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Love Versus Exploitation

2 Corinthians 12:14-18
Now I am ready to visit you for the third time, and I will not be a burden to you, because what I want is not your possessions but you. After all, children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. So I will very gladly spend for you everything I have and expend myself as well. If I love you more, will you love me less? Be that as it may, I have not been a burden to you. Yet, crafty fellow that I am, I caught you by trickery! Did I exploit you through any of the men I sent to you? I urged Titus to go to you and I sent our brother with him. Titus did not exploit you, did he? Did we not walk in the same footsteps by the same Spirit? (NIVUK)

Paul founded the church in Corinth, staying there over a year and a half. We do not know when he visited a second time (2 Corinthians 2:1), although it clearly caused him great concern to find that the church had been lured away from sound doctrine by false teachers - impostors posing as apostles (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). They also slipped back into the pattern of pagan religion in which immorality was part of temple worship (2 Corinthians 12:21).

At the same time, they had been taught to think that Paul, the apostle personally commissioned by Jesus Christ (Romans 1:1-6) was inferior, because he did not charge for his teaching. That was because Paul loved the people for Jesus' sake; they had come to a living relationship with God through Paul's teaching, and he had become a father in Christ to them (1 Corinthians 4:15). Like any good father, he had no desire to exploit his children, be a burden to them or demand that they should pay for the upbringing he provided. Indeed, he loved them so much that he would have given anything to see them secure in the Lord and joyful in their salvation (1 Corinthians 7:2-4).

Paul used that parent-child illustration to jolt them out of their delusions; to remember that Paul had God's authority to lead them, as a parent leads children. But it was a relationship of love, not power over them. Likewise, when Titus arrived in Corinth, he did not demand any personal support from the church for himself. His mission was to ask the church to give money for the impoverished believers in Jerusalem – many probably outcast from their families and struggling to cope with the famines (2 Corinthians 8:6-7). Both Paul and Titus were motivated by the same Spirit who was in Jesus. Their lifestyle was authentically Christian, even though the Corinthians were wrongly judging them by their own pagan cultural values.

A good definition of love is 'appropriate giving'. Selfish taking is the opposite of love; it is exploitation. This applies to personal, family, community and church relationships. It is heart-breaking when real love is thought to be intrusive exploitation; or when exploitation is dressed up as real love. What is the way to get back on track? Firstly, recognise that there is a problem. Then look at the Spirit-filled lifestyles of the Lord Jesus Christ and His apostles. Then we need to set aside our sinful value-systems (which often make a virtue out of exploitation), and ask the Lord to teach us from these biblical examples – trusting that He will fill us with real love to give to others, and recognise true love when we see it.

God of love. Thank You for loving me, and for the love You distribute through Your people. Forgive me for sometimes mixing up love and exploitation because I apply my sinful values to the actions of others. Help me to love because I know how much You love me, and fill me with Your Spirit to receive and share Your love with others. In Jesus' Name. Amen.
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© Dr Paul Adams