Making Room In Our Hearts For Our Leaders; Conflicts On The Outside And Fears Within; God Comforts The Downcast; Godly Sorrow And Worldly Sorrow; Paul Had Complete Confidence In The Corinthians
Paul and his team started Messiah’s Community in Corinth, one of the most prominent cities in Greece. After being there for a year and a half, the Rabbi left the city, having starting an important community there. After he left, the community started to divide. Some of the people were supporting their favored leader and criticizing, opposing and undermining other leaders – even great leaders like Paul. To address this problem, and other problems, Paul and Sosthenes wrote the letter that is known as 1 Corinthians.
After Timothy returned to Corinth, he informed Paul that the divisions in the community had gotten worse. The faction who opposed Paul was growing in influence. This motivated Paul to change his plans and visit them immediately. But this visit was a painful visit. The Lord’s representative experienced more attacks from opponents while the rest of the community provided little support.
Paul returned to Ephesus and wrote a severe letter to the Corinthians and sent it to them by Titus. The purpose of this letter was to communicate his love for the Corinthians, urge the people to repent and demand the punishment of the leader of the opposition who opposed Paul.
Desiring to know the Corinthian’s response, the Rabbi traveled to Troas and eventually to Macedonia in search of Titus. When he found him, there was rejoicing. The leader of the opposition had repented and most of the Corinthians were very favorable toward Paul. Paul and Timothy wrote 2 Corinthians in response.
Even though the crisis in Corinth was over, damage had been done. Paul had been unfairly criticized. Seeds of doubt about him and his ministry had been planted. So, in this letter, the Rabbi and Timothy addressed the criticisms. They defended Paul and his ministry. They taught Messiah’s followers some glorious truths. They reassured the Corinthians of their love and commitment to them and asked for their love and commitment in return.
Make room for us in your hearts. Of course God’s people must room for God in their hearts, to have God at the center of their lives. It’s also very important for God’s people to have God-ordained leaders in their hearts; to have a close relationship with their spiritual leaders. These two great Messianic Jewish leaders wanted Messiah’s followers in Corinth to make room for them in their hearts, to put them in the center of their lives, to give them their love and devotion. That’s a bold request. They were able to make this bold request because Paul and Timothy knew they were worthy of the love and commitment of the Corinthians; knew they had a lot to give the Corinthians; knew if the Corinthians gave them their love and devotion, the Corinthians would be blessed.
In contrast to spiritual leaders who are unworthy to be in the hearts of God’s people; leaders who take advantage of those they lead; who corrupt the Word of God and corrupt the people they should be helping, Paul and Timothy could truthfully claim: We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have exploited no one. They had been faithful to God; faithful to the Word of God; faithful to those they ministered to. Paul and Timothy were indeed worthy of their love and devotion.
There were people who accused Paul and his team of being corrupt and taking advantage of those they ministered to. Even though they defended themselves from these accusations of wronging others, corrupting others, exploiting others, the Rabbi didn’t want the Corinthians to think he was accusing them of being among those who had accused him and his co-workers of these things. I do not say this to condemn you. Paul did not believe the majority had accused him of wronging others, corrupting others, exploiting others.
In spite of the opposition and lack of support Paul had experienced from them on his painful visit, he and his team still loved the Corinthians and were totally committed to them; and he wanted them to know that. I have said before that you have such a place in our hearts that we would live or die with you. The Rabbi made it clear that he and his co-workers loved the Corinthians so much they were willing to spend their lives with them and for them; and they were even willing to die with them. That’s love. That’s devotion. That’s commitment. That’s leadership that is worthy to be followed. How can God’s people not want to make room in their hearts for leaders like that?
Paul let them know he was speaking to them with great frankness. I have spoken to you with great frankness; I take great pride in you. I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds. With great frankness, with boldness with confidence he was letting them know he loved them and was committed to them; and he was very proud of them; and they were a source of great encouragement to him. When he and Timothy and those who served the Lord with them were experiencing troubles, and they experienced a lot of troubles, the knowledge that there was a community of Messiah’s followers in the important city of Corinth who were knowledgeable and gifted and steadfast and unified and serving the Lord, brought them great encouragement and a joy that knew no limits. That’s a lot of joy.
Paul gave them an example of the way they encouraged him. For when we came into Macedonia (this trip to Macedonia came after Paul’s painful visit to Corinth; and after he returned to Ephesus and wrote that severe letter to the Corinthians and sent it to them by Titus), we had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn – conflicts on the outside, fears within. Some think that full-time ministry is easy – read the Bible and prepare a message, give it on the weekend, count the offering, make the deposit. For some, full-time ministry may be easy, but it wasn’t for Paul and his co-workers. They experienced constant harassment. They experienced conflicts on the outside – from those who opposed them who were part of Messiah’s Community; conflicts from the Jewish community who rejected Yeshua; conflicts from the Gentiles who worshiped many gods and rejected their message about the Three-In-One God and the way of salvation; and they experienced fears within – fears within themselves due to the many dangers they faced.
Notice that it’s not wrong to have fears. You are not a coward if you are afraid of real dangers. However, you are a coward if you allow your fears to prevent you from doing your duty.
