OK, pop quiz. How many of the following statements are true of you?
- People have made light of your abilities.
- You’ve been insulted for your personal appearance.
- People have questioned your honesty.
- Other have gossiped about you behind your back.
- You’ve had your job qualifications challenged.
- Someone’s exploded in anger at you publicly.
- Friends that should have supported you have let you down.
- You’ve been called wishy-washy just because you changed your mind.
- You’ve been accused of being a coward.
- Someone’s called you manipulative.
0 — Congratulations! You can skip reading this post.
1-10 — Please hang in there with me for a couple of minutes.
Considering the way the apostle Paul was treated by the Corinthian church, his score would have been a perfect ten. Despite all he had sacrificed to minister to that people, they often treated him with suspicion and disrespect. What’s more, while people may have good reason for questioning our honesty or suspecting us of being manipulative, the mistreatment he received was undeserved.
Imagine a pastor being treated that way by a congregation. Who would blame him for washing his hands of them and going where he’d be better appreciated?
But he didn’t.
He prayed for them.
As we’ve seen throughout 2 Corinthians, Paul has repeatedly emphasized the theme of power in weakness. His concrete perseverance in ministry to the Corinthians demonstrates just that.
But he didn’t just grit his teeth as he endured another altercation with “those people.” What he sacrificed, he sacrificed in love, and for their benefit. Eugene Peterson renders Paul’s words this way:
We don’t just put up with our limitations; we celebrate them, and then go on to celebrate every strength, every triumph of the truth in you. We pray hard that it will all come together in your lives (2 Cor 13:9, MSG).
Paul’s life exemplifies Jesus’ command to his followers: “love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:44-45, CEB).
In context, Jesus is revolutionizing the attitude of Jews toward Gentiles. But given the wideness of God’s mercy on the cross, we don’t have to limit the application to ethnic divisions. Everyone who harasses us feel like an enemy, and the question is what we’re going to do about it. Again, here’s Peterson, quoting Jesus:
If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that (Matt 5:46-47, MSG).
We don’t want to be run-of-the-mill sinners. We want to be redeemed sinners. And the very least we can do is pray hard for the truth to triumph in the lives of those who feel like enemies.
And in ours.
Who knows. We might even learn to love them.