Over the last few years, it seems that many religious people have moved away from “organized religion.” Instead, many have taken more of a casual approach to Christianity, preferring to focus on a personal relationship with God rather than identifying themselves with one specific group of people.
Of course, it can be easy to sympathize with that viewpoint. After all, it’s not hard to find groups of “Christians” that, once you look below the surface, are no different than people of the world. Hypocrisy is rampant in many churches today, and it’s extremely frustrating for those who earnestly want to serve God.
But does that give us an excuse to give up on organized worship? I think that God gave us the church for a reason, that it was something he intended from the very beginning, and there are many benefits that come from being a part of a strong, sound congregation.
In a later post, I’ll probably post some of the passages that show establishing the church was always part of God’s plan. But what I’d rather do right now is look at what can be achieved when a congregation functions in the way that it should. Titus chapter 2 is an excellent place to see what each member of the congregation should be doing, and I highly recommend reading it. However, the passage I’d like to concentrate on today is found in 2 Corinthians.
You might remember that Paul had already written at least one letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians), and he references it several times in the verses we’re about to read. He had first written to them to correct several problems they had been facing. The Corinthians had been struggling with divisions (ch 1 and following), they had been observing the Lord’s Supper incorrectly (ch 11), they were maintaining fellowship with a member openly involved in sin (ch 5), and their worship was being conducted in a disorderly way (ch 14). As we look at the following verses from 2 Corinthians, it will be important to remember that they had struggled with all these things and that Paul had rebuked them for it.
11 O Corinthians! We have spoken openly to you, our heart is wide open. 12 You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted by your own affections. 13 Now in return for the same (I speak as to children), you also be open. – 2 Cor 6:11-13
Here, Paul appeals for them to be open with him, because he (and those with him) had been open with them. And he also points out that he has not tried to restrict them, but they have restricted themselves with their affections. What does that mean? It becomes clear in the next few verses:
14 Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? 15 And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? 16 And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you[b] are the temple of the living God. As God has said:
“ I will dwell in them
And walk among them.
I will be their God,
And they shall be My people.”[c]
17 Therefore “ Come out from among them
And be separate, says the Lord.
Do not touch what is unclean,
And I will receive you.”[d]
18 “ I will be a Father to you,
And you shall be My sons and daughters,
Says the LORD Almighty.”1 Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. – 2 Cor 6:14-7:1
So being “restricted by their affections” referred to their affection for the world. Using rhetorical questions, Paul tells them that if they are Christians, then they have no business with the things of the world. They are to be separate from sin. It’s actually the same attitude that God had toward the Israelites. When they went into the land of Canaan, he told them to drive out all the other inhabitants. Why? So they wouldn’t follow after foreign gods. In the same manner, we have to remove sin and temptation from our lives. As Proverbs 6:27 says, “can a man take fire to his bosom, and his clothes not be burned?”
The next few verses really get into what I was wanting to cover with this post.
2 Open your hearts to us. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have cheated no one. 3 I do not say this to condemn; for I have said before that you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together. – 2 Cor 7:2-3
He goes back to his original admonition: open your hearts to us. His next statement might almost sound boastful or accusatory, but he points out in verse 3 that that’s not the case. He’s not saying “we have wronged no one, corrupted no one, etc, but you…” No, instead, he puts the Corinthians in the same boat as himself; they are all fellow Christians. And so again, he is encouraging them to be open with him. The next verses continue this thought:
4 Great is my boldness of speech toward you, great is my boasting on your behalf. I am filled with comfort. I am exceedingly joyful in all our tribulation.
5 For indeed, when we came to Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were troubled on every side. Outside were conflicts, inside were fears. 6 Nevertheless God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, 7 and not only by his coming, but also by the consolation with which he was comforted in you, when he told us of your earnest desire, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced even more. – 2 Cor 7:4-7
Paul is boastful of the Corinthians because he’s proud of them. Even though he has been experiencing persecution in Macedonia, Titus has come to him, and though that in itself is encouraging to Paul, the news Titus brings of the Corinthians encourages him even more!
8 For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it. For I perceive that the same epistle made you sorry, though only for a while. – 2 Cor 7:8
Sound a little confusing? Here, Paul refers to the earlier letter he had sent to the Corinthians, and he says that if that letter made them sorry, he doesn’t regret it. However, he did, at first. Apparently, he was afraid that his rebuke had discouraged them. But even though it did make them sorry at first, that sorrow didn’t last long.
9 Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. 10 For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. – 2 Cor 7:9-10
The Corinthians were sorry, but that sorrow led to repentance, which is what Paul sought all along! And that kind of sorrow should never be regretted, because it’s godly sorrow. There’s no need for us to live in the past, feel sorry for ourselves, and wonder what might have been. That is worldly sorrow. Godly sorrow produces change.
11 For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter. – 2 Cor 7:11
Look at all the things that godly sorrow produced! And the fact that it brought such a change over them shows that they had the right kind of heart. God doesn’t expect us to be perfect, but when we discover that we aren’t living in accordance with his will, he does expect us to change.
12 Therefore, although I wrote to you, I did not do it for the sake of him who had done the wrong, nor for the sake of him who suffered wrong, but that our care for you in the sight of God might appear to you. – 2 Cor 7:12
And now Paul tells them that he didn’t write that first letter to climb all over the one who had done wrong, nor did he do it to vindicate the one who had been wronged, but he wrote so that they would understand his love for them. He wrote to show them that he cared about their souls and wanted them to be saved.
13 Therefore we have been comforted in your comfort. And we rejoiced exceedingly more for the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by you all. 14 For if in anything I have boasted to him about you, I am not ashamed. But as we spoke all things to you in truth, even so our boasting to Titus was found true. 15 And his affections are greater for you as he remembers the obedience of you all, how with fear and trembling you received him. 16 Therefore I rejoice that I have confidence in you in everything. – 2 Cor 7:13-16
Finally, Paul wraps up this little segment of his letter by telling them how much comfort is has been to hear of their spiritual growth. Paul had written the first letter to edify and correct those in Corinth, and because it worked, it edified him in return. Even Titus, who had gone there to help them, was helped in the process. And that is how it should work in a congregation.
God has established his church, not to force us into attending some boring service 2 or 3 times a week, but to give us a safe haven, a place where we can escape the poisons of the everyday world and meet with like-minded individuals, our true family. Just as the Corinthians were bolstered by Paul and Titus, and in turn they were encouraged by the Corinthians, we are to encourage and watch out for one another.
Congregations are not made up of perfect people. If you’re looking for that, you’ll never find it. But they are (or should be) made up of sincere people who want to serve God, and it’s our responsibility to try to help them do that. If there are members who aren’t living the way they should, then that’s no excuse for us to leave the congregation; we should make every effort to teach and assist those members, just as Paul did for the Corinthians.