Paul concludes his contentious letter to the Corinthians by writing them about his plans and about the people whose friendship they hold in common.
First of all, his plans. Paul intends to visit the Corinthians, although he can’t tell them exactly when he will arrive. He will come to them, he says, “after I go through Macedonia.” The important thing is not the timing of the visit, however, but its duration. “I do not want to see you now and make only a passing visit; I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits.”
I have often noticed, in emails and instant messages over the internet, how difficult it is to convey my feelings through only the written word. Sorrow, sarcasm, wry humor – all these things require a tone of voice, an arched eyebrow, a sly smile. They all require, in other words, personal presence. It is through our nonverbal communication that we express what the words of our verbal communications really mean.
Paul’s letter to the Corinthians has often said some harsh things to and unflattering things about them. No doubt Paul wanted to spend extensive time with them to let them know the depth of his personal feelings for them, how much he loved them as his children. He was angry with them, yes, but with a parental anger. If he was with them personally, they would understand how quickly his anger could turn into joy and love and pride of spiritual paternity.
For Paul was indeed proud of them and glad for their conversion, and he loved them deeply and richly. They were, after all, his people, his spiritual family and nation. Throughout today’s Scripture Reading, Paul mentions many names: Timothy, Apollos, Priscilla and Aquila, Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus. Some of these people were known by the Corinthians. The first four in my list, for instance, were instrumental in bringing the Corinthians to faith and in nurturing them spiritually. The final three were themselves members of the Corinthian congregation. What united them were a common faith in God, a common belief in Christ, and a common experience of the Holy Spirit. Though now separated from one another by long distances, they had more in common with one another than with their current neighbors.
To be a Christian is to live in constant fellowship with other Christians, both at home and abroad. Often, in my travels, I have had the opportunity to spend time with Christians in other countries. We are separated by ethnicity, language, and geography – all three, powerful forces. But we are united by a force more powerful: “the grace of the Lord Jesus.” It is ultimately this bond, this commonality, that Paul appeals to in his many arguments with the Corinthians. Because we are united by Christ, we should not be divided by any other thing.
And so we conclude Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. We have learned about the supremacy of Christ, the priority of his cross, and the finality of his resurrection. We have seen that we should act in love toward our friends in all things – from how we eat to how we speak. We have learned, in a nutshell, to keep first things first.
St. Augustine once said that in essential matters, Christians should have unity; in nonessential matters, they should have liberty; but in all matters, they should have charity – that is, love. “My love to all of you in Christ Jesus. Amen.”