Conflict, Confusion, and Correction: Is it worth the risk?(Part Two)
Topic: Conflict Passage: 2 Corinthians 7, 1 Corinthians 14:15, 2 Timothy 3:16–3:17
Grace Community Church
March 14, 2021
Conflict, Confusion, and Correction: Is it worth the risk?(Part Two)
Let’s turn to 2 Cor. 7 as we continue part two of the message, Conflict, Confusion, and Correction: Is it worth the risk?
Let’s quickly recap last weeks message: when I was about 12 years old my father bought a 34 foot sailboat that we lived on for a year, and one summer we sailed from Montauk Point, LI to Block Island, RI. For most of the trip we couldn’t see land in any direction. It was weird to be in the ocean with no land in sight in any direction. All we had to direct us were the coordinates to Block Island and we had to steer the boat by the compass. Every so often we had to course correct because the wind and waves were knocking us off course.
In 2 Cor. 7 Paul resumes his personal story. The church in Corinth had really gotten off course: they were a church full of sexual immorality, divisions, abuse of spiritual gifts, and were beginning to embrace false apostles and heretical teaching. Paul brings correction to all that mess in the form of a letter – 1 Cor.
But that correction was not received well by the Corinthian churchl. Things got awkward. Tensions grew. Correction created conflict. So Paul decided to visit them in person to talk things through. We don’t know what was said, but we know that visit only made things worse. Paul left Corinth distressed, frustrated and maybe a little angry and did something we should probably never do: in his anger he wrote them a white hot, blistering letter. And the minute he sent it, he regretted writing it.
This all started with Paul trying to bring needed correction to a church he loves. How did it get to this point? Paul knows the correction was needed, but he’s wondering if he handled it correctly. Maybe he didn’t say the right words. Maybe he came on too strong. Did he damage – maybe even destroy – his relationship with a church he loves? A church he founded?
Correction has created conflict, conflict has created confusion. Paul the great apostle is sailing blind. He can’t see where this is going, he doesn’t know how to resolve it, nothing but an ocean of conflict and confusion all around him. No land in sight.
And it’s eating away at Paul. He is ministering in Troas, but he can’t concentrate because of his concern for how the Corinthians took his letter. He goes to Macedonia, but still his concerns are pounding away at him. Finally Titus returns from Corinth to Macedonia and brings the welcome news that the believers in Corinth love Paul, they’re heartbroken over the rift, and long to see him again. Paul breathes a huge sigh of relief. He sees land. God met them all through this correction was bringing them to the destination Paul had in mind all along and the fruit is good.
Few of us like to bring correction to a brother or sister. Even fewer like receiving correction. It’s painful. It’s embarrassing. When things go wrong it can literally end a relationship. Why take the risk? Why not just focus on encouraging each other, comforting each other, exhorting each other, and when someone is going off course, just pretend that we don’t see?
Last week we looked at why we need correction. It’s an important expression of love. It can help someone avoid impending danger and disgrace. It touches on our identity in a uniquely powerful way. And correction helps us improve. Now all this is assuming correction is given in the right way at the right time. And that brings us to how we are to bring (and receive) correction. And we’re taking our coordinates from Paul’s example with the Corinthians.
- Ask the question: am I the right one to bring this correction?
15 For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 1 Cor. 4:15
Let me just say that we’re focusing on correction right now but please don’t think that correction is meant to be a big part of how we relate to one another. Years ago Grace Community Church was part of a network of churches that went through a phase where the big thing was to give “observations” to people. Observations were basically “I see something you’re doing wrong and I love you enough to share it with you” and they were handed out like tic tacs. Everyone was looking for someone they could give an observation to, and some even looked forward to getting an observation.
- Can I share an observation about how you’re dealing with your children?
- Can I share an observation about your marriage?
- Can I share an observation about your clothing?
It was too much! You start to get twitchy – who’s going to bring me an observation next? What am I doing wrong? I felt like saying, “can I share an observation about your stupid observations??”
Can we just admit that we’re all a bunch of knuckleheads and probably do a thousand things wrong on any given day? It’s not healthy to be correcting people all the time, or even to want to. It’s not healthy to be getting corrected all the time. We’re adults, we have the Holy Spirit and God’s word, we can learn without getting spanked by each other constantly. OK? We don’t want to be the church of “observations”. We want to be a church marked by grace.
Correction has two basic functions: when someone is getting off course it’s meant to help them course correct. And if there’s a way someone can grow and improve correction can be very helpful.
But the first question is, am I the right person to give this correction? Do I have the relationship that gives me a voice in that person’s life?
The heavier the correction I’m trying to bring across to you, the stronger the bridge of relationship between us needs to be.
Paul checked all the boxes with the Corinthians. He was the founding apostle of the Corinthian church. He was a father in the faith to them. He had invested years of his life teaching and discipling them. And he loved them.
Just because we see someone getting off course, doesn’t mean we’re the right one to bring correction. Maybe God just wants us to pray for them and not say anything.
- Correction should always be motivated by, and an expression of, love
2 Make room for us in your hearts. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have exploited no one. 3 I do not say this to condemn you; I have said before that you have such a place in our hearts that we would live or die with you.
Over and over Paul makes it clear that he loves them. His heart is open to them. His agenda is clear: he wants them to flourish, to grow in Christ. He hasn’t wronged them, hasn’t corrupted them, hasn’t exploited them. Paul has no agenda for them except love.
Our flesh will want to correct people for a lot of agendas that have nothing to do with love. Our flesh will want to correct people in ways that don’t express love.
