WOUNDS FROM A FRIEND
by Steve Zeisler
"The uncovering of what is veiled and the removing of masks is central
to vital Christianity. We live in an age that is very aware of the power
of hidden things to sway everything else. Modern psychologists tell us that
dysfunctional families, in which anger, guilt and lying remain unresolved,
are headed for serious trouble down the road. These things remain unresolved
because they are covered up-hidden by a veil-and tragedy is compounded because
it is not possible to deal with the problem until the veil is taken away
and the truth is revealed.
Exposure, however, is always painful. The bandage that covers the wound
eventually will have to be removed, otherwise healing will not take place,
but in the removal pain is usually felt. The hostages who have been freed
in the Middle East recently had been blindfolded and imprisoned in darkened
rooms for long periods of time during their captivity. They must have blinked
and recoiled with discomfort on first stepping out into the bright light
of the sun when they were finally released. With their freedom came the
removal of the blindfolds, and the resultant pain.
Wounded for our good
Proverbs 27:6 says, "Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy
multiplies kisses." The process of removing our veils, of exposing
what is hidden, of bringing to light difficult realities so that healing
may take place is initiated at times because a friend is willing to wound
us by exposing us to our folly. A friend is the only one qualified and willing
to do this. An enemy does not qualify. An enemy will "multiply kisses,"
and tell you only what you want to hear, or inflict pain that is destructive.
But a friend will be faithful to help you by first wounding you.
We will be covering a fairly long passage from 2 Corinthians this morning,
which discusses three different wounds which Paul had to inflict on his
friends, the Corinthian church. Because he loved them he had to confront
them, probe them and restrict them. In this passage he is going to explain
this process so that he might help them (and us) understand why he did what
Let us begin by first identifying the three occasions when Paul confronted
his friends in Corinth. The first is mentioned in chapter 2, verse 1. Paul
"So I made up my mind that I would not make another painful
visit to you."
The ministry of challenge is always undertaken with difficulty
The painful visit to which he is referring is not mentioned in the book
of Acts, but we deduce from reading the Corinthian letters that when Paul
was ministering in Ephesus, he heard of the deterioration taking place in
Corinth and made a quick trip to the city to correct them. Much pain resulted
from this visit, from the apostle's personal appeal to the Corinthians to
turn away from their competitiveness, arrogance, love of pleasure, and theological
The second wounding which Paul makes reference to is found in 2:4:
"For I wrote to 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."
In chapter 7 of this letter he writes, "I know that my letter hurt
you." Subsequent to his painful visit, Paul wrote the Corinthians a
hard letter in which a formal indictment was lodged against the church.
Paul's letters were read aloud in public. His words contained necessary
reprimands in a written document that would not change or fade. Thus the
second wounding which Paul inflicted upon his beloved Corinthians was contained
in the "painful" letter he wrote to them.
The third is mentioned in 2:5-11. This concerns an individual who is unknown
to us, and makes reference to circumstances we know little about. We can
surmise that this individual led a group of people to revolt against Paul.
(Some scholars suggest that the immoral man judged in 1 Cor. 5 is in view
here, but I do not think so.) The godly leadership of the church had set
this man outside the fellowship of the church for a time, treating him as
an outsider. This is what Jesus himself said to do to an individual as a
final act of discipline-to treat him as if he were not a Christian at all.
This is the third necessary wounding the apostle comments on. From Paul's
perspective all three of these incidents---the visit, the letter, and the
restriction of this individual---had taken place in the past, and now he
is going to explain them.
Let us see what we can learn from his analysis. Second Corinthians 1:12:
Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have
conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you,
in the holiness and sincerity that are from God. We have done so not according
to worldly wisdom but according to God's grace. For we do not write you
anything you cannot read or understand. And I hope that, as you have understood
us in part, you will come to understand fully that you can boast of us just
as we will boast of you in the day of the Lord Jesus.
Wounding your friends is never an enjoyable thing. The ministry of challenge
is always undertaken with difficulty. Whenever we engage in it, we are open
to review ourselves. Paul realizes that he had to examine whether his own
motives were right. He asked himself whether he was going to Corinth to
correct them because he was going to get something out of it for himself.
He had had his feelings hurt, without doubt. Was he being revengeful in
return? Was he seeking to put down someone in order to raise himself up?
Was he seeking money, authority, or position? What was his conscience saying
As he refers to these woundings which he felt compelled to inflict on the
Corinthians in the past, Paul uses the language of the courtroom. Note,
for example, the words "our conscience testifies" (1:12); "I
call God as my witness" (1:23). In open court, he first places his
own motives under scrutiny, and concludes that he had conducted himself
in "holiness and sincerity"; the "grace of God" had
moved him to so act. "Holiness" speaks of that which is unstained;
"sincerity" speaks of that which is unmixed, so that truth and
error are not sewn together into the same fabric. The apostle had acted
on behalf of the Corinthians, not on his own behalf.
