August 9, 2020 Making Room in Our Hearts

Making Room in Our Hearts

Our scripture reading this morning is 2 Corinthians 7:2-16.

 

The apostle Paul had chastised the Corinthians in his first letter. In this letter he is much more tender, but he is still correcting them. Do you know that God’s people need correction? Do you know that they need correction often? It is true! It is not only the history of Israel in the OT. It is the history of the churches in the NT. It is not only the history of the churches in the NT. It is the history of the church since the completion of the NT until now. Is this not the story of your life after you had already come to Christ? You walked with the Lord faithfully for a while but then you fell. You got up. Then you fell again. This is the story of the church, but it is also our individual story.

 

But, what happens when we receive correction even from our employer or our friends? Are we happy about it? Not usually. It is not a good feeling to be corrected. It brings attention to our failure. When our failure is highlighted then our pride is aroused. We have to admit – we are messed up. We are a fallen people.

 

When your boss had to correct you the first time, you may have thought, “OK, I’ll have to do better at that.” The second time, “There is a lot I have to learn about this job.” By the time your boss corrects you the seventh or eighth time, you are likely feeling resentful and suspect they are nitpicking. It is human nature – fallen human nature.

 

The Corinthians were not any different. Even though Paul and Timothy were writing under the inspiration and authority of the Holy Spirit, they were correcting the disciples at Corinth. And, the Corinthians resented it (2:2; 6:12-13).

 

Even though the believers at Corinth obeyed Paul’s commands, it seems that their affections for the apostles were restricted. Well, it is more than seems, for Paul states it outright:

You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. [1]

So, Paul pleads with them here to “make room in their hearts.” The apostles wronged no one. Neither did they take advantage of anyone. Everything they wrote and did was for the benefit of the Corinthians.

Why did Paul write to them, asking them to make room in their hearts? Because they were still offended. They obeyed, but they had restricted their affections towards the apostles. Paul is sensitive to their feelings. So much so that he writes in verse 3 that he is not condemning them now but is simply trying to cultivate the love and affection that they ought to mutually have for one another.

How ought we to guard our hearts! If a brother or sister has corrected you, are you offended or are you grateful? Solomon had something to say about this matter:

Never correct conceited people; they will hate you for it. But if you correct the wise, they will respect you. (Proverbs 9:8; Good News Translation)

 

If we are wise, then we will respect those who correct us. The ESV puts in stronger terms:

Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you;

reprove a wise man, and he will love you. [2]

 

This what Paul is saying. We must deny our pride and make room in our hearts for those who correct us. Oh! There is a calling upon our lives to be knit together with the other disciples! Paul uses strong words in verse 3:

I do not say this to condemn you, for I said before that you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together. [3]

We are not here as if in a social club. We are here to live together and die together if need be. If we are going to live together and die together then we must love one another and cast away our offenses!

I am acting with great boldness toward you; I have great pride in you; I am filled with comfort. In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy. [4]

Paul had great confidence in the believers at Corinth because, despite their many sins and their many problems, they heeded what Paul had written to them. This is the real test of where your affections truly lie. Do you heed what the Scriptures direct you to do? Or, do you go by your personal feelings or natural affections?

I just finished an amazing book entitled Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by Nabeel Quereshi.

This is an autobiography of a very devout Muslim who was raised in a very loving and supportive family. His mother and father were very affectionate towards he and his sister. They were a close-knit family. So, he was very attached to his mom and dad. When he finally became a Christian in his mid-twenties, after four years of studying and comparing Islam and the Christian faith (and through the many conversations with his friends), he was afraid to tell his parents. He wasn’t afraid that they would harm him in any way. (That is a danger in some forms of Islam.) He was afraid to hurt their feelings. Both his parents were extremely devout and Islam was their whole life. He knew that once they knew that he had become a Christian they would be deeply hurt. He loved them. But, he loved Jesus more. He knew he had to tell them. But, before he could they found out. It caused a deep rift in their family. It took years before their relationships became warm and friendly once again. It was a great burden on Nabeel to be emotionally distant from his family.

How about you? Do you place the directives of Scripture above or below your feelings?

The Corinthians, despite their many weaknesses, filled the apostle with comfort and joy because they obeyed him! By obeying the apostle, they obeyed God.

In verses 5 through 7, Paul briefly relates his experiences in Macedonia, which is in Greece. His body had no rest. He was fighting enemies of the gospel and he had fears within himself with which he wrestled. Then he says that Titus came and comforted him. There is a comfort that is available when a brother or sister talks to us. In this instance, Titus told Paul that the Corinthians longed for Paul’s visit. This raised Paul’s spirit.

