God wants you to love your friends, but He also expects you to love the difficult people in your life. And we all have them!
The apostle Paul certainly did. While he could count on the Philippians to support and encourage him, he anticipated that the Corinthians would give him plenty of opposition and discouragement. They were his problem church.
As Jeremiah earned the title “the weeping prophet,” so Paul probably could be called “the weeping apostle.” He speaks often of the tears he shed over the church in Corinth and of the anguish in his heart over their poor choices. And he declared plainly in his second letter to them, “Out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you, with many tears.” Why did he mention his turmoil? “Not to grieve them but that you might know the love which I have so abundantly for you” (2 Corinthians 2:4).
Paul is one of those individuals with whom I hope to spend a few hundred years in heaven. I’ve always been a great admirer of the apostle and of his ministry, so when he writes to the Corinthians, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ,” I accept his counsel unreservedly (1 Corinthians 11:1). I’ve sought to follow the example of Paul: the love he had for the church, and the concern he displayed for even the difficult people of God, his great desire to see them walking in truth and in fellowship with the Lord. I would like my own heart to mimic the great heart of the apostle Paul. Of course, I don’t pretend to come close to Paul.
In writing of his tremendous love for his fellow Jews, he wrote, “For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh” (Romans 9:3). That’s beyond me. I cannot begin to grasp that level of concern and love. But oh, what a mighty man of God, and what a heart for God and the people of God—even the difficult people of God!
Paul wanted to make sure in his second letter that the Corinthians understood the tone of his heart as he wrote his first letter. He explained that he wrote not out of anger, but with a heart that ached for them, a heart filled with anguish, a heart filled with love—yet a heart powerfully grieving over the children whom he had brought to the Lord, children who had gone so badly astray to their own hurt.
“That heavy letter that I had to write to you,” he wanted them to know, “it was hard. I did it with anguish. I wrote it with many tears.” Note how the apostle bares his soul when he recalls his first letter and the response it received:
“Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.
“For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter. Therefore, although I wrote to you, I did not do it for the sake of him who had done the wrong, nor for the sake of him who suffered wrong, but that our care for you in the sight of God might appear to you” (2 Corinthians 7:9-12).
No, the apostle did not find it easy to write his letter, nor did he get any pleasure from the rebuke he felt forced to give. But he loved the Corinthians—his difficult church—and therefore he expended himself in love for them. And God honored his labor of love.
- excerpted from Love The More Excellent Way by Chuck Smith