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Second Corinthians

Personal Attack

2 Corinthians 1:15 - 2:13

It is a rare thing to have a lesson on the art of dealing with personal attack. St. Paul gives us one in today's Scripture:

{15} Because I was confident of this, I planned to visit you first so that you might benefit twice. {16} I planned to visit you on my way to Macedonia and to come back to you from Macedonia, and then to have you send me on my way to Judea. {17} When I planned this, did I do it lightly? Or do I make my plans in a worldly manner so that in the same breath I say, "Yes, yes" and "No, no"? {18} But as surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not "Yes" and "No." {19} For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by me and Silas and Timothy, was not "Yes" and "No," but in him it has always been "Yes." {20} For no matter how many promises God has made, they are "Yes" in Christ. And so through him the "Amen" is spoken by us to the glory of God. {21} Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, {22} set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. {23} I call God as my witness that it was in order to spare you that I did not return to Corinth. {24} Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm. {2:1} So I made up my mind that I would not make another painful visit to you. {2} For if I grieve you, who is left to make me glad but you whom I have grieved? {3} I wrote as I did so that when I came I should not be distressed by those who ought to make me rejoice. I had confidence in all of you, that you would all share my joy. {4} For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you. {5} If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you, to some extent‑‑not to put it too severely. {6} The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him. {7} Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. {8} I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. {9} The reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything. {10} If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. And what I have forgiven‑‑if there was anything to forgive‑‑I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, {11} in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes. {12} Now when I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord had opened a door for me, {13} I still had no peace of mind, because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said goodby to them and went on to Macedonia. ‑‑ 2 Corinthians 1:152:13 (NIV)



Dealing with attack


One of the more distressing things a Christian must endure is the personal attack. This is particularly true if the attack comes from within the church, for there we expect to be loved unconditionally (and sometimes loved without discipline). Let's look at the attack that St. Paul was enduring:



Some Jews from Palestine, bearing letters of recommendation from other congregations, had come to Corinth and accused Paul of these things:


~ that he was not an apostle at all, having shown no miraculous signs.

~ that he wrote good letters, but was unimpressive and a poor speaker in person.

~ that he was a coward, unreliable and said "yes and no" in the same breath.

~ that he refused money from the Corinthian church, either because he was dishonest or because he wasn't sure he was an apostle.

~ that he was egotistical and liked to parade it


In short, as an apostle, St. Paul was accused of being a failure. When we are accused, we sometimes leap too quickly to that conclusion: they wouldn't be accusing me if I weren't such a failure. It helps here to take the eternal view, of course - but even in the short term we can have some difficulty in making such a judgment. Consider:


Have you failed trying to accomplish something?

Imagine, how easy it would have been for this young man to have bowed his head and given up. He failed in business in '31, he was defeated for the legislature in '32, he was elected to the legislature in '34. His sweetheart died in '35, he had a nervous breakdown in '36, he was defeated for speaker in '38, he was defeated for elector in '40, he was defeated for Congress in '43, he was elected to Congress in '46, defeated for Congress in '48, defeated for Senate in '50, defeated for vice president in '56 and for Senate in '58. But fortunately he was elected president in 1860. His name was Abraham Lincoln. He proves that failure need not be permanent.


So, then, how does the Christian stand in the face of attack? I submit the following:


First, there is the virtue of hope. This life is not the sum of all things; the Lord is coming again. At that time He will judge - and reward - His faithful servants. Hold to this hope. He is coming, and when He does, He will know what you have done - even if no one else does.


Next, in this life itself - remember Mr. Lincoln? - faith is the great aid to the besieged. A conquering faith looks beyond today's accusation, knowing that God will turn this to the good of His people.


Paul's great defense here, however, is his conscience. It is clear, and he is therefore relieved of the charge of inconsistency. We overrate consistency by making it a virtue. Oswald Chambers warned us of it this way:


"Beware of making a fetish of consistency to your convictions instead of being devoted to God. I shall never do that - in all probability you will have to, if you are a saint. There was never a more inconsistent Being on this earth than our Lord, but He was never inconsistent to His Father. The one consistency of the saint is not to a principle, but to the Divine life. It is the Divine life which continually makes more and more discoveries about the Divine mind. It is easier to be a fanatic than a faithful soul, because there is something amazingly humbling, particularly to our religious conceit, in being loyal to God." (My Utmost for His Highest, italics added).


