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Speaking (and receiving) the truth in love

Back to all sermons Strength in Weakness

Date: February 14, 2021

Series: Strength in Weakness

Scripture: 2 Corinthians 7:2–7:16

This morning, I am in the seventh week of my sermon series entitled “Strength in Weakness,” looking at the New Testament book of 2 Corinthians. If you are unfamiliar with this book, it is a letter written by an early church leader named Paul to a church he had started around the year 50 AD in the Greek city of Corinth, which in Paul’s day was part of the Roman Empire. After starting the church, he moved on to start another church. As he got news of some issues happening in the Corinthian church, he wrote and sent the letter known as 1 Corinthians. He followed that up with a visit to Corinth, which he calls in this letter “the painful visit,” where apparently, he met with opposition from an individual who had stirred up people against him, while unfortunately the other Corinthians did nothing about it. In 2 Corinthians 2:1-4 we hear about the next letter he wrote to them:

 

2 Corinthians 2:1-4 - So I made up my mind that I would not make another painful visit to you.  2 For if I grieve you, who is left to make me glad but you whom I have grieved?  3 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.  4 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.

 

Today we will be in chapter 7:2-16, where he goes deeper into his experience surrounding this painful letter, which he sent with a ministry partner named Titus. Before we read, let’s pray that the Lord would speak to us through His Word.

 

2 Make room for us in your hearts. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have exploited no one.  3 I do not say this to condemn you; I have said before that you have such a place in our hearts that we would live or die with you.  4 I have great confidence in you; I take great pride in you. I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds.  5 For when we came into Macedonia, this body of ours had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn-- conflicts on the outside, fears within.  6 But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus,  7 and not only by his coming but also by the comfort you had given him. He told us about your longing for me, your deep sorrow, your ardent concern for me, so that my joy was greater than ever.  8 Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it-- I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while--  9 yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us.  10 Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.  11 See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.  12 So even though I wrote to you, it was not on account of the one who did the wrong or of the injured party, but rather that before God you could see for yourselves how devoted to us you are.  13 By all this we are encouraged. In addition to our own encouragement, we were especially delighted to see how happy Titus was, because his spirit has been refreshed by all of you.  14 I had boasted to him about you, and you have not embarrassed me. But just as everything we said to you was true, so our boasting about you to Titus has proved to be true as well.  15 And his affection for you is all the greater when he remembers that you were all obedient, receiving him with fear and trembling.  16 I am glad I can have complete confidence in you.

 

In this passage, Paul refers to the letter he had written in tears to confront them about a situation that needed to be addressed. His great passion as a pastor is that Christ would be formed in them, that they would be sanctified, that they would be united and mature. It is similar to a parent’s desire for his children. And so we see that Paul was anxious to hear back from Titus regarding how the letter was received. Paul talks about how he not only encountered physical hardships in Macedonia, but how he also dealt with his own angst over the situation in Corinth. How would they receive his rebuke? Again, any parents who has had to speak hard things to their children can relate – was I too harsh? Will they receive my words or reject them, and me? But he was greatly encouraged to hear from Titus that they received it well, that they longed to see Paul again and that they had responded to his rebuke by addressing the difficult matter.

 

Now, I know it’s Valentine’s Day, the day that is supposed to be all about love. But I am here to tell you that this passage is about real love. You see, even middle schoolers can experience sentimental love, complete with chocolates and flowers. But it takes real love for someone to be able to confront another person about sin in their life, to rebuke someone about something that will be hard for them to hear but which they need to know. You know, like “I need to talk to you about your anger,” or “I feel like your relationship with your cell phone is more important than your relationship with me.” As the Proverb says:

 

Proverbs 27:5-6 - Better is open rebuke than hidden love.  6 Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.

 

My goal this morning is to help you and those you love grow in maturity by learning from this passage about the art of rebuke, of confrontation. This morning, I want to share three things we learn about rebuke from 2 Corinthians 7:

 

  • The importance of rebuke

 

Why is rebuke so important? Two main reasons:

 

  • Sin is deadly serious to us and to others.

 

Sin kills. Our sin is deadly serious to us and it is deadly serious to others.

 

James 1:13-15 - When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone;  14 but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.  15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

 

Our evil desires lead us into sin, which brings death and destruction to us and to others. Each of you has behaviors and attitudes and ways that you interact with others that, if left unchecked, will bring destruction to you and to those around you. The manner in which you speak, the way you look at people, the way you take responsibility, and how you spend your time – anything you do that is outside of God’s will is going to bring destruction to you and to others. This is why we need to encourage, rebuke, and confront each other about sin in our lives.

