August 29, 2014.
I find Paul’s relationship with the Corinthian church very interesting, mostly because the more you read the Corinthian letters, the more you see a true relationship of people, full of struggles and trials, and the love that they really have for one another. Often when you think of a common love shared between people you might think of things running smoothly and nothing that is wrong. You might think of a very happy relationship that is full of acceptance and of the same mind. This is not the relationship that we can pick up on in these letters. Yes, we can see that they truly cared for one another, but that care and love led Paul to say things that I’m sure were very hard for him to do (ref. II Cor. 2). But that’s what real love is, the ability to love someone even when they are in the wrong, and the courage to correct them out of love. I don’t want you to think this was in any way easy for Paul to do, as we will see from the first section of the passage we will be examining today. Nor do I want you to think that Paul and anything but love in his heart when he sealed the letters that would certainly upset many people in the church. He did it out of goodwill and with grace, and the church responded accordingly, much to the joy of Paul and his fellow companions. We are going to look at a passage from II Corinthians 7 and examine the process of this correction so that we might better handle these delicate situations in our own churches in the correct manner.
Deciding to Correct
The first thing Paul had to do was establish his courage to correct the Corinthian church in their error. I think this was a lot harder for Paul than we realize. After all, this was the man who seemed to have no problem standing up to worldly leaders, erring churches all around and even the Apostle Peter when he stood condemned. But I think Paul had a special relationship with the church at Corinth, a closer bond, that made it harder for him to correct them. The church had been established during his second missionary journey (ref. Acts 18) in a very worldly city, but the Lord told Paul that he had many in that city. In his first letter, as he is defending himself to the Corinthians even though he shouldn’t have to, he says this:
“Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.”
(I Corinthians 9:1-2)
Paul had a close relationship with this church, and that made the tension that had been building because of what they were doing very hard.
“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? This is the very thing Iwrote you, so that when I came, I would not have sorrow from those who ought to make me rejoice; having confidence in you all that my joy would be the joy of you all. For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears; not so that you would be made sorrowful, but that you might know the love which I have especially for you.”
(II Corinthians 2:1-4)
Though it was hard, it was something he had to do, because they were no longer walking in the truth, but going along with error. I think Paul shows his anxiety over the decision to write to the church critically in the first part of chapter 7:
“For even when we came into Macedonia our flesh had no rest, but we were afflicted on every side:conflicts without, fears within. But God, who comforts the depressed, comforted us by the coming ofTitus; and not only by his coming, but also by the comfort with which he was comforted in you, as he reported to us your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me; so that I rejoiced even more.”
(II Corinthians 7:5-7)
Remember that this was after his first letter, the one where he did most of the correcting, so Paul is relating his feelings to the Corinthians after the fact. By this time, the church had received the letter and responded in a way to get themselves back in the right with God. Titus had brought this joyful news to Paul and I think he was more than relieved. But here he relates what he was feeling when he sent the letter. He was being pressed in on all sides. He had opposition without and conflict within. I know I can relate to Paul in this, as there has been many times that I have sent something to someone knowing that it probably wasn’t going to be received well. I’m sure you have too. But this was necessary.
Purpose for Correction
“For though I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it—for I see that that letter caused you sorrow, though only for a while— I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death. For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you: what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, whatavenging of wrong! In everything you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in the matter. So although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the offender nor for the sake of the one offended, but that your earnestness on our behalf might be made known to you in the sight of God.”
(II Corinthians 7:8-12)
If you remember the first letter, one of the major sins that the church was involved in was tolerating a guy who had taken his fathers wife. They were even arrogant in this, probably reveling in the fact that they were so accepting. After all, they had freedom in Christ Jesus, right? I think this is the specific thing Paul is referencing here, though there are many things he corrected them on in the first letter, so I’m sure he is talking about it all as a whole. Paul writes this section to tell them the purpose of his correction. It wasn’t because he thought he was better than them. It wasn’t because he wanted to be seen as right. It wasn’t because he just enjoyed correcting people and had a power complex. It was so that they might have godly sorrow, a sorrow that leads to repentance and thus salvation of their souls. They had gotten off track, and Paul need to prick them to the heart, so to speak. “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation…”
Paul even says that he regretted sending the letter at first, probably because he knew how harsh it was, but after a while he knew that he didn’t regret it. They received the letter, and instead of doing what many of us would do today and get very defensive and form rebuttals (though I’m sure some probably did this for a time), they took his words with grace and repented accordingly, changing their actions and getting their lives back on track with God. What a wonderful response. If we could take correction like this today, how would our religious scene be different? Would there be so much division? Would there be so much dislike? I don’t think so.
Joy of Acceptance
This is what made it all worthwhile for Paul. When Titus had came to Paul and his companions to bring the good news from Corinth, there must have been so much relief felt. Remember how Paul had even decided not to make a second trip to Corinth after his first letter because he didn’t want to cause them any more sorrow? This news must have lifted the heavy burden that he felt.
“For this reason we have been comforted. And besides our comfort, we rejoiced even much more for the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by you all. For if in anything I have boasted to him about you, I was not put to shame; but as we spoke all things to you in truth, so also our boasting before Titus proved to be the truth. His affection abounds all the more toward you, as he remembers the obedience of you all, how you received him with fear and trembling. I rejoice that in everything I have confidence in you.”
(II Corinthians 7:13-16)
Paul did what he had to do, but that didn’t mean the church at Corinth had to respond with conviction. He knew his letter had the possibility of separating them, maybe even for good. What a load to bear. But his criticism produced godly sorrow, which lead to repentance and salvation. What better news could Paul have gotten. He was probably rejoicing almost as much as the angles in heaven (ref. Luke 15:1-7).
I hope that we can take this story of love and apply it to the situations that we have to deal with inside the church. Remember, even when correction is need, grace is needed all the more. Let us handle everything with the wisdom that comes from above. May his peace be upon all of us.
Suggested Daily Reading: Acts 18, I Corinthians 9, II Corinthians 2, 7.
Grace and peace.