“For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears; not so that you would be made sorrowful, but that you might know the love which I have especially for you.”
(2 Corinthians 2:4)
Paul’s love for his brethren can be painful to read. His exertion in the Lord’s kingdom remains an inspiration for Christians today (1 Cor. 11:1). Added to his external sufferings, Paul says, was the “daily pressure on [him] of concern for all the churches” (2 Cor. 11:28). The love Paul had for Christ and his brethren moved him to anguish especially when he beheld their failure in living regenerated lives in Christ.
In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul sent a stinging rebuke at the heart of the congregation for the one whose sin was so twisted it did “not exist even among the Gentiles” (1 Cor. 5:1) but also of the arrogance of the rest of the Christians for tolerating it (1 Cor. 5:2). On several occasions Paul was moved to tears in his work planting and establishing churches. Regarding his unbelieving Jewish countrymen, Paul wished he could be cut off for their sakes (Rom. 9:1-3). We see his tears and hear his anguished prayers as he worked to declare “the whole purpose of God” (Acts 20:27).
Paul was never afraid to say what needed to be said even when it hurt the most. The oft spoken line is, “the truth hurts” to which there is some merit (cf. Gal. 4:16) . As God’s children we are also moved to painful sayings.
“I’m sorry,” is one of the most difficult things to say. But admitting we’ve done wrong to God and each other is vital if we ever want to drink from the fountain of blessing again. The language of repentance is bitter to speak but what sweet grace does it bring about! Regarding the many hard sayings in his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul says in his second epistle that he rejoiced in the effect of the rebukes: godly sorrow which produced in them repentance leading to life (2 Cor. 7:9-11). Even though it’s painful to say, “I am sorry,” repentance is the language of the gospel.
Even the phrase, “I love you,” can be difficult to say sometimes. In fact, the harder it is to say “I love you,” the more pressing is the need to say it. Men who play their cards close and are miserly with words of encouragement and love to their spouses, children or neighbors are sorry servants in the kingdom. Women who, in their coldness, give no words of praise but would rather highlight the negative are without Christ’s badge of discipleship. We are commanded to love as Jesus loved (Jn. 13:34-35). This love (‘agapeo’ in the Greek) can be commanded because it isn’t based on emotion. Rather having this kind of love means being devoted to its object, despite its unloveliness. We need to be willing to show each other that we are devoted to their wellbeing and sometimes that means saying “I love you” when it’s painful, perhaps especially when it’s painful.
“You are the man,” is another saying that brings much anguish but it is vital to the health and purity of the church. Many think expressing any sort of disapproval contradicts love. Love, to most people, is agreeing and supporting someone regardless of their choices. However, Biblical love demands we act in the best interest of our brothers. That means when we see them struggling with temptation we reach out to them and pray with them (Jas. 5:16). That means, if our brother persists in ungodliness, we first remove the beam from our eye in order to remove the speck from his eye (Mt. 7:1-5). Jesus tells us, “If your brother sins, rebuke him” (Lk. 17:3). The true friend who is devoted to his brother will snatch him out of
the fires of temptation, for, Jude says, he hates “even the garment polluted by the flesh” (Jude 23). This loving rebuke, as modeled by Nathan to David (cf. 2 Sam. 12:7), “covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet. 4:8).
The last, and perhaps most painful saying of them all is, “I forgive you.” Again it must be stressed the language of forgiveness, like the language of repentance and love, is the language of the gospel. Our very salvation depends upon our humility in forgiving one another just as God in Christ forgave us (Eph. 4:32). To finish the teaching of the Teacher, “If your brother sins rebuke him. If he repents, forgive him” (Lk. 17:3). There is no depth of depravity that man could sink to that God would not forgive in Christ. If our Heavenly Father is full of such mercy and grace, then we also must have a heart of forgiveness and a tongue of mercy. How could Jesus say to those who despised Him, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do”? How could Steven pray to the Father the same prayer for those hurling stones to mutilate his body? Because they knew God is a God of forgiveness.
All of these sayings may be difficult, but if we want to glorify our King, we will learn the gospel language. When you’ve done wrong, waste no time in your heartfelt apology so that you can be reconciled. Say, “I’m sorry” and work to make things right.
Be liberal with your love language as God is liberal towards you in His words of love. Offering a sincere “I love you” coupled with parallel acts of love may be exactly what your lonely neighbor needs. Wield the Spirit’s sword with tact and compassion to snatch your ailing brother from the fire. Speaking the truth in love necessitates that sometimes we say to our fellow image-bearer, “You are the man.” And lastly, be generous and quick to forgive our debtors (Mt. 6:12) for our fellowship with the Father rests upon it. “I forgive you,” is good news to those who have wronged us.