April 8, 2021
Try to imagine sitting in a Sunday morning gathering when one of the leaders of the congregation gets up and announces that he has a letter from the person who started your congregation. Imagine that the letter is from the person who first introduced you to the gospel and then taught you what it means to follow Jesus. The elder reads the letter aloud and you are anxious to hear every word. Finally, the reader concludes the letter, and the tone of the words changes. Stop and take a few minutes to read through all of 2 Corinthians 11 imagining this situation. The writer is speaking very directly, and his tone seems to be very sarcastic. Why would a friend use sarcasm to communicate his message?
In this case the friend is Paul and I think he is frustrated.
28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? (2 Corinthians 11:28-29 NIV)
As a missionary evangelist Paul has started many congregations. He has entrusted these congregations to the Holy Spirit and to leaders he has appointed. Some are doing well, but others are struggling as the leaders abandon the leading of the Holy Spirit for power and profit. Paul is confident that he is ministering where God wants him to be, but this keeps him from going to Corinth so he can directly address the issues he is hearing about. He has written several times and neither the congregation nor its leaders are responding.
I have often used sarcasm to hurt someone and then later regretted the harm that my words caused. As I listen to Paul, I am a little put off by his tone. However, when I pause to think about what he is saying I am challenged by the price that Paul has paid to bring the good news to me and to others. My walk with Jesus has not begun to cost me what it cost Paul. If I am listening to this letter as it is read for the first time, I can imagine being embarrassed that Paul would think he had to use this kind of language to get my attention and open my eyes to the situation I am going along with.
If I am the leader reading this letter, I would be challenged to evaluate the level of care I have for the congregation I lead. Do I really care enough about the people in the congregation to be willing to be perceived a fool to protect them from the enemy? Paul is certainly willing to do that.
Paul has written many words that we value for the practical instruction they provide us for following Jesus well. I am grateful that he was also willing to share his heart in a way that clearly communicates the depth of his love and concern for God’s people.