Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Sep 4 2013 - 2 Corinthians 7:2-16 – A troubled heart

I’m sure you know what it is like to have to write a difficult letter or email. No sooner have you sent it on its way than you begin to wish that you could summon it back again. Have I made my point clearly, with sufficient force and clarity and yet without the bitterness of personal feelings that could provoke an angry response? Will it accomplish what I purpose or will it just make matters worse? And so you may end up fretting until you hear back from the person to whom it has been sent.

Paul had this same experience. There had been opposition at Corinth. Some there seemed to have been speaking against Paul and his ministry. After a brief and painful visit (2 Corinthians 2:1), Paul returned to Ephesus. From there he wrote a severe letter to the Christians at Corinth, calling for them to deal with those who opposed his ministry. This (now lost) letter, Paul seems to have sent by the hand of Titus.

No doubt the letter had been written with much prayer and was accompanied by continuing prayer after Titus had left. Nevertheless, Paul was in turmoil. On the one hand he had great confidence in the Christians at Corinth, a confidence which sprang from his conviction that God had begun a work in them and that he would complete it. So he had boasted to Titus concerning the Christians at Corinth. Yet he could find no peace until he heard back from Titus concerning their response to his letter. His concern was not primarily for himself and for his own reputation but rather for the gospel and that the Christians in Corinth might not be led astray from the message that he had preached to them.

Paul is overjoyed when Titus returns with news that the letter has had the desired effect. It made the Corinthian Christians sad, but in a helpful way; it brought them to repentance. Titus was received well and returns to tell Paul of the affection the Corinthian Christians have for him and of their longing to see him again.

This letter, which we call the second letter of Paul to the Corinthians, reveals not only Paul’s understanding of the gospel but also his pastoral heart. His concern for the churches loses him sleep. He cannot rest until he hears that those to whom he has ministered are continuing to follow Jesus Christ.

How do we deal with gossip, dissention and misconduct in the church? Dealing well with such things requires immense wisdom, a genuine pastoral heart and much prayer. Autocratic leaders, concerned only for their own reputation and position, can do much damage to the work that God, by his Spirit, has begun in tender Christians. But to leave wrong conduct to continue unchallenged can also allow damage to go unchecked. It needs grace, humility and boldness to challenge the misconduct of others in a way that will lead to repentance and healing. It requires a total and manifest concern for others rather than for oneself. Above all, it requires spiritual discernment and an utter dependence upon God that comes from a life of prayer. Few of us have such wisdom and discernment on our own. We need leadership teams in which we are able to talk, pray and act graciously together for the healing of dissentions and blessing of the church.

Lord, give us a pastoral heart like that of the apostle Paul. Give us the wisdom to know when it is necessary to speak or write difficult words. Give us also the wisdom and ability to do so in such a way that our words may lead to healing rather than causing damage. Keep us always from angry words which are a response to personal hurt; enable us to speak always in love, always in grace, always in hope.

Peter Misselbrook