2 Corinthians 8:16-24 “I thank God, who put into the heart of Titus the same concern I have for you. For Titus not only welcomed our appeal, but he is coming to you with much enthusiasm and on his own initiative. And we are sending along with him the brother who is praised by all the churches for his service to the gospel. What is more, he was chosen by the churches to accompany us as we carry the offering, which we administer in order to honour the Lord himself and to show our eagerness to help. We want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift. For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men.
“In addition, we are sending with them our brother who has often proved to us in many ways that he is zealous, and now even more so because of his great confidence in you. As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker among you; as for our brothers, they are representatives of the churches and an honour to Christ. Therefore show these men the proof of your love and the reasons for our pride in you, so that that churches can see it.”
A preacher arrives in town and announces some meetings. Advertisements appear in shops and in the local paper. Who is this man? What does he believe? It is possible for you to go along and listen and make your own judgment upon him, and if he has a load of funny ideas you may well be strong enough not to come to any harm, and you have discovered his agenda, but others are not so strong. Incidentally, we have noticed how rapidly the men and women who have sat listening to us for years without our preaching making any apparent impact on them can hear a member of a cult speaking at their doorstep for 20 minutes and the next time we call to see them we can spot familiar cult literature on the coffee table and they are telling us they are finding it helpful. “Great stuff, pastor!” We groan. So, strange preachers will turn up in our town and advertise their meetings, but we can give them no assistance at all if we know nothing about them.
At this juncture in the letter Paul is going to commend three men who would soon be delivering this very letter to the church at Corinth. At least one of the men seems to be a stranger to that congregation, but Paul is taking some pains in informing the fellowship about the three of them, what fine godly men they are, to be trusted and received into all the inner fellowship of the church. Paul has been exhorting these Greek Christians to complete a collection so that the money can be sent to the relief of the starving and persecuted Christians in Judea. But Paul is not concerned only about the giving but about the actual protocol of how the money is to be transported from Europe to Asia. Paul is sending these men to “carry the offering” (v.19) (probably the Macedonian collection south to Corinth to be amalgamated there with their offering and then on to Jerusalem), and he is being very very careful so that there will be no occasion for criticising the way this gift is being administered. He himself is not going to touch the money. It shows us the importance of Christian etiquette and graciousness especially when we have to deal with financial issues through letters and Emails to distant places.
1. THE REASON FOR PAUL’S EXCEPTIONAL CARE.
“the offering … we administer in order to show our eagerness to help. We want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift. For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men” (vv. 19-21). Paul’s qualities in Christian leadership are seen here as much as anywhere in the New Testament. Of course he was an evangelist, and a pastor, and a theologian, and a teacher. But Paul exercised a significant role in the early church in his planning and administration. How are churches structured? Are they to have an administrative staff, a vast permanent secretariat in some European city – the world headquarters of ‘the church’? Or does God teach each congregation through sections like this in the Bible how their financial affairs are to be dealt with? Paul is concerned about probity, both real and in perception, and he goes to great lengths to choose suitable delegates for this task, men who will also, by their preaching gifts and zeal, minister in other ways to the church in Corinth. Not one of these three men has been chosen simply because he is able in financial matters. Paul prudently anticipates criticisms about the collection. So we learn first of all that thoughtful organisation and wise administration are fundamental apostolic concepts.
How can I apply that to ourselves? Can I say that we would all agree that the pastor should not busy himself with the details of the church finances? He may instruct the congregation in principles of Christian stewardship, and preach courageously on all the passages in the Bible that deal with this theme warning the rich and the poor concerning the different snares money, or the lack of it, brings into their lives, and encouraging everyone to be contented. It is also the pastor’s task to see, with Paul, that special offerings are taken for worthwhile causes among the people of God. But it is not his business to determine the details of the church budget. The minister should not be hanging around the table where the offerings are being counted on a Sunday night. He may not distribute the church’s funds personally, or make financial arrangements with visiting speakers. All these things are left in the hands of the treasurer and the deacons. But the pastor’s own giving should set an example to the rest of the congregation. Paul here speaks of his own eagerness to help the Corinthians complete their giving and get the money off to Judea. The elders and deacons should be especially eager to help every cause which the church has determined to support.