In verses 13 and 14, however, it is clear that Paul realizes the Corinthians
may not entirely welcome what he had to say. What he had written was clear
and quite understandable, but they had understood only in part; some day
they would understand more fully. He can only tell them that his conscience
is clear; he does not expect them to grasp his reasoning entirely yet. They
may believe of him worse than is true, at least for a time, but that does
not in any way remove from him his certainty that what he did was done for
the right reasons.
I have always liked the comment that has been attributed to Mark Twain to
the effect that when he was sixteen or seventeen, he thought his father
was a fool, but by the time he was twenty-five he was astonished at how
much his father had learned in the interim. There is a lot of this kind
of sentiment in the relationship between the Corinthians and the apostle
Paul. We have already likened it to the relationship between a father and
an adolescent child. And even though Paul says he is not difficult to understand,
the adolescent child, for all the obvious reasons, replies, "I can't
understand what you're saying." But Paul, the father, says, "One
day you will." He leaves it at that, refusing to bear down any further.
So, having examined his conscience, Paul shares his conviction that his
motives were right.
The importance of empathy
Following this first question of himself, Paul asks another: Did he enjoy
hurting them? Granted he was not promoting himself, but there is another
element that goes with the ministry of saying hard things to your friends.
You must be able to empathize with them, to feel what they feel. You cannot
take perverse pleasure in seeing someone go through pain in order to get
well. Paul raises this possibility, and he answers it in the next section,
beginning with verse 15:
Because I was confident of this, I planned to visit you first so that you
might benefit twice. I planned to visit you on my way to Macedonia, and
then to have you send me on my way to Judea. 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"? But as surely
as God is faithful, our message to you is not "Yes" and "No."
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." 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.
Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed
us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as
a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. I call God as my witness that it
was in order to spare you that I did not return to Corinth. Not that we
lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is
by faith you stand firm. So I made up my mind that I would not make another
painful visit to you. For if I grieve you, who is left to make me glad but
you whom I have grieved? 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. 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.
Let's try and make sense of this rather complex passage, the main point
of which seems to be an explanation of why Paul did not come to Corinth
when the Corinthians thought he would. Throughout the passage we have several
references to the apostle's attitude toward them. He begins by saying his
original intention was to come to Corinth twice so that he could bless them
twice. Paul was in Asia Minor, collecting money to take back to Jerusalem.
His original plan was to go to Corinth, then north to Macedonia, south again
through Corinth, and on to Jerusalem.
But he realized that things between himself and the Corinthians had worsened
to such an extent that he changed his plan. He went to Macedonia first,
sending his emissary Titus ahead of him to try and patch things up between
them, and planned on visiting Corinth on his journey south to Jerusalem.
Note, however, that both the original travel plans and the later change
were made with the intention of doing good to the Corinthian believers.
He did not enjoy inflicting wounds upon them, but rather did everything
he could to avoid bringing unnecessary grief to them. He specifically denies
any desire to lord it over their faith (verse 24). He longed to bring them
joy, not sorrow. He did not want to be seen as an authoritarian who barged
in, ready to apply discipline every time he visited Corinth.
Finally, in 2:4, the apostle says poignantly, "For I wrote you out
of great distress and anguish of heart with many tears, not to grieve you
but to let you know the depth of my love for you." When we must confront
our friends, we should check our attitude toward them. Confrontation should
not come easy for us, and we certainly must not take any pleasure in it.
If someone we love is in pain, then our eyes should well up in tears of
empathy. It may be necessary that we go ahead and wound our friend because
there is no other way to remove the veil. Exposure to the bright sunlight
of one who has been wearing blindfolds hurts. But the friend who inflicts
the wound must also feel pain.
Thus Paul first checks his motives. Was this merely a self-serving exercise
for him? The answer is no. Next, his attitude. Was he willing to suffer
and hurt along with the Corinthians? Of course he was. He loved them.
Paul realizes that there is a backlog of accusations against him in Corinth.
His detractors are already in place there, accusing him of double-mindedness.
We have an example of this in 10:10: "For some say, 'His letters are
weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking
amounts to nothing.' Such people should realize that what we are in our
letters when we are absent, we will be in our actions when we are present."
His accusers were saying, "Yes, Paul is tough in his letters, but when
he finally appears in person, he doesn't amount to much. He is of little
stature, inconsistent, and his speech is unimpressive." They were using
his change of plans to accuse him of double-mindedness. Thus, Paul explains
why he decided not to go first to Corinth. To diminish unnecessary hurt
he sent Titus to them first---to begin the healing process between himself
and the Corinthians. Only then would he visit them. That was the only reason
for his not coming. He was not irresolute, as their accusations suggested.
