A Christian Reality Check
It is very easy for people to have completely false views of religion in general and unrealistic expectations of the Christian faith in particular. If we get our expectations wrong then we’re likely to draw some conclusions about our lives that are wide of the mark and if we do that then we will likely make some wrong choices and end up trying to apply some well-
Some folk view the Christian life through rose-
Some, finding that the Christian life isn’t that bed of roses they were expecting they give up altogether maintaining that they had somehow tried Christianity but it didn’t work for them.
Others will react be assuming there is some problem in the way they are engaging in the faith and desperately try harder – far from giving up these folk drive and drive themselves and miss out on the peace and joy that they are meant to experience in the midst of trials and tribulations.
When we think about the way in which Paul lived his Christian life we find that he avoided those two extremes. His life certainly was far from being an easy ride but he did not give up and neither did he berate himself as though he were some kind of half-
We have noted in an earlier sermon that 2Corinthians is an intensely emotional letter and the section we’re considering is full of personal stresses, strains and helps that the apostle experienced.
You’ll remember the context: Paul has been experiencing difficulties in his relationships with a number of the Christians at Corinth. He loved them dearly but instead of returning his love they had instead paid attention to unwarranted criticism of him and relations had become fraught with tension.
Paul wanted to help the Corinthians and had invited them to open their hearts towards him. He has just reiterated his own loving attitude towards them and has declared that it is not he who is responsible for any breakdown between them rather, filled with confidence, he even boasted about them to others – and talking about them in this positive way has brought him much joy.
Paul wanted the Corinthians to know that his troubles were by no means over and some of them were not just related to the Corinthians but actually been caused by them. Paul felt unloved and the language he employs in this chapter is frank and emotional. Just consider some of the words he employs:
He knows too that he had "grieved" the very Corinthians he loved so much and this led him for a time to regret having caused them all this grief and sadness.
It looks like whatever Paul did at that time turned pear-
Absolutely not! Even in the midst of these very real trials and disappointments, Paul knew blessings too. I wonder whether we are adept as at recognising God’s blessings in our lives as Paul was in his!
While Paul was being buffeted by the trials he was going through God had not abandoned him. Paul was visited by Titus and this visit was part of God’s plan to encourage and strengthen the battered apostle.
Titus’ arrival brought a two-
a) His very coming to Paul was a help to Paul
b) His report about God’s ongoing work in the life of the Corinthians was a further encouragement to Paul
How readily Paul recognised and accepted the encouragements sent his way! Sometimes when our own situation seems pretty bleak we can resist the encouragements that do come our way; we can even get to the position when we "enjoy" being downcast and resist any attempts to bring about a change in our experience. Not so Paul! He responds quickly to Titus’ heartening visit and readily rejoices over the good news that Titus shares with him.
If for a while Paul had regretted causing his friends grief by the way he had had to deal with them, he ultimately didn’t regret it at all because their grief had turned out to be very fruitful. Their grief proved to be a godly grief and such grief leads to repentance and it had led to just such repentance in their experience. How different godly grief with its positive outcomes is when compared to a worldly grief that has no positives associated with it at all!
Paul’s letter had been stern and when the Corinthians had read it they were chastened by it. They had not however reacted defensively but instead had allowed the truth of that letter to influence their lives.
In fact in their "grief" the Corinthians had re-
And what changes these were! Whereas previously they had turned coldly away from Paul now they were sorry for what they’d done, so sorry that they could be described as being in "mourning". Nor was this a mere crying over spilt milk – they replaced their former attitude with a new found zeal for the apostle.
Paul doesn’t react by sitting back to see whether anything will come of all these good intentions but rejoices because of them. Isn’t this an example of what he had written in an earlier letter to these Corinthian Christians?
1Cor.13:7 "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."
Paul isn’t interested in making the Corinthians jump through hoops but responds unreservedly to the reports of their repentance which he goes on to describe as profound and productive.
Yes, they had been saddened by being confronted by their shortcomings but how positively they had responded!
There are lessons for us here too.
Under God this godly grief had produced good fruit:
This is evidence of the Spirit at work in the lives of the Corinthians – he has taken truth and shone light upon it and granted the necessary understanding that led to action. This is very different from the purely human reaction of remorse which leaves men and women languishing in inactivity and fruitlessness or worse – just stop and think of the example of Judas Iscariot. When made aware of his failures he was filled with remorse but did nothing positive instead he went out and killed himself!
When Titus brought this report to the apostle Paul, Paul received it readily and was comforted by it. It doesn’t seem as though Paul put the matter on hold with a "Wait and see if it’s genuine" cautionary attitude. No, Paul was quick to believe the reports he heard and he wanted the Corinthians to know that they were an immense encouragement to him!
How important it is for relationships between Christians to be characterised by a similar generosity of spirit!
Yes, it is painful when we have been let down by other believers but reconciliation must be our goal. And when the other party repents and seeks to put matters right we must be ready to forgive and that from the heart.
Jesus told Peter that he must be ready to forgive 70 times 7 times. He did not intend Peter to offer a "wait and see" forgiveness and he doesn’t expect us to either. How discouraging for the repenting offender to be kept at arm’s length as it were and afforded only a conditional forgiveness! After all, what more can he/she do than what he/she has already done?
How detrimental it is to wholesome relations within churches when forgiveness is grudgingly offered but the offence is not put behind us. When that supposedly pardoned offence remains as the elephant in the room Christian relationships are not properly restored. Our Father’s forgiveness sets the pattern for us and do you remember what that is like?
Ps.103:12 "as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust."
Jer.31:34 "For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."
Paul had been wronged by the Corinthians but he doesn’t want to hold on to those things and indeed seems to go as far as he possibly can in applauding the Corinthians.
Further Reasons for Rejoicing
Not only has Paul been personally encouraged by Titus’ visit and by the report that Titus’ brought concerning the changed attitude of the Corinthians towards him, he was also encouraged by hearing about the way in which the Corinthians had refreshed Titus’ when he had been amongst them.
It is perhaps one thing to rejoice when we are directly affected but it is surely a Christian virtue to rejoice when blessings come to others, as indeed Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome:
Rom.12:15 "Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep."
Paul had in fact boasted about the Corinthians to Titus. Indeed his boasting might seem somewhat extravagant to us when we read at the end of the chapter that Paul had a "perfect confidence" in them.
And yet Paul was not guilty of wishful thinking, he believed what he had told Titus – as he had spoken truth to the Corinthians so he had spoken truthfully to Titus about them.
And now Titus has come back to Paul and he has found the Corinthians to be as genuine as Paul had told him. Titus found the Corinthians to be characterised by obedience, by an appropriate and godly fear and trembling generosity.
How lovely this little passage is! How positive it all is! What a set of good results are to be found here!
Paul has friends in Corinth and he has spoken well of them to his colleague Titus even though his own recent relations with them had been difficult. Titus has met them and brought a good report back to Paul. How else can Paul react than to be glad and to rejoice? Don’t you like to hear your friends spoken well of? I do.
In speaking well of the Corinthians to Titus Paul had predisposed Titus to making a positive assessment of them. Titus’ subsequent visit confirmed what Paul had led him to believe but then Titus’ own experience caused his own love for the Corinthians to deepen and develop as well. Are there any losers in this section of Paul’s letter? The only loser is the accuser of the brethren who is shut out!
Glory be to Jesus.