Paul is coming to the close of this letter to the Corinthians. He is going to return to them and see them. Paul wants to make sure that they are acting as Christians ought to act when he arrives. This concern is expressed in 2 Corinthians 12:20.
For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish. (2 Corinthians 12:20 ESV)
Paul does not want to have to come to them and deal with these issues in the Corinthian church. He wants them to listen to this letter and make the corrections necessary so that they show themselves to be God’s people as they ought. In this paragraph the apostle Paul is going to instruct these Corinthians as well as us as to what should not be in the church. What needs to be removed from the church so that Paul can come to them and find them as they ought to be.
The first thing that should not be among Christians is pride. The contrast provided in verse 11 is startling. These false ones have been acting like “super-apostles.” They make much of themselves and draw attention to themselves. Notice how Paul words this: “For I was not at all inferior to these super-apostles, even though I am nothing.” I do not believe we should read this as sarcasm because by doing so the statement loses its effect. Paul is saying that he should have been commended by them because he is not inferior. But just because he recognizes he is not inferior does mean that he thinks highly of himself. He realizes that he is nothing except by the grace of God. The apostle Paul never draws attention to himself. So he cannot be saying, “I am something and you should pay attention to me.” Rather, Paul does not promote himself, a point he has repeatedly made in this section of 2 Corinthians, but the Corinthians should have recognized who he was: a true apostle of Jesus by the signs he performed among them (12:12).
This is a concept that we have explored before because we see this concept often in the scriptures. The call is not to have self-esteem. It is not about thinking highly of yourself. Paul has regularly condemned that thinking in this very letter. Paul refused to boast in himself. “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness” (11:30). But notice that Paul does not walk around mentally beating himself up. He recognizes that he is not inferior to these “super-apostles.” Why? He is not inferior to them because of what God has done for him. God has called Paul from the path of sin and a persecutor of Christians to be an apostle of Jesus. He has God-esteem and God-value. His thoughts about himself are about what God has done for him, not who he is or what he can do.
Pride is what must not be in the church. Pride destroys harmony and unity. Pride destroys the family that we are to enjoy in Christ. Pride breeds all kinds of sinful thoughts and actions. Paul did nothing among these Christians to put himself first. He even forfeited his rights while serving these Christians.
Further Paul says that he did everything to not be a burden. He did not seek what belong to them, but was seeking them. Christians do not take advantage of one another. Christians do not make themselves a burden on others. They think about the other person, not what they can get out of the other person. Paul says that this was what he showed them when he came to them. Paul was not deceptive or underhanded. Rather, he was thoughtful and was concerned about the well-being of these Christians, not himself.
Paul uses an illustration from life in verses 14-15 to prove his point. Here is the principle he uses: Children are not obligated to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. It is a simple idea. Parents pay for the children. Parents care for the children. The children should not be paying the mortgage, buying the groceries, making the car payment, and the like. Parents provide for the children. Paul’s point is that he is their spiritual father and has provided for them. He is doing good for them and did not allow for them to pay for him. This is in clear contrast to the false teachers who are there are taking money for their own selfish interests. He brings in the others who Paul has sent to them. Did Titus take advantage of them? No. Again, Paul is drawing a contrast. Christian leaders should display sacrifice, not self-service. Paul says they should see how different they treated them than the false ones who are among them.
I want to magnify this point for a moment. This should happen here as a church also. People should come in here and there should be one big difference that they see in us in contrast to any other church they look at. They are treated well here and see a family here. They will see that we look out for their best interests. They are not taken advantage of. A genuine concern is shown for them. We must continue to stand apart in these areas for it is a way to show the truth of God’s word and God’s people against those who are false and teach false things from the scriptures.
In the midst of this discussion, Paul explains what he has been doing in this section and in this letter. Listen to what he says.
Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? It is in the sight of God that we have been speaking in Christ, and all for your upbuilding, beloved. (2 Corinthians 12:19 ESV)
Paul says this has not been about defending himself but teaching them through his example. All that they have been saying is for their upbuilding. He is trying to help them. This has been another consistent message of Paul. He is working for their good, to build them up. This is the goal.