Paul is also anxious that everything be done honestly and above board, and seen to be such. Paul wants to avoid any criticism of the way this fund for Jewish Christian relief was being administered, and was anxious to take pains to be known to do what is right. Everything is explained to the Corinthians. Three trustworthy men were sent so that it would not be a temptation even to two men to misappropriate the collection. The congregations officially sent the trio to do this task. The churches of northern Greece knew all about this. They had prayed to God and rolled out every detail before the Lord’s sight, but that was not enough. They wanted everything to be right in the eyes of men also. It is something we can easily ignore, and sometimes we have to explain and repeat, again and again, so that men can see that we are doing regarding financial matters is right and their reservations with our conduct and even our attitudes are resolved to their satisfaction. So that is the background to Paul commending the messengers to Corinth who are coming to take the collection from them.
2. PAUL COMMENDS TO THEM THREE MEN.
i] He commends firstly a familiar figure to them, Titus. Sir William Ramsey called Titus, “the most enigmatic figure in early Christian history.” Titus makes no appearance in the book of Acts and Ramsey suggests that he might have been Luke’s relative or even Luke’s own brother. We know that he was certainly a Greek by birth and that he had been converted under the ministry of Paul so that the apostle could address him as “my true child,” that is, “my genuine child.” Titus was never compelled to be circumcised even though the Judaizing Christians brought some pressures on Paul and himself. Paul declared to the wobbling Galatians, “We did not give in to them for a moment … Titus was not compelled to be circumcised” (Gal. 2:5 & 2:3). The case of the uncircumcised Titus became a cause celebre in the early church and of enormous importance in indicating the radical newness of the new covenant.
So Paul commends Titus with these words, “he is my partner and fellow worker among you” (v.23). I think this is the only place in the New Testament where Paul uses the word ‘partner’ of a colleague. “We share a common ministry,” Paul was telling the Corinthians. “You receive him as you would receive me, because we see eye to eye on everything concerning the gospel. Even though he is a Greek and I am a Jew yet we are partners in this great enterprise.” The concept of partnership underlines the importance of affection and trust amongst the leaders in any congregation. There is a splendid new book called “The Coldest March” (Yale) written by Susan Solomon on Captain Scott who skied to the South Pole in January 1912, and it records the true heroism of that group of men. It has been fashionable to make Scott out to be a bumbler and an autocrat, but this book restores his reputation, and shows his men to be characterised by uniform cheerfulness and devotion. In the last blizzard the temperature was very low for the South Pole, some 60 degrees Fahrenheit of frost, so that the ice surface became as rough as sandpaper and pulling a sledge was impossible. They were stuck in their tent just a dozen miles from their next depot of food, but Scott’s feet were so badly frost-bitten that he could march no further. His partners, Wilson and Bowers, chose to die with him rather than abandon him for their own safety. That is the partnership which Paul is speaking of here. It is a fellowship made strong by mutual love and suffering.
Then Paul also refers to Titus as my ” fellow worker” (v.23). It is a common phrase in the Paul’s letters. He does not speak of men and women as “fellow worshippers” or “fellow celebrants” or “fellow students” but as “fellow labourers.” Paul was the great model for what New Testament ministry was all about. His friends noticed the way he used his time, how much he packed into every day, what hours he found for evangelism, teaching, debating, praying, visiting, organising, writing, reading, tent-making. They became like him. The fields are white unto harvest and so the Lord of the harvest is to be addressed with importunity: “Send labourers into the harvest,” we cry, “men in love with work, who will toil without growing lazy, in serving the gospel.” That is how the gospel spread through the middle-east and filled the whole Mediterranean basin – the Christians worked and worked. That is the only way the gospel will affect Aberystwyth and Wales again.
