Tough Love

Dr. Jon Morrissette - 4/18/2021

Even though we're in 2 Corinthians, I keep thinking back to the verse from Galatians 1:10 where Paul says, “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” I think this verse summarizes the great tension we experience as Christians. How do we navigate the tension this creates?

There is an incredible temptation for all of us to jettison our devotion to Christ, in order to be accepted by people. When I was young, I had a close friend. We loved all the same things. Sports, music, fishing, hiking, wild-life, model trains, pretty girls (you name it). We shared faith in Jesus. We attended each other’s youth groups, memorized Scripture. We pledged ourselves to sobriety.

But in High School there were so many pressures. Things changed. My friend opened himself to other friends, and influences. He went places, drank things, smoked things, viewed things, laughed at things, spoke words, thought stuff, did stuff. . .went down this whole other path!

It became a major crisis. Not that I was “better” or “more righteous” than him (I didn’t think that way at all). But it was this: “How could I earn this friend’s approval, and please him, and be liked by him. . . while maintaining my devotion to Christ?” I so badly wanted to do both, but it became impossible!

Given the choice of seeking God’s approval, or a person’s approval, which do you choose? How many times has your sincere desire to serve Christ, brought tension into your relationships? If you are a pastor, it's tested church relationships. If married, if a parent, it's created tension in your marriage or family. If you teach, your classroom. If you coach, your team. If an employer or employee, your workplace. How we long to be that person who can just readily go along and endorse everyone and everything. Yet to serve Christ so often wrinkles people’s noses.

In 2 Corinthians 1:23 the Apostle Paul writes, “I call on God as a witness, on my life, that it was to spare you that I did not come to Corinth.” Before 2 Corinthians, there was 1 Corinthians. If you read 1 Corinthians, you get a sense of Paul’s anguish. He was grieving stuff that was going on. He was a bit angry, a bit frustrated, a bit impatient! In Corinth there was so much division, intellectual arrogance, self-centeredness, spiritual immaturity, lovelessness, sexual immorality, idolatry. Did Paul shrug his shoulders? Nope! In love, he tediously laid out the requirements for devotion to Christ. He addressed the elephant in the room. People were left feeling hurt and angry. So Paul is saying, “It was too soon for me to return…”

In 2 Corinthians 2 Paul begins to unpack this situation more specifically. And I think it is so instructive for us to listen and understand. I am going to try to explain things as best I can. You would agree that in every church there is sin. I’m not talking about the fact that we’re all constantly growing in Christ. I’m saying there are always going to be some matter of doctrine, or some matter of sin, or some issue of devotion to Christ that is going to arise. In a healthy church, these matters are going to be addressed. In an unhealthy church, problems are left to grow and metastasize like a cancer.

What is really perplexing is how even God’s people can experience something good, and healthy, and healing, and life-giving… something like church discipline, like pastoral care, like discipleship, like sanctification. . . as PAIN. Think of a person going through chemo, through radiation treatment. They experience the cure, the remedy not just as pain, but maybe as pain greater than the illness. Paul was loving this church into shape, yet people’s feelings were hurt. Is there such a thing a hurt-free, pain-free growth? Healing? Discipleship? Sanctification?

There were many circles of pain at Corinth. First, there was Pain Among the Congregation. In 2 Corinthians 2:1-3 Paul says, “In fact, I made up my mind about this: I would not come to you on another painful visit. 2 For if I cause you pain, then who will cheer me other than the one being hurt by me?” 3 I wrote this very thing so that when I came I wouldn’t have pain from those who ought to give me joy, because I am confident about all of you that my joy will also be yours.”

There is a lot of irony here. Paul writes 1 Corinthians, or even perhaps another letter. If you read 1 Corinthians, Paul is incredulous. He calls out one man in particular whose sexual sin was particularly egregious. I understand Paul to be saying, “It should be a joy, an encouragement, for me to show up, for us to come together. I wrote a painful letter to you because I was confident you would get these matters resolved, and enjoy one another fellowship! But you hadn’t resolved things at that time. And if I showed up, who would have been happy to see me? You weren’t ready to receive me. Was the guy I confronted ready? Surely not! You guys had work to do!”

There is this kind of ripple effect that emanates out through the church. In 1 Corinthians 12:26 Paul writes how in the Church: “So if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it. . .” There is a kind of collateral damage that occurs when hard truths are spoken, when church discipline is exercised by an Apostle/Elder Team, or even godly shepherds. As church members we so readily want to whip to someone’s defense—especially if they seem hurt. Maybe the person being corrected or rebuked or admonished or disciplined… maybe they are talking… they're reacting… they're upset, they're emotional, they'er crying, they're making waves, stirring up sympathy for their cause, oozing… maybe they are playing the victim. As is often the case, maybe they are accusing those in authority of being heavy-handed, or mean, or un-Christ-like, or cruel.

