“For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears; not so that you would be made sorrowful, but that you might know the love which I have especially for you.”
(2 Corinthians 2:4)
Paul’s love for his brethren can be painful to read. His exertion in the Lord’s kingdom remains an inspiration for Christians today (1 Cor. 11:1). Added to his external sufferings from his many opponents, Paul says, was the “daily pressure on [him] of concern for all the churches” (2 Cor. 11:28). The love Paul had for Christ and his church moved him to anguish especially when they failed to live the regenerated lives in Christ they were called to live.
Corinth was a church riddled with problems. We see Paul's frustration and sincere love in every word of the two letters he wrote to them. He sent a stinging rebuke at the heart of the congregation appealing to them to heal their divisions (chs.1-4), to purify their immorality (ch.5), to repair their reputation (ch.6), to correct their false views about marriage (ch.7) and dietary restrictions (ch.8). Paul had to correct false accusations made against his character (ch.9), their continued connection to idolatry (ch.10), improper conduct during their worship assembly (chs.11-12), and their general lack of love (ch.13).
Paul was never afraid to say what needed to be said even if it hurt the people he loved (cf. Gal. 4:16). He would rather speak the truth, which may hurt now but heal later, than a tell, a lie which may comfort now but destroy later. As God's children we are also moved to painful sayings.
"I am sorry," is one of the most difficult things to say but admitting our wrongs to God and each other is vital if we desire full reconciliation. The language of repentance is bitter to speak but in Christ it is always followed by sweet mercy. Paul rejoiced in his rebukes not because it caused those he loved sorrow but that through that sorrow they were brought to repentance leading to life (2 Cor. 7:9-11).
Even the phrase, "I love you," can be difficult to say sometimes. In fact, the harder it is to say “I love you,” the more pressing the need is to say it! Those who misery dole out words of affection are sorry representatives of a kingom built on the love of God (Jn. 13:34-35). Love is commanded because it is not primarily a feeling but an action of sacrifice and devotion. It is important to vocalize that love even when, or perhaps especially when, it is painful to do so.
"You are wrong," is another saying that brings much anguish but it too is vital to the health and purity of the church. Many think expressing any sort of disapproval contradicts love but love is not blind agreement with someone regardless of their choices. It is possible to both love someone and disagree with them. If love seeks what is best for others, then love demands we rebuke dangerous behavior (Lk. 17:3). This loving rebuke, as modeled by Nathan to David (2 Sam. 12:7), “covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet. 4:8).
Perhaps the most painful saying of all is "I forgive you," because it truly costs us something when we say it from the heart. But the cost is insignificant if weighed against the consequences of witholding it (Mt. 18:21-35). The Lord himself said,“If your brother sins rebuke him. If he repents, forgive him” (Lk. 17:3). We are to model our forgiveness of one another after God's mercy toward us in Christ (Eph. 4:32).
There is no denying these sayings are difficult but learning this gospel language is vital to our development as God's people. When you’ve done wrong, waste no time in your heartfelt apology so that you can be reconciled. Say "I am sorry" and work to make things right. Be the difference in someone else's life by offering a sincere "I love you" coupled with parallel acts of sacrifice and devotion. Speaking the truth in love necessitates that sometimes we say to our erring brother "You are wrong." And be generous and quick to forgive for our fellowship with God depends on it. Embody God's mercy and give good news to those who have wronged us by saying "I forgive you."