The Rabbi and his team were harassed at every turn. Everywhere they went they experienced conflicts from without and fears from within – yet they did not retreat. They did not quit. They pressed forward and fulfilled their responsibilities. They were they able to do that because God comforted them. For when we came into Macedonia, we had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn – conflicts on the outside, fears within. But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort you had given him. He told us about your longing for me, your deep sorrow, your ardent concern for me, so that my joy was greater than ever. In the midst of harassment, conflicts from without and fears from within; in spite of being downcast, sad, sorrowful, Paul found Titus, who had delivered his severe letter to the Corinthians. Titus reported that, instead of experiencing a painful visit like Paul had experienced, the community had given him a warm reception. They responded in the right way to Paul’s severe letter that he delivered to them. They had deep sorrow because they had not given Paul the unqualified support he deserved; they now longed for Paul; they wanted Paul to return to them; they were very concerned for his well-being. This news comforted Paul; lifted his spirit; gave him great joy.
It’s natural for people to want to avoid pain. However, we have the great advantage of knowing that hardships, trials, pain, suffering, sadness, sorrow can be very beneficial – if we respond the right way. Even though Paul’s severe letter caused the Corinthians sorrow, Paul did not regret causing them sorrow because they responded in the right way – with godly sorrow that led to repentance. Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it – I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while – yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.
There are two kinds of sorrow. One is good and one is bad. Godly sorrow is good because the person is genuinely sorry for doing bad things that offended God and hurt others. That kind of sorrow results in repentance – changed thinking and changed behavior; turning to God and turning away from sin. Godly sorrow leads to repentance and salvation.
The other kind of sorrow, worldly sorrow, is bad because it doesn’t lead to repentance or salvation. The person is sorry because his plans failed. He is sorry because he was caught and is suffering the consequences. If he had only planned better; if only he hadn’t been caught – everything would be fine. That kind of godless sorrow that so many have leads to death.
See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness (seriousness of purpose, refocusing them on the right things), what eagerness to clear yourselves (they wanted to prove they were supportive of Paul all along), what indignation, what alarm (that others might think they were cooperating with those who opposed Paul), what longing (the desire to have Paul back with them), what concern (because they genuinely cared for Paul), what readiness to see justice done (they were ready to make everything right, to bring correction to those who had opposed Paul, to honor Paul they way he should have been honored all along). Paul’s severe letter had the desired effect. It produced in them everything the apostle wanted.
Those who are challenged that they have done something wrong usually respond by defending themselves and demonstrating that the charges against them aren’t true. That’s what Paul’s challenging letter did for the Corinthians. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter. The majority had not sided with those who opposed Paul. They had not been critical of the one God used to start their community. They had not lost their devotion to him. And that is exactly what Paul intended when he wrote his letter. So even though I wrote to you, it was neither on account of the one who did the wrong nor on account of the injured party, but rather that before God you could see for yourselves how devoted to us you are. By all this we are encouraged.
A community that is united and serving the Lord; a community in which the people have good relationships with their leaders, encourages not only the leaders, but encourages, refreshes and brings joy to others. That’s what happened to Titus. In addition to our own encouragement, we were especially delighted to see how happy Titus was, because his spirit has been refreshed by all of you.
Some people think that all boasting is wrong. It’s not. There’s bad boasting and there’s good boasting. It’s OK to boast about the accomplishments of others, especially those who are serving the Lord in an exemplary way. Paul had boasted to Titus that the Corinthians were a group like that, and they proved to Titus that Paul’s boast about them was true. I had boasted to him about you, and you have not embarrassed me. But just as everything we said to you was true, so our boasting about you to Titus has proved to be true as well. The Rabbi was very careful with his words. When he spoke to the Corinthians about God, the Word of God, the Gospel of God, he spoke the truth. When he boasted to Titus about the Corinthians – that they loved the Lord and the Word of God; that they were gifted and knowledgeable and steadfast – Titus was able to confirm was true.
When we don’t respect those who deserve our respect, it can alienate them from us. When we respect those we should respect, it does the opposite. It creates affection in them for us. Titus worked with Paul. Paul had sent him to Messiah’s followers in Corinth on an important mission. When he arrived, the Corinthians treated him with the respect he deserved. That created additional affection in Titus for the Corinthians. And his affection for you is all the greater when he remembers that you were all obedient, receiving him with fear and trembling.
The situation in Corinth was now back to what it should have been. Correction had been given and received, and implemented. The Lord’s representative could now write: I am glad I can have complete confidence in you. Having complete confidence in Messiah’s people created joy in the Lord’s representative. May the Lord so work that others can have complete confidence in His people who are part of Shema. Amen?
Lord, help the leaders of our congregation open our hearts wide to the people of Shema, and vice-versa. Help our relationships be what they should be – full of love and devotion and loyalty and commitment.
Help the leaders of our community to always be able to say: We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have exploited no one. And may it be true.
Thank You that You are the God who comforts the downcast. I pray that You will comfort all those who are downcast who are part of our Community.
Help us with our sorrow – to learn the difference between godly sorrow and worldly sorrow, and to have only godly sorrow.
A community that is united and serving the Lord; a community in which the people have good relationships with their leaders, encourages not only the leaders, but encourages, refreshes and brings joy to others. Help us be that community.