For the Love of God, Volume 2/March 8

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Exodus 19; Luke 22; Job 37; 2 Corinthians 7

SOMETIMES PEOPLE PRESENT PAUL as if he were a cold intellectual. Why “cold” should be connected with “intellectual,” I am not sure. It certainly does not fit Paul. Obviously, God gave Paul a first-class mind. But he was also a man of passionate intensity.

In 2 Corinthians 7 Paul testifies that, on the one hand, his joy knows no bounds (7:4); on the other hand, this joy has resulted from some news of the Corinthians that Paul received when he went to Macedonia. For on his first arrival in Macedonia, Paul had experienced no rest, but was “harassed at every turn— conflicts on the outside, fears within” (7:5). But then his fears and conflicts turned to joy when he received the good news about the Corinthians

What prompted this vast transformation in the apostle’s outlook?

(1) Whatever the mechanics, Paul recognizes that the transformation was brought about by God, “who comforts the downcast” (7:6). In this case God brought comfort to Paul by restoring Titus to him, who brought with him some news of the Corinthians.

(2) The news Titus brought was that the Corinthians, however much they had been wounded by Paul’s previous visit and by the painful letter he had sent, had regained their equilibrium. They now longed to see Paul and expressed “ardent concern” for him (7:7). Titus brought the news that the sorrow evoked by Paul’s letter turned out to be a “godly sorrow” in that it led to repentance (7:8-10). Sorrow that generates repentance “leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death” (7:10). All this news of the Corinthians’ reactions has filled Paul with joy and encouragement.

This indicates, of course, that Paul is intimately involved in the lives of the people to whom he ministers. His own emotions may go up and down as a function of how they relate to him. But what is striking is that Paul avoids two very common traps. (a) Obviously, he avoids the kind of professional distance projected by some ministers as a protective shield. (b) Although his own joys and sorrows are clearly tied to what the Corinthian Christians think of him, that link is not primarily a personal link. When that is the case, the minister loses his prophetic voice and will say and do only what he thinks will maintain the affection of the flock. Paul has felt duty-bound to reprimand the Corinthians, in person and in writing; he has not flinched from that responsibility. His joy that they have returned to him is thus inseparable from his joy that they have returned to faithful allegiance to the Gospel—the heart of his unbounded delight.

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