 

Hebrews 3:12-13 - See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.  13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness.

 

But the second reason why rebuke is so important is:

 

  • We are blind to a lot of our sin

 

There are things about us that we do not see. We need others to point them out.

 

Proverbs 14:12 - There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.

 

Jeremiah 17:9 - The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?

 

I can look back at my life and see that many of my sinful tendencies or weaknesses were not things I discovered on my own but had to be pointed out by others. I did not realize how I expect others to take responsibility. How aloof I can be. How thoughtless. And maybe you are blind to the tone of voice you take with people and how it affects them. Or your careless attitude towards money and possessions. Or how your need for perfection and order causes you to speak unkindly to others. If no one tells us what we need to hear but are blind to, then we are heading for disaster.

 

Proverbs 29:5 - Whoever flatters his neighbor is spreading a net for his feet.

 

We need to be able to speak the truth to each other in order to save each other from the destructiveness of sin. But we need to be able to do it well, because as we all know, confrontation and rebuke must be done in the right spirit or it will probably make matters worse.

 

  • The art of rebuke

 

There are many things I could say, and there are books that have been written about this subject. But let me share four things from the Bible to keep in mind when you are thinking about confronting someone:

 

  • Take the log out of your own eye first

 

Matthew 7:3-5   "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  4 How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

 

What a great picture of a person trying to take a speck out while they are blinded by the plank in their own eye. What does Jesus mean? Look at yourself and confess your part; otherwise, you will likely overreach and come in with a desire for retribution.

 

If you are going to confront in a loving and Biblical way, be sure to examine yourself first and be ready to confess your part, even if it is only 10%.

 

  • Consider if you can overlook the offense

 

Proverbs 19:11 - A man's wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense.

 

We don’t need to confront about every little thing. There are some things that you can let go without confronting. Maybe you can live with your spouse not putting their shoes where they belong when they get home, because they just worked a long day and they want to spend time with you and the kids. Maybe you can put up with your friend occasionally forgetting important things, because they are always there for you when it matters most. The trick is being discerning enough to know whether the offense is something that is serious enough to confront or not. When do you not overlook an offense? How serious is the offense? Is it dishonoring God? Is it damaging your relationship? Is it hurting others? Is it hurting the offender? If you do not confront, will the person hurt others?

 

  • Speak the truth in love, treating each other as God’s family

 

Paul expresses how important their relationship is. All throughout the Bible, almost every passage that deals with conflict and confrontation exhorts us to treat each other as brothers and sisters, not as “that jerk who hurt me” or “that woman who disrespected me.” Consider:

 

1 Timothy 5:1-2 - Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers,  2 older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.

 

Seeing each other as family reshapes our perception of the other person in conflict. We don’t demean them, but call them brother and sister, mother. We see each other as family members, and we speak the truth in love.

 

Ephesians 4:15 - Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 

 

Some are good at “speaking the truth”, telling people what they need to hear, but they don’t care about love. They fight, attack, and tear people down just to get their point across, and justify it by saying “I’m just telling the truth,” but they are not concerned about actually building the other person up.

 

Others are good at speaking “in love”, but it’s not the truth – it’s flattery, telling people what they want to hear instead of what they need to hear.

 

And some don’t speak at all. Some would rather not speak at all, but simply deny that there is a problem.

 

We are called to do none of these things, but rather to speak the truth in love. And in case you don’t know what love is, consider 1 Corinthians 13:4-8:

 

1 Corinthians 13:4-8   Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  8 Love never fails.

 

We speak with patience, kindness, not rudely, not throwing out a record of wrongs, always protecting and hoping. We speak to serve the other person, to build them up, to spur them on towards holiness. We speak in a way they will understand and receive. And we speak the truth. Not flattery, not avoiding the problem, but saying what needs to be said, no matter what the response might be. If you can’t find love for the other person, then pray and ask God for help!

 

Why do we speak the truth in love? That is what leads to maturity and unity.  There is a false unity, where people don’t speak the truth to each other but just smile and let people live however they please. There may be a surface unity, but no real maturity. 

 

Instead of confronting someone in anger or contempt with a desire to set them straight, we go in order to restore them gently.

 

Galatians 6:1-2 - Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.  2 Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

 

You can serve others by helping them see where they have been wrong and need to change. You love them as they are and love them enough to not let them stay as they are. As we speak the truth in love to our brothers and sisters, we will grow into maturity.

 

The best way to develop healthy relationships is to practice speaking the truth in love, and to give others permission to speak the truth in love to us. Who do you need to speak the truth in love to? Where do you need to repent for speaking the truth without love, or for speaking in love but without truth, or for not speaking at all? And where can you give others permission to speak the truth in love to you?

