Relationships can be messy and confusing. We long to build bridges, to point others to Jesus, and really, to love others well. But sometimes it can feel crazy hard to live that out. If only Scripture provided a clear road map: When they say X, respond with Y.
I felt the tension between grace and truth most acutely a few summers ago when my husband and I fostered a troubled teenager. We’d gone through extensive training and felt certain, prior to placement, that we knew when and how to set boundaries and for what behaviors.
The black and white decisions we saw on paper muddled into gray when transferred to the real world. We weren’t working with hypotheticals anymore. This was real life, a human life—a deeply broken teen rapidly spiraling into self-destruction.
We knew we needed to address her behaviors, to hold her accountable for them. But we longed to do so in a way that built or at least, didn’t harm, our relationships with her. I can’t say I always did that well, nor that my actions and reactions were always Christ centered.
My responses more closely resemble His when I intentionally set myself aside—my pride, will, fears, and expectations—and yield to the Holy Spirit within me.
I imagine the apostle Paul felt a similar tension when he addressed his brothers and sisters in Corinth. I don’t know what all was going on, but Jewish believers had attacked Paul’s ministry and division and sin had infiltrated the church. Apparently, he’d written the Corinthians a “severe” letter, which scholars believe has been lost.
The Corinthians may have assumed, based on Paul’s letter, that he didn’t care for them. That his heart had turned against them. Those fears may have been magnified when one of Paul’s previously planned visits were delayed. But in 2 Corinthians 2:4, he assures them this wasn’t the case. In fact, it was because of his love for them that he wrote the letter, delayed his trip, and was now planning to visit them again.
He said, “For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love I have for you” (2 Corinthians 2:4, ESV).
Can you sense Paul’s anguish? Having had his ministry and character attacked, while facing ministry challenges, persecution, and the constant threat of death, he was in need of support and encouragement. Of community. The easiest and most self-serving thing he could’ve done would’ve been to simply allow the issues in Corinth to slide.
But out of His love for them, he wrote a rebuking letter, one where he anguished over each word. Perhaps you’ve been there, when the most loving thing you can do is address a behavior, even if it causes someone pain. Temporary pain. A pain that, by God’s grace, can lead to healing and restoration.
That was Paul’s goal. He wasn’t lashing out in anger, frustration, or indignation. He was pouring every part of him out in love.
Sometimes that love is quiet; other times, like when Paul wrote his chastising letter, that love is bold. But when it comes from Jesus, it is always pure and honorable and truth—focused on others and centered in Christ.
Let’s talk about this! Pause to think of the people in your circle. What is the most loving way you can respond to them today? How might “self-love” (self-protection, pride, feeling offended, etc.) get in your way? What can you do to move past self-love tendencies? Share your thoughts and examples with us in the comments below because we can all learn from and encourage one another.
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