Over 20 years ago there was a situation in the church with an individual who was living a dual life. On one hand, this person was valuable in the church for the public ministry skills presented; but on the other hand, this person had a rough edge at times and was known to be living a less than exemplary life out in the world. Soft ways of encouraging and discipling the individual were not entirely rebuffed, but neither were they producing fruit.
Everyone in leadership had come to the point of concluding that strong words were very necessary, likely leading to a break in relationship. That is … everyone but me. Due to my friendship with the person, I was still holding onto hopes that a positive change might yet ensue. It came to a moment where those on the board looked at me with some statements like, “Randy, you have to see that we’ve done everything we can do! It is time to move on!”
They were correct. It was time. But I was so sad about it and was surely deep into extra-innings extensions of grace. And I think I have generally been that way over the years. I’m usually (though maybe not absolutely always) willing to walk a long way with someone in hopes of restoration. It is kind of a pastor thing, I suppose.
But I have to say, as I look at Paul and the Corinthians, I would have never put up with them so long and gone through all that he did with them and their accusations and ingratitude.
But there really is something good to be said for an extensive display of grace, though it is not worth much unless it is additionally filled with strong communication that is enveloped in love and desire for truth and righteousness to prevail. It is not “loving grace” to allow a person or group of people to continue in sinful and errant ways. Strong words need to be said. And Paul surely was up to this task as well.
He takes the role of a parent here. And he had earned that, as it was descriptive of the relationship he had with them. And a part of this equation was that they did not owe him anything and he would not be looking for anything – the same as in the past. He just wanted to give to them, doing so in genuine love. And through all of this he hoped they would be repentant and that their mutual relationship might be restored as he speaks of what would hopefully be his third trip to visit with them.
Yes, there is a role for longsuffering love. But that love is a verb, not just a noun (this will be a sermon theme in the fall). And love as a verb demands the hard action of genuine conversation about what is not correct in another person’s experience, while also pointing in hope to a better place. It is all a part of being a family together.
2 Corinthians 5:11 – I have made a fool of myself, but you drove me to it. I ought to have been commended by you, for I am not in the least inferior to the “super-apostles,” even though I am nothing. 12 I persevered in demonstrating among you the marks of a true apostle, including signs, wonders and miracles. 13 How were you inferior to the other churches, except that I was never a burden to you? Forgive me this wrong!
14 Now I am ready to visit you for the third time, and I will not be a burden to you, because what I want is not your possessions but you. After all, children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. 15 So I will very gladly spend for you everything I have and expend myself as well. If I love you more, will you love me less? 16 Be that as it may, I have not been a burden to you. Yet, crafty fellow that I am, I caught you by trickery! 17 Did I exploit you through any of the men I sent to you? 18 I urged Titus to go to you and I sent our brother with him. Titus did not exploit you, did he? Did we not walk in the same footsteps by the same Spirit?
19 Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? We have been speaking in the sight of God as those in Christ; and everything we do, dear friends, is for your strengthening. 20 For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder. 21 I am afraid that when I come again my God will humble me before you, and I will be grieved over many who have sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual sin and debauchery in which they have indulged.