 

  • Enlist help if necessary

 

Matthew 18:15-17 - "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.  16 But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.'  17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

 

Keep it as small as possible for as long as possible. But if you need help, take a trusted friend, a counselor, a family member, or a pastor along with you.

 

So what about when others rebuke or confront you? How do you react well to that?

 

  • The reaction to rebuke

 

What about how we receive rebuke or correction?

 

8 Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it-- I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while--  9 yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us.  10 Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. 

 

Paul distinguishes between godly sorrow and worldly sorrow. One brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret. The other brings death, despair, and bitterness.

 

Think of Peter & Judas – one denied Jesus, and one betrayed Jesus. Peter’s sorrow led him to give up and go fishing, but when Jesus showed up, he ran to him and experienced forgiveness and restoration. Judas had regret and went out and hung himself.

 

Matthew 27:3-5 - When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders.  4 "I have sinned," he said, "for I have betrayed innocent blood." "What is that to us?" they replied. "That's your responsibility."  5 So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.

 

That is a picture of worldly sorrow that leads to death. So how do you respond to rebuke with godly sorrow and not worldly sorrow?

 

I think the key is to believe the gospel and find your identity in who God says you are, not in what others think or even in what you think. My identity is not in what you think or what I think but what God thinks of me.

 

1 Corinthians 4:3-4 - I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself.  4 My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.

 

How does the Lord judge me? I am a sinner saved by grace. I am so wicked that nothing less than the death of the son of God would save me. But I am so loved that He willingly gave His life for me, even though I did not deserve it. Consider the first part of that statement – “I am a sinner.” In the light of God’s holiness, I know that I am full of sin and self-centeredness, that even the best parts of me are tainted by sin. I know I am capable of all the things I am accused of and even more. And so, when someone tells me that I have been thoughtless, or unkind, or unloving, I am not shocked or offended or defensive, because I know I am more than capable of all those things. But the second part is just as critical. Although I am a sinner, I also know that I am saved by grace. Christ has paid the penalty for my sins and calls me perfect in His sight. I am justified and not condemned, no matter what I have done wrong or whatever someone says about me. So I can receive rebuke and correction and learn from it without letting it crush me, change my fundamental identity, or cause worldly sorrow that leads to death.

 

If I think that I am a terrible person but don’t recognize that there is forgiveness, grace and mercy for me, I will be in despair. Or, if I think I am an amazing person and don’t recognize my sinful tendencies, I will defend myself and attack the person back.

 

When we know who we are, we can respond to rebuke by taking it to God if necessary and seeking His opinion. And if we have sinned, then we can confess to God, and be assured that he will forgive us:

 

1 John 1:8-10 - If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.  10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.

 

We can react by confessing to God, and then, if necessary, to other people. How do you confess? I have been helped in this by reading to Ken Sande’s The Peacemaker, where he talked about The 7 A’s of Confession:

 

1) Address everyone involved – confess to God first, then anyone involved and affected by the sin

 

2) Avoid if, but and maybe – no qualifiers.  They erase every other word, and it becomes blame-shifting.  “I’m sorry if you were offended” is not an apology.  Nor is “I’m sorry I said those mean words, but you really pushed me to it.”

 

3) Admit specifically – sorry about what?  Not just actions but also attitudes.  This shows that you understand where the other person is coming from and how you have hurt them.

 

4) Accept the consequences – you may be forgiven, but there may also still be consequences to your actions.

 

5) Alter your behavior – make a commitment to change your behavior.  We will not be perfect, but we will show the sincerity of our confession by being earnest about changing our behavior.  You can even list the actions you will take to remedy the offense

 

6) Ask forgiveness – don’t just say I’m sorry, but ask for forgiveness.

 

7) Allow time – God forgives immediately.  Humans do not.  Allow the offended person time.  I can not demand that someone forgive me.

 

Romans 8:1-2 - Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,  2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.

 

I am a sinner – you are correct. I am worse than you even know. But I know there is no condemnation in Christ, so I can confess and have godly sorrow without worldly sorrow.

 

If you are living out of your fears, or finding your identity in your appearance, your goodness, or anything other than Christ, than you will avoid rebuke. But if your identity is as a sinner saved by grace, a beloved child of God, then you know that you have sin in you that will destroy you and others, and you know that you are blind to much of it. And so you will invite others to speak the truth in love to you, so that you will reach maturity. And if you truly love others, and want them to grow in Christlikeness and maturity, you will find a way to speak the truth in love to them as well. Give permission to trusted friends to speak into your life, so that you might put sin to death and become more Christ-like. That is real love.