When Love Hurts - 2 Corinthians 1:12 - 2:11
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You might not have heard of King Christian Christ of Denmark, but to the Danish people King Christian was one of the most popular monarchs of the 20th century. His reign, taking in two world wars, was marked by steely determination and strong resolve, and he became most loved and admired for his courageous stand against the Nazis during their occupation of Denmark in the Second World War. One time during the occupation, the King noticed a Nazi flag flying over a Danish public building. He immediately called the German commandant, demanding that the flag be taken down at once. The commandant refused. "Then a soldier will go and take it down," said the king. "He will be shot," threatened the commandant. "I think not," replied the king, "for I shall be the soldier." Within minutes the flag was taken down. It’s no surprise that a leader of such integrity, courage and obvious love for his people should be greatly admired.
Well I wonder what sort of people you admire or look up to? What sort of people do you consciously or subconsciously model yourself on? I guess for those of us who are Christians, then the sorts of people who we aspire to be, the sorts of people we love and model ourselves on are godly, prayerful men and women, people of integrity and courage in the faith. People who battle with sin, people who love the Lord, people who are not afraid of sticking up for Christ and who refuse to toe the line of popularity.
Well I want to suggest to you today that the apostle Paul is someone who we should think very seriously about following in terms of his example. Now whilst the apostle does not like the limelight, yet his behaviour and his actions as he deals with the Corinthians in this letter we’re studying are wonderful examples of integrity and holiness and a willingness to put the honour of Jesus Christ above all things. You’ll remember how Paul had planted this church in Corinth yet his relationship with the church had been dicey to say the least. New leaders had come in and taken over the church and most of the people had been swayed by them. Paul’s leadership was rejected. He was thought to be a weak, rather pathetic man who was marked more by frailty than strength especially when compared to the new leaders with their smooth tongues and flashy credentials. But Paul was not one to be rejected lightly. His love for the church and his pastoral concern for them made him make another visit to challenge the church and its new leaders, a visit which was an unmitigated disaster. He followed that visit up with a letter now lost to posterity which sharply challenged their behaviour. That letter was a success and now Paul writes this letter to remind them of what authentic Christianity is like. It’s not about human strength and power. It’s about God using human weakness to display his glory. As God had said to Paul: "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." And Paul was a real example of strength in weakness.
And here in our passage he begins to defend himself against various charges that the false leaders and their followers had brought against Paul. Namely changing his travel plans and so being worldly. Lacking love and not really caring about the church. And being harsh with people and not having a forgiving spirit. Instead, with great humility, and not a little embarrassment at having to put himself forward in this way, Paul, the weak and frail apostle, shows that he is a man marked by true integrity, true love and true forgiveness. And if ever there was a man to model yourself on, then Paul is it. So let’s see how he defends himself against the charges, and as we go through we’ll see the challenges to be people of true integrity, true love and true forgiveness.
So first then Paul is a man of true integrity. And it was his integrity that was being questioned by the false leaders of the church and their followers. Paul is the sort of person who says one thing and does another. What kind of minister is he? Surely you don’t want him as your minister do you, they were saying. And it was particularly in respect of Paul’s travel plans that they were criticising him. Because his constant chopping and changing of his plans revealed a lack of integrity. That was their charge. So let’s see how Paul defends himself. And he does so first by defending the integrity of the messenger, that is himself.
See what he says in verse 12: "Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, in the holiness and sincerity that are from God. We have done so not according to worldly wisdom but according to God's grace." Now the way Paul begins may strike us as being slightly odd. He begins by boasting. Now this word "boast" is a word that comes up some 25 times in the letter. It’s a bit a theme. It sounds very ugly to our ears, very unchristian. But it was what the false teachers were doing- they were boasting in their strengths. Paul however will take them head on and boast instead in his weakness. If Paul feels he has to boast, to play them at their game, as he will, then he will only boast of his weaknesses. His boasting actually reveals his humility. And here he boasts that he has a clear conscience with regards to the Corinthians. I’ve dealt with you, he says, with the holiness and sincerity that are from God. I’m above board. My motives are pure. What I write and say, I mean. Verse 13: "I did not write to you anything you cannot read or understand." He’s not a man who writes or says one thing, when all along there is some hidden agenda.
