2 Corinthians 2:12-13 — Parental Anxiety

Sometimes somethings are more important than an open door.

That is the upshot of these two fascinating sentences in 2 Corinthians 2:12-13.

Earlier Paul had intended to visit Corinth, then go to Macedonia, and then return to Corinth before he left for Jerusalem. However, the circumstances in Corinth led Paul to change that travel plans. Instead, he sent Titus with a tearful letter that confronted the Corinthians about the events of his most recent and painful visit, particularly how the Corinthians had sided with the one who had opposed Paul.

Now Paul is awaiting word from Titus about how the Corinthians responded to his confrontational letter. Apparently, they had intended to rendezvous in Troas, and so Paul went to Troas where he anticipated seeing Titus. After reuniting, they would then proceed, presumably, to Corinth.  

In these two verses, 2 Corinthians 2:12-13, Paul not only explains why he went on to Macedonia instead of waiting in Troas but also reveals his deep concern and care for the Corinthians themselves.

His relationship with the Corinthians and the ministry of reconciliation in Corinth was more important than the open door in Troas.

Paul is a minister of the gospel of reconciliation. Moreover, his own sense of vocation is to sow the seed of the gospel in new places (Romans 15:20); he plows new ground for the gospel. Consequently, he went to Troas “to proclaim the good news (or, gospel) of Christ.” This is his vocation. Seemingly, he expected to stay there a while for the sake of the gospel with Titus before heading on to Corinth.

The gospel is central for Paul. Paul refers to “our gospel” (2 Corinthians 4:3) and the “gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4) as well as again proclaiming the “good news (gospel) of Christ” as his missional task (2 Corinthians 10:4). Further, he also warns the Corinthians that they had accepted among them (presumably the so-called “super apostles” or perhaps others) some who preach a “different gospel” as well as a “different Jesus” (2 Corinthians 11:4).

In fact, Paul is engaged in a defense of not only his missional vocation to proclaim the good news but of the gospel itself. This explains, in part, Paul’s lengthy digression (if that is a good word for it) from this travelogue in 2 Corinthians 2:14-7:4: Paul identifies, explains, and defends his practice of the ministry of reconciliation through the gospel. Paul rehearses the nature of his ministry and gospel so that the Corinthians may understand what compels Paul and drives him to share this good news with others, which included the founding of the Corinthian congregation and was the rationale for his participation in the suffering of Christ.  

It was for the sake of preaching the gospel that Paul came to Corinth in the first place, and it is the reason that he continues to walk with them through thick and thin. Paul’s priority is the gospel and how it reconciles us with God and each other.

It is surprising, then, to hear Paul describe how he went to Troas to preach the gospel but decided to move on to Macedonia without taking advantage of the open door in Troas. It was an open door, but he did not walk through it. Understanding how deeply committed Paul is to his missional vocation to preach the gospel, it is rather unnerving to watch him pass up a golden opportunity to spread the aroma of Christ in a new place. (Paul had visited Troas previously, but it was a momentary stay as he was called to Macedonia through a vision; see Acts 16:6-10.)

Why would Paul pass up this opportunity? We can only imagine his own anguish and struggle with the decision. This was, as Paul said, an “open door in the Lord.” It was opened, it seems, by God. Paul recognized this divine moment but hurried on to Macedonia. Something, it seems, was more compelling for Paul.

Paul, in fact, tells us: Titus was not there. He had expected to meet Titus, but he had not yet arrived. Paul felt compelled to go to Macedonia in order to find him. Why was Paul compelled? Literally, his “spirit” could find no rest while waiting for Titus in Troas.

This reveals Paul’s deep love for and anxiety about the Corinthians. Paul continually professes his love for the Corinthians, which includes his desire for reconciliation and the renewal of their mutual joy.

This desire creates an anxiety. It is not so much a lack of faith in God but a restlessness about the relationship. It is an anxiety that arises from the burden Paul carries for the churches he has planted. It is, actually, part of his daily burden, even daily suffering. Indeed, it is the last item Paul mentions when he catalogs his suffering in 2 Corinthians 11.

He writes, “And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28). Literally, the word “anxiety” refers to cares or concerns but can refer to worries or anxieties. This is the only time Paul uses this word in his writings.

His burden or care for the Corinthians, as with other congregations, created unrest in his spirit. He wanted to know the result of Titus’ visit. He wanted to know the well-being of their souls. He wanted to know whether reconciliation was possible.

Paul did not know the answer to those questions, and, consequently, he was restless. This was a moment of desolation for Paul, and he wanted consolation, that is, the kind that comes from God through the Corinthians who reciprocate Paul’s love and comfort his anxiety.

Perhaps an analogy might be helpful. It is the sort of anxiety a parent feels when alienated or uncertain about their relationship with their children. Paul is the father of the Corinthian congregation; they are his children (1 Corinthians 4:14-15). And he speaks to them as his children (2 Corinthians 6:13; 12:14). Paul is experiencing an acute form of parental anxiety.

As a result, Paul does not wait in Troas and explore the opportunity to share the gospel there but rushes to Macedonia in order to learn from Titus as quickly as possible how the Corinthians responded to his letter.

Sometimes we are faced with an opportunity to minister but are also filled with anxiety about another situation. Sometimes, perhaps, it is appropriate to resolve the anxiety before pursuing the opportunity.

This is a place in which people often find themselves. We are sometimes too troubled about a relationship—too wounded, hurt, consumed, anxious—to pursue a different opportunity. Just as Paul sought Titus, sometimes we must seek reconciliation with others before we are healthy enough or ready to pursue other ministry opportunities.

At the same time, the burden we carry for the churches is deep because our love for those congregations is deep as well. The depth of love correlates with the depth of anxiety when the relationship is wounded, broken, or under repair. Sometimes the work of repair is more important than new opportunities.

It is good to feel this burden. It is a healthy anxiety or care; we want what is best for congregations. We seek their renewal, reconciliation, and repair. This is Paul’s passion for the Corinthians. It is also, I hope, our passion for people and congregations.

One Response to “2 Corinthians 2:12-13 — Parental Anxiety”

  1.   Michael Waymon Summers Says:

    Thank you for your reflection on the burden felt by ministers and parents. This is an aspect of preachers’ work that I suspect that observers may not realize – the burden of concern that the minister carries for his congregants, and for other staff members whom he or she may mentor

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