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Breath Mints

Have you ever been around someone long enough to realize that they consistently had bad breath? Have you ever realized that if you don’t tell them about the problem, no one probably will? I have been on both sides of this coin – needing to say to people about their issue and requiring people to tell me about mine. We shy away from difficult conversations because they are uncomfortable to both parties involved, and it is often much easier to let things go than it is to address an issue.

The Apostle Paul dealt with this problem numerous times in his ministry - confronting people even when it wasn’t easy to do so. There is one particular example in 2 Corinthians 2. After having a difficult and awkward conversation with some members of the Corinthian Church, Paul timidly informs them that he

“…wrote out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you.” (vs2)

In his previous letter, he had disciplined some people because of their unchristian behavior. If you will, he called them out on their bad breath!

Because we love people, we have to, at times, deliver difficult news to them. Not sharing the hard truth is a sure sign of not loving someone. Paul, in this instance, had given some difficult news, and after wrestling through the issue, he told some people what they didn’t want to hear. He was, if you will, following a principle that we often throw around that says, “Friends don’t let friends have bad breath.”

So, the news of disobedience had been delivered, the person had repented, and it was time for him to return to the community of the Church. As he continues his letter, Paul shares with the rest of the Church – who were very well aware of this person’s faults – how they can minister to him and help him move on from his disobedience (or in the context of this posting, how to give him a breath mint that allows him back into good social standing!). He offers four ways that we can all submit to as we embrace those who have gone astray, been caught in their sin, or are recovering bad breath breathers!

1) Offer forgiveness (7). When we’ve done something wrong, we need forgiveness. It is forgiveness that melts away the barrier that our sin creates. It is forgiveness received that welcomes a wanderer home, and it is forgiveness offered that tenderizes the hearts of the offended. When people sin, disobey and fall away, the first thing they need is to be forgiven. So what if you’ve had bad breath before! - all are welcome here!

2) Offer comfort (7). It is always awkward for those who have been ostracized to come back. Emotions are fragile, shame is intense, and the broken are sensitive to the welcome they will receive. We must offer comfort to those who have sinned to those who have had bad breath! Love, care, and compassion are traits that communicate comfort to those whose behavior has put them in vulnerable spots.

3) Offer affirmation (8). …or as Paul says, “Reaffirmation.” People who have sinned and repented need to be reaffirmed by the rejoining community. Their behavior (or bad breath!) excluded them, but upon their return, it is incumbent upon the community to affirm the good that is seen and the change that has been made. Encouragement fills the soul, and those who are to return to the fold need a lot of it.

4) Offer an example of obedience (9). Paul was watching this congregation very closely. What example were they setting? Were they maintaining the standard that they would call their returning brother too? Would they be able to set a good example for him so that he – and they – wouldn’t get caught in Satan’s schemes (vs11)? We can’t ask someone to clean up their lousy breath if ours stinks!

Need a mint? Need to offer one?

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