I’ve always been intrigued by the dynamic interplay that exists within the body of Christ when it is functioning as God desires. The very imagery of the church as a “body” in which the various members contribute to the well-being of the whole is quite remarkable.
Sadly, though, we don’t experience this as often as we should. Western individualism is frequently at odds with the interdependence and mutuality that ought to exist among the many members of the local church. Worse still, we are today witnessing a disturbing trend among professing Christians who insist they can “follow Jesus” and affirm the authority of Scripture without any formal or active or conscientious engagement with a local church. Some would call it a Revolution. I think the word Rebellion would be more appropriate.
That being said, when I read a paragraph in God’s Word like the one before us today, I am again and ever more fervently convinced that the Christian life is a corporate, communal life. God has sovereignly constituted the body of Christ such that no one individual can or should suffer in isolation from those with whom he/she is united through Spirit baptism (1 Cor. 12:13). Neither should one rejoice alone.
Surely this is what Paul had in mind when he exhorted the Roman church to “rejoice with those who rejoice” and to “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15). In his first epistle to the Corinthians he declared that “if one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Cor. 12:26).
A superb example of this is found in 2 Corinthians 7:13-16, one of those passages that all too often is neglected for what we wrongly consider the more “meaty” portions of Scripture. Here we read:
“Therefore we are comforted. And besides our own comfort, we rejoiced still more at the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by you all. For whatever boasts I made to him about you, I was not put to shame. But just as everything we said to you was true, so also our boasting before Titus has proved true. And his affection for you is even greater, as he remembers the obedience of you all, how you received him with fear and trembling. I rejoice, because I have perfect confidence in you.”
We see here the nature of corporate body life in which our affections and joy, as well as our sorrow and distress, are tied up with one another in the body of Christ. There is no place in Paul’s concept of Christianity or church life for the notion of the solitary saint who lives independently of the lives of others, untouched by their sorrows or unaffected by their joy. We are to be tightly knit with cords of love and empathy and understanding such that when others rejoice, we rejoice, and when they weep, we weep.
Perhaps the best way to see this in the passage before us is for me to identify ten stages in the unfolding relationship between Paul and Titus, Titus and the Corinthians, and Paul and the Corinthians. It is, I think you will agree, a beautiful portrait of the body at work to sustain and console and encourage its many members.
(1) It all begins with Paul’s distress at the alienation between himself and the Corinthian church. We’ve already taken note of his deep longing for them, his desire for their repentance, and the inevitable joy that would come along with it (cf. 2 Cor. 1:23-24; 6:11; 7:2-12).
(2) Although he worries about their spiritual state of mind, he has enough confidence in them that he boasts to Titus that they are fundamentally a good people and will surely respond well to his appeals (see 2 Cor. 7:4, 14).
(3) When the Corinthians listen attentively to the reading of Paul’s severe letter, they experience a deep and life-changing conviction of sin, acknowledge that their suspicions and stubborn resistance to his leadership were unfounded, and in turn open their hearts to him even as he earlier had opened his to them (see 2 Cor. 6:12-13; 7:2-4, 7-12).
(4) Titus is far more than a detached and indifferent messenger. He cares deeply for the Corinthians and experiences a flood of affection for them as he observes their zealous response to Paul’s overtures (2 Cor. 7:15). What he feels is no fleeting infatuation but a deep and very personal love. The word translated “affection” in v. 15 is the Greek splankna, a vivid and forceful term that reaches to the depths of one’s emotional being and expresses the very core of an individual’s most personal and intimate feelings.
(5) As a result of this increased affection, his “spirit” is “refreshed” (2 Cor. 7:13b). The emotional burden and the spiritual heaviness that weighed on his heart are lifted. Murray Harris is probably correct in arguing that both “refreshment and repose” (548), both emotional renewal and physical rest, are involved.
(6) Titus was no doubt greatly encouraged by their response when he sees that it was prompted first and foremost by a reverential fear of God, and only secondarily, if at all, by a fear of Paul or himself.
According to v. 15, the Corinthians “received him with fear and trembling,” a phrase that most likely denotes a Godward rather than a manward reaction (see Exodus 15:16; Deut. 2:25; 11:25; Isa. 19:16). In short, the Corinthians were not stirred to repent for pragmatic reasons but in recognition of their accountability before God. “They knew they would have to give account to God for their conduct – hence their warm receptiveness” (Harris, 552).
(7) When Titus finally meets Paul in Macedonia, the apostle is comforted in knowing his friend is safe and that his mission has succeeded (2 Cor. 7:6-7a). Having made several such rigorous journeys himself, Paul was not oblivious to the dangers that Titus would face. He was concerned for the physical safety of his friend and was greatly put at ease upon his return.
(8) When Paul hears from Titus that the Corinthians had repented and obeyed, he experiences even greater comfort in his soul (2 Cor. 7:7, 13a).
(9) Upon hearing of Titus’ own joy, Paul exults even more (“we rejoiced still more at the joy of Titus,” v. 13). Yes, Paul knew how to rejoice when others rejoiced!
(10) Finally, as Paul contemplates both their past and the future of the Corinthian church, he experiences renewed confidence, feeling assured that they will press on to maturity and especially that they will respond positively to his appeal in chapters 8 and 9 that they give generously to the church in need in Jerusalem (2 Cor. 7:16).
So, in conclusion, perhaps we should each ask ourselves some pointed questions. Do we experience heart-felt concern for the spiritual welfare of other believers, or are we so wrapped up in our own private world that we rarely intercede on their behalf and are even less likely to offer whatever personal assistance may be needed?
Do we feel anguish over their sin, or self-righteousness? Does our joy fluctuate with theirs, or are we immune to their spiritual and emotional state of being? What sacrifices are we prepared to make to facilitate their growth and increase in the knowledge of Christ?
May God knit our hearts with others to the same extent and depth of love as was true in the experience of these first century saints!