Summary: How do respond when someone hurts you? Is it with veiled hatred and open contempt? The Apostle Paul had to deal with just such a situation and how he handled it can help us to deal with pain in a godly way.
Sometimes the right thing to do is confront bad behavior or attitudes. As a leader there have been times when I have had to call someone on the carpet. It’s never easy and too often that person does not receive the exhortation or even rebuke well. As a leader, my job is to protect and nurture the body. If someone’s actions or words are seriously harming another then I need to step in. Fortunately this doesn’t happen very often but it has been among the most difficult jobs of a leader and I never look forward to it.
Paul faced such a situation. He’s pretty sharply rebuked the Corinthians and was on his way to visit them to see if they’d listened to him when he caught wind that things had gone from bad to worse. The people had originally taken up sides against one another by worshipping certain leaders like Paul, Peter, and Apollos. After Paul’s letter they instead took up against the Apostle Paul by siding with other leaders who were actually “pastors for hire” and not apostles at all.
Add to that a particularly sharp exchange between Paul and someone in the congregation and it was a little like holding a lit match to a barrel of gun powder; one false move and the entire church might explode into nothing, and all of the lives hurt in the process.
So Paul takes a different course. Instead of coming and laying down the law he writes a letter—one filled with personal anguish—like a loving father instead of a stern school master. He’s hoping this indirect approach will wake the Corinthians up so he can see them corrected while maintaining his relationship with him.
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You’ve got to give it Paul. He had one of the most difficult ministries of anyone. He marched forward with the gospel despite huge opposition from the Jews and Gentiles. Paul’s main consolation was the encouragement he received from the saints. To have the Corinthians so messed up and now attacking him was almost more than he could bear. So he decided not to come in person but to write this letter.
If he had come he would have been filled with so much grief it might have been too much to bear. It reminds me of Jesus standing before Jerusalem:
Matthew 23:37-38 "Jerusalem, Jerusalem! The city who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her. How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, yet you were not willing!
Paul wanted to spend his time getting cheered up in fellowship and in turn encourage the Corinthians. So he wrote the letter—pouring over it with an anguished heart and many tears. He wants them to know that he isn’t so much mad at them as much as worried about them.
Many times a leader’s heart is misunderstood in this way. When people hear something they don’t want to hear they often get defensive as if the leader is purposefully singling them out to hurt them. In a good leader this is never the case. The end is always to restore and heal and cause growth—not hurt.