And if you’re going to attack me for my changes in travel plans, then let me explain, he says in verse 15: "Because I was confident of this, (that is his integrity and their understanding of his godly motives) I planned to visit you first so that you might benefit twice. I planned to visit you on my way to Macedonia and to come back to you from Macedonia, and then to have you send me on my way to Judea. When I planned this, did I do it lightly? Or do I make my plans in a worldly manner so that in the same breath I say, "Yes, yes" and "No, no"?" Paul’s original plan was to visit the Corinthians twice on the way to Jerusalem. He would visit on his way north to northern Greece and on his way back through Greece as he made his way south again to catch the boat to Jerusalem. But he was forced to change his plans. The very painful visit he made to Corinth to have it our with the Corinthians made him realise that a second visit was out of the question. As we’ll see in a moment, he didn’t want to cause more pain by a second visit. It’s not that he does one thing and says another. It’s not that he constantly changes his mind and is worldly and unreliable. No, it’s just that sometimes there are very good reasons for changing your plans. In this case Paul’s great love for the church and his unwillingness to sour the relationship further by a second visit. No, he says. The integrity of me, your messenger, stands. I have conducted myself with holiness and sincerity that are from God. He’s been totally pure in his motives. His conscience is clear.
Now quite frankly I find that a great challenge. Paul is clearly a man who is transparent in terms of his motives and dealings with the Corinthians. No, he’s not perfect. But he is above board and his conscience is clear. And it begs the question whether we conduct ourselves in our dealings with fellow Christians and non Christians with such integrity, with such transparent honesty and holiness. With such godly sincerity. So often our hearts are full of mixed motives. We might do things to impress people. We might hide things to protect our reputation. We might hold things back to have a lever against someone. We might give a half truth in order to put ourselves in a better light. But not Paul. No, his claim, indeed his godly boast, is that he has conducted himself in the world, and with the Corinthians, in the holiness and sincerity that are from God.
By way of a light hearted illustration, I was reminded this week of the scene from the Wind in the Willows when the three friends, Badger, Ratty and Mole, have determined to cure Toad of his lunatic obsession with motor-cars. Badger has just spent 45 minutes with Toad in the smoking-room. At last they emerge …. "There’s only one thing more to be done", continued the gratified Badger. "Toad, I want you solemnly to repeat, before your friends here, what you fully admitted to me in the smoking-room just now. First, you are sorry for what you have done, and you see the folly of it all?" ‘There was a long, long pause. Toad looked desperately this way and that, while the other animals waited in grave silence. At last he spoke. ‘ "No!" he said a little sullenly, but stoutly: "I’m not sorry. And it wasn’t folly at all! It was simply glorious!" ‘ "What?" cried Badger, greatly scandalized. "You backsliding animal, didn’t you tell me just now, in there −" ‘ "O, yes, yes, in there," said Toad impatiently. "I’d have said anything in there. You’re so eloquent, dear Badger, and so moving, and so convincing, and put all your points so frightfully well – you can do what you like with me in there, and you know it. But I’ve been thinking searching my mind since, and going over things in it, and I find that I’m not a bit sorry or repentant really, so it’s no earthly good saying I am; now, is it?" ‘ "Then you don’t promise," said the Badger, "never to touch a motor-car again?" "Certainly not!" replied Toad emphatically. "On the contrary, I faithfully promise that the very first motor-car I see, poop-poop! off I go in it!" ’ I can guarantee that Toad did not model himself on the apostle Paul. Contrast that with Paul’s boast of transparent integrity in his dealings with people. I have conducted myself in holiness and sincerity that comes from God. Could you and I say the same?
