1. You may have heard or read Bishop Michael Curry’s sermon for the royal wedding yesterday. So many have commented on the fact that he actually preached a Biblical view of love – not just romantic but redemptive love that changes the world. “We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this old world a new world. Love is the only way,”. As well, one of his most memorable lines was a reference to the love of Jesus. “Jesus did not get an honorary doctorate for dying. He wasn’t getting anything out of it. He sacrificed his life for the good of others, for the well-being of the world, for us. That’s what love is.” It is that unromantic and sacrificial love I want us to look at this morning. The kind of love that keeps loving even when it is despised in return.
2. William Barclay calls these the “saddest and sorest and the most heartbroken chapters Paul ever wrote” and I agree. Instead of closing out with at the end of Chapter 9: “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!”, Paul turns back to the rejection he feels from the Corinthians.
“By the meekness and gentleness of Christ – I appeal to you – I, Paul, who am “timid” when face to face with you, but “bold” when away!”
I understand this completely. It is easier for me to be straightforward if I don’t have to say it face to face. Judging from Twitter and Facebook I would say many others are the same. It’s easier to say what you feel from a distance than it is in person. We have less need to be pleasant and less reluctance to be honest if we don’t have to see the reaction. People in Corinth felt Paul was the same way. Once he moved to another place (like Ephesus from which he is writing) he was tough on them and they saw that as a fault. Why couldn’t he be articulate in person?
So, he wants to answer their charge with “gentleness” and the word here is “prautes” which often translates as the ability to find the balance between being too angry and never being angry at all. “It is the quality of a man whose anger is so mastered and so controlled that he is always angry at the right time and never at the wrong time.” It is not never being angry but knowing when anger is legitimate and how to use it without destroying someone. Paul is telling them that he is far from timid or afraid. Rather, he does not want to offend or discourage them and they have taken that to mean he is fearful and lacks courage. He does not “wage war as the world does and he does not use the weapons of the world.” In other words, he is not a bully with words. He does not lash out at them in self-defense or bluster. He is, like a surgeon, precise with his criticism and the intention is to heal in spite of the temporary pain.
3. He then responds to their charge that he is not as “Christian” as some of their other teachers who were claiming special knowledge that went far beyond Paul’s simplistic understanding of the Gospel. Paul says, “We have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, in the holiness and sincerity that are from God..not according to worldly wisdom but according to God’s grace. For we do not write you anything you cannot read or understand.” For some, that was an insult. How dare Paul think they could not understand deeper things than he was telling them. How dare he insult their intelligence or their maturity!
For some, it was irritating that he made light of wisdom and kept saying it was the cross of Christ that was central. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
“Yes, we get that but we have found teachers who can take us into deeper things and feed us with special knowledge.”
“Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.”
Who likes to be reminded that they are simple or not influential or lowly? We would all rather be told we are powerful, full of potential, destined for great things and, above all, leaders. No one ever made a living as a motivational speaker by telling people they are weak and ordinary creatures who need things put to them as simply as possible.
Paul’s competitors in Corinth taught just the opposite. They told the people they were deep and deserved to move on from the simplicity of the cross. They deserved to have a fuller understanding and to possess the special knowledge that would make them intellectuals. People who would make an impact and be invited to be at the table and make a difference. People who would matter in the eyes of the world. People who would be consulted about great things. Lowly and despicable people will not be invited to the inner circles.
It seems they were convinced by these super-apostles that Paul had been good for getting them started but they had outgrown him. They were dismissing him as too shallow for what they now desired. He had become an embarrassment to them. They were beyond him and while they appreciated the simplicity of his message they knew they were better served by more polished speakers and deeper thinkers. Remember, the reaction of the philosophers on Mars Hill? It was the same. Paul was interesting but not really our kind of people. He not only failed to get into the faculty club in Athens but now the people he loved so desperately were telling him it was time for him to move on to those who were simple and would appreciate simple things. They were moving on with their more mature faith.
4. This week I saw something reminding me of this passage and how I might have reacted to people who felt this way about me. It is titled “Twelve Signs It’s Time To Move On From A Relationship”. Let me read a few of them and ask if you think Paul had reason to move on.
When you live in past memories more than the present.
Do you replay the happy moments of the relationship to make you feel good about it? Do you use them as reasons to continue on with him/her? If so, it’s a sign your current relationship isn’t how you want it to be.
When the relationship brings you more pain than joy.
Sometimes, we tend to be blinded by the past happy moments of the relationship. To the extent we forget about all the unhappiness it brings us. If your relationship leaves you frustrated/upset/unhappy more often than not; If your relationship is leaving you in tears every so often, perhaps this might not be the right person for you.
When he/she expects you to change.
The truest form of love is one that’s unconditional. Your partner shouldn’t expect you to change,
When you stay on, expecting he/she will change.
If you are staying on / getting into the relationship expecting the person to change, you are in this for the wrong reason.
When he/she is causing you emotional/physical/verbal hurt.
The wounds that are hardest to heal are the emotional ones, not the physical ones.
