In His Letters to the Corinthians (continued)
Now, Paul has already, toward the end of the first letter, given that classic definition, and analysis of the love of God, not my love; we are not interested in that - but the love of God: "Love suffereth long and is kind, love envieth not, love seeketh not its own, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly", and so on. There is the love of God set forth. We shall find that we cannot stand up to it. No man can stand up to that fully. "Love never faileth" - never gives up, that is. Here is the quality of Divine love.
Now bring it into the Second Letter to the Corinthians, and see the mighty triumph, the power, of the love of God. First of all, see it as working triumphantly in the servant of the Lord. Look again at the letter. Paul has in different places in his writings given very wonderful, very beautiful, very glorious revelations of the grace of God in his own life; but, considering the setting, I do not think there is anything anywhere in the New Testament that so wonderfully sets forth the triumph of the love of God in a servant of God, as does this Second Letter to the Corinthians. If ever a man had reason to give up, to wash his hands, to despair, to e fiercely angry, to be everything but loving, Paul had reason for such a reaction in regard to the Corinthians. He might have been well justified in closing the situation at Corinth, and saying: "I am done with you, I wash my hands of you, you are incurable. The more I love you, the more you hate me. All right, get on with it; I leave you." Look at this second letter: the outpouring, the overflowing, of love to these people - to these people - over that situation. What a triumph of love, the love of God, in a servant of God! That is how God reaches His end. Oh, God give us more love, and His servants, to bear and forbear, to suffer long, and never to despair.
Yes, it was not left there. You can see it, even if it is only beginning - and I think it is more than that - in the Corinthians themselves, as he speaks to them about the result of his strong speaking, his pleading, his rebuking, his admonishing, his correcting. The terms that he uses about them are their sorrow their godly repentance, and so on. It was worth it, the love of God triumphing in a people like that; and you know that that is what made possible the wonderful, beautiful things that Paul was able to write to them in the second letter. Paul could never have committed himself to write some of the things that are in this second letter, but for some change in those people, their attitude, in their disposition, in their spirit; but for the fact that he had got this basis of triumphant love.
For this second letter has to do with ministry, with testimony, and Paul would be the last man in the world ever to suggest that anybody could have a ministry and a testimony who knew nothing about the conquering love of God in their own nature. Paul was not that kind of man. It is, alas, possible to preach and be a Christian worker, and know nothing of the grace of the Lord Jesus in your own life - to be just a contradiction. There is far too much of that. If he is going to speak about ministry and about testimony in the world, he will demand a basis, that grace shall have done its work at least in measure, so that in this way the love of God is now manifested. There is now humility: 'Oh, what godly sorrow', he says, 'what godly repentance!' Where is the "I"? Where is the selfhood" Something has broken, something has given way; there is something now of the grace of the Lord Jesus, in self-emptying, in the negation of the self-life. Yes, they are down now, broken. This is the triumph of Divine love in such a people.
That is the gospel, the good tidings! It is good tidings, is it not?
(continued with # 12)