A. It seems the primary reason Paul wrote 2Corinthians was because the relationship between the Corinthians and Paul had become strained. A number of criticisms of Paul which were circulating in the Corinthian church.
1. Some Corinthians were belittling Paul because of his many afflictions. He looked too much like a loser for their comfort. It raised doubts about his sufficiency as an apostle.
2. But there were other criticisms as well. They didn’t like Paul’s ministry style; they cast suspicions on his integrity, scoffed at his rhetorical skills, and questioned the legitimacy of his authority.
B. It may seem insignificant on its own, but 2Cor.1:12 begins Paul’s valiant attempt to clear up the misunderstandings and heal the wounds, which is the main theme of Paul’s letter.
C. Everything before this is introduction. And he doesn’t finish with this until four verses from the end of the epistle (with the possible exception of chapters 8 and 9).
D. Sandwiched in between the expanded greeting of 1:1-11 and the short farewell of 13:11-14 is the richest quarry of relational theology the world has ever known. It is an encyclopedia-worth of divine guidance as to how to deal with other believers when there is a strain in the relationship.
E. Not only is this letter relational theology at its best, it is a 13 chapter testimony to the importance of relationships in the body of Christ. The fact that this eminent apostle is willing to go to such lengths in order to work on his relationship with a group of Christian folk who are being immature and unappreciative should stop us in our tracks and command our attention.
II. Paul’s relationship problems with the Corinthians
A. Relationships are hard — A Mess Worth Making (Lane and Tripp)
1. There is such a temptation to walk away from one another when conflicts arise, to slam the door of your heart and blame the other person.
2. Perhaps the hardest things is when you’re falsely accused, thought the worst of. That was Paul .
3. Just because the brokenness is the other person’s fault doesn’t mean you should accept it.
B. One of the hardest parts of being a pastor is going after people who are upset with or critical of you.
1. Pride, awkwardness — Nobody wants to do this.
C. Remember who this Paul is who is fighting for his relationship with the Christians.
1. He was the one who once fought to find them and arrest them and execute them.
2. Paul: Imitate me! In the way I fight for relationships.
3. Paul doesn’t give up on the church.
4. In 1Cor.12:21 he talks about the sin of I-don’t-need-you.
D. How do we respond when someone is ugly with us?
1. That’s what happened to Paul.
2. 2Corinthians 1:12 For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you.
3. Assuming the best by thinking they’ve misunderstood him (as opposed to assuming malice).
E. Paul’s not talking about being nice — 2Cor.8-9.
F. There is an intensified problem with having a sour attitude toward the one who feeds you the word.
1. My kids criticizing me to their friends.
G. I’ve spent years of my ministry working on relationships.
1. I understand the weariness, the woundedness, the sense of futility.
2. But we’re told by Paul not to grow weary of well-doing. We’re told that if we do not give up, in due season we will reap, (Galatians 6:9) We’re commanded over and over again to love one another, and we’re told that the world will know that we are Christ’s if we do.
III. The problem of human relationships
A. Human nature and hostility
1. Even inside families, even inside churches
2. Cain and Abel – no guns
3. News report following Texas church shooting last Sunday — "We're better than this. There's got to be an answer. And so we will keep asking our lawmakers for solutions."
a. No, we’re not better than this.
b. No, the government cannot fix this. This is our nature. This is who we are.
IV. What Jesus did to reconcile
A. Jesus gave His life in the battle for reconciliation and peace.
B. That’s what the cross was all about: Colossians 1:20 “and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”
C. He is the Prince of peace! First, He reconciled us to Himself, then He reconciles us to one another.
D. Do you think it’s important to Him?
V. Importance of relationships
A. Why is Jesus’ command to love one another repeated so many times in the NT? Why 2Corinthians? Why all this fuss over a relationship with other sinners? Two reasons:
1. Because of the difficulty of getting and keeping His family together
2. Because the honor of Christ’s name is affected by the unity and the love (or the lack thereof) that dwells among His people. We make Him look bad when we don’t get along. And making Him look bad is something we ought to be willing to DIE to avoid doing.
B. And why does God have such zeal that His children love one another? Because He so loves us.
1. There is a temptation to cheapen others, to conclude they’re not worth the investment.
2. What makes that brother or sister so valuable is the fact that they are so loved by the Father.
3. It is the Lord that brings us together:
a. as fellow sinners - corrupt and proud,
b. as fellow former children of wrath - who deserved eternal hell for our transgressions against God,
c. as fellow undeserving recipients of the forgiving grace of God,
d. as fellow members of the family of Christ,
e. as fellow temples of God’s Holy Spirit,
f. as fellow heirs of the extravagant riches of the Lord Jesus.
4. We will sit beside one another at the heavenly banquet table - at the marriage feast of the Lamb! We must not tolerate alienation now. We must not let Satan disturb the unity we have in Christ.
5. We must show by our lives that we have a God who is so big that he breaks barriers down and helps His people live in harmony and peace with one another.
6. "By this all men will know you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35)
7. Just as we have been given a new perspective on Christ, so we are to have a new perspective on Christians. They are sinners loved by Christ and saved by grace, just like I am. In their heart of hearts they want to do the right thing, just like I do. But they often fail and they’re frequently blind to their own sins, just like me. God is at work in them, but he certainly isn’t finished with them yet, just like me.
8. We must not look at one another according the flesh (2Cor.5:16). We must see one another according to the mind of Christ, according to the way He sees us. We must see other Christians as God sees them: as the apple of His eye (Zech.2:8), as the mothers and brothers and sisters of Jesus (Matt.12:48-50), as Christ’s own little lambs (John 10:11-18; 21:15-17), as those for whom Christ died.
9. God wants us to have His heart of love toward one another: with simplicity and godly sincerity.
10. God wants us to resist hostility in our hearts.
11. Is there another Christian in your life with whom you do not live in harmony? It may not be important to you, but it sure is important to God!
C. I was not born in the community of Christ. When I came into the community of Christ, to me it was a treasure only surpassed by the privilege of knowing Christ Himself.
1. Now I’ve lived in the body of Christ for almost 47 years. I’ve seen the hypocrisy. I’ve experienced the pain. I feel the weariness.
2. I hated going to church when I was a kid and I like it even less now — if church is all it is. If Jesus is not loved, if His word is not proclaimed, if it’s not a gathering of citizens of Christ’s eternal kingdom who want to draw near to Jesus and give Him their hearts in worship, I not only don’t like it, I hate it.
3. But I also see something else. I see something invisible.
a. I see Jesus present among His people when they gather in His name.
4. Col.3:3 tells us that we are hidden with Christ. There is something important about Christ’s people which is hidden from this world.
a. they are the beloved of Christ — His precious bride
b. they are people of the inheritance
c. they are the glorious ones of eternity
5. So, going to church or a church gathering has never been and still isn’t a mere duty for me, and certainly never a burden.
A. We need to be thankful for this second letter of Paul to the Corinthians. We need to be thankful that God loves us enough and cares enough about our relationships in the body of Christ that He inspired it and preserved it for us.
1. May it have a profound impact on us. By the power of His Spirit may the Lord use it in our lives to teach us to live and love like the apostle Paul, who so well imitated His Lord Jesus Christ.
B. 2Corinthians shows us to what lengths God wants US to go in order to work out our problems with others in the body of Christ.
1. It shows us that relationships with others in the body of Christ are worthy of fighting for. They are worthy of working for. They are worthy of all the hassles, headaches and heartaches.
2. They are worthy of our blood, sweat and tears. They are worthy of much long-suffering. They are worthy of seven-times-seventy forgivenesses.