We are glad to seem weak if it helps show that you are actually strong. We pray that you will become mature. I am writing this to you before I come, hoping that I won’t need to deal severely with you when I do come. For I want to use the authority the Lord has given me to strengthen you, not to tear you down. Dear brothers and sisters, I close my letter with these last words: Be joyful. Grow to maturity. Encourage each other. Live in harmony and peace. Then the God of love and peace will be with you. (2 Corinthians 13:9-11 NLT)
I chose the New Living Translation of this verses because I think it comes closest to correctly interpreting the closing word of the first sentence. One lexicon defines the Greek word katartisis, which is translated as mature, as “denoting ability gained through training, disciplining, and instructing (adequacy, full qualification, maturity)”. The maturity of the disciples in Corinth has been Paul’s objective all along and in this letter, he has been training, disciplining, and instructing. His letters and his visits are all aimed at maturity.
It is easy to foster and encourage immaturity. We can see the behavior in children and occasionally chuckle at the attempts to insult or be sarcastic. Unfortunately, children quickly become skilled in tearing each other down and should not be encouraged. I have never been strong physically, so I quickly learned that physical fights were not an option if I wanted to win. Instead, I became quite skilled at using words to defend myself or attack others. The challenge is that those habits developed in childhood have been hard to break and I often find myself saying something that is not helpful to another person and the damage to the relationship is not easily repaired.
It is much more difficult to encourage and foster maturity in another person. We have no idea what Paul said to the rebellious believers when he saw them in person. We do see throughout his letters the variety of approaches he uses to get their attention. I think he models several things that would help us all in our communication with others. Paul clearly lets his readers know how much he cares about them. He then lets them know how he has been hurt by their behavior. He lets them know that he takes it personally as their spiritual parent. He then is very direct about what they are doing wrong but closes the letter on a positive note with clear instruction on what he expects. Paul is very intentional, and I think this is what is required if we intend for our communication with others to build them up and help them grow.
To my grandchildren:
Practice saying words that give others the courage to do what is right.