But Paul also defends himself by reminding the Corinthians of the integrity of the message he preaches. Verse 18: "But as surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not "Yes" and "No." For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by me and Silas and Timothy, was not "Yes" and "No," but in him it has always been "Yes."" Now Paul’s point is simply this. That if the message he preaches is one of integrity, a message that is clear and that does not chop and change, then it must mean he himself is a man of integrity. For how can you preach such a message with a divided heart and a total lack of integrity. The message of Jesus is not yes, no, yes, no. It’s not a message that chops and changes. On the contrary, verse 20, it’s a message which proclaims one big yes to the world in the person of Jesus Christ. "For no matter how many promises God has made, they are "Yes" in Christ. And so through him the "Amen" is spoken by us to the glory of God." All the promises of God have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. He is the big Amen, the big yes to all that was foretold in the OT. He is the Truth incarnate. So if the God Paul proclaims and the message he proclaims is all about truth and faithfulness to promises, it would be strange in the extreme if you proclaimed that message with a total lack of integrity and a heart full of deceit and hidden motives. No, the ethics of the messenger spring from the ethics of the message and the God whose message it is. It would be like having an anti smoking campaigner who smokes 50 a day. Or a healthy eating promoter in schools who only eats junk food. That sort of gap between the message you preach and the life you lead is just not acceptable. There is a total lack of integrity if you do that. But not Paul. His conscience is clear because he proclaims the faithful and truthful message of Jesus with a faithful and true heart. And verse 21, this is the God who is at work in us who believe. "Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come." You see , says Paul, this is a God who keeps his word. He has shown it in Christ because all the promises find their "yes", their fulfilment in him. And he can be trusted to bring us safely through to his new kingdom because his word will not fail. He has put his Spirit in us guaranteeing what is to come. So if that is the message, so must the messenger be- a man or woman of integrity. That was how Paul conducted himself. And that’s how we should act too as people of true integrity.
But secondly Paul says he acts not just with true integrity but also with true love. And again here was another slanderous accusation against Paul. He doesn’t really love you, said the new leaders of the church. He’s not interested. He hasn’t been to visit recently and when he did he just put the boot in. Hardly the sort of pastor you want is it? That’s what they were saying. But nothing could be further from the truth. Let’s read how Paul defends himself from verse 23: " I call God as my witness that it was in order to spare you that I did not return to Corinth. Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm. So I made up my mind that I would not make another painful visit to you. For if I grieve you, who is left to make me glad but you whom I have grieved?" Now notice how serious Paul is in defending his actions. He calls God as his witness. This is not a cheap oath to impress his hearers. This is a serious appeal in the sight of God. God knows Paul’s motives so Paul calls God as a witness. And the reason Paul gives for not going back to Corinth for a second visit as he originally said he would was because he wanted to spare the Corinthians. He didn’t want another painful bust up. Paul is no ogre. He does not lord it over the Corinthians. Rather he deals with them as a gentle loving pastor. So, he says, I made up my mind that I would not make another painful visit to you. And it’s at this point that he makes a comment which reveals a great deal about his affection for this church. Verse 2: "For if I grieve you, who is left to make me glad but you whom I have grieved?" If Paul alienates the church by tough action, then he is actually causing himself harm because they were the very ones who gave him so much joy. So if Paul sours his relationship with them, then he actually loses out. Now that comments reveals a great deal about Paul’s heart. For it shows that he was no fly by night preacher, just wanting to get the message out and take his expenses. This was a man who was dedicated to his people. He took great personal joy from his people. Believe it or not, despite all the pain they had caused Paul, they were still very dear to him. To such an extent that any thought of having to act in way which strains the relationship is deeply painful for himself. He’s being accused of being unloving, when actually they couldn’t be further from the truth.
But deep love does not mean that sometimes you hold back from rebuke. Because whilst Paul felt that another visit would be too much, he did write the sharp letter. So see how he explains his actions in verses 3-4: "I wrote as I did so that when I came I should not be distressed by those who ought to make me rejoice. I had confidence in all of you, that you would all share my joy. For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you." Sometimes we have to hurt someone to make them see sense. And when we do that to those we love, then it often hurts us more than it hurts them. And that was how Paul felt about his sharp letter of rebuke. But notice again his heart. He says that this letter came out of great distress, anguish of heart, many tears. He says that he loves them deeply. All that from a man who has been rejected and slandered by these same people. Now that is real love is it not? Love which persists despite being hurt. Love which weeps for those you care for. Love which sometimes says tough things, not because you are an ogre but because you love.
Now again that is deeply challenging. Because it asks us do we have such deep love for those we care for. Some of us will be Homegroup leaders, others will care for Mark 2 or the students. Others will have pastoral concern for friends and family. Does our love come anywhere near the apostle Paul’s? Often the temptation is to be rather cool and detached, unwilling to get involved because it’s too costly. Perhaps to see people as projects to be undertaken, rather than God’s children to be lovingly cared for. But contrast that attitude to these words which were said about the great Cambridge preacher Charles Simeon. Simeon ministered in the eighteenth century for fifty years in Cambridge often with great opposition. One person recalled one of his sermons like this: "After having urged all his hearers to accept the mercy [of God] offered to them, Simeon reminded them that there were those present to whom he had preached Christ for more than thirty years, but they continued to reject the Saviour’s love. And after a while he was so overcome by his feelings [for them] that he sank down in the pulpit and burst into a flood of tears." Simeon had deep love for those he ministered too, as did Paul. And again the question for us is are we marked by such true love.