Isn’t it a good thing to be wanted? It is a pleasant experience to know that others care about you. This is a testimony to the importance of the local church. For when the church is living as it ought to live, loving and caring for one another, it brings great comfort to the downcast.

In verse 8 Paul recognizes that his harsh rebukes in his first letter caused them grief. Then in verse 9 he writes:

As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us.[5]

This is the goal of all correction: that those who have gone astray will repent. To repent means to change one’s mind. Not just superficially, but to have a completely different way of thinking. Before, you knew that some action or practice was wrong but it did not affect you much except to make you feel guilty when you did it. When one repents, they see a sin in all its ugliness and vileness. They resolve, with everything that is in them, to never commit that sin again. True repentance is not merely an act of the human will. It is a divinely wrought change in one’s whole perspective. It is supernaturally powered change in the deepest part of who we are. It is, literally, life changing.

The difference between a human-powered repentance and a Spirit-empowered repentance can be seen in the lives of King Saul and King David. When Saul “repented,” it was only a short time that he went back to persecuting and seeking to murder David. When David repented, his life was changed. One was just the weak desire of a weak man. The other was wrought by the Spirit of God.

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.[6]

The salvation to which Paul refers here is not initial salvation – the salvation that a person experiences when they first come to Christ. Rather, it is the ongoing salvation that every disciple of Christ continues to need. It is the salvation of our souls. Our spirits were saved when we first trusted in Christ and repented. Our souls need sanctification. Sanctification is called “salvation” several times in the NT. The three steps of salvation, when completed, will result in us being sanctified completely (I Thes 5:23). The NT uses these words to describe our transformation:

Initial salvation = justification

Ongoing salvation = sanctification

Consummate salvation = glorification

See also that repentance here is a continued necessity for the follower of Christ.

Although Paul refers to the repentance of the believer in verse 10, this truth applies equally to initial repentance. The Lord will often use negative, outward circumstances to produce an inner trial, a crisis, so that the sinner will consider his ways, come under conviction, and come to the Savior for forgiveness. This trial of the soul is a kind of grief. But the obstinate, who will not forsake their sins, may also experience grief. Yet, this worldly grief does not lead to repentance, only to death.

A granddaughter of Aaron Burr gave her heart to Christ in an evangelistic meeting. That evening she said to her grandfather, “I wish you were a Christian, too.” He replied, “When I was a young man, I went to an evangelistic meeting. I felt my need of God’s mercy and forgiveness and knew that I should give my heart to Christ, but I walked out without doing it. I stood under the stars and looked up toward heaven and said, “God, if You don’t bother me anymore. I’ll never bother, You.”

“Honey, God has kept His part of that bargain. He has never bothered me. Now it is too late for me to bother Him.”

A misspent life, filled with chicanery and treason against the United States, followed Aaron Burr’s fateful decision.[7]

 

Such is the danger of unrepentance for the unbeliever. But the follower of Christ faces the same danger. There are sins which sometimes afflict them and of which they are aware, yet some Christians refuse to repent. May those who hear me never be among that number! Without repentance, there is no completion of sanctification. And without the completion of our sanctification we will not see the Lord when we die.[8]

For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.[9]

Most translations present this list in verse 11 as simply that – just a list of seven attributes regarding how the Corinthians reacted to Paul’s rebuke in his first letter. But, if the verse is considered carefully, we will see that earnestness stands by itself and the last six fall into three pairs. The three pairs have to do with the believer’s feelings of shame, the apostle Paul, and the sinning brother in the first letter.[10] In that order.

Thus, the Greek scholar Kenneth Wuest translates this verse:

To what extent it produced earnestness in you,

Yes, verbal defense of yourselves, in fact, indignation,

Yes, fear, in fact, longing,

Yes, zeal, in fact, the meting out of disciplinary punishment.

See the flow of life that came from Paul’s rebuke. He corrected them. Then they experienced grief because they knew that they had sinned by not dealing with the sin of incest in the church. Then this grief produced an earnestness, that is, a strong desire to do the right thing.

What will you do when you are corrected by a brother or sister? Will you be offended? Or, will you be wise and allow the Spirit to produce an earnestness in you? “Lord, grant me earnestness when I am corrected!”

