“What did he mean by that?” “Those elders never get it right!” “You know our preacher. What else would you expect?” “That deacon is destined to fail.” “Those people at church!” “They don’t like me.”
What would it be like to work with a congregation that had people who openly flaunted their sexual immorality, that was divisive, that even was guilty of worshiping pagan idols, that had members who were filled with sinful pride and arrogance, whose wealthy members neglected and mistreated the poor members, and who saw spiritual works and involvement as a competition? That was not a nightmare for the apostle Paul. It was a reality. The church was in Corinth, and he wrote multiple letters to them. The first one preserved by God in the Bible addressed a variety of problems including the above-mentioned ones. Then, in the epistle we know as 2 Corinthians, Paul conducts a follow up in which he commends their penitent spirit and encourages them to find comfort in Christ despite trials. No fewer than four times, Paul speaks of having confidence in them. As he viewed their reformation of character, he said, “I have confidence in you” (2 Cor. 2:3). Later, he says, “Great is my confidence in you” (2 Cor. 7:4). A few verses later, he says, “I rejoice that in everything I have confidence in you” (2 Cor. 7:16). He even relates Titus’ “great confidence” in Corinth (2 Cor. 8:22).
Paul is often credited for his master psychology, his knowledge of how to treat the brethren to “get the most” out of them. Yet, if Paul was this disingenuous manipulator, he would not draw heaven’s praise nor would he have found sustained success. The right conclusion is that Paul really did have confidence in his brethren. That does not mean that he thought they would never let him down or that he was gullible and naïve. It did not mean that he did not reprove and rebuke in appropriate measures. But, it did mean that Paul had faith in the average Christian’s ability to know and do “the right thing.”
Every church has its stumbling blocks, but no congregation could survive for any length of time made up entirely of them. Most congregations have a healthy number of building blocks and we do well to address them as Paul did Corinth. Do we have faith in each other? Or do we assume the worst motives and intentions on the part of others? Not only is that somewhat paranoid and miserable, but it is quite un-Paul-like. Let us have confidence in the other fellow. And let us strive to be worthy of others’ confidence in us!