“But I determined this for my own sake, that I would not come to you in sorrow again. For if I cause you sorrow, who then makes me glad but the one whom I made sorrowful?”
(2 Cor. 2:1-2)
This is the first of four reasons Paul didn’t visit the Christians in Corinth – there were emotional realities that needed addressing. He basically says “I don’t want another painful visit” – showing that his prior visit to the church in Corinth was exquisitely painful.
From this it is certain that Paul paid the Corinthians an unannounced visit to them after writing 1 Corinthians. And I know it’s all a bit confusing, but Paul is not saying his first visit to them was sorrowful. Instead, Paul’s first visit to them was the planting of the church, and was a blessing. He’s speaking of a second visit not mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament, that went badly.
The pain was on a lot of levels – some of which everybody will understand, and some of which only those who have served in ministry will understand.
Emotionally, Paul expected the church to be a source of joy for him, and not pain. He writes, “who then makes me glad?” And he’s afraid that the only way he’s going to get joy from a second visit is by inflicting pain on them – something he wants to avoid – “that I would not come to you in sorrow again.”
The idea of relitigating their sorrow is counterproductive to building them up. I’t either vindictive or unduly punitive, and are representative of what ministers do who despise the gospel of justification by faith alone.
The idea that adding to a Christian’s pain will produce joy is hardly a straight forward path in ministry – yet Paul’s use of “I” in verse two is emphatic and explains why he left Corinth after his second (unannounced) visit. He left with his tail between his legs. And he left depressed, beat up, rejected, and so very dishonored.
So, rather come back to them for another visit (his third), he wrote them this letter. It did indeed cause pain, but not unnecessary pain. And certainly less pain than a personal visit would have brought.