Do you like love stories? One of the well-
As spectators we watch on wondering why on earth it took the man so long to see what we, the onlookers, have seen so clearly.
But are we so good at making the right assessments when it comes to spiritual matters and spiritual relationships? We might like to think so but we can so easily make the kind of blunders that cause, not only ourselves but others too, significant pain and distress.
Paul’s relationship with the Christians in Corinth was not dissimilar from the scenario of that imaginary love story. Paul was driven by a strong love for these believers in Corinth but they had failed to appreciate him and instead had been dazzled with some late-
In this section of Paul’s letter we see that Paul refuses to give up on them. He shows us how to love and to go on loving others in the hope of reconciliation.
Let us turn to the text and see what we can learn from it.
"Make room in your hearts for us. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one. I do not say this to condemn you, for I said before that you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together. I am acting with great boldness toward you; I have great pride in you; I am filled with comfort. In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy."
Love between Christians
Paul was a mature Christian and his life bore the fruit of such maturity. He loved people!
How often love comes to the fore in the Bible! We are told to love God and we are to love our neighbour as ourselves. In particular Christians are commanded to love another: it is the command of Christ and obedience to this command provides a sceptical world with evidence concerning the reality of the Christian life.
Do we want to know if we (or someone else) has a genuine spiritual life then one of the tests we are told to use is the test of love: do I love the brethren? Does he/she love the brethren?
Paul passed this test. His different letters include references to a wide range of different individuals (see, for example, Col.4 or Rom.16).He specifically referred to his love for the Philippians in the letter he sent them:
Phil.1:7 "It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace,"
Phil.4:1 "Therefore, my brothers, whom I love..."
And he wrote the same sort of thing to the church in Corinth:
2Cor.2:4 "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."
Paul’s love for the Corinthians was certainly related to the fact that he had been instrumental in the founding of the church but it was a love that hadn’t waned when the Corinthians grew cool in their response towards him. It was a love that went on and on and Paul longed for it to be reciprocated
Paul there was referring to the way in which the Corinthians had been influenced by some late arrivals on the scene. These folk were full of their own importance and quite happy to be critical of Paul. The attitude of these folk had a detrimental effect on the relations existing between Paul and the church and Paul found his efforts to promote the spiritual well-
Now Paul was a busy man and plenty of demands were made of his time and energy. How easy and how tempting it might have been for him to let them get on with things without him. After all they didn’t appreciate his efforts or want them. But Paul refused to wash his hands of them. As he had earlier written to them, his life was bound up with theirs (2Cor.1:6) and their spiritual well-
So Paul refused to give up on the Corinthians and continued to make efforts to rekindle their love for him: "Make room in your hearts for us" he pleads before going on to reason further with them.
Paul longs for reconciliation with his Christian friends in Corinth and he doesn’t sit back waiting for them to take the first step even though he sees himself as the innocent party. Living in a fallen world it is, I suppose, inevitable that relationships between Christians will be spoiled but how sad it is that reconciliation can be often be hindered because we take ourselves off and sit in high dudgeon waiting for the other party to come crawling back to us. Such behaviour doesn’t pursue reconciliation so much as it does personal gratification. We must learn to climb down off our high horse and get real with others and particularly with those in the church.
Jesus told his followers of their responsibility to seek reconciliation whenever they become aware of a breakdown;
If we are in the wrong then of course we should front up and admit it and apologise asking for forgiveness.
But that was not the case for Paul. He had done nothing amiss that was responsible for the cooling of relations between himself and the Corinthians and he doesn’t pretend otherwise. He maintains his integrity and yet as he does so he is pleading above all for reconciliation and not for the attribution of judgment or punishment.
How important it is to seek to maintain our integrity but it must not be done in such a manner as to push reconciliation into the background.
Paul declares his uprightness in three ways and he does so with a series of three denials and in this manner Paul denies being at the origin of any breakdown in his relations with the Corinthians. He writes:
we have wronged no one
we have corrupted no one
we have taken advantage of no one
The words that Paul used have financial overtones and amongst other things Paul is maintaining that his attitude towards money has been right and proper. He neither misused the monies entrusted to him nor encouraged others by a faulty example to misuse money in their care. He did not abuse his position either to exert undue pressure on people and so take advantage of them. In all these matters Paul’s behaviour was above reproach.
And how important this is still today. The truths taught long ago are still oh so relevant:
1Tim.6:10 "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs."
