July 15, 2014.
“For I made up my mind not to make another painful visit to you. For if I cause you pain, who is there to make me glad but the one whom I have pained? And I wrote as I did, so that when I came I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice, for I felt sure of all of you, that my joy would be the joy of you all. For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.”
(2 Corinthians 2:1-4)
When we read a passage in the bible, there are often many underlying details of the situation at the time that we miss because they simply aren’t mentioned. Sometimes this makes for a very dry reading of scripture without much insight as to what was actually going on. There have been many times that I have read through a book and not fully grasped the meaning or importance of certain phrases until I inferred details about the situation. The opening passage is a great example, and one that I think we can draw some insights and applications from to apply to our spiritual walk.
As you read through I and II Corinthians, you get a sense that Paul really feels connected to this church, perhaps even more so than other churches. Paul had established this church on one of his missionary journeys and was confident that they would do anything they could for him, and he likewise. It is interesting to me, in light of this, to note that one of the places that Paul had to contend for his apostleship and authority in the Lord is at Corinth. It seems that if the people didn’t like what Paul said, they just called him a man and said he had no authority to tell them what to do. Paul deals with this thoroughly in I Corinthians 9.
What I find just as interesting as that, however, is noting the love that Paul had for this church and what he was willing to do because of that love. Read the opening passage and try to infer what he was dealing with. The background of these letters to the Corinthians is the church had written Paul letters informing him about things that were going on and asking him spiritual questions that they needed addressed. History and scholarship suggested that Paul wrote at least four letters to the church at Corinth, and we only have two, maybe three (some suggest that two of his letters are combined in II Corinthians) to read. What’s more is we do not have any of the letters that were sent to Paul, so at times it is difficult to see what he is addressing, as we only have one side of the conversation.
Paul loved this church. But that did not mean he didn’t tell them hard things and point out what they were doing wrong and what they needed to change. On the contrary, he did correct them because he loved them so much. That is what I see in the opening passage. Paul decided not to come to them again because he didn’t want another trip like the last one he took to them. There were many critics of Paul at Corinth. Paul addresses this in his first letter:
“I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me. That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church. Some are arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?”
(1 Corinthians 4:14-21)
I am sure that when he got to Corinth, he still had to deal with many of the issues they were having and step on some toes. Correction is not a fun game, but it is one that Paul thought was necessary to do out of his love for the church. I see the opening passage as somewhat of a warning, letting the brethren know that he wanted to see them again, but he didn’t want to have to come and do what he did the first time again. They needed to get their stuff in order so that he could come purely for fellowship and encouragement.
What is the application that we can make from this today? I think we need to redefine our definition of love according to the actions of Paul somewhat. Paul’s love did not mean that he simply tolerated the sin that the church at Corinth was in, but rather made him care for them and try an help them out of that sin. He didn’t come preaching a sermon of hell-fire and brimstone, but one of tears and anguish that they might see the error and turn from their ways. Paul was willing to do what was necessary to get them to repent, even if that meant he needed to be a little harsh. Even if it mean he needed to delay his coming to see them. Paul loved this church. He did not tolerate their sin. Is that our definition of love today?
Suggested Daily Reading: I Corinthians 4, 9, II Corinthians 2-3.
Let us love one another.