True integrity, true love and finally true forgiveness, and this perhaps is the hardest of all. Now at appears that the problems in the church in Corinth were bound up with a case of church discipline regarding one particular individual. We don’t know the details, but it appears that this person has done something bad enough to warrant being excluded for a time from the church. He offence seems to have been directed at Paul personally, perhaps a personal attack, but as he explained, this person’s actions have affected the whole church. Let’s read from verse 5: "If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you, to some extent—not to put it too severely. The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him." The grief this person has caused has affected he whole church. It’s often the way with serious sin. The sin might be personal, but when it becomes public it affects the whole church. Because we are a body of believers then what happens to one person affects us all. So it is here. So what does Paul advise? Verse 7: "Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him." Any punishment that has been inflicted on this person is meant to be remedial. It is meant to bring them to their senses and bring them back. And says Paul, you need to forgive, so that this person will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. Reaffirm your love for him, he says.
Now again, how counter cultural that is, how Christ-like and godly. The world says hold the grudge and never let him forget it. The Lord Jesus says forgive and forgive and forgive. Now of course that is often very hard especially if you have been badly wronged. But that act of forgiveness is both a healing process for the person who has wronged and the person who has been wronged. And notice that Paul is not commanding something he is unwilling to do. Verse 10: "If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes." Paul has forgiven too, and he was the one most wronged. And notice that Paul reminds the church that Satan could so easily use this sin in the church to destroy and ruin. Those are his schemes. And the way to work against him is to forgive.
Now whilst forgiveness is often not easy, it is necessary, for ourselves, for the person who has wronged us, and in a church for the sake of the whole church. Because if we allow the root of bitterness to fester in our hearts or in a church fellowship it can be powerfully destructive. But there is a little hint as to how Paul can forgive such a crime against him. Because let’s be honest it’s not a natural thing to do. If we are to forgive, then we need God to work in us, to remind us of the forgiveness we ourselves have received and to grant us the grace to forgive others. Because Paul talks in verse 10 about forgiving in the sight of Christ. Opinions are divided as to what he means exactly, but at the very least he is pointing us to the power behind the forgiveness. The only way we forgive when deeply offended is through the grace of Christ at work in our lives.
That grace was certainly at work in Corrie Ten Boom as she came face to face with the man who had inflicted such pain on her and her family in a German prisoner of war camp during the war. Corrie had been speaking at a church years after the war on the message of forgiveness, when she noticed the former SS guard from Ravensbruck Concentration Camp waiting to talk to her after the service. Here’s how she describes the meeting: ""How grateful I am for your message, he said. To think that, as you say, Jesus has washed my sins away." His hand was thrust out to shake mine and I who had preached so often to the people …. the need to forgive, kept my hand by my side. Even as the angry vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me, help me to forgive him. I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus I cannot forgive him. Give me your forgiveness. As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand, a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me." Now how is that possible, we ask? How can she forgive a man for the horrific and evil things he did to her and her family and countless others? Only by the grace of Christ. And it is possible. It may take time, perhaps a long time, but God can work in our hearts to enable us to forgive. And we need to pray he would give us the strength to do it. Because it is vital for our souls, and vital for the church. I have forgiven in the sight of Christ, says Paul. He knew true forgiveness.
Well I for one find Paul’s godliness and Christ-likeness deeply challenging. But Paul would be embarrassed and would want to correct us if we simply said we want to follow Paul’s example. For he would point us to the Lord Jesus who is the true model, on whom Paul himself depends. For it is Jesus who is our true model, and he is the one who gives us the strength to follow Paul as he follows Christ. And only then can we too be people of true integrity, true love and true forgiveness.
3) True Forgiveness (Vv 5-11)
2) True Love (Vv 23- 2 v 4)
b) The Integrity of the Message-
a) The Integrity of the Messenger-
1) True Integrity (Vv 12-22)
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