I was listening to Iain Murray yesterday morning giving one of his incomparable biographical lectures on a great Irish Methodist preacher called Gideon Ousley. As strong as an ox he preached in Irish for fifty years. He endured great hostility. Preaching at 72 years of age rocks and vegetables were being thrown at him. A stone hit him in the mouth and knocked two of his teeth out. He continued preached for another half hour spitting out the blood as delicately as he could. This year in America a minister I knew called Edward Kellog died aged 89. He was born in Wheaton and was studying architecture when one day he heard Dr J. Gresham Machen preach and his life went in a new direction. He studied at Westminster Theological Seminary and from 1937 was involved in church planting both English and Spanish speaking congregations in the USA. He served seven full-time congregations and help start eight congregations. When he was 65 and other men were glad to be retiring he became an associate pastor in a church in Leesburg, Virginia. A writer, I have had on my shelves in my ‘Machen’ section one of his booklets called “Lest We Forget” which is a history of the excommunication of Machen from the UPUSA and the founding of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. What characterised Kellog’s life? He was a worker in the cause of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We are thinking about a person who gives each Friday night to work with the young people, or a young man who every Saturday in July and August – on his day off from work – drives a minibus with campers and provisions from Cardiff to Tywyn in north Wales to keep the youth camps going, or a person who gives one morning or afternoon each week working on the rota of the Christian Book Shop, or a man who does maintenance on a church so freely and with such craftsmanship, or the little group who gives out tracts on the promenade on a Friday night, or a person who takes responsibility for the refreshments after the evening service each week. We are talking about people who work for the Lord.
There are other fascinating observations Paul makes about Titus: “I thank God, who put into the heart of Titus the same concern I have for you. For Titus not only welcomed our appeal, but he is coming to you with much enthusiasm and on his own initiative” (vv. 16&17). We think of the concern for the gospel in the heart of Gideon Ousley, or Edward Kellog, or many others like them which concern was transformed into hard work for Jesus and we might say to them, “Thank you for all you keep doing for the Lord. I don’t know where you get your energy from, but your work is so appreciated,” but we also have to add, “I thank God who put all this into your heart.”
You see here again two great fundamental truths, so incidentally presented, which were a basic part of Paul’s whole thinking. He slips into talking about these two truths so easily, but human philosophy can’t comprehend them or admit they can both be true. The one truth is that God can and does control the inward acts and feelings of men, and the other truth is that this happens without God interfering with men’s liberty or responsibility. Notice how Titus shared with Paul a great concern for the state of the Jews and that money should be gathered together in Greece and taken to Judea. He was coming to Corinth with much enthusiasm for this activity. It was Titus himself who had these feelings. They came from within his own heart and mind. He had personally learned of the state of the Jewish Christians and he was moved with compassion towards them. He believed that these believers in Judea needed to be helped and that the richer Christians in Corinth had a responsibility towards them. These were all the educated feelings and convictions of Titus himself.
But they were also the consequence of God putting into Titus’ heart this desire and enthusiasm. Verse sixteen, “God put this concern into Titus’ heart:” yet, verse seventeen “Titus was coming with much enthusiasm and on his own initiative.” God’s initiative in causing Titus to feel this way did not destroy Titus’ initiative in travelling and organising as he did. It was 100% God’s gift and initiative, and 100% Titus’s enthusiasm and initiative. 100% plus 100% equals 100%.
Charles Hodge says about this verse, “The zeal of Titus was the spontaneous effusion of his own heart and was an index and element of his character. Yet God put that zeal into his heart. This is not a figure of speech. It was a simple and serious truth, a ground of solemn thanksgiving to God” (Charles Hodge, “2 Corinthians,” Banner of Truth, p.207). Titus was also dependent upon God for the continuance of his enthusiasm and work. The Holy Spirit had given new life to Titus and that was the beginning of a constant indwelling of God in Titus’ life so that the continuance and exercise of Titus’ work for Jesus were a result of the presence of God in his heart. Some of you say, “I am afraid that if I became a Christian I would not be able to go on in living a Christian life.” But the God who made you a Christian would enable you to live as a Christian day by day. He who begins this good work in our heart completes it too. You are saved by the work of Christ for you; you are changed by the work of the Spirit in you.
