We are glad whenever we are weak but you are strong; and our prayer is for your perfection. 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. Finally, brothers, good-by. Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.
2 Corinthians 13:9-11
Paul has continued to be very concerned for the church in Corinth. He had been there twice already. This letter is the second one he had written (although scholars see a reference to a third one… I’ll have to look that up!). Paul is planning to return to them again. What will he find?
For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder. I am afraid that when I come again my God will humble me before you, and I will be grieved over many who have sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual sin and debauchery in which they have indulged.
2 Corinthians 12:20-21
Paul is writing for their ‘perfection’ – their holiness as believers in Jesus. He wants the arrogance and sinful living to stop. The authority God has given him as an Apostle is for the building up of that church, not for tearing it down – but there is a very real possibility that he will need to be harsh with them. He doesn’t want to be, which is why he is writing. Hopefully they will come to their senses and obey the truth of his teaching. If their ears are closed, Paul will have to pry them open. If their hearts are hard, Paul is ready to chisel the stone.
Is being harsh with hard-hearted, unrepentant Christians always tearing them down and not building them up? Are we to always be positive Jesus gives us the authority to build others up and not for tearing them down. This cannot mean avoiding negative things, however. The bulk of 2 Corinthians is addressing some very negative things in the church. Paul promotes the truth of the Gospel and how it is daily lived out. Will the church hear and follow? Or will the church continue to indulge in impurity and sin?
We don’t know the end of the story. How long until Paul arrived. What did he find? What did he do? It seems to me that if the church in Corinth allowed the conviction of the Holy Spirit to melt their hearts and tear them down, then Paul would not have to when he arrived. He would come with words of grace, love and hope that would build them up. The tearing down must happen, however, when there is arrogance and sin. That foundation cannot be built upon. It is dismantled and a new one based on the Lordship of Jesus is established. On that a person of authority can build people up.
Paul would write to Timothy: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
The person who has been given authority will use the Scripture for all of these purposes, according to the needs of those he is leading. And all of them, even rebuke, is for their building up. Correction is for their good! We want to build the right kinds of things in the hearts of our people, never condoning sin or godlessness in any of its multiple forms. We encourage and train people in the ways of Jesus.
Thank You, Holy Spirit, for Your work in tearing down idols and everything that is not of You in my life. I trust You to do that same work throughout the church! Allow my words and presence to build people and not tear them down – all for Your glory.
For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.