Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Tough-love letter

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 2 Corinthians 7:2-16

: "For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it, though I did regret it. For I perceive that the same epistle made you sorry, though only for a while. Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing." 2 Corinthians 7:8,9

Paul speaks in today's reading  of feeling troubled, conflicted, downcast, sorry, and regretful. What brought on these feelings? It was a letter or letters that he had written to the Christians in Corinth.

It appears he wrote an earlier letter than 1 Corinthians, which has been lost to us (1 Corinthians 5:9-11). In the letter we do have—1 Corinthians—he speaks to them sharply about their sectarianism (1 Corinthians 3:1-4), a case of tolerated sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 5:1), their tendency to sue each other (1 Corinthians 6:1-11), their undisciplined commemoration of the Lord's Supper (1 Corinthians 11:17-22), and more.

Even though Paul wrote his letter in the context of a society accepting of authority, he felt stressed about how the Corinthians would perceive his rebuke. I think this shows the necessary soft underside of effective rebuke, correction and discipline. It comes from a heart of love. But it's tough love.

Paul expresses that tough love in today's focus verses. It's a love that dares to confront and hurt the sinner for his ultimate good. It takes risks, knowing that such expression may cause havoc in the relationship as the sinner works through the issue to repentance.

This is a challenge to us in our time when, if anything, the practice confronting people with their sin and enacting church discipline is rarer than ever. In our tolerant society rebuking someone is likely to be met with "Who are you to tell me what to do and how to live my life?" Churches and Christian organizations attempting to uphold standards of moral purity in the lives of members or employees by excommunication or firing are more likely to be met with litigation than repentance. Are we loving enough to risk that reaction for the sake of another person's eternal well-being?

Flip side—do we welcome rebuke and correction given in the spirit of tough love?

PRAYER: Dear God, thank You for the example of Paul's tender heart toward the people he rebuked. Help me to give and accept rebuke with the right attitude. Amen.

MORE: Repentance

"Repentance always brings a man to this point; I have sinned. The surest sign that God is at work is when a man says that and means it. Anything less than this is a remorse for having made blunders, the reflex action of disgust at himself.

The entrance into the Kingdom is through the panging pains of repentance crashing into a man's respectable goodness; then the Holy Ghost, who produces these agonies, begins the formation of the Son of God in the life. The new life will manifest itself in conscious repentance and unconscious holiness, never the other way about." 
- Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest, December 7th reading.

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