When the same situation/issue recurs even though you tried addressing it.
Do you keep landing in the same situation, the same scenario, the same outcome, time and again, no matter what you do? If so, perhaps you need to accept this is the furthest the relationship can get to. You can keep pressing on, but it’s a matter of time before it sinks in that there’s nothing further to go. This is the end of the road.
When he/she puts little to no effort in the relationship.
Every relationship requires effort by the duo. Both of you have to commit to the relationship together. If you are constantly the one putting in more effort, sooner than later it’ll drain you. You have to give more and more just to keep the relationship afloat. Unless this imbalance is addressed, it will only become bigger and bigger over time. Soon you sink your whole self into it, losing your self identity in the process.
When your fundamental values and beliefs are different.
For any friendship or relationship to work out, there has to be certain similarity in fundamental values. On the other hand, if your core values are fundamentally different, it doesn’t matter even if everything else is the same. The journey to keep the relationship together will only become an uphill battle.
When the relationship holds you back, hence preventing both of you from growing as individuals.
Every relationship evolves based on how both parties are growing. Sometimes both parties grow at the same pace. There are times where the relationship is one of stagnancy, where both parties don’t grow. Then there are times when one outgrows the other, by a large margin.
A relationship that hinders you from growing into your own isn’t the best one for you.
When you stay on, expecting things to get better.
You can hope that the future will be better, but the fact is you live now. If the only thing that’s making you hold on is the hope of a better future, the relationship isn’t exactly built on solid grounds.
When neither of you feel the same way about each other.
Things change. People change. If the feelings are no longer there, it’s time to move on. If you no longer have feelings for the other party, staying on is doing the other person an injustice. More importantly, it’s doing you a huge injustice. It’s best for him/her and you to part ways so you can move to better places. Just because you love the person doesn’t mean you have to be with the person.
Could anything be more clear than it was time for Paul to move on? Shake off the dust. Vaya con Dios.
5. Instead, what does Paul do? This is the hardest part of this passage for me. In spite of their rudeness, ingratitude, disloyalty, and lack of love for him as their friend, teacher and father in the faith, he not only stays but he does what embarrasses me the most. He makes a fool of himself to win them back. He almost begs them to take him seriously and keep their respect. Have you ever seen those movies where the hero is forced to do demeaning things by the villain? You want to jump in the screen, pull them up by the neck and say, “Have some respect for yourself! Shoot the guy! Man up!” He is knowingly humiliating himself so they will not abandon the Gospel and fall for something else. Nothing else matters to him. He will abase himself for their sakes.
What would the Saul we know from Acts 8, the Saul going from house to house dragging off men and women and putting them in prison, the fanatic breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples think of this?
I cannot look at this without cringing.
This is not the love we choose, is it? We want the feelings of mutual admiration or at least recognition of our love. This is not a picture of love we like to see. It makes us uncomfortable. We want leadership that is strong and here what we see is pleading. No one wants a leader who pleads, do we? We want strength and forcefulness. Confidence. The big stick. Do what it takes to get the job done.
What’s my response to this? “Stop lowering yourself to try and prove your worth and your rights to their respect. They are not worth it. Have some pride. You are acting like an abused spouse. Move on. It’s finished. Leave them to their own devices and let them get suckered by these false teachers. They will learn a lesson and it will be good for them.”
But he doesn’t, does he? Instead, in spite of their treatment of him he loves them. It reminds me so much of the book of Hosea.
“Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness, because the land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the Lord.”
As we know, Gomer leaves Hosea to return to prostitution. Yet, God says to Hosea, “Go show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods…So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley.”
But it was more than her simply being a prostitute. God says there was a spirit of prostitution in the land. The leaders had prostituted themselves. “They feed on the sins of my people and relish their wickedness.” Like people, like leaders. A people without understanding will come to ruin. A spirit of prostitution is in their heart; they do not acknowledge the Lord. They delight in lies and wickedness. The merchant uses dishonest scales; he loves to defraud. He boasts “I am very rich; I have become wealthy. With all my wealth they will not find in me any iniquity or sin.”
6. That was the heart of the people in Corinth. They had turned away from Paul’s gospel and prostituted themselves with other beliefs and teachers. They did not want Paul reminding them of who they were when he found them. They were too sophisticated for that now.
But then, the Lord says, “When Israel was a child, I loved him…it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. I lifted the yoke from their neck and bent down to feed them. How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor devastate Ephraim again. For I am God, and not man – the Holy One among you.”
That was Paul’s response. He had every right to leave them in anger but he wouldn’t because he had taught them to walk, lifted their yoke, fed them and led them with ties of love and cords of kindness. In spite of his disappointment and sadness he would not abandon them.
That is Paul’s glory and his pain. Perhaps it is ours as well in a relationship. So he closes with this: “We are glad whenever we are weak but you are strong; and our prayer is for your perfection. This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority – the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not tearing you down. Finally, brothers, good-by. Aim for perfection; listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.”
That is redemptive love. That is the love of Christ.