toward his believing friends. But we see it particularly shine forth in this morning's passage. We see that he greatly valued the joy of his friends in the Lord; and saw himself as a fellow worker with them in that joy. We learn that we can be "fellow workers" with one another in our mutual joy in the Lord Jesus . . .
I. BY HELPING EACH OTHER STAND IN INDEPENDENT FAITH (1:23-24).
A. It's amazing how much of this portion involves Paul's clear explanation of his motives. He specifies them many times. Here, he explains that the reason he hadn't come to them—even though he said he would (see 1:15-18). He uses a strong affirmation of God's witness of his own heart, that he had made it his personal resolve not to come to them for a while (at least until they took care of things as they should), because he wanted to spare them yet another difficult visit that was filled with rebukes.
B. He felt that, if he came to them in necessary harshness and thus made them sorrowful, he would not be able to enjoy the benefit and blessing of their joyful fellowship. Paul wasn't simply overlooking sin. Rather, he was being strategic. He didn't want to cause them to feel that he had to have dominion over them; but rather, he wanted them to learn to stand in an "independently dependent" manner on their faith in Christ. Paul believed that there would be more joy in a fellowship with believers that were, themselves, 'independently dependent on the Lord' than with believers who were 'inappropriately dependent on him' to tell them what to do.
II. BY PROTECTING ONE ANOTHER'S WELL-BEING IN CHRIST (2:1-2).
A. He also determined that he would not come to them again with sorrow. His restraint in coming to them was not a half-hazard act; but was part of a carefully thought-out plan. He was intending to protect them from over-much sorrow. If they were overcome with sorrowful, then from whom could he expect joy in his trials but from those he had made sorrowful?
B. We need to be careful with one another; because how we treat each other now will show up in our relationship with one another later. We shouldn't overlook sin; but we should deal with sin with a view to our long-term love and fellowship. If we acted toward one another with a long-term expectation of joy in one another in view, we would treat each other much differently in the short-term today.
III. BY BEING LOVINGLY INVESTED IN ONE ANOTHER (2:3-4).
A. Not only does Paul explain why he hadn't come; but he also explains why he wrote the harsh letter he wrote to them. He wrote it so that he wouldn't have to make a harsh visit in person. It was a letter that he wrote with great emotional pain; but it was so that they could know the abundant love he had for them in the long run.
B. He was willing to do this—write the harsh letter, and refrain from a harsh visit—because he himself was invested in them. He didn't want sorrow from those from whom he ought to receive joy. And he had confidence in this; because his joy is there joy, and their joy is his joy (1 Thess. 2:19-20). What a fellowship we would enjoy if we saw each other that way!
IV. BY SHARING IN ONE ANOTHER'S TRIALS (2:5).
A. This is a difficult portion to translate. But It seems that Paul is pointing back to the incident of the sinful man that had to be rebuked. It caused a great deal of tension within the fellowship.
B. But Paul didn't feel the pain of it from a distance. It wasn't merely "his problem". It was a grief not only to him, but—to some extent—to them all. Joy is brought about in the long term when we see each other's trials as our own. Look at 2 Corinthians 7:9-12; and see how Paul rejoiced over their repentant sorrow over sin! He's like a father who paddled his child; but said, "I did this because I love you."
V. BY EMPHASIZING MERCY TOWARD ONE ANOTHER (2:6-7).
A. Not everyone agreed with the discipline that as brought upon the sinning man. It was a punishment inflicted by the majority—and some did not participate in it. But Paul writes to warn that the punishment was sufficient. Once repentance occurs, it's time to stop.
B. Paul therefore emphasized the need now to, on the contrary, forgive and comfort the man. It would not bring joy to the fellowship if the man were overcome by sorrow; and if the church became characterized by unnecessary harshness.
VI. BY REAFFIRMING LOVE TO THOSE WHO HAVE REPENTED (2:8-9).
A. Sometimes, pendulum's swing too far. People can become so offended and resentful toward a sinning member of the body that they forget the goal. It was time now actually affirm the broken and repentant sinner in love. The goal is restoration.
B. Paul explains that he wrote—rather than coming—in order to test and see if they would be obedient to him in this. There is great joy in heaven over a sinner that repents; and there should likewise be the same in the church. We help this joy along when we affirm our love toward the repentant brother or sister.
VII. BY NOT GIVING THE DEVIL AN OPPORTUNITY THOURGH BITTERNESS (2:10-11).
A. It's very dangerous for a root of bitterness to be allowed to take root in the church (Hebrews 12:15); and if the devil can't get us to tolerate sin, he'll tempt us to be intolerant toward those we should love. We need to be aware of his tricks.
B. Paul, therefore, urges that joy in the fellowship is advanced when we recognize the devil's tactics in this, and be ready to overthrow his tricks by forgiving and loving one another. Paul—the one who originally called them to rebuke this sinful man—now endorses the forgiveness by himself announcing his forgiveness of the man at his repentance.