Lessons from 2 Corinthians
2 Corinthians is a book every preacher and teacher needs to read at least once a quarter. It is interesting to see how God inspired Paul to both encourage and rebuke the church at Corinth in a balanced way. Paul would acknowledge and show appreciation for the good the Corinthians were doing, continually state and affirm the great love he and God have for them and the love they have for each other, while also repeatedly bringing up in very blunt and sometimes sarcastic ways their shortcomings while admonishing them to repent.
There’s a lesson in this for us, preachers. Spiritually building up and edifying fellow Christians to help them become closer to God and overcome sin in their life requires more than telling them what they need to work on. It equally requires open acknowledgment and appreciation of what we are doing right, and encouragement to keep it up. I encourage my fellow preachers and teachers in the church, especially those of us who regularly post religious articles on social media, to remember that. As someone who regularly reads the writings of my fellow Christians, I am struck by the higher ratio of critical articles of brethren and the church there are versus the number of articles which openly thank brethren and the church for the good they do and acknowledge it. Yes, the articles which bring out what Christians and the church need to do better are more times than not correct and they are sure to get numerous “likes” and comments like “Amen!” and “Preach it, brother!” However, after a while of being regularly saturated with articles that repeatedly say, “We have this problem”, “We’re not doing what we need to here in this area”, and “We could do better here”, a lot of us will get discouraged and begin to wonder if we can do anything right in the sight of God (or the preacher or teacher who regularly blogs and preaches these messages).
Consider the following examples from Paul and his second inspired letter to Corinth:
- He starts by openly wishing upon them grace and peace from God and Christ (1:2). My fellow preaching and teaching bloggers, how often in our writings to Christians do we openly wish God’s grace and peace upon them, even while we “let them have it”? I know this is something I need to work on.
- He then gives them a very uplifting message about comfort (1:3-5). He also informs them that they are the reason he and his fellow apostles suffer (1:6) and that his hope in them is unshaken (1:7), before requesting their prayers (1:11). A stark contrast from sermons and articles I and others have written which simply say to Christians, “Shape up!” without also comforting them and telling them, “I care so much about you, and here’s what I’m willing to do to show it. I hope in you. I believe in you, so much so that I’m asking you to pray for me.”
- Paul then speaks bluntly to them about their need to forgive the penitent among them (1:23-2:11). Yet, even while doing so he goes out of his way to tell them that he didn’t think he was better than them (1:24a), acknowledge that they stand firm in their faith (1:24b), inform them that it tore him up to have to rebuke them (2:4a), and make sure they knew that he didn’t want to hurt them because he loved them very much (2:4b). Again, we preachers can learn from this. Rebuking people requires more than telling them to repent while specifying their errors. It also requires telling them that you love them while acknowledging what they are doing right.
- Even while defending himself and his companions from the accusation of being “peddlers of God’s word” (2:12-3:1), he tells the Corinthians that their walk with Christ is such that he could use them as a “letter of recommendation” (3:2-3). What a great example for us, brethren!
- Paul then speaks positively about the terrible ordeals he and his companions went through rather than complaining about it (4:8-11) before informing the Christians at Corinth that he willingly went through these trials for their sake (4:12-15). Preachers, let’s be honest. We tend to complain to each other about the problems brought upon us due to preaching the gospel, problems which are quite small when compared to Paul’s (see 11:23-27). Why not speak of how God upholds us even in the midst of our sufferings as Paul did, before informing the church that we would go through it all over again if it would help just one soul in that congregation get closer to God?
- Notice how Paul says to the church, “We IMPLORE you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (5:20b) and “we APPEAL to you not to receive the grace of God in vain” (6:1). Preachers and fellow teachers and bloggers, let’s try IMPLORING brethren to repent and APPEALING to them rather than beating them up over the head about it. Pleading rather than lecturing might produce better results.
- Before admonishing them to be different from unbelievers rather than unequally yoking themselves to them (6:14-7:1), notice how Paul went out of his way to tell these Christians that his heart was wide open for them while encouraging them to widen their hearts also (6:11-13). Notice also that while he ends his admonishment for them to cleanse themselves from defilement, he calls them “beloved” (7:1) and urges them again, “Make room in your hearts for us” (7:2a). Parents who effectively discipline their children know that their children need to be reminded of their love for them both before and after the spanking. In like manner, Christians need to know how much we care for them and love them while we rebuke them from the pulpit, in articles, and face to face.
- Paul then acknowledged that his previous letter brought them grief which led them to repent (7:8-10). He then went out of his way to let them know that they were doing a great job repenting (7:11), and that their repentance and subsequent encouraging of Titus comforted Paul and his companions (7:13). Notice how Paul told them that he had been boasting about them, and that their actions proved his boasts to be well-founded (7:14). See how he told them that Titus’ affection for them was growing and that Titus remembered how obedient they were (7:15). Paul then told them about his joy over them and that he had “perfect confidence” in them (7:16). This is the same church 1 Corinthians was written to, remember. These are the same people who were very divided, suing each other over trivial matters, openly and arrogantly tolerating extreme fornication among them, arguing over where their brethren bought meat, defiling the Lord’s Supper, childishly wanting the “cool” spiritual gifts rather than the ones most profitable for helping the church grow, and even denying that there would be a resurrection of the dead on Judgment Day…and yet look how Paul is speaking positively of them here. My fellow preachers, the church in America overall has a lot of problems…but she has a lot of good in her too. We can take a page from Paul’s book here and acknowledge that. It might just help our brethren to become better.
- While talking up the Macedonian brethren, Paul told Corinth – Corinth, of all people! – that they “excel in everything” while encouraging them to excel in their giving also (8:7). He then acknowledged that they had in fact excelled in helping their needy brethren and others before urging them to keep it up (8:10-11) and thus prove to others that Paul was right to boast about them (8:24). He then acknowledged their readiness to participate in this good work and informed them that he was boasting about them to others, who in turn were inspired by them (9:2), all before exhorting them to be ready to give more and give in the right way (9:3-11). He then told them about how others were glorifying God because of their generosity (9:12-15). What a great example for us in how to stir up brethren to get more involved in church work!
- Take note of how Paul, even while defending himself against his detractors at Corinth, again “entreated” and “begged” Corinth to repent (10:1-2). Notice also how even in the midst of his sarcastic rebuke of them recorded all throughout chapters 10 through 12, he talks of his hope that their faith would increase (10:15), his fear that Satan would lead them astray (11:3), his love for them (11:11), and his anxiety for them and all other churches (11:28), before informing them that he would “most gladly spend and be spent for your souls” (12:15a) that it was “all for your upbuilding, beloved” (12:19b), that he was praying for them (13:7, 9), and that they were more important than him (13:9). He then ended his letter to them in a very positive note (13:11-14). What a great example of balance that shows us how to rebuke with love and encourage even while admonishing!
Preachers, teachers, and fellow religious bloggers, we can definitely learn from this. I know I can. The brethren need more from us than constant rebukes. They need expressed love, comfort, concern, and encouragement. We need to brag on them even though they’re not perfect. Guess what? We’re not either. We need to truly love them, and God shows us how to do so in 2 Corinthians. May we all work harder to preach the Word like Paul!
Proclaiming God’s truth is a blessing, and those of us who proclaim it from the pulpit and through our writings have the highest privilege bestowed to man other than being a child of God and approaching his throne in prayer. Men of God, thank you for the hard work you put in for the kingdom. I love each of you and keep you in my prayers. We are all imperfect beings made complete by his Son’s blood. Let’s keep striving to do what is right. God bless you for the work you do, preachers.