A good conscience, as in this passage, is the aid to true consistency - consistency to God. A clear conscience is a glory, said Thomas a Kempis:


"The glory of a good man is the witness of a good conscience. Preserve a quiet conscience, and you will always have joy. A quiet conscience can endure much, and remains joyful in all trouble, but an evil conscience is always fearful and uneasy. You may rest easy if your heart does not reproach you, and you are happy only when you have done right. The wicked never know true happiness, nor do they enjoy inward peace, for 'There is no peace for the wicked,' says the Lord." (The Imitation of Christ)


That same devotion to God that gives Paul a good conscience moves him also to place the unity of the church above clearing his own good name. As in verse 23, see that he refused to visit them, "in order to spare you." His own reputation is below the good of his church, and his Lord. This is the key to dealing with the attacker.



Dealing with the attacker


There is always a temptation when attacked to duck. Avoiding conflict often seems preferable to engaging in it. There is no real justification for avoiding conflict; there is every justification for avoiding a quarrelsome attitude. When confronted with conflict, the object should be to resolve the conflict - using the weapons of the Christian - rather than avoiding it. Go to the dentist when the pain is small.


Paul shows this in the letter he alludes to. It evidently was quite stern. Lately we have seen the rise of the phrase "tough love." There is much to that - if we remember that it must be love first to be tough.


What, then, are the methods of the Christian in dealing with his attacker? I suggest the following:


~ Courtesy. It is surprising how often the clashing of the gears can be quieted with a little oil. Courtesy reaffirms at each step that you see your attacker as a child of God also, worthy therefore of your respect.


~ Rebuke in love. As Paul does here, we should state our case in love, not in anger. If for no other reason than our own self control, rebuke in love. More than that, however, consider your brother as yourself - just how do you want to be rebuked?


~ Rebuke without domination. Remember that the object of Christian discipline - and such must be applied to an unwarranted personal attack - is reconciliation. The authority belongs to the Lord, not to us. Do not steal what belongs to God.



Finally, remember that your desire to "get even" must give way to the good of the church. See Paul's example here. His command to the Corinthians gives three steps:

~ Forgiveness of the offender

~ Healing (reconciliation) to the offender

~ Unity in the church.


Which leads us, naturally, to how the church as a whole must deal with one who attacks another.




Dealing with attacks - as the church


Particularly in dealing with attacks within the church, it is essential to hold fast to our hope. We are the body of Christ; the Spirit is within us. Sometimes we wonder if we will "get it right." Remember that the guidance of the Spirit is assured to us. We may wander but we will never be permanently lost (the indefectability of the Church - the Spirit will not long allow us to remain in error.) We need to listen and learn:


It is said that a certain guide lived in the deserts of Arabia who never lost his way. He carried with him a homing pigeon with a very fine cord attached to one of its legs. When in doubt as to which path to take, he threw the bird into the air. The pigeon quickly strained at the cord to fly in the direction of home, and thus led the guide accurately to his goal. Because of this unique practice he was known as "the dove man." So, too, the Holy Spirit, the heavenly Dove, is willing and able to direct us in the narrow way that leads to the more abundant life if in humble selfdenial we submit to His unerring supervision.


Conflict in the church is a great source of anguish - and doubt. We need to remember whose Spirit is within us. This carries with it certain results:


~ The flaws of the messenger do not mar the flawlessness of the message. I teach that all men are sinners, and are in need of the reconciliation of the Cross. Because I am a sinner too, does that mean my message is false? No indeed! I serve as yet another example that "all have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God."


~ Reliability is in God, not men. I may make the promises of God; doing so in His word and teaching - but He will deliver. I can only try to deliver what I am able to deliver. What a great relief for the teacher, and what a great confidence for the student.


~ The Holy Spirit is our guarantee of this. The word in the Greek (translated "seal of ownership" in verse 22) is arrabon, and it roughly corresponds to a down payment in our modern terms. The contract is completed (the covenant) and the payment has begun.


~ Ultimately, Jesus is the "yes"; we are the "Amen". The character of the messenger, the corruption of the message - none of this ultimately matters because of Jesus. We are not the makers of salvation; we are merely those who agree it has been made.


As the church, we must look not only to resolving conflicts among us, but we must also do so while guarding against the attack from without. Make no mistake: Satan is real, and Satan is on the prowl. Any act of "conflict resolution" must take this into account, for Satan will use the process of reconciliation - to warp it and turn it around. The most common way is to allow discipline to degenerate into pure punishment - thus driving the repentant sinner into the arms of Satan. Our arms should be around their shoulders with a hug, not holding a stick to beat them off.


Reconciliation is the aim of the church. We must reconcile those who, like Paul's attackers, would divide the church. Discipline means to make disciples, not merely to thrash. Indeed, the aim of the church is to reconcile all men to God. When we are attacked, the enemy has given us a golden opportunity to do just that.

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