I myself, Paul, appeal to you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold towards you when I am away!— I ask that when I am present I need not show boldness by daring to oppose those who think we are acting according to human standards. Indeed, we live as human beings, but we do not wage war according to human standards; for the weapons of our warfare are not merely human, but they have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ. We are ready to punish every disobedience when your obedience is complete.
Look at what is before your eyes. If you are confident that you belong to Christ, remind yourself of this, that just as you belong to Christ, so also do we. Now, even if I boast a little too much of our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for tearing you down, I will not be ashamed of it. I do not want to seem as though I am trying to frighten you with my letters. For they say, ‘His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.’ Let such people understand that what we say by letter when absent, we will also do when present.
We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another, and compare themselves with one another, they do not show good sense. We, however, will not boast beyond limits, but will keep within the field that God has assigned to us, to reach out even as far as you. For we were not overstepping our limits when we reached you; we were the first to come all the way to you with the good news of Christ. We do not boast beyond limits, that is, in the labours of others; but our hope is that, as your faith increases, our sphere of action among you may be greatly enlarged, so that we may proclaim the good news in lands beyond you, without boasting of work already done in someone else’s sphere of action. ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’ For it is not those who commend themselves that are approved, but those whom the Lord commends.
The Corinthians were not entirely happy with Paul. They felt that he was writing things from a distance that perhaps he was reluctant to say to them face to face. Unlike today’s social media, there was not the opportunity to instantly reply, corresponding with someone some distance away could take weeks if not months to arrive. In response to their criticism, Paul highlights two thoughts with a view to clarifying what his message is really about. His message emphasises two qualities, that of gentleness and the reasonableness of God.
By gentleness, Paul meant the difference between extreme anger being never ever angry at all. I was once described by a member of a congregation as being never angry and so laid back that if I were ever more laid back then I would probably fall over. Clearly they did not really know me. Paul is emphasising the difference between never being angry at a personal wrong, but expressing righteous anger against wrongs that affect the lives of others. In today’s world that anger might be against political leaders or large companies who think they have the right to ride roughshod over the weakest and poorest.
Paul further develops his message by emphasizing another quality, that of distinguishing between justice and true love. I am surprised that he did not remind them of chapter thirteen of his first letter to them where he defines such true love. How often is it that each of us fall short of that quality of love?
Forgiving God, we think we have all the answers when in reality we don’t. We think that our ways are the only correct ways when more often than not we are completely wrong. Give us, we pray, open hearts and minds, open to your will rather than ours. Make us more sensitive to the needs and views of others so that our attentiveness to their situations reflect the qualities of your love to all, in Jesus name. Amen
The Rev’d Colin Hunt, retired minister, worshipping at Hutton & Shenfield Union Church, Essex