“But I determined this within myself, that I would not come again to you in sorrow. For if I make you sorrowful, then who is he who makes me glad but the one who is made sorrowful by me?” (2 Corinthians 2:1-2 NKJV).
Paul had a tumultuous relationship with the church in Corinth. He apparently wrote at least three letters to them (1 Corinthians 5:9), one of which he described as being produced “with many tears” (2 Corinthians 2:3). While writing the letter we know as Second Corinthians he mentions plans for a third physical visit to them (2 Corinthians 13:1). At least one of his previous visits seems to have been confrontational, producing grief (2 Corinthians 2:1).
It is that background which caused his resolve to not come to them again with an attitude likely to produce sorrow in either his audience or himself. Previously he stated his intention to be “[a] fellow worker for [their] joy” (2 Corinthians 1:24).
Today we recognize many motives which entice Christians into mission activities, and especially into foreign mission fields. These vary from a desire to travel, a compulsion to promote particular doctrinal positions, a desire to boost one’s own resume and ego, to a simple love of the Gospel and human souls.
Paul’s stated motive for his proposed visit to Corinth on the third missionary journey was to make people happy. This was not a superficial happiness such as that caused by recreational activities, but a permanent joy produced by a right relationship with God and by unity with other believers (Philippians 2:1-4).
Sometimes confrontations are necessary and even inevitable (2 Timothy 4:2; Titus 1:10-11, 13).
Yet those are always to be preceded by attempts to resolve difficulties amiably (Galatians 6:1; Matthew 18:15-20). Our “default” intention in every interaction with others should be to cause happiness and joy. That is to their benefit as well as to ours. Paul said that if he caused them sorrow when he came, that would also make him sorrowful. He implies that there is little real benefit in that, at least as a general policy.
Granted, if rebuke or confrontation is necessary because of obstinate sin on one party’s side, it must be done. But there seem to be many who use these as their basic approaches. It is much like what we used to call “hellfire and damnation preaching.” Unfortunately, that type of preaching presumed that the audience was all lost and defiant before God and could only be saved by an appeal to guilt and fear. That is rarely the case with everyone in our audiences, or with all those to whom we may go to bring God’s good news.
Of all the fruits of the Spirit which we are given through Christ, one of the least appreciated may be joy (Galatians 5:22). Sure, we all want to be happy, but do we see the promotion of joy as a primary goal of our ministry to God and others? As ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20) we seek to reconcile the lost to their creator and to establish fellowship with other Christians (1 John 1:5-7). If we are successful the angels in heaven rejoice (Luke 15:10).
The father of the prodigal son said it well: “It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found” (Luke 15:32). Let us, in all we do, seek to bring true spiritual joy to those with whom we interact, and to know that joy ourselves. “Rejoice always!” (1 Thessalonians 5:16).