It is always risky business to boast about others. I mean, what if they don’t live up to the boast. That might look like you don’t really know people or that you’re easily bamboozled. Years ago I received a request for a reference for a friend that was applying to the sheriff’s department in California. I could not in good conscience recommend my friend without stating some reservations I had. He is a good person. He just tended to not listen and bull his way through projects and this often resulted in shoddy work. But there is this other side to the equation. When you express a trust in people, it sometimes encourages them to be more trustworthy. When you consistently say things like, “That group is composed of good people.” Now, here’s the dealio. You can be upbeat and encouraging without lying. You can have a realistic expectation; an expectation that sees and names the wrong, but still hopes in the good. I told the sheriff’s department that my friend was a good man with a lot of potential and I also told them of my reservations. I don’t want to be a flatterer whose words have no weight or meaning. I also don’t want to be the rain that drenches everyone else’s parade.
As Paul tells the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 7:13b-16 that he had confidence in them, you can almost feel him take a sigh of relief. He had sent his young apprentice Titus to them. Titus may have been a bit apprehensive about going. After all, when Paul sent Timothy to Corinth, he gave them pretty specific instructions about accepting him without giving him cause to be afraid and to let no one despise him (1 Corinthians 16:10-11). This seems to imply some fear on Paul’s part that his envoy may not be treated well. So Titus may have been filled with trepidation and Paul had boasted that the Corinthians would do the right thing. I don’t believe for a moment that Paul was lying. I think he expected them to come around; believed they would indeed do what is right. But he also had this realistic fear that they might not. You can have both belief and fear at the same time can’t you?
Titus was back and he was back with good news of obedience and reconciliation. So Paul rejoiced exceedingly more. Over the top joy because his apprentice came back rejuvenated. And the cause of this refreshed spirit was the Corinthians who may have previously been a source of fear. Reconciliation is good isn’t it? Repaired relationships ought to thrill our souls. Especially when there just may be more at stake than our relationship.
So, Paul, probably in order to encourage Titus had boasted about the Corinthians. “They’re saints, Titus. They will listen to you. They’ll get it; they’ll come around. They’re good people.” Wouldn’t it be nice if we could have hope in the people we disagree with? Wouldn’t it be nice if we could boast about the people we love even when the relationship is strained? You see, Paul had to speak hard truths into their reality. And these truths could have been the source of heightened tension. But Paul trusted that they would listen. And this trust; this boasting; became truth as well. He treated them and talked to them as saints and he fully expected them to behave as saints. It’s not as if they are now perfect, as if they have now arrived. No, but their acceptance of Titus was an amazing step in the right direction and Paul’s heart is about to burst with joy.
Titus was also filled with an over the top affection (literally intestines) for them. All of his fear dissipated within their treatment of him. What Titus remembered was their obedience. He remembered how they welcomed him with respect and trembling, which can refer to sincere loyalty or to shaking in fear. I believe that Titus arrived in Corinth and was overwhelmed by hospitality; by respectful loyalty. I think his anxiety seeped away and he was filled with a compassion for this assembly of believers. So, both Paul and Titus are rejoicing with over the top joy. Again I say repaired relationships is a wonder.
I don’t think Paul was being naïve when he boasted to Titus about the Corinthians. I don’t believe he was lying in order to get Titus to face a difficult situation. I think Paul was a hopeless hoper. He believed in the ability of God to work in a church and he believed in the ability of a church to submit to the will of God. Some spend way too much energy complaining about the church. Are there difficulties? Are there false teachers and super apostles to confront? Are relationships strained? Are our gatherings thick with tension? Speak the truth in love and trust in God. We are saints, set apart to serve God. Live it. Walter.