So Titus was commended for his concern for the ministry of mercy to starving Christians in Judea. He had been converted through Paul but he did not become a doctrinaire debater of theology as a consequence. He was a deeply compassionate and loving man. He also had “much enthusiasm” (v.17). Just here in this verse, and then in the second verse in the next chapter, are the only places in the Bible where the word ‘enthusiasm’ is found. What a great grace enthusiasm is. It meant that Paul did not have to nag Titus to go to Corinth and to collect the money and to transport it to Judea. Titus was not a Christian adept at making one excuse after another to dodge irksome tasks. He was eager and cheerful to be involved in this work. The bishops and staid church-goers of the 18th century did not appreciate the zeal of the men and women affected by the Great Awakening. The bishops dubbed those people ‘Methodists’ and also ‘enthusiasts’. That was a good name for those evangelical Christians which they bore with dignity. “Would that we were more enthusiastic for so great a God,” they would say. Titus was enthusiastic for the Corinthians to gather together this money. He was enthusiastic that they would be blessed by finishing this relief fund and getting the money to Judea. They would be the chief losers if this wasn’t all wrapped up.
ii] The second man Paul was sending to Corinth is rather a mysterious figure: “we are sending along with him the brother who is praised by all the churches for his service to the gospel. What is more, he was chosen by the churches to accompany us as we carry the offering” (vv. 18&19). Who is this brother? Seven names have been suggested, and in his commentary of II Corinthians Dr. Simon Kistemaker examines the merits of each one of them -Luke, Barnabas, Timothy, Silas, Mark, Aristarchus and Apollos. He thinks it might well have been Luke and so does another eminent commentator the Anglican Dr. Philip Hughes, but we will never be sure. We don’t know whether this preacher was a crooked stick like Jonah, or a thunderbolt like Peter, an under-educated man like James or a super-educated man like Paul. God has used both the quiet John and the zealous Peter, and by his own sovereign grace he had used this anonymous brother mightily and everywhere.
Whoever it was, the man whom Paul sent was someone whose praise rang through all the churches, and the reason for that was the manner in which he served or preached the gospel to them all. This man was being sent to Corinth to make sure that the administration of finance was all above board, but he was someone not renowned for his management skills but whose reputation was as a man-to-men preacher in every single church more than a personal worker. Whether it was in Greece or Asia Minor or Judea men gave thanks and praise when they had heard him declare the word of God, and it was this man whom the churches themselves chose (v.19) to go with Titus to Corinth. Above all his other gifts this brother was a preacher.
All religions have some special writings, and also a desire to instruct people, with religious men in charge of their gatherings. All religions want to add converts to their cause and to that end they propagate their teachings, but no religion like Christianity has ever made a regular assembling of the masses of men and women to hear religious instruction and exhortation the climactic and integral part of divine worship.
Consider the act of preaching: in it a congregation of men and women receive a comprehensive exposure, without interruption, to the Word of God. The minister instructs and applies and convinces and challenges. He brings people to a decision. A preacher can speak in a hour to a thousand people – imagine speaking to that number individually? It would take months. Shy and fearful men and women can slip in and listen and be edified – people who would tremble at a one-to-one encounter. They can hear a sermon without embarrassment or exposure. Preaching is a service to the gospel of Jesus Christ uniquely blessed by God. When the doctor says that there is no hope for the sufferer, when a dear one will never come from his or her bed again, when a child consumed by wickedness breaks your heart, when two planes fly into two skyscrapers and thousands die, when the undertaker arrives with the coffin, then graceful little essays about nothing in particular are no good. The people who survive in health of mind and faith are those who have praised a brother for the way he has preached the gospel to them.
