When we teach the Bible, we come across many hard and difficult truths as we study. Truth is not easy to hear at first because in order to truly hear, one must listen and respond to God first and release our faulty presuppositions. God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. If we are not humble then truth hits much harder--and this was the case with the Corinthian church--they refused to change.
Paul says his tears are tears of love--his ministry would be much easier if they would only break. Yes, Paul is being severe, but this severity is only evident in the face of pride. His love for them does not change. He will be graceful if they are humble.
How can a human being ( be it Paul or me or even you) deliver heavenly truth with such deep seriousness without hypocrisy? The answer is simple: be right, clean before God. We do this by reflecting on scripture and prayer. Take a look at Psalm 15, for example and ask yourself these four questions:
1) What are the traits of integrity described here?
2) How do I fail to do these things? (confess this to God)
3) What am I supposed to be doing (read the list again)?
4) What steps am I going to take to obey?
Once we have a clean conscience before God, we can minister to others with God’s love:
1) Oppose the proud. There are times when defense is proper, so strong action is required. If you are “hearing things” from others, don’t lose your temper but find the source.
2) Rebuke when necessary. Sometimes the best response is silence. If you know the truth, the burden of proof is on the objector. No need to speak out if the source of the problem is not available. Some people are tuned to find fault, be on edge, always criticize, edgy. Paul was not like that. William Barclay said, “The more seldom a man rebukes, the more effective the rebuke is when he has in the end to launch it.”
3) Be loving, graceful. Never hurt willingly. Never take revenge. Paul takes no pleasure in pushing people’s buttons just to watch them flinch and neither should we. Paul spoke harshly for the purpose of restoration. Barclay again, “The only effective rebuke is the rebuke given with the arm of love around the other person.” The rebuke of anger does not break the heart, only the rebuke of love.
4) Let God handle the situation. Submit to God; that is, do not correct or domineer. “The fear of the loving God” is not beat into anyone. Rod and staff comfort.
It won’t be long before any of us find ourselves being misunderstood, receiving unconstructive criticism, accusation, doubt. Get close to Paul and find the comfort of living in truthfulness. If you are being obedient to God in Christ, if your conscience is clean by confession, you have only to fall back on God’s faithfulness for comfort. Jesus builds the church so the pressure is off for us to do all the work.