2 Corinthians 2:1-13

Tough Love.

2 Corinthians 2:1-13

I wrote that letter in great anguish, with a troubled heart and many tears. I didn’t want to grieve you, but I wanted to let you know how much love I have for you. – 2 Corinthians 2:4 NLT

Paul’s love for the Corinthians believer was like that of a father for his children. He was proud of them and felt a strong responsibility for their welfare. He worried about their spiritual health and was concerned for survival in the high-pressure context of a pagan city like Corinth. So Paul wrote them words of encouragement and instruction, as he did in 1st Corinthians. But there were times when he had to take a harsher, sterner tone, in order to deal with actions and attitudes that were dangerous and un-Christlike. Paul loved the believers in Corinth enough to say things that caused them sorrow – for the time being. He evidently wrote a second letter, which commentators refer to as “the sorrowful letter,” which has been lost. Paul refers to it in verse 3: “That is why I wrote you as I did, so that when I do come, I won’t be grieved by the very ones who ought to give me the greatest joy.” He had written them a letter containing some strong words and loving admonitions. He had written that letter “in great anguish.”  It had been accompanied by “a troubled heart and many tears.” Paul loved them very much, but he loved them enough to say things they needed to hear, but that were hard to listen to. His words were written in love, not anger. They were expressed out of heartfelt concern, not pride or arrogance. But his words hurt all the same. And he knew it.

Paul had a reason behind his words. They were not written flippantly or thoughtlessly. “I wrote to you as I did to test you and see if you would fully comply with my instructions” (2 Corinthians 2:9 NLT). It was vitally important to Paul that they accept him for who he was – an emissary of Jesus Christ, a God-sent messenger of the gospel and a legitimate apostle of the Church. He wasn’t on some kind of an ego trip, but was simply trying to get them to understand that he spoke on behalf of and with the complete authority of God Himself. It was essential that they listen to and obey what he said. He was not just sharing his opinions, but the word of God and the message of Jesus Christ. Paul was dealing with some specific issues going on in the church in Corinth. There was a situation that involved a member of the congregation that had caused a great deal of division and strife in the church. It may have been the man Paul dealt with in 1st Corinthians who had had an immoral relationship with his step-mother. It could have been someone who had personally insulted Paul by speaking against him and leading the church into accepting false teaching. But whoever the man was, he had been opposed by the church, punished for his sin, and now it was time to reconcile and restore the relationship. Paul urged them “to reaffirm your love for him” (2 Corinthians 2:8 NLT). He wanted them to extend grace, love and mercy to this man and restore him to the fellowship. Paul knew that Satan would love nothing more than to divide the church from within. He knew that the enemy would be far more successful destroying the cause of Christ if he could cause division and disunity among believers. External pressure tends to solidify and strengthen the church. But internal strife causes cracks and chasms to weaken the spiritual infrastructure of the church, diminishing its power and effectiveness.

Paul loved the cause of Christ too much to allow that to happen. He was not going to stand idly by and watch the Corinthian believers self-destruct. So he said what needed to be said. He spoke the truth, but always with love. When he spoke, he shared God’s will, not his own. He was not driven by ego or self-preservation, but out of love for the Kingdom of God and the spread of the gospel message around the world. He knew that the greatest barrier to the gospel’s expansion was a weakened church. Compromise, complacency, disharmony and disunity among God’s people would be deadly to the cause of Christ. Unforgiveness, hatred, resentment, jealousy, pride, self-centeredness, and injustice had no place among God’s people. And when Paul saw these things, he spoke against them. Paul had told them what God expected of them. “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NLT).

Paul loved the believers in Corinth. He loved them enough to speak truth. He loved them enough to cause them sorrow, if only for the moment. Because he knew that exposing their sin was essential if they were to grow. Later on, in his letter to the believers in Ephesus, Paul would write, “Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church” (Ephesians 4:15 NLT). Love is honest. It does not lie or tolerate falsehood. Love doesn’t overlook sin, but confronts it. Love doesn’t minimize unrighteousness, but exposes it. Love can hurt, but love never fails.

Father, help me learn to love like Paul did. Show me how to speak truth, Your truth, in such a way that it results in conviction and produces righteousness in the lives of others. Show me how to say what needs to be said, but always in love, not out of pride, arrogance or ever with a heart filled with hatred. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

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