People are complicated. It’s tempting to make up one-dimensional explanations for why people behave as they do, but it’s rarely that simple. We all have mixed motives and emotions, many of which we may be unaware.
Some are positive.
Some are negative.
And when we go off the rails, it’s nice to know that we have friends and mentors who can still see the positive side and encourage it.
I’ve said it before: I’m amazed at Paul’s patience with the Corinthians. He was treated as shabbily as any congregation could treat its pastor, but he didn’t give up on them. He cared so much for their salvation and well-being that he opened himself to heartache, doling out firm but loving correction even at the risk of being rejected again.
And he did this, it seems, because he knew them better than they knew themselves; he could see in them something that one might never have guessed from their behavior. Here’s how he described his motivation for writing them a letter of rebuke:
So although I wrote to you, it wasn’t for the sake of the one who did wrong, or for the sake of the one who was wronged, but to show you your own enthusiasm for us in the sight of God. Because of this we have been encouraged. And in addition to our own encouragement, we were even more pleased at how happy Titus was. His mind has been put at rest by all of you. If I’ve bragged about you to him in any way, I haven’t been embarrassed. Instead, our bragging to Titus has also been proven to be true, just like everything we said to you was true. His devotion to you is growing even more as he remembers how all of you were obedient when you welcomed him with fear and trembling. I’m happy, because I can completely depend on you. (2 Cor 7:12-16, CEB)
Paul, too, was a man of mixed emotions. He worried a bit about how his letter would be taken, yet dared to brag to Titus that all would be well, that the Corinthians would respond appropriately. Happily, he was proven right, and you can hear the relief in his words. Titus, it seems, also had his doubts, but was delighted by the positive reception he received as the bearer of the hurtful letter. They welcomed him with “fear and trembling,” which suggests that at last Paul’s apostolic authority as a representative of Christ had finally sunk in.
Paul had an interesting way of describing his motivation for writing the letter: he wanted to “show them [their] own enthusiasm.” It’s as if to say, Things haven’t always been well between us, but I knew that the flame of the gospel hadn’t gone out entirely. And now…! I’m so glad I wasn’t wrong about you.
We can become lost in our hurt, confusion, and guilt. We need the kind of friend who can see the presence of God in our lives and call us back to it. The Corinthians were blessed beyond measure to have someone like Paul as their pastor.
To whom can you be that kind of blessing?