Scripture: 23 “Now I call upon God as my witness that I am telling the truth. The reason I didn’t return to Corinth was to spare you from a severe rebuke. 24. But that does not mean we want to tell you exactly how to put your faith into practice. We want to work together with you so you will be full of joy as you stand in your faith. 2:1”So I said to myself, “No. I won’t do it. I won’t make them unhappy with another painful visit. 2. For if I cause you pain and make you sad, who is going to make me glad? 3. That is why I wrote as I did in my last letter, so that when I do come, I will not be made sad by the ones who ought to give me the greatest joy. Surely you know that my happiness depends on your happiness. 4. How painful it was to write that letter! Heartbroken, I cried over it. I didn’t want to hurt you, but I wanted you to know how very much I love you. 5. I am not overstating it when I say that the man who caused all the trouble hurt your entire church more than he hurt me. 6. He was punished enough when most of you were united in your judgment against him. 7. Now it is time to forgive him and comfort him. Otherwise he may become so discouraged that he won’t be able to recover. 8. Now show him that you still love him.”
Paul knew the importance of honest and sincerity in word and action, especially in a situation as in Corinth where constructive criticism was necessary. So, Paul did not come with impressive human knowledge or earthly wisdom. God wants us to be real and transparent in all of our relationships. If we aren’t, we may end up lowering ourselves to spreading rumors, gossiping, and second-guessing.
The Corinthian church had written to Paul with questions about their faith. (Corinthians 7:1) There were questions about: church unity, immorality, the proper way to settle disputes, worship, the use of spiritual gifts in the church, the sacredness of communion, the role of women in the church, dietary concerns, sin and shortcomings, taking care not to conform to the world’s system and values. In response, Paul had written 1 Corinthians. But the Church did not follow his instructions. Paul had planned to visit them again, but instead, he wrote a letter that caused sorrow, (7:8-9) but caused them to change their ways. He didn’t want to visit and repeat the same advice for the same problems. He wrote the emotional letter to encourage them to follow the advice that he had already given in previous letters and visits.
Paul’s phrase “another painful visit” indicates that he had already made one difficult trip to Corinth (1:1; 1:15-17) since founding the church. Paul had gone there to deal with those in the church who had been attacking and undermining his authority as an apostle of Jesus Christ, thus confusing other believers. Paul’s last letter, referred to here, was not the book of 1 Corinthians, but a letter written between 1 and 2 Corinthians just after his unplanned, painful visit. Paul is referring to this letter again in 2 Corinthians 2:1.
Paul did not enjoy reprimanding his friends and fellow believers, but he cared enough about the Corinthians to confront them with their wrong doing. Proverbs 27:6 says: “Wounds from a friend are better than many kisses from and enemy.” Sometimes our friends make choices that we know are wrong. If we ignore their behavior and let them continue in it, we won’t be showing love to them. We show love by honesty sharing our concerns in order to help these friends be their very best for God. When we don’t make any move to help, we show that we are more concerned about being well liked than about what will happen to them.
Paul explained that it was time to forgive the man who had been punished by the church and had subsequently repented. He needed forgiveness, acceptance, and comfort. Satan would gain an advantage if they permanently separated this man from the congregation rather than forgiving and restoring him. This may have been the man who had required the disciplinary action described in 1 Corinthians 5, or he may have been the chief opponent of Paul who had caused him anguish (2:1-11) The sorrowful letter had finally brought about the repentance of the Corinthians (7:8-14), and their discipline of the man had led to his repentance. Church discipline should seek restoration; Two mistakes in church discipline should be avoided: being too lenient and not correcting mistakes, or being too harsh and not forgiving the sinner. There is a time to confront and a time to comfort.
We use church discipline to help keep the church pure and to help wayward people repent. But satan tries to harm the church by tempting it to use discipline in an unforgiving way. This causes those exercising discipline to become proud of their purity, or the authority they have over them, and it causes the person who is being disciplined to become bitter and perhaps leave the church. We must remember that our purpose in discipline is to restore a person to the fellowship, not to destroy him or her. We must be cautious that personal anger is not vented under the guise of church discipline.
I came across a short article in the Daily Word that I stuck a strong chord with me. Two believers in Christ were discussing an issue about which they had differing opinions. The older of the two seemed smug as he wielded Scripture like a weapon, chopping away at the things he saw as wrong in the other’s life. The younger man just seemed weary of the lecture, weary of the other person and discouraged.
As the exchange drew to a close, the older man commented on the other’s apparent disinterest. “You used to be eager, “he started, and then abruptly quit.” I don’t know what it is you want.” “Sorrowfully the younger man responded, “You missed the chance to love me,” “In all the time you’ve known me, what has seemed to matter most to you is pointing out what you think is wrong about me. What do I want? I want to see Jesus in you and through you.” Had this been said to me, I would have been devastated. In that moment I knew the Holy Spirit was telling me, there had been people I had missed the chance to love. And I knew there were also people who missed a chance to love me! There were some People who couldn’t see Jesus in me, and others that I couldn’t see Jesus in them either.
The Apostle Paul tells us that love must be the underlying motive in anything we do. Sometimes it takes heartache and crisis to remind us how irreplaceable the people in our lives are. So in everything we do, saints, pastors, ministers, let’s not miss the next chance to show love. Amen.