Paul was the founder, former minister, and former moderator of a very dysfunctional assembly. His beloved church in Greece continually struggled with a host of missional, visional, theological, ministerial, and relational issues. Sometimes, sin was introduced to the church by lay-people living contrary to sacred Scripture. At other times, the sin and schism was encouraged by errant leaders — abusive or apathetic — struggling with legalism or license. However, regardless of the particulars or the source, this much was true — while the church of Corinth was providentially ordered by the Father, redeemed by the Son, empowered by the Spirit, founded by Paul, led by godly disciples, and filled with elect saints, it remained a very dysfunctional assembly.
So, how did Paul respond? Sure, there were many occasions when the Apostle wanted to roll-up his clerical sleeves and knock some sense into his ignorant friends. There were a few occasions when he separated from brothers. And sometimes he found it necessary to be even more manly, fatherly, and protective as he assisted in booting-out the heretical, obstinate, unrepentant, and dangerous. However, for the most part, this was not Paul’s tact. He saw his errant friends as a dysfunctional family who needed spiritual teaching, admonition, encouragement, and an opportunity to repent. For the most part, Paul was hungry to hug his spiritual fathers, brothers, mothers, and sisters back to spiritual alignment and health, and for this reason he penned his pastoral letters.
Now, it might be encouraging to notice how he ended his final apostolic letter to his very dysfunctional assembly:
2 Corinthians 13:11–14 Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
Though there was sin in the camp, he saw them as “brothers.”
Though there was surely much cause for mourning and repentance, he called his dysfunctional disciples to “rejoice.”
Though there remained the possibility of unsolvable schism, they were to “aim for restoration.” This was their goal.
Though they were both troubled and troubling, they were commanded to “comfort one another.”
Though they had differences, they were to “agree with one another.” [Oh friends, please do not make more of this statement than is intended; please do not make less of it either. Always submitting themselves to God’s truth, disciples are to labor hard to enjoy holy harmony.] This was to be their prayer and goal; it should be ours as well.
Though they struggled with discord, they were to “live in peace.” It seems the peace and purity of the church was their business, and they were even to express this in their worship as they utilized the customary holy kiss.
And in all their ecclesiastical meetings, despite their being a most dysfunctional assembly, they were to see themselves sitting as undeserving members of the Holy Family sitting in the presence of their Heavenly Father.
The “God of love and peace was with them.”
So too was the “grace of the Lord Jesus Christ … the love of God … and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.”
Such was Paul’s benediction to his dysfunctional assembly.
My friends, does this agreeable attitude describe your interactions with your spouse or children? As you seek to serve, lead, correct, and improve, are you pursuants of peace and harmony?
How about in your local church? If a secret poll was taken of you by your fellow elders and congregants, would you be the one most described by words like restorative, comforting, agreeable, peaceful, and loving? Are you the leader or member most likely to greet with a holy handshake, a holy fist-bump, a holy hug, or a holy kiss? Are you known for being the one most interested in the “fellowship of the Holy Spirit?” How do you behave in committee meetings, congregational meetings, session meetings, and presbytery gatherings?
And what about our upcoming PCA General Assembly? Consider the sweetness of applying this text to our June assembly. Will not it be a more helpful and holy convocation if we begin praying for both truth and tact? Since we are to aim for something, ought we not aim for faithfulness and fellowship, godliness and graciousness, holiness and happiness? My PCA friends, let us not think more highly of ourselves than we ought. God is our Father. Christ is our Savior. The Spirit is our providential guide. The Scriptures are our instructional manual, and we stand on the shoulders of faithful elders. That being said, we are still a dysfunctional denomination, comprised of dysfunctional churches, led by dysfunctional elders. Sure, there is much to discuss. Yes, there is always much repentance and reformation needed. However this year, let’s aim for restoration, agreement, and peace. Let’s do our ecclesiastical work in a sweet spirit, enjoying the “grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.”