(1) Having therefore these promises . . . let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness.—The thought is identical with that of 1 John 3:3. In each there is the contrast between the high ideal to which the believer in Christ is called and the infinite debasement into which he may possibly sink. St. John characteristically presents the law of the spiritual life as a generalised fact of experience: “Every man who has the hope actually does purify himself.” The word for “filthiness” does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament. In 2 Maccabees 1:27, it is used of the “pollution” of idolatry; in the LXX. of Jeremiah 23:14 (where the English version gives “a horrible thing,” and the margin “filthiness”) of the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah. The cognate verb is used of sexual impurity in Revelation 14:4, and probably with the same sense in Revelation 3:4, and this is manifestly what St. Paul has in his thoughts here. The two thoughts—idolatry and impurity—were inextricably blended in his mind. He had been warning men against the feasts that were held in the idol’s temple. He cannot close his eyes to the “hidden things of shame” that were their constant and inevitable accompaniments. But that contagion of impurity might spread to the inward parts. Mind and conscience might be defiled (Titus 1:15). The literature of the Empire, as seen in Catullus and Martial and Juvenal, shows only too terribly what St. Paul meant by “filthiness of the spirit.” The very element in man by which he is raised above the brute creatures that lead a simply animal or natural life—his imagination, fancy, discernment of analogies—sinks him to an infinite depth below them.
Perfecting holiness in the fear of God.—The word for “holiness” involves the idea of consecration, and grows out of the thought that the “saints” of God make up collectively, as in 2 Corinthians 6:16, the Temple in which He dwells. As the former clause of the verse presents the negative aspect of purity, abstinence from all that desecrates, this presents the positive, the perfect consecration, and this is wrought out in its completeness, in “the fear of God”—the reverential awe before the thought of God’s presence. The word is the same as that mis-translated “terror” in 2 Corinthians 5:11.
We have corrupted no man, we have defrauded no man.—The word for “corrupt” is the same as that translated “defile” in 1 Corinthians 3:17, and is used with manifest reference to sensual impurity in 2 Peter 2:12; Jude 1:10; Revelation 19:2. The word for “defrauded” is not the same as that in 1 Corinthians 6:8, and though meaning literally “to make a gain,” or “seek a gain,” had, with its cognate nouns, acquired a darker shade of meaning. The verb is used in obvious connection with impurity in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-6, where see Note. The nouns often appear in closest companionship with those which indicate that form of evil (1 Corinthians 5:10-11; Ephesians 5:5; 2 Peter 2:14; Romans 1:29; Colossians 3:5). Mere greed of gain is commonly described by another word, which we translate “the love of money” (Luke 16:14; 1 Timothy 6:10; 2 Timothy 3:2). There seems, then, sufficient reason for connecting this verb also with the same class of sins. It would seem as if the word had colloquially acquired a secondary meaning, and was used of those who sought gain by ministering to the vice of others—who became, as it were, purveyors of impurity. The words, so understood, give us a momentary glimpse into a depth of evil from which we would willingly turn our eyes. But they leave no room for doubt that, in the infinite pruriency of such a city as Corinth, even such things as these had been said of the Apostle in the cynical jests of the paganising party of license. They tolerated such things themselves. They welcomed those who practised them to their friendship (1 Corinthians 5:11). They whispered, we may well believe, of private interviews in lonely lodgings, of public gatherings at night of men and women, and of the kiss of peace. They insinuated that, after all, he was even such a one as themselves. So, in like manner, was the fair fame of a disciple of St. Paul’s attacked by Martial, not apparently with malignity, but only in the wantonness of jest. (See Excursus on the Later. Years of St. Paul’s Life, at the end of the Acts of the Apostles.) So like charges were levelled at the reputation of Athanasius (Sozomen. Hist. ii. 25), and of Hooker (Walton’s Life). So, generally, it was the ever-recurring calumny of the heathen against the Christians that their Agapae, or Feasts of Love, were scenes of foulest license. It is obvious that there is much in the popular outcry against confession that partakes more or less of the same character. Against charges of this nature St. Paul utters his indignant denial: “No,” he virtually says; “you find a place in your affections for those who do such things: can you not find a place also for us who are free from them?” The sense which some have given to the word “corrupt,” as referring only to doctrinal corruptions, is manifestly out of the question.
