Paul had opened his heart to them. He had been gracious towards them. Though many among them questioned his authority and his sincerity, yet Paul was patient with them. He reasoned with them, he reminded them of what was true, he wanted to restore them. Yet, he was coming to them. And, if those who persisted in rejecting him did not repent, he would, with the authority of Christ, deal with them.
His patience should not be regarded as acceptance. His gracious approach, not exploited as general disregard. His reasoning not mistaken as a reason to continue in flirting with “super-apostles” and their corrupt gospel.
Paul, in the way of Christ, had been slow to anger. But Paul, by the authority of Christ, could be severe in his response. And all of it, for building up and not for tearing down.
For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. Your restoration is what we pray for. For this reason I write these things while I am away from you, that when I come I may not have to be severe in my use of the authority that the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down.
(2Corinthians 13:9-10 ESV)
Paul did not want to be severe towards the Corinthians when he came to visit them for a third time (13:1). But he makes clear that if things had not changed by the time he arrived, he would change them. He would put a stop to the nonsense being spread by so called super-apostles. He would deal with any “quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder” (12:20) that arose because of those enamored with a gospel of self-power and self-promotion. He would be “sharp” (NKJV), he would be “harsh” (NIV), he would be “abrupt” (literal translation), and would deal with the sin among these believers with “the authority” that the Head of the Church had given him. Severity given for building up, not for tearing down.
We’re not Paul. We don’t carry his apostolic authority. But we are called to bear one another’s burdens and to restore those overtaken in a fault (Gal. 6:1-2). So, like Paul, we should approach such matters with a “spirit of gentleness.” We should be slow to escalate. We should patiently pursue restoration peaceably. We should love one another, comfort one another, be kind to one another, bearing with one another and forgiving one another — all the while praying for one another as we seek to gently restore one another. But it is unloving to give up on one another when those things are not producing the needed outcome. In our “one another tool kit” we are also told to admonish one another (Col. 3:16), exhort one another (Heb. 3:13, 10:25), and even rebuke one another (1Tim. 5:20, Tit. 1:13). Not to tear down, but to build up.
The Lord of the church loves the church and, as part of His purifying work within the church, wants to use the church to restore the church. Brothers and sisters who have one another’s back want to avoid being “severe” but are willing to be “severe” if it is used of the Spirit — even if it means sometimes having to say the hard thing. Not to tear down. But to build up.
By God’s grace. For God’s glory.