I also love the two books of Corinthians. Paul's letters to the Corinthian church are a smack-down. The Corinthians were some of the most talented, blessed folks around, yet they were sinners in need of correction. Paul was just the man for the job.
I've been reading 2 Corinthians for some time now. I love how Paul defends himself as an apostle to these stubborn people who have been listening to naysayers. He is reluctant at first to say anything, but finally feels compelled to let the Corinthians know that he is a legitimate apostle. He was chosen by God on the Damascus road. In Chapter 12 he speaks of being caught up into heaven and shown incredible, unbelievable things (We can't even begin to imagine how incredible heaven will be - Paul couldn't even articulate it.).
Paul was given "a thorn in the flesh" to keep him from becoming conceited after his incredible experience with God. When he begged God to remove the thorn, God denied his request, saying,
My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.
Paul goes on to tell the Corinthians,
For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
The weaker the human instrument, the more clearly God's grace and power shines.
This is true today, too. The weaker the human instrument, the more clearly God's grace and power shines. You can see it if you look for it. Look at the struggling Christian.
- the spouse dealing with an unfaithful partner, yet forgiving again and again.
- the missionary labouring for years and years without a single convert
- the pastor preaching faithfully for year after year with no growth in his congregation
These weak Christians are instruments of grace in others' lives. Look at them, and see what God is doing.
Paul was weak, too. He likely wasn't a fine physical specimen. People were criticizing him and denouncing him because he didn't demand money like the other "missionaries". Paul finally defended himself and told the Corinthians how much he loved them and longed for them to grow.
Paul did not want to go back to Corinth and find the Corinthians in the same sorry condition they'd been in before. He longed for them to grow in grace. He desired that they would repent of impurity and immorality.
He blasted them with a furious pen, a passionate pen, a pointed pen.
But he did not give up on them.
1 Corinthians 12:19 Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? It is in the sight of God that we have been speaking in Christ, and all for your upbuilding, beloved. 20 For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish—that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder. 21 I fear that when I come again my God may humble me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality that they have practiced.
Notice Paul's purpose - all for your upbuilding, beloved. He loves them, and wants to build them up. Paul longs for "his children" to lead godly lives.
Isn't that what we long for in our loved ones? Don't we want them to do better, to put off sin and put on righteous living? Aren't we heartbroken when we witness others struggling with the same old sin patterns?
Paul plans to come back to Corinth, but worries about what he'll find. He fears that when he comes he won't find a group of mature Christians, loving one another, serving one another, pouring out their energy to help others. Instead, he might find people struggling with quarrels, with jealousy, with anger, with hostility, with slander and gossip and deceit. He fears that he'll encounter disorder. He dreads that God may humble him before them, causing him to mourn over those men and women he taught and prayed for and admonished and loved.
How about you?
Is there someone in your life that is a pain in your neck? A thorn in your flesh? A burr in your saddle? Is there someone you've prayed for and longed for, crying out to God to deliver from besetting sin?
One of the things God calls us to do is to LOVE. It's the first and greatest commandment. We're to love God first and foremost, and love our neighbour as ourselves. Jesus makes it clear that our neighbour is everybody.
God brings people into our lives and we're to love them.
Sometimes, that's not easy.
William Carey was called to be a missionary to India. He was the first missionary sent out by the Society, and he took along his wife, Dorothy, and his two sons and his sister-in-law. God called him to go, of that he was certain, but Dorothy didn't get it. She refused to go at first, only agreeing when her sister said she'd go, too. As soon as she lost sight of Britain, Dorothy regretted her decision... and things went from bad to worse. When they finally landed in India, they discovered they were illegal and weren't allowed to preach. They moved into a hovel when their funds were gone, but there was no work for William. They moved again, and their son died. Dorothy never recovered.
She blamed her husband. She railed at him, sometimes attacking him and making him bleed. She bitterly destroyed his prize flowers, and refused to get out of bed. She screamed and hollered and cried out against William and India and God and her entire life. She was a mess.
It would have made sense for William to commit her to an asylum, but when a fellow missionary suggested that, William was horrified. He married her for better or for worse. He stuck by her until the end.
If we evaluate Dorothy as a wife, she was a failure.
- she refused to keep house
- she would not cook
- she was bitter against God
- she attacked her husband
- she did not take care of her children
- she did not work alongside William in his work as a missionary
Not much of a wife.
Yet God gave William the grace he needed to remain faithful to Dorothy. He patiently put up with her yelling and screaming and her destructive ways. He continued to be kind to her and speak well of her. He did not give up on her.
Just like Paul. Paul didn't give up on the Corinthians, even though they were a sorry bunch. He prayed for them, and longed that they would live godly lives. But even though he dreaded that they might slip back into their former behaviour, he never gave up on them.
William didn't give up on Dorothy, either, even though she was a sorry mess. He prayed for her and longed for her to accept her life in India. He hoped that she would find joy in service to others, and even when she refused to listen, he never gave up on her.
Is there someone in your life that you want to give up on? Is there someone you've prayed for, longed for, agonized over?
Don't give up on him!
Just like Paul, be willing to mourn if need be. Be willing to pray, again, for that wretched sinner that God has put into your life. Don't worry about what you will find in his life - it's not up to YOU. Spiritual growth is a work of the Spirit. We are called to love. God does the rest. Just don't ever give up. Never give in! NEVER SURRENDER!