Notice in 2 Cor 2:1-16 the balance of:
Sorrow and joy – 2 Cor 2:1-3 – when Paul wrote to the Corinthians about what to do with the fornicator in 1 Cor 5, he was “in heaviness.” He didn’t want to come to them in heaviness [v.1]; rather, he wanted them to get this thing right in the church. In order to get them to straighten out this problem, Paul had to make them sorry, first [v.2]. Then, if they followed what he told them to do, they would make him glad [v.2]. If they didn’t follow what he told them to do, then he would “have sorrow from them of whom I ought to rejoice,” [v.3]. Paul’s confidence was that they would find the same joy in getting this problem solved as he would have. Thus he said, “having confidence in you all, that my joy is the joy of you all.” There is definitely a balance of sorrow and joy in the ministry. You go through sorrow in dealing with sin in the church; and you rejoice when you get the problem behind you. Often people don’t realize the joy they’ll have if they’ll just endure the sorrow to address it, biblically.
Anguish and love – 2 Cor 2:4-5 – In case the Corinthians doubted Paul’s motive for dealing so harshly with them and the fornicator, he told them that he wrote “out of much affliction and anguish of heart,” [v.4]. He didn’t tell them so that they “should be grieved,” but that they “might know the love” that he had for them. He also wanted them to know that, though he was grieved [Heb 13:17], he was only grieved “in part.” He didn’t want to “overcharge” them [v.5]. That is, he didn’t want to lay too much of a guilt trip on them. There is definitely a balance of anguish and love in the ministry. You are so grieved when you see God’s children messed up by sin; yet you love them so much, you want to do all you can to help them, even if you have to rough them up. Often people never realize the extent of the anguish you feel or the love you have for them.
Punishment and forgiveness – 2 Cor 2:6-11 – The Corinthians had to punish the fornicator by getting him out of the church and breaking off fellowship with him [1 Cor 5:5-11]. However, when this fellow got “right with God,” his punishment was “sufficient,” [v.6]. It was time to “forgive him” and “comfort him,” [v.7]. Otherwise, he might “be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow.” So, Paul told them to “confirm your love toward him,” [v.8]. Parents don’t quit loving their kids when they get caught up in sin; neither should we quit loving a brother who has detoured into sin. Paul wrote to them to prove whether they were “obedient in all things,” [v.9]. That is, would they first punish the fornicator and deliver him to Satan; and then would they forgive him and take him back if and when he quit the sin.
They forgave him. Paul said, basically, “If you forgive him, I forgive him.” And this forgiveness was not only from the congregation, but it was also “in the person of Christ,” [v.10]. This is probably the best example of Jn 20:23 in the Bible. They had punished him “in the name of” and “by the power of” Jesus Christ [1 Cor 5:3-4], and they forgave him “in the person of Christ.” We are to forgive because God has forgiven us [Eph 4:30-32]. Otherwise, Satan will “get an advantage of us,” [v.11]. Paul said, “we are not ignorant of his devices.” He is “as a roaring lion (who) walketh about, seeking whom he may devour,” [1 Pet 5:8]. When you don’t forgive, you “give place to the devil” to attack [Eph 4:27]. The Bible is clear on this [Gal 6:1], even when the problem is a fault and not a sin. There is definitely a balance of punishment and forgiveness in the ministry. It takes both.
Desire and direction – 2 Cor 2:12-13 – to understand this passage, we must refer to Acts 16:6-12. Paul was traveling with Silas [Acts 15:40] and Timothy [Acts 16:1-3]. They traveled west from Phrygia to Mysia and desired to turn east into Bithynia, but the Spirit forbad them. So they went “to Troas to preach Christ’s gospel,” [v.12]. While there, Paul expected to find Titus, and had “no rest in (his) spirit,” [v.13] because he didn’t find him. However, instead of staying there to preach until he found him, which is what he desired to do, he left and went through the “door that was opened unto (him) of the Lord,” [v.12; Acts 16:9-10] in Macedonia [v.13]. There is definitely a balance of desire and direction in the ministry. Like Solomon said in Prov 16:9, “A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps.” Your desire will often take you to the place from where the Lord will direct you further. At that place, you must follow the Lord’s direction rather than your desire.
The savour of death and the savour of life – 2 Cor 2:14-17 – we can understand this passage a little better, in the context of Paul’s visit to Philippi in Macedonia. Paul triumphed “in Christ” [v.14] in Philippi, as he always did. The magistrates had beaten Paul and Silas and jailed them based on the false accusations of the damsel’s masters [Acts 16:16-24]. Yet, the Lord caused an earthquake that opened the prison and loosed their bonds [Acts 16:25-26]. Because of this miracle, the jailer and his house were saved that night [Acts 16:30-34]. The next day, Paul and Silas were released from jail [Acts 16:35-40]. Paul triumphed, once again.
Paul said, “God… maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place,” [v.14]. “For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ,” [v.15, Eph 5:2]. To “them that perish,” “we are the savour of death unto death,” [v.16]. That’s how Paul and Silas appeared to the masters and magistrates in Philippi [Acts 16:19, 22]. Like Solomon said, “He that is upright in the way is abomination to the wicked,” [Prov 29:27]. To “them that are saved,” “we are the savour of life unto life,” [v.16]. That’s how Paul and Silas appeared to the saved jailer [Acts 16:33-36] and to Lydia [Acts 16:14-15, 40] in Philippi.
There is definitely a balance of being a savour of death and a savour of life in the ministry. When you stand for and preach the truth, some men are going to love you for it and some men are going to hate you for it. Like Jesus said, “Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! For so did their fathers to the false prophets,” [Lk 6:26]. The temptation will be to change the word of God to make it more palatable. But, Paul was not that kind of preacher. That’s why he said, “For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ,” [v.17]. Paul never corrupted the word of God so that he could somehow become a sweet savour to them that perish. And neither shall we.
Conclusion: we must maintain balance in the ministry. You’ll have to take some people though sorrow before they can find joy. You’ll love them but they will cause you anguish; it’s just part of the ministry. You’ll have to punish some. But when they get right, you’ll want to readily forgive them. You must balance your desire with God’s direction, recognizing that he will often use your desire to get you to a place from which he will direct you. At that point, follow his direction. And always be unto God a sweet savour of Christ, regardless whether that savour is a savour of death to the lost or a savour of life to the saved.