The Corinthians Church kept Paul awake many a nights. He suffered ulcer, anxiety attacks and self-doubt. When they questioned his authority, poo-pooed his preaching, and raised suspicion of his so called “non-profit” ministry, it was the skewering of a dagger by a best friend. The attack was painful because it was personal.
Romans is a theology that has been tested. It is not the emotionless theology of an academician, but an emotionally grounded theology of a mature pastor. Paul knows the deep power of the gospel; it was what reconciled Paul and Corinth, his first love.
There was no church Paul loved more than this Corinthian Church. When he wrote the poem of Love (1 Cor 13), the words spilled from his quill because his heart was swelling with affection for them. Pastors have their favorite church as much as parents do. Paul’s favorite was Corinth. But Corinth kept dumping him and dating other leaders because they were better looking, had better family, and more loaded with cash. Paul was their first love, but dropped as soon as a handsomer apostle came striding into their city. Paul’s heart bleeds in 2nd Corinthians. This is why he keeps going back and forth (which leads scholars to think it might be a collage of two or even three letters). His emotions are not fully settled even when trying to ground them in a strong theology of reconciliation and new creation. He is full of bravado and fear, confidence and despair, proclamation and pity parties.
In fact, Paul wrote 2nd Corinthians because he could not muster himself to go visit them. He feared he would lash out because he knew well that hurt people hurt.
Wouldn’t Paul’s ministry have had greater influence if his emotional energy was not drained by those thankless Corinthians! Two letters, definitely another one, maybe even four letters altogether to keep the messy relationship between them alive. And he had to visit them three times. Such a needy congregation!
What Paul could have done if not for Corinthians!
But consider the reverse question.
What would have Paul done if it wasn’t for the Corinthians?
For sure, we would not have the two letters that now sit right in the middle of New Testament providing some of the most inspiring, not to mention quotable, lines. Very possible that we would not have had Romans which he wrote on his third visit to Corinth. The Roman letter is very calm compared to the storm of emotions that surge in 2nd Corinthians. But it is the calm after one has ridden out a storm, a calm that can be explained only by the eyes that has seen the rage of the waters the night before. Romans is a theology that has been tested. It is not the emotionless theology of an academician, but an emotionally grounded theology of a mature pastor. Paul knows the deep power of the gospel; it was what reconciled Paul and Corinth, his first love.