I’ve been remembering recently some “corrections” I gave to the youth pastor at Lamb’s Chapel some thirty years ago and I cringe. His name was Vinny. Patrick and Lisa Perl know him. As we started working in ministry together, especially in the early days, a couple times he messed up, and in my anger I tore into him. I really wanted him to know how bad his mess up was. And Vinny would just get more and more quiet and withdrawn which only made me more angry cause I wanted him to admit how wrong he was. I was correcting, but it wasn’t motivated by love. I wasn’t expressing love, I was venting anger.
I’m sorry to say I’ve done the same thing with my wife and my kids over the years. It’s an area God has had to work on in me and is still working on. Maybe you too?
The coordinates for love isn’t always saying what the other person wants to hear, in fact sometimes love needs to say things the person really doesn’t want to hear. But love always sets the coordinates for what is best for the other person, and Christian love wants what is best for the spiritual life and growth of the other person. Christian love wants that person to know Christ, grow in Christ, flourish in Christ. Correction is meant to correct the thing that’s hindering them from living in the goodness of the gospel because we sincerely want the very best for them.
Love guides our words and our tone. We don’t use harsh, cutting, demeaning words. Our tone is appeal, concern, encouragement, not disrespectful or belittling.
So before we bring correction to someone, we need to examine our hearts. Is love motivating my correction or is there some other agenda at play? And when someone brings correction to us, it’s good to ask the same question: do we believe their agenda is love? If they have some other agenda, like manipulation, control, getting their way, anger, pride, etc, we can still weigh their correction in light of God’s word but it won’t have the same weight as correction given out of love.
- The strength of our correction should mirror the strength of clear Biblical teaching
The issues Paul was correcting them over were serious issues and tied to clear biblical truth: immorality, heresy, division fueled by pride, abuse of spiritual gifts, and running through all of that, was a serious lack of love for one another. That’s what motivated Paul to write 1 Cor 13 about what love looks like.
Paul reminds a young pastor named Timothy that…
16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Tim. 3:16-17
Teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training – this all has to do with helping people change and grow. But it’s to be based on God’s word, not our opinions. If someone is cheating on their spouse, we can rebuke and correct them strongly because God’s word does. If someone confesses they love polka music, we can’t correct them strongly because God’s word is silent on polka music. We can pray for them, we can appeal to them to put the accordion away, but that’s about as far as we can go.
Seriously, there are so many differences people can have that the Bible doesn’t clearly address. There is latitude in the Bible for Christians who love Jesus to have different convictions from each other. I may not have the same convictions that you do and vice versa.
When I say “strength” I don’t mean harsh or cutting. I mean when someone is caught in an act or lifestyle that the Bible clearly identifies as sinful and wrong, we don’t need to mince our words, we can be clear, we can be strong. Stealing is sinful, God says don’t do it. You need to stop! Adultery is wrong and will be judged by God. Adulterers won’t inherit the kingdom of God – repent and turn back to God!
One of the mistakes Christians can make is take a biblical principle and turn it into a biblical command. How we handle our finances, how we raise our kids, where we draw the line on gray issues, these are things where Christians can and do differ and we shouldn’t correct someone for having a different conviction, or for doing things differently than the way we think they should.
- Correction doesn’t need to be perfect to be just what we need
8 Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while—9 yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us.
Have you ever silenced someone’s correction by pointing out the wrong ways they brought it? I know I have. You didn’t say it just right. You didn’t bring it at the perfect time. Or we point out how they aren’t perfect, maybe even guilty of the same thing. All this to deflect, to defend, to justify ignoring or rejecting their correction?
Sometimes in the mess of correction, we don’t know if the way we said it, or the way we approached it, is the right way. Paul second guesses himself about the letter he wrote. I don’t regret writing it, but I did regret writing it, but now I’m happy I wrote it. There were times when he couldn’t see land, couldn’t see if he’d done it right, and he had to trust God with the process.If Paul isn’t sure he did it perfectly, I know I won’t always get it right.
And I know the person bringing correction to me won’t always get it all perfect either.
Let’s just admit we’ll probably never get it 100% right. We need to be receptive enough and humble enough to receive correction even when the person brings it doesn’t do it perfectly. And we need to have enough faith to believe God will use our imperfect attempts to give loving correction. To have the courage to share a loving correction when needed even when we don’t know the exact words we should say.
- Sometimes hurting helps
There’s a book written some years ago called “When Helping Hurts” that is an insightful look into the ways that our efforts to give charity to the needy can actually make things worse and entrench them in their poverty rather than help lift them out of their poverty. Sometimes well intentioned helping hurts.
And sometimes well intentioned hurting helps. Listen to how Paul puts it:
8 Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while—9 yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. 10 Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. 11 See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.
There’s more in these verses than we can do justice to, but the main point is that the hurt he inflicted by his correction produced sorrow that led to repentance, and repentance sprang forth in all kinds of good fruit in their lives.
We should never want to harm anyone. Paul says they were sorrowful the way God intended and were not harmed in any way by Paul. They were hurt, but not harmed. That hurt, began to work on their hearts and softened them towards God, they repented, did an about face, and began to press in towards God. The hurt helped them grow and thrive spiritually. It drew them back to God, and strengthened their relationship with Paul.
That’s the goal. That’s the destination: that God would do good in the other person’s life. Help them grow, lead them to godly sorrow and repentance. Strengthen their relationship with Christ. And we hope, strengthen their bond of love with us too.
Sometimes we’re not going to see the destination clearly. We may not know what’s going on, where things are going, how it will turn out. One more important coordinate to set our compass to: faith. Faith in God. Trust in Him. Pray prayers of supplication and intercession and help. They belong to God. We belong to God. So by faith we set our compass towards what God intends to accomplish, and humbly ask Him to bring us all safely there.