With good reason, Paul is well known as one of Christianity’s preeminent theologians. His letters, indeed, are full of intricate theological discussions and magisterial presentations of the work of Christ and the means by which we appropriate salvation. Because of this, it may be easy to overlook the Apostle’s pastoral heart. If we read his letters carefully, however, his love for the congregations to which he wrote shines through.
Second Corinthians 7:2–4 reveals to us Paul’s great love for the Corinthian church. In 6:14–7:1, the Apostle issued a strong call for the Christians in Corinth to separate themselves from partnerships with unbelievers in their sins, especially the sins of sexual immorality and idolatry. No doubt, many of the Corinthians who were engaged in these transgressions would have thought Paul was writing merely to condemn them. Elders, pastors, and even lay Christians often find people responding to warnings to flee from sin as if those who are issuing the warnings are out merely to judge them or to set themselves up as better than those being warned. Yet, when we are motivated to utter these warnings out of love for people and a desire to see them turn from sin, we are not acting from a spirit of condemnation, even if our words may be harsh at times. The same was true of Paul. As he says in today’s passage, he did not write to the Corinthians to condemn them (7:3).
Writing out of tender compassion for his readers, Paul appeals to them to make room in their hearts for him and for his coworkers. He assures them that he has not wronged, corrupted, or taken advantage of them (v. 2). These statements probably respond to various charges from the false apostles against Paul, so he wants to make clear that the accusations made against him are baseless and that the Corinthians should have no hesitation in returning to full affection toward him.
In 7:4, Paul notes his joy, pride, and comfort with respect to the Corinthians. More reform was necessary in Corinth, but the Apostle could see that progress had been made. We have seen, for instance, that they had come around to recognizing that the man who opposed Paul during his “painful visit” needed to be disciplined by the church (2 Cor. 2:1–11). This ability to discern spiritual growth also shows us Paul’s pastoral abilities. Noting where spiritual maturity has increased encourages people to press on to greater maturity.