Looking at Wuest’s translation we see that the Corinthians defended themselves. The ESV has “clear yourselves.” They wanted to do the right thing. This led to their indignation. Indignation is a strong dislike or displeasure over a wrong or sinful action. They had tolerated sin in the church, which was itself a sin, but then they became angered at the sin of the brother. (It is right to be angry at sin.)

Paul is using this phrase, “clear yourselves,” as a synonym for repentance.

“Yes, fear, in fact, longing.” This has to do with the apostle Paul. They were afraid of Paul because they recognized that he had the authority of Christ. But their fear led to their longing for him. They wanted him to visit. Their fear was diminished because they repented.

“Yes, zeal, in fact, the meting out of disciplinary punishment.” They had such a zeal to obey God that they swiftly carried out the excommunication to which Paul directed them.

 

Brothers and sisters, we must have the same heart as the Corinthians. Do you have a desire to “clear yourself?” In other words, when you are corrected, do you justify your actions or do you turn away from your actions?

Do you fear God? This includes a healthy respect, or fear, for those who are further along in the faith than you. That is, do you recognize that the Lord speaks through more mature brothers and sisters?

Do you have a zeal to obey the Lord?

We need these three attributes: a repentant heart, fear, and zeal. “Lord, grant me a turned heart, a fear of you, and a zeal to obey. Amen!”

So although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the one who did the wrong, nor for the sake of the one who suffered the wrong, but in order that your earnestness for us might be revealed to you in the sight of God. 13 Therefore we are comforted. [11]

Here, Paul uses hyperbole. Hyperbole is a figure of speech wherein the writer exaggerates in order to emphasize a point. Of course, Paul wrote his admonition in his first letter so that the sinning brother would turn from his sin. He explicitly states this (I Cor. 5:5). Of course, he desired to protect the flock from the influence of this sin (I Cor. 5:6). Yet, his overriding concern was that the believers at Corinth would show themselves to be earnest. That is, that they would show themselves to be genuine.

False professors are not just a problem in the modern era. There are so many who make a profession of faith but then live no differently than the people of the world. According to the apostle John, this is evidence that they have not been born again. False professors were also a problem during the time that the NT was being written. Our earnestness shows the reality of our faith as opposed to mere statements of faith. Once the Corinthians showed their earnestness Paul was comforted.

And besides our own comfort, we rejoiced still more at the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by you all.[12]

Paul rejoiced in their earnestness, their commitment, but he rejoiced even more because of Titus. Titus’s spirit was refreshed! We have a human spirit! And, we can refresh one another. The best way to refresh one another is simply by sharing what you enjoyed in the word this week. When you share the word of the Lord, you will enliven the one who hears.

Paul ends this section with these words:

And his affection for you is even greater, as he remembers the obedience of you all, how you received him with fear and trembling. 16 I rejoice, because I have complete confidence in you. [13]

He began this portion by asking the believers to make room in their hearts. Even though they had earnestness, turned hearts, reverence, and zeal, Paul thought that they could open their hearts even more to the apostles.

He ends this section relaying how much affection Titus had for them. This is the Christian life. It is one of open hearts. It is one where the disciples love one another even when there has been correction. How we need to make room in our hearts for one another! If we do not do this, then we are just a social club. If we do not do this then we will be those who only show up for church once per month.

So, what shall we do?

  • By all means, we must be earnest. That is, we must be sure our faith is real. We do this by seeking the Lord’s face daily – every morning.
  • We turn our hearts to Him, especially when we have failed Him.
  • We give reverence to the those that are more mature in the faith, realizing that the Lord may be speaking through them.
  • We stir our hearts with a holy zeal to obey the Lord. Make room in your hearts for all the disciples. Make room!

What are all these things? These are nothing more than the fruit of bringing our holiness to completion! Let us not rest on a past profession of faith. Let us not be content with what we have done. Press into the kingdom! Make room in your hearts.

“Lord, would you please be the One who makes room in our hearts? Our hearts are cluttered with too many things. Unclutter our hearts. Make more room in our hearts for You. We desire more of you! And, make room in our hearts for one another. We love. Help our lack of love. Amen.”

 

 

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 6:12). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Pr 9:8). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 7:3). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 7:4). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 7:9). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 7:10). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[7] Tan, P. L. (1996). Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times (p. 1133). Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc.

[9] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 7:11). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[10] Witness Lee, Life-Study of Second Corinthians (Living Stream Ministry, Anaheim, CA; 1984), p. 392. Lee attributes this insight to the commentator Bengal.

[11] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 7:12–13). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[12] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 7:13). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[13] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 7:15–16). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.