A century ago J.D.Jones was minister for almost forty years in Richmond Hill Congregational Church in Bournemouth. He was approached by the leader of a political party to stand as a political candidate but he declined, quoting Nehemiah’s answer to Sanballat and Tobiah when they tried to prevent him building the walls of Jerusalem, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down.” He laid stress on the words ‘come down’. It would have been a come down to forsake the pulpit for politics. He said to the political leader, “The ultimate healing of the world’s hurt is not to be effected by legislation but by the redeeming grace of God, and the proclamation of that redeeming grace is the highest work to which any man can be called.” All true preachers, called by God, believe that.
So there was this man mentioned by Paul, renowned in all the churches as someone commissioned of God to teach the word. A herald of the great King! A witness of the eternal gospel. Could there be any work more high and holy? God himself sent his blessed Son to this world for this very task. In all the frustration and worry of our day what work is there more important than that of proclaiming the will of God to wayward men? In the first century, not by accident, nor by the thrustful egotism of men, the pulpit was given the first place, and so it has been as one great barometer of blessing, whenever godliness is esteemed and Jesus Christ is loved those brethren will be praised by all the churches who best serve the gospel. They will be wanted everywhere. Between the forgiveness of God and the sin of man stands the preacher. Between the provision of God and the need of man stands the preacher. Between the truth of God and the ignorance of man stands the preacher. Such a man will always be praised in every gospel church for his service to the gospel of the grace of God. There was this anonymous man whom the churches and Paul had sent to Corinth. He was an ambassador of God, a plenipotentiary invested with the authority of Christ with a message to deliver, whether men would hear it or whether they would forbear.
Imagine the anticipation in Corinth, that they were going to hear a preacher “praised by all the churches for his service to the gospel.” What an atmosphere that would create! The Holy Spirit uses such words of commendation to put things together in ways the preacher never intended. As I speak the sermon is advanced beyond the shape it took in preparation. God would take these words of Paul and use them to prepare the congregation. There is nothing in the world that is such a stimulus to a preacher than rows of eager faces looking up, Bibles open, anxious to know what God is saying in his Word. That stirs up the power of thinking and imagination in the preacher and he says things he had not thought of before that moment. A hungry congregation, by egging a preacher on, may do more to help him improve his preaching than anything else. Since Mr Ron Goodfellow has been taken home, how I miss those occasional Amens from him.
iii] The third man Paul sent is also anonymous: “In addition, we are sending with them our brother who has often proved to us in many ways that he is zealous, and now even more so because of his great confidence in you” (v.22). No scholar will hazard a guess as to who this man might have been. All we know about him is found in these words; he was someone sent by Paul who had often seen his deep earnestness about the faith, and the brother was specially zealous concerning the offering in Corinth being completed and taken to Judea. The great word that came to Paul’s mind when he thought about this man was his proven and tried zeal, not his orthodoxy, and not his morality, indispensable as these always are, but, this area of his emotional life, his earnestness.
The third man was deeply feeling. He was touched by the plight of the starving Christians in Judea and the generosity of the Gentile Christians in Greece providing for them. He was the appointed man sent to Corinth to wrap up this donation and motivate the church there to finish the giving. He could excite deep feeling because he felt deeply himself. There can never be generous giving in a congregation without our feelings being touched. Earnestness is the quality of Christians who care. This man was earnest because he cared about God, about his glory and his Son the Christ. When Paul heard about some in Philippi who lived as enemies of the cross of Christ Paul wept. He cared about the glory of Christ. He cared about people’s lostness. The Lord Jesus himself cried as he pleaded with the impenitent city of Jerusalem, and when Paul spent three years in Ephesus “he did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.” That is Christian earnestness. It shows in our prayer meetings at times and not enough in this pulpit, but sometimes.
