Every parent has heard themselves say this at one time or another: “If you two don’t stop bickering, I’ll stop this car and punish you both!” I mean, surely I’m not the only one! Please tell me I’m not the only dad that has threatened this!
Seriously, as parents, we really do set expectations of behavior for our children. One of the most fundamental tasks of parenting is to both model and expect “good” behavior in our children’s lives. After all, if we don’t teach them about how to behave, I guarantee others will and those lessons may not be what’s best for your children.
Of course, if this is true of our basic parenting skills, we will find a spiritual connection to this same principle in how we, as a Church, become spiritually mature in the Faith!
Look at our lesson in 2 Corinthians 12:20-21; 13:1-2:
Brethren, I fear that perhaps I may come and find you not what I wish, and that you may find me not what you wish; that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder. I fear that when I come again my God may humble me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned before and have not repented of the impurity, immorality, and licentiousness which they have practiced.
This is the third time I am coming to you. Any charge must be sustained by the evidence of two or three witnesses. I warned those who sinned before and all the others, and I warn them now while absent, as I did when present on my second visit, that if I come again I will not spare them.
Wow, St. Paul sounds like he is a bit upset with these folks in Corinth. But that isn’t it at all. To be sure, a cursory reading of this passage will leave us the impression he is threatening these folks. But that’s going to miss the true power of St. Paul’s “fatherly” care for these spiritual children of his!
The context for this passage is St. Paul’s continued “fatherly” ministry to the parish he established in Corinth years before. This community was vibrant, dynamic, and an absolute mess! It was an exciting place to be, but the spiritual maturity of the community was hampered by many in the community who really didn’t want to grow up! Consequently, the “father” of the community had to eventually tell them this situation isn’t sustainable and his next visit to them was going to be a turning point in their relationship.
It really doesn’t do anyone any good to allow a perpetual immaturity to grip the lives of people they say they love. It isn’t loving or patient or even kind to allow someone you say you love to forever escape the consequences of bad choices. Whether you call it “tough love” or strong parenting or even just honest conversation, eventually, if you truly love someone, you have to confront reality. And this is exactly what St. Paul does with these precious people he loves in Corinth. St. Paul isn’t going to continue participating in a delusion. He refuses to allow any of his spiritual children to remain in the prison of pretend. It’s the third time he’s visited, and times up for ignoring reality!
Today, this isn’t an easy place to be. And it isn’t pleasant either. But it is good. It is good to finally wake up from a perpetual spiritual kindergarten to the spiritual maturity that leads to freedom in Jesus Christ. That’s why our “fathers” and “mothers” in the Lord sometimes have to speak plainly to us, for our salvation. But never without authentic love. The wisdom of a serious and loving spiritual father in your life and my life is absolutely essential if we are ever going to be Orthodox on Purpose!