Imagine you receive a letter. You are upset by this letter. There are numerous things in this letter that concern and offend you. The composer of this letter is someone you’ve had your share of squabbles with, and you’re reluctant to yield to their authority.
The letter says stuff like, “On the first day of every week, set money aside and store it up so that it’ll be ready when I arrive.” The accumulating money is allegedly for a group of needy strangers living 2,974km away; and given your apprehensions of the collector, this unqualified monetary demand has you feeling uneasy. And your concerns seem warranted considering the letter goes on to say, “When I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to the needy strangers. And if it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me.” While this may not be completely incriminating, it certainly suggests that the author is aware of our suspicions.
Then the author of the letter has the audacity to say, “I will visit you soon, and perhaps I will spend the winter with you, so that you may help me on my journey, wherever I go. I don’t want to merely see you in passing, but I hope to spend some time with you, Lord willing. But I’m going to stay where I am for the time being, because a wide door of effective work has opened to me, and at the same time I am facing many adversaries.” How brazenly discourteous! He just invites himself to come stay with us!? Should he not first submit a request!? Does he not care about our consent? He is really that obtuse!? After commanding us to set aside money and have it ready for him, he is now presumptuously planning on spending the entire winter with us; and he unapologetically assumes that we will be eager to not only host him for a quarter-of-a-year, but also pay his expenses for an ambiguous journey thereafter!? And then he casually drops in this line about how successful he is… he says “I must first finish up what I’m doing at present, because my work is going very well, even though I face many adversaries.” It’s like he’s trying to impress us, and provoke us to pity him all at the same time. Does he really expect us to view him as BOTH victor and victim!? And then he peppers in this pious sounding expression, “Lord willing.” This subtle statement is meant to seal and solidify the notion that everything the author says is unassailable (and perhaps even unquestionable), because it is “The Lord’s will!”
And then he tells us that prior to his visit, he has one of his interns coming to stay with us for awhile! Once again, without our consent, the author of this letter presumes that we will gladly bear the burden of hosting not just him, but also his underlings. He tells us that this sycophant of his goes by the name Timothy, and he commands us to “put him at ease, because he’s doing the work of the Lord.” Once again, it seems we don’t have any say in the matter, because to even question these orders would be to resist the will of God! Furthermore, we must surmise that this kid is some kind of next-level palooka, because the letter goes out of its way to command us, “not to despise Timothy.” How difficult and undesirable does a person have to be to require a letter to be sent ahead of their arrival telling people not to despise them!?
With all that has been said, the question must be asked, “Why read such a letter?” Because there is one desirable person with whom the author of this letter is connected… the celebrity preacher Apollos! We love famousness! We have endured page after page of abuse in this letter hoping to hear something of the famed Apollos. And finally, here at the end of the missive there is mention of Apollos. The letter says, “Now concerning our brother Apollos, I strongly urged him to visit you, but it was not at all his will to come now. He will come when he has opportunity.” What kind of gaslighting nonsense is this! Clearly the author of this letter is trying to make us feel like we’re repulsive and crazy. He pretends to be best friends with Apollos, and he says he’s attempted to persuade Apollos to come visit us; but then he reports that, “Apollos is not at all interested in coming to see us right now.” The author fails to provide any details as to why Apollos isn’t coming; the message is cryptic because clearly we are supposed to feel ashamed of ourselves (a forthright and repetitious theme in this letter [see 6:5 and 15:34]), and/or we’re being made to seem crazy. We are being manipulatively told, “Shape up, and conform to what I say, or else you will never get to see your precious celebrity preacher man ever again.”
This gaslighting motif continues as the author attempts to make us feel guilty by saying, “Now I urge you, brothers—you know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints—be subject to such as these, and to every fellow worker and laborer. I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have made up for your absence, for they refreshed my spirit as well as yours. Give recognition to such people.“
Wow! Really? “Made up for OUR ABSENCE.” How are we not supposed to feel offended and dejected by this kind of boldfaced shaming? And then he guilefully makes mention of his favorites (Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus), and tells us to be subject to them. Obviously, by mentioning these teacher’s pets, an unfavorable comparison is being made, and we are being all-the-more manipulated and made to feel bad about ourselves!
*Whether or not you agree with the imagined reactions above, you must personally immerse yourself in the feelings and thoughts that most certainly would’ve been experienced by the people of Corinth when they received Paul’s letters. Just think about the sundry ways in which people are offended these days. From what we see Paul saying in the letter itself, and from the drama we experience in our personal relationships …undoubtedly tensions are high in the epistles to Corinth!