Teaching series from 2 Corinthians

Requisites for Relational Closeness

2 Corinthians 2:4-11

Teaching t05784


Last week we studied part of the reason for conflict between Paul and the Corinthian Christians--false teachers attacking Paul's credibility via his changed travel plans, and using that to attack his message.

As we read on, we discover another source of tension between them (read 2:4-11; 7:5-13a). You can see there was conflict--there's a whole of sorrow going on. What's going on here? We can piece together the following scenario.

The Corinthians had an offender in their midst--someone who was involved in seriously objectionable behavior. He is probably the person Paul spoke about in 1 Cor. 5:1--a man who was sexually involved with his mother or step-mother.

Paul called on them to discipline this man by removing him from their group, but they evidently refused to do so.

At this point, he paid an unexpected visit and rebuked them for their refusal to discipline the offender. A painful fight erupted, and Paul returned to Ephesus, leaving Titus in Corinth to press his point.

Finally, a majority of them agreed with Paul and removed the man. Not long after, the man turned away from his immorality, but they didn't allow him to return to fellowship. Originally they were too soft; now they were being too tough.

Titus reported the situation to Paul. Paul rejoices over most of the Corinthians' change of heart, and over the man's change of heart. He is reconciled with them because of their change of heart, and he urges them to be reconciled to the man because of his change of heart.

So what does God want us to learn through this highly personal correspondence?

For one thing, he wants us to understand the high priority he places on relational closeness. Paul values closeness with these people, and he wants them to value relational closeness with him and with one another. This is a high priority in the Bible (ELABORATE: Trinity; closeness with God, each other, and community), and our lives will be hollow without it (OLD MILWAUKEE: "It doesn't get any better than this!" Oh yes it does--it gets a lot better than this!).

Secondly, he teaches us some of the requisites to building and preserving relational closeness. It is not a mystical state that we fall into. Interpersonal conflict can destroy it. There are certain attitudes and behaviors we must be willing to cultivate and practice, and they are very connected to relating to God. This passage illustrates four such principles . . .

#1: Agree on God's moral absolutes

If we're going to have relational closeness, we must be able to agree on what constitutes morally acceptable and morally objectionable behavior. Christians have a basis for such agreement in the character of God, revealed objectively in the Bible.

This is what Paul and the Corinthian Christians shared, and this is why they were able to eventually work through this conflict. When he says vs 9, he is not insisting on a master-slave relationship. He is referring to the authority of God. God's Word declares that incest and/or adultery is wrong and personally destructive.

If we reject the biblical moral framework, what are the options?

You can try arbitrary absolutes. "Let's just declare these things out of bounds." This works okay until one person decides he really wants something that is out of bounds. Then, because there is no absolute authority against which to check his desires, he usually changes his mind about what should be out of bounds. After all, They just made it up anyway.

You can try a negotiated truce. "You hold your moral opinions and I'll hold mine. We'll respect each others' differences." This amounts to an admission of defeat. We're saying that we can't agree on important issues so we'll live at arms length from each other, agreeing to not talk about those areas.

They can try a master-slave relationship. "I am the boss and we both agree to submit to whatever I say." This may produce functional harmony, but the slave will eventually get resentful and the master usually loses respect for the slave.

This is where the biblical way has revolutionary answers for us.

We can agree that our relationship will center on pursuing God's priorities. This is one of the keys to a satisfying close relationship . . .

When disagreements or objectionable behavior arises, we can agree to submit to what God says about it instead of insisting on our own way. On this basis, we can come together and begin to trust each other and build closeness (TRIANGLE).

#2: Be willing to discipline

Out of love, and for other people's good, we need to be willing apply creative pressure to submit to God's moral absolutes when their behavior is out of bounds. Depending on the moral issue involved, discipline may be as moderate as a gentle reproof or as severe as removal from the church. In all cases, it will involve explaining that the issue is what God says rather than what we demand. As we do this, God's Word and his Spirit convict the other person's conscience, urging him to submit to him.

That's what Paul was doing here with the Corinthian Christians. He first rebuked them by letter in 1 Cor. 5. When they didn't respond, he resorted to a personal visit and confrontation. When they didn't respond, he left (probably to make it clear there was still a big problem) and left Titus to keep the pressure on.

That's what they finally did with the offender. In this case, the offense was so serious that they had to remove him from their group in order to get his attention.