True Christian evangelists bearing the good news of salvation and fearing some may reject it so that they bring on themselves condemnation for their sins, have never been far from tears. George Whitefield’s tears were totally unaffected. “You blame me for weeping,” he would say, “but how can I help it when you will not weep for yourselves … and for aught I know, you are hearing your last sermon and may never have another opportunity to have Christ offered to you?”
You can forgive an opponent a lot if you hear his voice break as he prays. The apostle Paul said that this anonymous man “has often proved to us in many ways that he is zealous” (v.22). But our tear-ducts have dried up, or our tear-ducts have become blocked. Everything seems to conspire to make it impossible for the congregation to be overwhelmed with grief at those who are rejecting the gospel. Think of Richard Baxter’s tremendous earthshaking earnestness:
“I preached as never sure to preach again,
And as a dying man to dying men.”
That is the zeal Paul saw in this brother he was sending to Corinth, a brother proved in many ways. Richard Baxter would say, “I marvel how I can preach slightly and coldly, how I can let men alone in their sins, and that I do not go to them and beseech them for the Lord’s sake to repent, however they take it, and whatever pains or trouble it should cost me. I seldom come out of the pulpit but my conscience smiteth me that I have been no more serious and fervent.” That is zeal. A congregation learns the seriousness of the gospel by the seriousness with which their pastors expound it, and that earnestness is the surest way of arousing and holding people’s attention.
Charles Simeon had immense influence in Cambridge two centuries ago. He preached with very great zeal, and in one sermon a little girl said to her mother, “O Mama, what is that gentleman in a passion about?” I would never want to lose earnestness in my preaching. A man told me this year that he came to Aberystwyth on his honeymoon almost thirty years ago, and that his wife, a doctor, who had never heard me preach before, said to him afterwards and very pompously, “He’s going to have a heart-attack.” I hope she has learned something about fervour in preaching. Spurgeon once said, “It is dreadful work to listen to a sermon, and feel all the while as if you were sitting out in a snowstorm, or dwelling in a house of ice, clear but cold, orderly but killing.” He cried, “Give us more of the speech which comes out of a burning heart, as lava comes out of a volcanic overflow.”
The three essentials of a sermon are truth, clarity and passion. There was once a famous English actor who would draw great crowds to his plays. His name was Macready, and a preacher was once speaking to him and asked him how it was possible for him to draw such crowds with his fiction while the preacher drew so few with his truth. “Easy,” said Macready. “I present my fiction as though it were truth; you present your truth as though it were fiction.”
“Our brother … has often proved to us in many ways that he is zealous” (v.23) says Paul. It reminds me of the time when W.E. Sangster was interviewing young men who were candidates for the Methodist ministry, and a rather nervous young man came before them who was given a chance to speak. “I’m not the sort of person who could set the Thames on fire,” he said. “My dear young brother,” said Sangster, “I’m not interested to know if you could set the Thames on fire. What I want to know is this: if I picked you up by the scruff of the neck and dropped you into the Thames, would it sizzle?” In other words, was the young man himself zealous? That was the important question. Let me save that illustration from being a cute story by reminding you of the Saviour’s condemnation of the church at Laodicea. It was precisely because they had lost their zeal that the Lord’s most solemn words of rebuke were spoken to them: “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold not hot, I will spew you out of My mouth” (Rev. 3:15&16).
So there were these three men on their way to visit the church in Corinth to deal with this financial matter. The first man was characterised by “much enthusiasm”, the second was praised in all the churches for his service to the gospel and the third had proved on many occasions to be zealous. These three men, Paul says, are “representatives of the churches and an honour to Christ” (v.23). In other words these three men had not decided by themselves to visit Corinth – even though they had the initiative and enthusiasm. They were official representatives sent by the churches – the actual word Paul uses here is “apostles”, that is “sent ones”. So they would come with all these rich graces of fervour and preaching, but the church in Corinth ought to be aware that these men arrived in their city with some ecclesiastical authority behind them, sent by the churches in northern Greece to complete the work of gathering the money from Corinth and taking it on to Judea. They might have been bringing with them money from the Macedonian churches. The churches would certainly have prayed about the journey of these men and this important mission. So Paul is gently telling them that this is an official matter, and their arrival is to be taken seriously. So there is a wee trace of the iron hand of the apostle to the Gentiles here, and no harm at all in that!
