“lest, when I come again, my God will humble me among you, and I shall mourn for many who have sinned before and have not repented of the uncleanness, fornication, and lewdness which they have practiced” (2 Corinthians 12:21).
In the final verse of this chapter, we find an open and honest admission from Paul the Apostle; he was fearful of what he might encounter on his next visit to the church at Corinth. Yet Paul was still willing to make that trip, even with the knowledge that it might result in a humiliating experience for him.
You see, Paul held a position of responsibility and accountability in his relationship with the members of the Corinthian church. As mentioned earlier, this was analogous to the type of relationship that should exist between a parent and a child from Paul’s perspective. Like any good, loving parent, Paul could not simply “look the other way” while the Corinthians engaged in harmful behaviors and developed relationships with others who sought to take advantage of them.
In this respect, Paul served as the antithesis of an Old Testament spiritual leader named Eli. We can find the account of Eli’s life in the Biblical book of 1 Samuel. His example illustrates the damage that can occur if we fail to act in a God-honoring manner and reprove, exhort, or correct those who fall within our sphere of authority.
Eli was a priest who had two sons who also served as priests. Unfortunately, Eli’s sons acted in a manner that was highly inappropriate for two men who were alleged to represent God. For example, we’re told that these men took the offerings that the people had dedicated to God and seized them for their own personal use (1 Samuel 2:12-17). They also engaged in immoral relationships with the women who served at the Tabernacle (1 Samuel 2:22).
This misconduct was clearly apparent to the members of the local population but more importantly, it was also known to Eli (1 Samuel 2:22-25). Although Eli confronted his sons about their actions, he failed to exercise his parental, spiritual, and patriarchal authority to compel them to stop (1 Samuel 2:27-36, 1 Samuel 3:11-14). While it surely would have painful and difficult for Eli to put an end to his sons’ behavior, his failure to do so ultimately led to a consequence that was far worse (see 1 Samuel 4).
In contrast, Paul the Apostle was determined to follow a different path with the Corinthian church. He was prepared to use his position of authority to implement positive spiritual change and in doing so, he provides us with a good example to follow today.