Of course, discipline can be meted out in a nasty way. We can decide to confront someone or create negative consequences because we're furious and want to make him pay. This is not really discipline--it is retribution. We can enjoy the power we have--this is abuse. We can simply walk away from people who have offended us because we "don't have to take it." This is not discipline--it is rejection. How can we know we are disciplining in love rather than making people pay? Consider these questions:

Forbearing vs. pickyness in smaller matters.

The Bible places a lot of emphasis on forbearance. We need to be easy to please rather than perfectionistic and picky with people. I thank God he's that way with me--it's one of the most amazing things about his grace! He disciplines me for serious matters (EXPLAIN?), but he's not all over me for every little thing I do wrong. This is one reason why I trust his discipline. Paul practiced forbearance with the Corinthians on many issues.

Self-controlled response vs. reacting in anger

Reluctant vs. eager to inflict pain. This was clearly Paul's attitude. He was willing to have it out with them over this--but he took no joy in it (7:8). He was willing to cause them sorrow in order to help them, but it still caused him anguish and he told them this (2:4).

Discipline is difficult--but this is what we must be willing to do if we want good relationships. We're going to have to be willing to correct our Christian friends according to God's Word. If you are unwilling to do this, you are going forfeit relational closeness (disengaged or resentful).

#3: Be willing to repent

Relational closeness wasn't restored just because Paul and the Corinthian Christians disciplined. There had to be a proper response by the ones being disciplined. In this passage, this response is called "repentance." In 2 Cor. 7:9, Paul says "I rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance . . . "

Repentance simply means to change your mind. In this case, it means to choose to receive God's moral correction and submit to his absolutes. What does repentance look like? There is no simplistic answer to this question because situations vary. But consider these biblical clues:

Acknowledge the wrong

"Repent" means to change your mind, so it implicitly involves admitting previous wrong. When Christians repent, this admission has a vertical and personal element. We admit we sinned against God, and we are able to articulate how our actions have harmed others (Lk. 15:18,21). This is where understanding God's grace really helps. If I know that God accepts me unconditionally, it is easier (not easy) to admit when I am in the wrong. This is one reason why legalistic people tend to have poor relationships--they can't afford to admit when they blow it, and this prevents real trust and closeness.

Sorrow over the sin coupled with hope in God's grace

The personal element in repentance described above will have an emotional dimension which increases with the seriousness of the sin. Paul warns against "excessive sorrow" (2:7) over sin that focuses on regret and loses sight of God's grace--this is "the sorrow of the world that produces death" (7:10b). But he also speaks of a "sorrow according to the will of God." This is the conviction of God's Spirit which grieves us until we repent, and then floods our hearts with hope as we lay hold of God's grace (7:9b,10a).

Changed behavior

Of course, admitting wrong is a form of changed behavior, and sometimes that's all that's necessary. But, in some cases it will involve additional behavioral change (Matt. 3:8). If I have stolen from people, what does it mean if I am unwilling to make restitution? If I have been chronically lying, what does it mean if I am outraged that my friends don't immediately trust me? Forgiveness is free--but trust is earned, and true repentance accepts this. Again, if I know God, he upholds me when I repent event though others may not initially believe me, he does.

Changed attitude toward those who disciplined

When we are unrepentant, nothing is more common than to blame and vilify those who disciplined us. That's how the Corinthians responded to Paul, and therefore one of the ways he knows they have repented is that they are now grateful for him (7:7,11).

Repentance is a wonderful thing! It is great to realize that we have the ability to change our minds, and that God will help us do this . . . (GOSPEL)

#4: Be willing to forgive

Again, Paul models this for us. As soon as he heard they changed their mind and disciplined the offender, he was relieved and moved in to affirm them. He also calls on them to do the same thing with the offender. What are they waiting for? The man has responded. Their unwillingness to bring him back into fellowship demonstrates an unforgiving spirit that is unredemptive. He's not calling on them to make the guy an elder or marriage counselor--but he is calling on them to affirm him and encourage him to move forward with God.

This is so important for relational closeness. Forgiveness is the grease that lubricates good love relationships. How can we do this? The key is in 2:10b--"I did it . . . in the presence of Christ." Forgiveness is an integral component in our relationship with God (Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13; Matt. 18 >> GOSPEL).