My topic here as in Part I is Paul’s example of patience. To expand this topic further I now need to sketch the sequence of events that occurred around the time of the writing of the two epistles that we know as 1st and 2nd Corinthians. (There were in fact four letters, fragments of some of which may possibly be found in “2nd” Corinthians.)
Paul wrote 1st Corinthians early in his final year at Ephesus, sometime before Pentecost, as we can see from 1 Cor. 16:8. Later, in the third or fourth quarter of the same year, he wrote from Macedonia the letter we have as 2nd Corinthians (see 2 Cor. 7:5).
We can now infer from the content of 2nd Corinthians some other events that must have occurred in between the two epistles.
- Paul learned that his earlier letter had been rejected by the Corinthians.
- To try to deal with the situation, he paid a quick visit to Corinth sometime during the summer months, before he left Ephesus permanently. We know this from 2 Corinthians 13:1, “This is the third time I am coming to visit you.”
- The visit was a painful one: “I made up my own mind not to pay you another painful visit” (2 Cor. 2:1).
- During that visit, he had indicated that when he finally left Ephesus he would come to Corinth first before going on to Macedonia: “I intended to come to you first so that you would get a second opportunity to see us, and through your help to go on into Macedonia and then from Macedonia to come back to you and be helped on our way into Judea by you” (2 Cor. 1:15-16). However, he subsequently changed his mind and reverted to the itinerary that he had described in 1 Corinthians 16:5-6, because, “I appeal to God as my witness, that to spare you I did not come again to Corinth” (2 Cor. 1:23).
- On his brief visit, he was treated scornfully by some of the Corinthians, but chose not to use his apostolic authority to silence his opponents immediately, as is apparent from 2 Cor. 10:1, “I who am meek when present among you, but am full of courage toward you when away,” and 10:10, “…some say, “His letters are weighty and forceful, but his physical presence is weak and his speech is of no account.”
- After he had returned to Ephesus, he wrote the letter he describes in 2 Cor. 2:3-4, “… out of great distress and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears, not to make you sad, but to let you know the love that I have especially for you.” We do not have a copy of that letter, unless some fragments of it have found their way into our “2nd” Corinthians. (As that question does not affect the points I want to argue, there is no need to discuss it here.)
- He entrusted the letter to Titus to deliver to Corinth, and was delighted to learn when he met Titus again in Macedonia that the letter had been effective and the Corinthian church had repented of its errors, as we can see from 2 Cor. 7:6-9.
Look at the example the great Apostle give s us! Bad-mouthed by some of the Corinthians during his brief visit, he does not exercise his supernatural apostolic authority to silence them. He does not yet implement the warning he had given in 1 Cor. 4:19-21, “But I will come to you soon, if the Lord is willing, and I will find out not only the talk of these arrogant people, but also their power. For the kingdom of God is demonstrated not in idle talk but with power. What do you want? Shall I come to you with a rod of discipline or with love and a spirit of gentleness?” No, he meekly retreats and continues to try to win the Corinthians over by whatever he wrote in the letter that – praise God – was to cause them such fruitful pain.
My previous post drew out from 1st Corinthians that, whatever particular error he was dealing with, Paul exhorted his hearers in the patient confidence that the Holy Spirit was present and able to make his words fruitful. We also saw that he often gave two kinds of corrective teaching, dealing first with the presenting issue as such, but then adding teaching that encouraged his hearers to reconsider the whole issue from the perspective of the body of Christ and their relationship to it.
Knowing that, we can understand why he chose not to make use of his disciplinary power during that summer visit. He still believed that the battle for the hearts and minds of the Corinthians could be won, and he was willing for the sake of the Corinthians and the sake of Christ’s body to accept seeming humiliation in the meantime.
Applying Paul’s Example to the Motion 30 Controversy
Paul was humble, loving and patient. This is the example he gives us in the Corinthian epistles and the example we should surely aspire to.
Some will correctly observe that there was a limit to Paul’s apostolic forbearance. If the final four chapters of our 2nd Corinthians are in their correct place (and I believe they are; these chapters are not the “painful letter” that Paul wrote between our 1st and 2nd Corinthians), a minority at Corinth still opposed him, but Paul would deal decisively with them on his next visit:
This is the third time I am coming to visit you… I said before when I was present the second time and now, though absent, I say again to those who sinned previously and to all the rest, that if I come again, I will not spare anyone…
(2 Cor. 13:1-2)
Paul was patient with the Corinthians, but his patience expired after perhaps nine months. The matters that led to Motion 30 have been under debate for decades; can those who believe themselves correct on these issues therefore appeal to Paul’s example and say, “Time’s up – no more debate”? Perhaps – but only if you can swear that these decades of debate have been carried out in the same spirit of humility and concern for the Church that Paul showed in all his dealings with the Corinthians. In my opinion, that’s not the case – or not the case on a large-enough scale. Instead, I seem to have seen two castles built on opposite hills, with the residents of each castle shouting across the intervening valley, “Repent,” but (unlike Paul) giving the opposing side no sufficient grounds why they should do so. Sufficient grounds in terms of the shouter’s own presuppositions, for sure, but not in terms of the presuppositions of the other side.
An occasional envoy has been sent from one castle to the other, only to be wined, dined, tested against the host’s favourite shibboleth, found wanting and dismissed. An occasional book written in the library of one castle has been read in the library of the other, but principally so its weak points could be identified and the whole dismissed thereby. There has been a pretence of God-fearing debate and dialogue but only a smattering of the real thing.
Or my perception may be totally wrong! I would therefore be glad to be pointed to the records of genuine heartfelt debate and wrestling together over these matters, with each side prepared to recognise, at least in principle, that they might be wrong in this or that point of their platform.
I need to say, finally, that in this posting I have mentioned two castles, but there is of course a third building in the vicinity, the building where the neo-Arians dwell. I believe it is a shanty of wood, hay and stubble and not relevant to this posting; therefore I have ignored it.