I have said before . . .—He had not used the form of expression before, as far as this letter is concerned, but the fact was implied in what he had said in 2 Corinthians 6:11 : “Our heart is enlarged.” The words that follow are partly an almost proverbial expression for strong attachment, as in Horace (Odes, iii. 9): “Tecum vivere amem, tecum obeam libens”—
“With thee I fain would live,
With thee I fain would die;”
partly with a profounder meaning, that, whether in death or life (the order of the words throws us back on “dying, but behold, we live,” in 2 Corinthians 6:9), his heart and prayers would be with them and for them.
I am exceeding joyful.—Literally, I exceedingly abound (or, overflow) in joy. The verb is the same as in Romans 5:20, and answers to the “pressed above measure” which he had used in 2 Corinthians 1:8, in speaking of his troubles.
Without were fightings, within were fears.—We have no knowledge to what the first clause refers. It is natural to think either of dangers and persecutions from the heathen, or, probably, of conflicts with the party of the circumcision, or, as he calls them in Philippians 3, of the “concision,” at Philippi. The “fears” manifestly refer to his alarm and anxiety about the effect produced by his first Epistle.
After a godly manner.—The English is but a feeble equivalent for the Greek. Literally, according to God—i.e. (as may be seen by comparing the sense of the same or like phrases in Romans 8:27; Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 2:8), after His will and purpose. “God allowed you,” he tells them, “to be grieved in order that you might sustain no loss, as you might have done had we held our peace.”
Repentance to salvation not to be repented of.—Here the English effaces a distinction in the original. (See Note on Matthew 27:3,) Better, repentance unto salvation, giving no matter for regret. The adjective, or adjectival phrase, may qualify either “repentance” or “salvation.” The latter seems preferable.
But the sorrow of the world worketh death.—As contrasted with “salvation,” death must be taken in its widest sense. The mere sorrow of the world leads only to remorse and despair, to the death of a broken heart, possibly to suicide; in any case, to the loss of the true eternal life.
To be clear in this matter.—Literally, in the matter, possibly with exclusive reference to the sin condemned in 1 Corinthians 5:1-5, but possibly also, as in 1 Thessalonians 4:6, as an euphemistic expression for the sin of impurity generally.
“Eight husbands in five autumns. Do you laugh?
The thing reads well upon an epitaph.”—Sat. vi. 230.
On this assumption the father had, of course, sustained a very grievous wrong. There is an obvious tone of impatience, almost of annoyance, in the way in which St. Paul speaks of the whole business. It was one of those scandals in which, though it had been necessary to assert the law of purity and enforce the discipline of the Church, he could not bring himself at the time to feel any special interest in either of the parties. Afterwards, when the sinner was repentant, there came, it is true, a new feeling of pity for him, as in 2 Corinthians 2:6-8. But when he wrote, it was with a larger aim, to show them how much he cared for his disciples at Corinth, how jealous he was to clear away any stains that affected their reputation as a Church. It is noticeable that no mention is made of the woman’s repentance, nor, indeed, of her coming, in any way, under the discipline of the Church. The facts of the case suggest the conclusion that both husband and wife were heathens, and that the son was the only convert of the family. In this case we may fairly assume that she had played the part of temptress, and that his conscience, though weak, had been the more sensitive of the two. On this view the exhortations against being “unequally yoked together” with unbelievers gains a fresh significance. Possibly some idolatrous festival had furnished the first opportunity of sin, and so the fact gave special protest against any attempt to combine the worship of Christ with that of Belial.
His spirit was refreshed.—Better, as expressing the permanence of the effect, has been refreshed. The term was a favourite one with the writer. Stephanas, and Fortunatus, and Achaicus had “refreshed” his spirit (1 Corinthians 16:18. Comp. also Philemon 1:7; Philemon 1:20). The primary idea of the word is, however, rather that of “giving rest” to the weary, as in Matthew 11:28; Matthew 26:45.
Even so our boasting, which I made before Titus.—The words “I made” are, as the italics show, not in the Greek. Some of the better MSS. give, indeed, “your boasting,” and with this reading the sense would be: “As what I said of you to Titus turned out to be true, so I recognise that what you said to him of yourselves, of your zeal and longing (as in 2 Corinthians 7:11), was spoken truly.” The Received reading rests, however, on very good authority, and certainly gives a better sense: “We spoke truly to you of your faults; we spoke truly to Titus of your good qualities.”
With fear and trembling.—The combination is a favourite one with St. Paul. (Comp. 1 Corinthians 2:3; Ephesians 6:5; Philippians 2:12.) What it means is that Titus had been received, not, as he feared, with petulant resistance, but with respectful reverence, not without an element of fear.