In the early years of our marriage, I was a big fan of home improvement shows. We could barely afford our mortgage, and didn’t have the money to pay others to do work for us. I learned a lot by watching the experts work.
And I realized that it wasn’t just a matter of skill and technique, or even of having the right tools. It was just as much a matter of vision and imagination. The crews of Extreme Home Makeover and similar shows can see potential in dowdy, dingy old houses that others might give up on.
If reality TV had existed in the first century, we might have had the chance to see Extreme Church Makeover, starring the apostle Paul.
Despite all the ways the Corinthians mistreated him, Paul never gave up on them. He never stopped praying for them, never stopped wanting to build them up:
For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. We are glad whenever we are weak but you are strong; and our prayer is that you may be fully restored. 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 for tearing you down. (2 Cor 13:8-10, NRSV)
The word “restored” is an interesting one. It’s actually a noun. The literal translation of Paul’s words would be, “This also we pray, your restoration.” The verb is used in the Gospels for the disciples mending their fishing nets (e.g., Matt 4:21). But the emphasis is less on the brokenness of what needs to be fixed as it is on putting things in their right order.
There is still one more passage to consider before we end our series of reflections on 2 Corinthians. But this is a fitting way for Paul to wrap up the defense of his apostleship. His concern is ever and always for the Corinthians’ growth in the gospel. We wouldn’t blame him for getting hung up on their rebellious bad manners and stewing over his resentments. But instead, Paul envisions and prays diligently for their wholeness, their restoration.
Paul is a master builder, working on that restoration. He ends his defense on the same note with which he began: his goal is to build them up, not tear them down (cf. 2 Cor 10:8). In using that language, he may be thinking of Jeremiah, the prophet who brought God’s people the promise of a new covenant, a time in which God would build and plant instead of tearing down and uprooting (Jer 31:27-34). If so, then Paul never lost sight of the reality of the new covenant and new creation throughout his defense. To get the Corinthians to see the same is part of building them up.
Restoration, however, isn’t just the work of apostles. All Christians should be part of building up the church. We’ll consider what that means when we examine the final passage of Paul’s letter.