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Monday, August 15, 2016


Paul's first epistle to the church at Corinth is a scathing letter. I mean, he really rips into them. He berates them for division in the church (1 Cor 1:11ff), their abuse of spiritual gifts (1 Cor 12), the mishandling of the Lord's Supper (1 Cor 11:20-34), and so on. The big one is the church member who was in a sexual relationship that exceeded the pagans' sin -- having his father's wife (1 Cor 5:1-5). Oh, not good. This one he delivered to Satan for the destruction of the flesh (1 Cor 5:5). This was not, in the main, a cheerful, warm letter. If it had been written today, there would have been complaints that Paul was being intolerant and judgmental.

It's interesting, then, to read in his following epistle to the church about what he thought of his first letter.
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. (2 Cor 2:2-3)
Paul recognized that his last letter was painful. And, yet, here is what Paul says was his motivation.
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 Cor 2:4)
Given the current climate of "Don't say anything negative about other believers because that's mean, intolerant, and judgmental", this statement from Paul is remarkable. Note, first, his personal state of mind when he wrote that first letter. He says he wrote it "out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears." This is not the image of the angry church lady, the Christian indulging in righteous indignation. This is a heartbroken believer who, despite the pain it causes him, feels the need to speak the truth in love.

"'Speak the truth in love'," you say. "What makes you think that?" Well, from the rest of what Paul says. He says he wrote it amidst personal affliction and anguish "to let you know the abundant love that I have for you." Now, surely this is hard for us to hear these days. We do not typically see the kind of letter Paul wrote that we call "1st Corinthians" as a love letter. We typically see that kind of thing as, well, mean. It is motivated by a "holier-than-thou" attitude, probably from a hypocrite suffering from similar problems, and certainly never should have been written at all. But Paul says that he wrote it in agony and wrote it out of love.

I wonder how many times we do that? The Scriptures are abundantly clear, despite our society's certainty to the contrary, that we are supposed to "reprove, rebuke, and exhort" each other (2 Tim 4:2). Jesus says "Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline." (Rev 3:19) Correction is for the benefit of the mistaken. And there are quite a few Christians who have taken up that task ... with a vengeance. But how many of us do it in tears -- out of much affliction and anguish of heart? How many of us do it so that they would know the abundant love we have for others? Are we expressing love or something else?

Clearly, both from Paul and from Christ, correction is necessary and it can be made on the basis of love. We mustn't buy that "Don't be judgmental" complaint as if it's wrong and unkind to correct people who are straying. Clearly, correction is to be done with an aim of restoration (2 Cor 2:7; Gal 6:1). When we find delight, even secretly, in correcting others, when it's not out of love, when it carries no pain on our behalf for their well-being, then we're doing it wrong. And when we do it wrong, it makes those who are doing it out of grief for their loss and love for them look bad. In the end, it makes Christ look bad.

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