Summary: Taking criticism is one of the hardest things for us humans. When it comes to God's critique of our lives, and areas He needs to touch, we often react with our natural human defenses. But Paul in addressing the subject with the Corinthian church, gives us
What happens when you realize you’ve blown it? You have done something, said something, held an attitude about something—and somehow you get called on the carpet. Perhaps it’s by the Holy Spirit, maybe by a Bible study, or listening to a sermon, or even someone else telling you directly that you are wrong.
Our first response is usually defensive. We deny that we have done anything because we are essentially self-rationalizing beings. To go the other direction we could feel terrible about ourselves and just wallow in self-pity. We can also displace what should be true sorrow into anger either at God or the person who delivered the news. None of those responses is as healthy as what we see in this chapter.
Chapter 7 of 2 Corinthians gives us a powerful example of what went right in this troubled church, and how both disciples and leaders can appreciate and affirm each other to support God’s effort to transform us into his character.
2 – 4
These words of Paul’s are so different than what he has just been saying. In chapter 6 verse 12 “you are limited by your own affections.” In other words, you are holding yourselves away from us, perhaps out of defensiveness.
But in Chapter 7 Paul is telling them that their response has been great. Here’s the context: Paul started the church and led many of them to faith in Christ. Some men had come into town and called Paul’s authority into question. It got so bad that when Paul came to visit, one of the members of the church publically came against the Apostle. Paul wrote them a letter (not 1st Corinthians) to rebuke them and sent it to them by way of Titus.
Paul was very worried how this letter would be received. In fact, it was received very well. We’ll get to more how that happened in a few minutes.
Verse 2 suggests that the false apostles were actually defrauding the people financially. This is sadly a common occurrence with some ministries even today and I believe it grieves the heart of God. “You can trust me,” Paul is saying. “I’m on your side.
Verse 3: Paul says he will stick to the Corinthians no matter how tough things get, and they should stick by him as well. Add to that verse 4 where Paul shares his feelings of affirmation: he has confidence that they will receive his words in the spirit they are given. He takes great pride in them. You know, pride is not a bad thing when it expresses a feeling of affirmation towards someone else. Pride is bad only when it makes us feel we don’t need God. You can just feel the relief in Paul’s heart as he is “filled with encouragement and overcome with joy” even in the midst of bad times.
So next he goes on to describe how these feelings came about:
5 – 6
Paul had no idea how either Paul’s letter or Titus would be received. After things had gone so south in Corinth perhaps he feared that Titus himself might possibly be in danger. So here’s Paul, with people on all sides trying to kill him, and he’s worried about how the Corinthians will respond to a letter containing some really hard things to hear. What a heart. It is a humble heart, as it turns out. Paul was not coming at them as a stern dictator but a concerned father.
Notice something else here. Paul says “fears inside.” You know, it is okay to be afraid of what is going on around you. The key is to reach out for and receive the comfort of God. You are in a good place when you know you can handle life. You are in an even better place when you realize God can handle it for you.
So Titus coming to them provided so much relief and comfort, and it was the response of the Corinthians that did it—a response we can learn a lot from.
Not only did they receive Paul’s letter well, but they received Titus well too. Look at the reaction: deep longing, sorrow, zeal. He’ll get into more specifics in the next verses but this forms the heart of a healthy response to deficits of character pointed out in our lives.
Do you have a deep longing to be godly?
Do you feel sorrow when you realize you have fallen short?
Do you respond not with just words but with actions?
So next you can feel Paul’s sigh of relief.
8 – 9
It was a big gamble for Paul to express his concerns to the Corinthians about their rebellion, and specifically to combat this individual who had publically come against Paul. Paul didn’t want to hurt the Corinthians, but help them. That should be the motivation any time you speak correction into someone’s life. Sometimes we do it to feel superior in our behaviors or our knowledge. The motivation should always be to see someone healed and able to assist their walk. After he wrote the letter he worried (regret) but the response they had was correct: grief followed by repentance. He rejoiced because the letter didn’t result in either self-pity or more rebellion (defensiveness) and so there was no harm done, only good (“no loss from us”).