More Things That Must Not Be In The Church (12:20-21)
Paul returns to what he fears he will find in the church in Corinth when he arrives. He fears there will be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder. These are things that simply must not be in the church. Now I want us to think about this for a moment and consider each trait. There is not to be quarreling among us. It is a word that describes contention, conflict, and strife. This speaks to the atmosphere of the church. Is there strife and tension or is there love and joy? It is wrong when a church quarreling, fighting, and striving.
The second picture of what must not be in the church jealousy. Sinful jealousy arises from self-centered thinking. You will notice that this is also a negative attitude toward one another. We do not think well of the other person. We look at the other person and we cannot be happy for them. We cannot be joyful with those who are joyful and weep with those who weep. Rather, we get upset because of their joy and happy because of their sorrow. This is not what Christians should display. Jealousy is the outflow of rivalry and competition with others.
Third, there cannot be anger in the church. This is a word that refers to rage and violent anger. People should not be afraid of you. They should not be afraid of how you will respond if they come to you to tell you something. We should be able to approach each other about anything and not find a response of anger, rage, hot temper, or explosive wrath. Friends, it cannot be part of us when we together nor can it be part of us in the home. Anger is selfish because we are trying to punish the other person for doing something against us or something that we do not like. We must teach ourselves that such a response is not acceptable.
Fourth, Paul says there must not hostility in the church. This word refers to ambitious rivalries, factious attitudes, divisiveness, and partisanship. There is a selfishness that drives the hostility and divisiveness that is seen. We need to mark this word for a moment because our society is spiraling out of control with hostility, divisiveness, rivalries, and partisanship. These divisive attitudes and hostile words are not the marks of the Christian. We cannot speak like that or act like that. We must not speak or act like this when it comes to the direction of our country, our culture, our politics, and the life. And we certainly must not speak and act this way toward one another as God’s people. We need to be lights right now, more than ever, in this world of darkness, evil, and chaos.
Fifth, slander, gossip, and disorder must not be in the church. Nothing will destroy relationships faster than slander and gossip toward one another. Do not speak against one another. Do not say things that are hurtful or harmful about another person. Divisions quickly arise when we sow seeds of disorder and discord by our words about others. Our words are to always be loving and encouraging, never hateful or hurtful. How often we think our words are acceptable so long as they are true? Do you see that as a loophole in this text or in any other passage in the Scripture? Do not speak against someone unless it is true. That is not in the Scripture! God never tells us this. Do not slander and do not gossip and that is the end of story.
Finally, there is not to be impurity, sexual immorality, or sensuality in the church (12:21). These three words are staggeringly broad regarding sexual activity. There is not a sexual activity outside of the marriage between a man and a woman that is lawful according to God. The acceptance of unrestrained sexual behavior is condemned by God in these three words. Any other looking or touching a person who you are not married to as a man to a woman is condemned right here. We cannot be pulled by the world to accept all kinds of sexual sins that the world wants to deem as acceptable. None of the sexual behaviors that the world accepts and promotes today are acceptable to God.
In fact, we see this in verse 21 because Paul has demanded that people who are practicing these sexual behaviors to repent. God demands repentance. We cannot slide by and just accept our sexual actions as approved by God. God demands repentance of these actions. Paul says that he may have to come and mourn over those who have not repented of these actions. The church cannot give any indication that such sexual and sensual activity is acceptable to God.
As we end, we must examine ourselves and consider if we are practicing the characteristics that Paul has described in this section. Pride, taking advantage of others, quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, disorder, impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality cannot be part of our actions or character. Jesus said to the church in Laodicea:
Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. (Revelation 3:19 ESV)
Our Lord loves us. That is why he tells us what we need to do and what we need to not to do. He wants us to be in relationship with him. He does not want us to perish. So our Lord comes to us and warns us. He reproves us because he loves us. So let us be zealous in our pursuit of a relationship with Jesus and repent.