The Priority of Relationships (2 Corinthians 2:12–16)
Another means to healthy interactions at work is simply taking the time and effort to develop and invest in relationships. Having left Ephesus, Paul went to Troas, a port city in the northwest corner of Asia Minor, where he expected Titus to arrive from his visit to Corinth (see the introduction above for details). While Paul was there he went about his missionary work with his usual vigor, and God blessed his efforts. But in spite of a promising beginning in a city of great strategic importance, Paul cut short his work in Troas because, as he puts it, “my mind could not rest because I did not find my brother Titus there” (2 Cor. 2:13). He simply could not attend to his work, his very passion, because of the anguish he felt over his strained relationship with the Corinthian believers. So he left for Macedonia in the hope of finding Titus there.
Two things are striking about this passage. First, Paul places significant value on his relationships with other believers. He cannot remain aloof and unburdened when these relationships are in disrepair. We cannot say with absolute certainty that he was familiar with Jesus’ teaching about leaving one’s gift at the altar and being reconciled to one’s brother (Matt. 5:23–24), but he clearly understood the principle. Paul is eager to see things patched up, and he invests a great deal of energy and prayer in pursuing that end. Second, Paul places a high priority on bringing about reconciliation, even if it causes significant delay in his work schedule. He does not try to convince himself that he has a great opportunity for ministry that will not come around again, and that therefore he can’t be bothered with the Corinthians and their momentary needs. Repairing the rupture in his relationship with them takes precedence.
The lesson for us is obvious. Relationships matter. Clearly, we cannot always drop what we’re doing at a moment’s notice and attend to strained relationships. But no matter what our task, relationships are our business. Tasks are important. Relationships are important. So, in the spirit of Matthew 5:23–24, when we learn—or even suspect—that a relationship has been strained or broken in the course of our work, we do well to ask ourselves which is more pressing at the moment, the completion of the task or the restoration of a relationship. The answer may vary, depending on circumstances. If the task is big enough, or the strain in relationship serious enough, we do well not only to ask which is more pressing but also to seek counsel from a respected brother or sister.
See Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, Paul: A Critical Life (Oxford: Clarendon, 1996), 300.