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The Painful Tragedy Of A Stubborn Church

2 Corinthians 12:19-20a
Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? We have been speaking in the sight of God as those in Christ; and everything we do, dear friends, is for your strengthening. For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. (NIVUK)

It was not in Paul's nature to have to defend his motives, but because of the false accusations from so-called 'super-apostles', he had to do so (2 Corinthians 12:11). Usually though, when we find people protesting their innocence, we think that they have something to hide – and perhaps Paul was concerned lest the believers in Corinth felt that his personal explanations proved what the false teachers were saying. It was a difficult balance to express in a letter to people he truly loved, who were flouting the instructions he gave them from Jesus.

Although Paul was being open about his motives, he did not want to draw attention to himself (1 Corinthians 2:1-4). He explained that everything he had written was under God's scrutiny; he was also a redeemed sinner, but confident of his place in Christ (1 Corinthians 15:10). The reason for the letter was to enable believers, who had been weakened through false teaching and accompanying wrong behaviour patterns, to become strong again in Christ (1 Corinthians 16:13).

However, his previous visit left him with serious doubts about their desire to stay exclusively with Jesus. This letter was to prepare them for his next visit (2 Corinthians 2:1-4). Paul wanted to encourage them about all that was good in the church, but also to warn that he expected to see a significant change when he came again. He dreaded a confrontation in which he must severely rebuke a backslidden church (2 Corinthians 12:20-21). But he was not just looking for behaviour-change. Paul, under the Spirit's guidance, wanted them to become a radiant bride for Christ (2 Corinthians 11:2). They claimed to follow Him; so, they should become like Him.

This letter is a masterly example of both warm-hearted praise and loving rebuke, to a group of stubborn believers. But it was painful for the apostle because He loved them. It is never easy to help individuals or churches, who are slipping away from apostolic doctrine, to change what they think and do. It is not enough merely to reform behaviour or to conform to some authoritarian edict. Godly leaders should urge a change of heart - motivated by a conviction that the Scriptures are true, and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Such a task is very difficult and requires much Spirit-filled courage. Many leaders do not even attempt it because they fear for their position. Others tackle the symptoms but not the real problem; limping away when they see they cannot win people's hearts to the truth. Yet the need to present Christ faithfully and confront error is as necessary now as in the 1st century. Pray for Christian leaders to be faithful to the Word and bold in calling stubborn believers to be reconciled to God.

God of truth. Thank You for reaching through to my stubborn heart and changing me bit by bit through the power of Your Spirit. Forgive me when I forget that truth matters. Help me to be Your agent for change where I have responsibility, and please strengthen church leaders everywhere to be courageous in loving and rebuking stubborn believers so that they will change, becoming strong in Christ. In Jesus' Name. Amen.
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© Dr Paul Adams