Then Paul adds this phrase, “and an honour to Christ” (v.23). Now there is some ambiguity here. The phrase could refer to the men or to the churches that they were representing. The NIV decides that the men are an honour to Christ. By all they are, and in the way they are serving the body of Christ the Lord is being honoured by them. We could say the same thing about the congregations who have sent them. So there is nothing radical in the decision either way, what is important is the Christ-centred way Paul looks at this ministry. The poor in Judea are being helped, but more than that, their Lord is being honoured. As much as you have done it to the least of his brothers you are doing it to him.
3. PAUL EXHORTS THE CORINTHIAN CONGREGATION TO SHOW THE PROOF OF THEIR LOVE.
“Therefore show these men the proof of your love and the reason for our pride in you, so that the churches can see it” (v.24). Paul is saying to them, “You understand how I’ve boasted about your generosity to the churches in the north? Now you must make my pride in you a fact. Work harmoniously with these three men. Don’t embarrass me in any way The churches which have sent these three are vitally interested in knowing of the reception they are going to have and how generous you are going to be. Every eye is fixed on you now. Will there be a favourable response to this exercise in brotherly affection? Let’s see some proof of your loving spirit in the generosity of the gift, and the welcome given to the three men, and the speeding of the collection on its way to Judea. I don’t want my pride in you to be dented, for the sake of the honour of Christ.” That is what Paul is saying. It is a plea that the Corinthians will demonstrate before the watching eyes of the other churches in Greece their love for the saints in need, with their love for the three men sent to them. There is much at stake if they fail.
“Show … the proof of your love!” That is the great exhortation. Let me apply that as concretely as I can. Charles Haddon Spurgeon has a sermon on these very words and reading it this week was a strange kind of encouragement to me because I had just received a letter from a former member of the congregation telling me why he had stopped attending the morning service. It was because most people ignored him. He actually separated me from all of you, saying that I was the best thing in the church (!), but in his judgment this congregation was a family church and he felt after two years he still did not belong. Now we will be discussing the letter in an elders’ meeting this week. It made me sad, and I am still hesitating about how to reply to him for I am very fond of him. Then I read this sermon of Spurgeon’s and there he says these words:
“We do not want you to sit in one of these pews up in the corner and come in and go out and never speak to anybody. I meet even now with some who say, ‘I have been for months at the Tabernacle, and nobody ever spoke to me.’ Well, I know that there are so many earnest Christians on the watch here to speak with strangers that if you haven’t been spoken to it must be your own fault. Perhaps you are some dreadfully stiff body, and you have frightened them. I don’t know, but it may be so. There are some who look as if they said, ‘Don’t come near me. I don’t want any questions asked me.’ We have some brethren and sisters who will break through your stiffness though, I dare say; but if it is really so I am very sorry for it, and it needn’t be so any longer. Speak to somebody at this very service. I don’t dislike to hear a low hum of godly conversation before service begins, though some people think it is horrible; neither do I deprecate a little lingering upon the steps and around the building; you are holding fellowship one with another, and I like that it should be so, for we do not meet that often.” (C.H.Spurgeon, “Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit,” Vol. 26, p.105).
So even under that greatly blessed ministry there were people who grumbled that they were being ignored. My point is this, that you claim as a believer that the love of God has been shed abroad in your heart. You say, God loves me, and “I know that I have passed from death to life because I love the brethren.” Then show the proof of your love by your actions. How interested are you in other Christians? There are lonely needy people and they need a word of Christian affection from you. There are people who are housebound and they need a visit from you. Dearly beloved, let us not love in thought or in word but in deed and in truth. Show the proof of your love!
28th October 2001 GEOFF THOMAS