Monday, March 5, 2012

The Whipping Stick

In today’s NT lesson (1 Corinthians 4:8-21) Paul asks the Corinthians, “What would you prefer? Am I to come to you with a stick, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?” I wish my parents had asked me that. For a child, there is only one answer—with gentle love. Who wants a beating when he can have a pat on the back instead?

But sometimes we need to brandish the stick. Paul doesn’t refer to it accidentally. Having proclaimed himself as their “father through the gospel,” Paul acts like any good parent. He doesn’t need to go to the switch—just remind the wayward children that it’s there. A little empty threat can go a long way.

That doesn’t sound much like grace, though. Where is the grace in taking of one’s belt and brandishing it in front of the disobedient child? Even if I’m not going to use it, to threaten punishment is the exact opposite of grace. We are forgiven even before we err. There is no threat of punishment. Yet hell still exists. And we still talk about it. And we should. So why?

Let’s reevaluate Paul’s reference to the stick. I don’t think Paul is threatening to use it. I think instead that he is reminding his children that he will not use it—ever. Even though some might deserve a beating, Paul is coming with a spirit of love. Imagine saying to a child, “You know what? I won’t ever whip you—no matter how disobedient you are. Instead, I will love you into obedience.” It’s harder to take that parental approach, but the fruit of that labor is worth it.

I confess that I’m a spanker. I’m not proud of that, and I’m pretty sure that’s not what God wants be to do. But it’s hard to use love to deal with a child who has pushed you past your limits. That’s not an excuse—it’s a fact. It’s the truth about my humanity. How wonderful, then, is it that God never gets pushed beyond loving us?

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