Good parents know that they must make sacrifices for their children. They give of their time and energy. Sometimes, they lay aside their own personal dreams so that their children can have opportunities they themselves never had. They work long hours, endure sleepless nights, and spend money on their kids that they could have spent on themselves. And hopefully, they do all this without saying, “See what I’ve done for you? You owe me. And don’t you forget it.”
Are the children grateful? Sometimes. In the best of cases, kids appreciate their parents’ loving sacrifices and follow their example. But other times, the sacrifices are taken for granted, rejected, or even turned inside out as evidence of selfish rather than selfless motives.
Paul didn’t want a patron-client relationship with the Corinthians; he loved them like a father. One can only imagine, then, the pain it caused him to be accused of trickery in the matter of the Jerusalem collection:
Now I am ready to visit you for the third time, and I will not be a burden to you, because what I want is not your possessions but you. After all, children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. So I will very gladly spend for you everything I have and expend myself as well. If I love you more, will you love me less? Be that as it may, I have not been a burden to you. Yet, crafty fellow that I am, I caught you by trickery! Did I exploit you through any of the men I sent to you? I urged Titus to go to you and I sent our brother with him. Titus did not exploit you, did he? Did we not walk in the same footsteps by the same Spirit? (2 Cor 12:14-18, CEB)
Again, we can hear his opponents’ accusations and innuendo in the background: Paul’s after your money — don’t let him trick you! The irony is immense. The false apostles take the Corinthians’ money, and make them feel proud to be paying for their services. Then they turn around and accuse Paul of being a money-grubbing trickster. And the Corinthians, Paul’s spiritual children, buy it.
I don’t want your money, at least not in the way you think, Paul insists. I want you. Nothing matters more to me than the state of your souls. I would give everything for you, and indeed I have; you know that I’ve sacrificed more for you than I have for others. That’s because I love you, not because I’m trying to trick you. So if I love you that much more, why is it that you love me so much less?
As suggested in a recent post, the Corinthians might be able to get past their doubts if they would just concentrate on the facts: hadn’t they seen enough wonders to know that Paul was the real deal (cf. 2 Cor 12:12)? Here, the argument is similar. Remember how I sent Titus and his companion to you? Have they done anything wrong? Have they given you any reason whatsoever to suspect them of false motives? And isn’t what you see in him the same thing you see in me, the same Holy Spirit?
As parents, I doubt that we could speak with a conscience as clear as Paul’s with respect to our own children. But perhaps we can empathize with his frustration and longing.
And as children ourselves, we might wonder if there’s someone who has truly sacrificed for our well-being, but who isn’t feeling the love.