The friend who inflicts the wound must also feel the pain
Another accusation made against him was that he was deliberately duplicitous---not
just that he was shallow and vacillating, but that he was a snake-in-the-grass
who could not be trusted, the kind of person who said "Yes yes"
and "No no" at the same time. But that was impossible for someone
who could write, as the apostle did in 1:21, "Now it is God who makes
both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership
on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what
is to come."
It is impossible to minister faithfully in Christ's name and be untruthful
at the same time. God is unchangeable. He does not promise something and
then fail to deliver. The answer to all of God's promises are "Yes"
in Jesus. Paul is asking, "How could I possibly represent God if I
am a liar, if I am a man-pleaser who tells people`what they want to hear?
If that were so, I would long since have lost whatever ministry I have."
At our elders meeting last week, I was trying to propose a motion, and as
I fumbled and mumbled along, one of the men turned to me and asked, "Do
you mean yes or no?" I laughed, because I had just been studying this
passage. I realized that what I was trying to do was word my motion in such
a way that if what I proposed upset anyone I could deny it, and if it pleased
some I could take the credit. I was trying to say yes and no at the same
time. "Spin doctors" is what they call people who do this in Washington.
These spokesmen spring into action when politicians make pronouncements
which offend certain people or groups. They put a "spin" on what
is said to make it palatable to everyone, saying yes and no at the same
The Feinstein - Van de Kamp Democratic debates for governor of California
are a good case in point. Feinstein declared her opposition to abortions
being performed for the purpose of sex selection. These are not pregnancies
resulting from incest, rape, poverty, or the usual difficult cases which
are so widely quoted. These children are wanted, planned for, and desired-but
are extinguished for being the wrong sex. Having made the sensible statement
that she is troubled by this, Feinstein came under attack from pro-abortion
critics. Immediately she reversed herself to agree with her critics. The
mood of the country at the moment seems to be that any "Yes" or
"No" answers are unpopular. Politicians as a result are being
forced to take neutral positions on all the moral issues. When some protest
spending public monies on pornographic art exhibits, we hear counter-protests
about First Amendment rights being endangered. The public seems to want
to hear "Yes yes" and "No no" at the same time.
But not the apostle Paul. To him, God has made very clear statements about
himself and his purposes. The resounding "Yes" to every promise
of God is Jesus Christ, and the answer of the church should be "Amen"
to the "Yes" of God. Paul recoils from any suggestion that he
is double-minded, needlessly wounding "innocent" Corinthian believers.
Restricting a rebel
The third and final case of wounding concerns a certain man who had been
restricted from fellowship by the church in Corinth. It is probable that
Paul had urged them to take this action against this man who, it seems,
was dividing the body there. Chapter 5, verse 2:
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. The
punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him. Now instead,
you ought to forgive him and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed
by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him.
The reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient
in everything. 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, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we
are not unaware of his schemes.
We can sense Paul's hesitancy in his language here. He was not unaware of
what had occurred in this case. What he is trying to do is counter any thought
that he is angry, personally hurt, or is seeking revenge. I believe that
the apostle was personally attacked by this individual. He was grieved by
him, as was everybody else. But Paul says that the punishment he had already
endured was enough. There must be an end to this process of wounding. Any
challenge, probing, unmasking, any tearing away of bandages must have restoration
in view as the end result. There cannot be any joy in this process. Things
must proceed to where there is health, restoration, and full acceptance.
This is what Paul is suggesting here. A brother in Christ must not be caused
so much unrelenting hurt that he is an easy mark for the lies of Satan.
There must be an end to the confrontation.
In this section, the apostle is looking back on three events in which he
participated in the wounding of Christian people. He paid a visit to Corinth
which resulted in grief and tension; he wrote a letter to the church which
was an indictment of their conduct; and finally, he agreed with the punishment
of an individual who was threatening unity in the church. But in each of
these three cases Paul's last word concerns not wounding, but restoration.
His painful visit would not be his last visit among them (already, as we
will see, he was on his way to visit them once more); this very letter of
love (not the letter of reprimand) would be his last letter to them; and
the individual who had been disciplined should be welcomed back into fellowship
among them. Healing and restoration had been made possible.
Wounds from a friend can be trusted because they have good as their ultimate
end. Doctors probe their patients to discover why illness is present, and
they prescribe medication or restriction so that healing may take place.
Surgeons cut, inflicting pain in the process, so that they may make people
well. They wound in order to heal.
Jesus said he was a physician of the soul. Luke's gospel relates the following
incident from the life of our Lord:
Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large
crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. But the Pharisees
and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his
disciples, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and 'sinners'?
Jesus answered them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but
the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."
Jesus said that he came to make things right again, to "call sinners
to repentance." I commend to you the ministry of spiritual surgery
in service of Christ (and openness when the Doctor works on you). If your
motives are right, and if you are willing to share the hurt of the wounded,
this is a ministry we as the people of Christ need to grow in.
Catalog No. 4217
2 Cor. 1:12-2:11
May 20, 1990
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