Paul took great care and so must we. How the unbelieving world mocks the money-
Heb.13:5 "Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you."
The Implications and Dangers of Such a Defence
The fact that Paul defended his behaviour in this way suggests very strongly that accusations of just this sort were indeed being made amongst the Corinthians and possibly by them.
Now when we are confronted with our own wrongs it is so easy to feel as though we are being deliberately got at and then to react badly. Bringing things into the open is not on its own a guarantee of success and can actually lead to a hardening of positions and a worsening of the overall situation.
But Paul has not made his remarks with a view to making the Corinthians feel bad and he says so expressly:
2Cor.7:3 "I do not say this to condemn you, for I said before that you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together."
Sadly we may not always treat others like that and sadly others may have little else in view than to make us feel bad about our all too numerous failures.
Let us understand when we’ve fallen out with others for some reason or another, that reconciliation is to be the goal to which we aspire. Let’s not play silly games with each other. It is wrong to try to somehow demonstrate our superiority, to win an argument, to score points or simply to get something off our chest if reconciliation is not the genuine goal.
Let us be very careful that our motives are right lest we be found to be speaking the truth but certainly not in love.
Paul’s earnest desire was for a genuine reconciliation to take place between him and the Corinthians – to achieve that he didn’t need them to feel bad about themselves, he wasn’t after all seeking to condemn them but to win them! And he wants to win them because he loves them. His love for them is strong and he is not at all ashamed to tell them so.
Now, I’m not sure that we Brits are particularly helped by our culture here. We find it much easier to be negatively critical of one another than to speak positive affirming words to one another. We are likely to regard such words spoken to us with embarrassment or suspicion. If someone says nice things about us to our face it must be flattery and we suspect that they will pretty soon ask something of us!
Well Paul is bold as he writes to the Corinthians opening his heart to them:
2Cor.7:4 "I am acting with great boldness toward you"
Paul speaks with a directness confidently expecting them to understand what he is saying and what it is that motivates him to say it.
Now you will only speak like this, with such open frankness, if you really are confident that your hearers are genuine. Paul was confident that the Corinthians were genuine. This is brought out in the way some other translations express v.4
GNB "I am so sure of you..."
NIV "I have great confidence in you..."
MSG "I have the greatest confidence in you..."
Paul Expresses His Loving Appreciation of the Corinthians
Paul has yet more to say as he does all he can to seek a true and lasting reconciliation with the Corinthians.
He hadn’t done anything to warrant the breakdown in the relations but he’s not interested in making them feel guilty about the breakdown either – he just wants reconciliation. He is speaking boldly because he is sure about them. Now he pushes the boat out yet further by telling them just what place they occupy in his life – Paul says he’s proud of them! He boasts about them!!
2Cor.7:4 "I have great pride in you; I am filled with comfort. In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy"
Wait a minute Paul, how can you say such things about these folk? How can you be so exceedingly positive about them? Indeed one translation even suggests that he is bold and confident not so much in speaking to the Corinthians but in speaking of them to others!
Aren’t these the very people who have fallen under the spell of those so-
And you, Paul, would have us believe that you are actually proud of them and that your joy is bound up with them? How can this be?
Paul did say – not as flattery – but because he meant it.
Paul can say it for several reasons:
because he loves them oh so very deeply
because God is at work in their lives
because will continue his work in their lives – he doesn’t begin a work that he doesn’t intend to complete
For these reasons Paul does not want and does not intend to focus upon what he interprets as temporary blips and slips.
The fundamental thing about these Corinthians is that they are now in Christ and in him they have become a new creation. While they may not be perfect that is what they are destined to become! They may have made mistakes and committed errors in time but they are destined as followers of Jesus to live for eternity – what a future they have. They were once hell-
Are those not excellent reasons for boasting? Who wouldn’t want to be reconciled to people like that?
We should bear that in mind when we fall out with other Christians – how foolish to go on and on with broken relationships with such wonderfully privileged and blessed people! Seeing things in this light of eternity how extremely petty are the reasons that lie behind our fallings out.
My friends are we as generous as Paul or do we stubbornly hold on to gripes and grudges that would be far better swept away? Surely, if Paul could be so positive about these Corinthians we should be able to be positive about one another!
Paul’s life was far from being easy or trouble-
In the next few verses Paul will go expand on that but our time has gone and we’ll have to leave considering those words to another occasion.