Building up instead of tearing down

poutingWe always need to hear the truth.

But sometimes, the truth hurts.

Maybe you’ve had a faithful friend who was willing to risk your anger or resentment to tell you something unpleasant but necessary. Maybe you’ve been that kind of friend to someone else. And conscientious parents know the dilemma of finding a way to speak truth to their children without tearing them down.

Paul was that kind of friend and mentor.

His opponents in Corinth pooh-poohed his apostleship and accused him of hollow boasting. They seemed to portray him as a man who had to resort to writing intimidating and hurtful letters from a distance because he lacked the skill or courage to confront people face to face.

But Paul, of course, had an answer:

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. (2 Cor 10:8, NRSV)

Here, he isn’t agreeing that he boasts too much, but saying something more like, “Even if they were right — that I boast too much about my apostolic authority — I wouldn’t be ashamed, because that authority is from God.”

Paul doesn’t make it about himself, though his opponents would like others to think so. The authority he has isn’t for his own self-aggrandizement, but is given by God for the purpose of building up the church. Negatively, the verb “tearing down” is the same one he’s already used in verse 4, where he says that God has given him the weapons needed to tear down the arguments of those who are leading the Corinthians away from God. Positively, that same power is for the edification of the church, for the building up of those who are obedient to Paul and the gospel.

“I do not want to seem as though I am trying to frighten you with my letters,” Paul writes (vs. 9). That’s his opponents talking: Don’t worry about Paul. He’s just a big windbag trying to scare you into submission.  And Paul does want his opponents to understand that he’s quite ready to back up everything he says on his next visit.

But even more importantly, he needs the loyal and repentant among the Corinthians to understand that whatever harshness he had to resort to in his last letter, it was for their own good.

That kind of message might be a hard sell today, in a feel-good culture such as our own.  More on that in the next post.