It’s in our nature to want to defend, and protect, and fight for one another—our friends. But in doing so, are we serving Christ? It’s in our nature to protest those causing pain—even if that pain is warranted by Christ’s command. Church people are not so great at getting the facts, understanding the context, or supporting the actions being taken. They weren’t fans of Paul. Paul was hoping time might correct the record—and it sometimes does!

Second, there was Pain Within the Pastor (in this case, the Apostle Paul). In 2 Corinthians 2:4-5 he says, “4 For I wrote to you with many tears out of an extremely troubled and anguished heart—not to cause you pain, but that you should know the abundant love I have for you. 5 If anyone has caused pain, he has caused pain not so much to me but to some degree—not to exaggerate—to all of you.”

Children don’t always see their parent’s tears. Nor students, their teachers. Nor players, their coach’s tears. Nor church’s, their pastor’s tears. These verses describe most every pastor I know. “Extremely troubled.” “Anguished in heart.” Their deepest, sincerest motive? “Abundant love.” Yet what confounds that troubled spirit, and anguished heart is this baseless charge of “Hate!”

We live in a day when if you dare love someone so deeply as to presume to teach them, or so boldly venture to challenge or disagree with them, or God forgive rebuke them, or offer correction… no matter how egregious the sin… no matter how grave the matter… you are accused of doing things NOT “out of love” but “out of hate.” Preaching righteousness is an act of HATE today!

But here is the Pastor’s dilemma: There is the pain of confrontation, but there is also the pain of negligence. You might very well blow up a circle of relationships if you execute your duties as a pastor. But even if that happens, there is still a chance those disenfranchised will come to their senses and repent. It sometimes takes decades, but there is a good chance. But there is also a pain of negligence. If you don’t say anything. If you don’t correct the doctrine, if you don’t confront the sin… sin and death may very well increase. And if you are a good pastor, given that reality, you will choose pain of confrontation every time.

In verse five, I understand Paul saying, “yeah, it hurts me to speak up. But this guy is really causing all of you in the body more pain. You just don’t see it. You’re not thinking through it.”

Third, there was Pain Within the Would-Be Disciple (Sinner) In 2 Corinthians 2:6-8 Paul says, “6 This punishment by the majority is sufficient for that person. 7 As a result, you should instead forgive and comfort him. Otherwise, he may be overwhelmed by excessive grief. 8 Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him.”

This is so cool. For the man committing egregious sin. There was a season of punishment, or discipline. He was put out of the church, put out of relationships, put out of the body. The shock of discipline stirred within the man deep sadness, leading to repentance. He became overwhelmed with excessive grief. Praise God that despite all his sin, his conscience was still responsive to the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Often when you confront a would-be disciple, they whiplash into pride, and self-righteousness, and self-justification, and they build their case. Instead this man became overwhelmed with excessive grief. Therefore Paul says, “His punishment is sufficient. Discipline worked. Its time to reaffirm your love to him.”

I’ll tell you, people today want restoration without repentance. They want affirmation without remorse, without grief, without humility. Discipline must be held out until it achieved its goal of godly sorrow, leading to repentance. Comfort and Joy isn’t just about physical life and death. Comfort and Joy is also about restoring the spiritual life of a wayward sinner, of that would-be disciple.

Here is a question. In the end, is all this headache and drama worth it? In 2 Corinthians 2:9-11 Paul writes, “I wrote for this purpose: to test your character to see if you are obedient in everything. 10 Anyone you forgive, I do too. For what I have forgiven—if I have forgiven anything—it is for your benefit in the presence of Christ, 11 so that we may not be taken advantage of by Satan. For we are not ignorant of his schemes.”

The great test for the church is navigate the tension of grace and truth well. We must hold unto truth, because God desires that we be servants of Christ, obedient in everything. We must also hold unto to grace, because Christ died that the benefit of forgiveness be extended, that grief not overwhelm, that Satan not gain victory, over that soul who repents. The challenge and tension of holding to grace and truth, and never one at the expense of the other, will continue until the end of the age. Let’s honor Christ well … in everything… serving Christ.

Scripture Verses

2 Corinthians 2:1-11; 1:23; 1 Corintians 12:26

Worship Playlist

Faithful to the End by Bethel Music

Living Hope by Phil Wickham

O Praise the Name (Anastasis) by Hillsong

Study Questions

  1. Why is the expression of abundant and confirming love so necessary in relational problems or church discipline?
  2. Why does Paul seem so emotionally invested in this letter? Write a prayer asking God to help you love courageously in your relationships.

Apply It!