July 5, 2020 Speaking Freely and Widening our Hearts

Speaking Freely and Widening Our Hearts

 

Our scripture reading this morning is 2 Corinthians 6:1 – 13.

 

Verse 1 begins, “Working together with him…”

 

Paul has been explaining the ministry of the new covenant, calling it the ministry of reconciliation. He has been using himself and Timothy as examples of ministers since chapter 2. Here, in chapter 6, he is still writing about the character of those who speak of reconciliation and he is still using he and Timothy as prototypes, or exemplars, of new covenant servants. He is not doing this because he wants to magnify himself. He is demonstrating the character of a minister because he desires that the Corinthians also be ministers of reconciliation.

 

We must get the clergy-laity distinction out of our minds. Every follower of Jesus is a priest. Every follower of Jesus is a prophet. Every follower of Jesus is a minister, not just Paul, not just Timothy, not just a preacher, a pastor, or an evangelist. An evangelist may have a special gift in carrying out the ministry of reconciliation, but every follower of Christ is to be a minister of reconciliation. We know this from the Great Commission and how it was carried out in the book of Acts. Indeed, most people, something like 90%, do not come to Christ through a professional evangelist (but, thank God for those evangelists!). Rather, most come to Christ through the testimony of a relative or a friend. You are a minister of reconciliation! The only question is whether you are fulfilling your calling or whether you are neglecting your calling.

 

Many are so apprehensive about sharing the gospel because they feel they do not know enough, or they feel that they are not capable. If you have believed the gospel then you know enough. Because all one must do is speak what they have already believed. If you feel as if you are not capable, that is a good thing. Do you know why? Because you are not capable! Paul and Timothy said that they were not capable in the previous three chapters and they said that more than once.

 

Here, Paul is saying it again. Paul is not working alone. He is working together with God! When you speak to someone, you are not alone. You are working together with God!

 

Then Paul tells the Corinthians, “We appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.” What does he mean by this? The answer is in verse 21 of chapter 5. In that verse, we saw that the purpose of our redemption was so that we might become the righteousness of God. The word “might” shows that it may or may not happen. If it doesn’t happen, if we are not sanctified, then we have received the grace of God in vain. “In vain” means without purpose.

 

This understanding is supported by what Paul writes a few verses later in chapter 6:

 

Therefore go out from their midst,

and be separate from them, says the Lord,

and touch no unclean thing;

then I will welcome you, [1]

 

The Corinthians were participating with unbelievers in unbelieving things.

 

So, Paul writes:

 

Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God. [2]

 

The Corinthians needed to cleanse themselves. They needed to bring holiness to completion. This is our calling. Do not allow things to defile your body. Neither allow sins to defile your spirit. We must pursue sanctification. Sanctification, a change in who we are, does not happen unless we cooperate with the Lord. Will you cooperate with the Lord? Will you actively cleanse yourself? We must!

 

In verse 2 Paul quotes the prophet Isaiah:

 

For he says,

“In a favorable time I listened to you,

and in a day of salvation I have helped you.”

Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.[3]

 

In order to see why Paul is applying this verse from Isaiah to the Corinthian church we need to see the context in Isaiah. Paul quotes Isaiah 49:8. This verse is the Father talking to his Servant, the Lord Jesus. The Father is responding to the Servant’s statement in verse 4:

 

But I said, “I have labored in vain;

I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity;

yet surely my right is with the Lord,

and my recompense with my God.” [4]

 

What is happening in Isaiah 49 is that the prophet Isaiah is feeling as if all his labor on behalf of his nation is in vain because so few are heeding him. God is reassuring Isaiah that he has heard him and that he is helping him. But, as he does so, he is having Isaiah give a Messianic prophecy – a prophecy about Christ. Just as Isaiah felt ignored, so would Christ.

 

Just as God heard Isaiah, he would hear his Son and would grant Jesus favor and would help him.

 

Here is the point of Paul’s citation: Just as God had favor on Isaiah and helped him, and just as the Father had favor on Jesus and helped him, the Father will have favor on Paul’s readers and help them!

 

This is a promise for us!

 

Now God’s favor is upon you! Now is the day of salvation! Therefore, proclaim it!! Don’t wait until next month or next week. Proclaim the day of salvation now, Corinthians! Proclaim the day of salvation now, New Salem! Why can we? Because the favor of God is upon us! Because God is helping us! This is glorious!

 

The favor of God is upon you…now!

 

God is helping you…now!

 

In verse 3, Paul returns to his theme of describing the character of new covenant ministers:

 

We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry,[5]

 

In order to minister Christ we ought to avoid obstacles. However, we do not compromise the truth. Neither do we pretend to be neutral regarding the truth of God and the truth that the Bible is His word. The truth will offend simply because it is the truth. Some people will strongly resist the fact that God has spoken in the Scriptures. We never compromise those things.

 

Other beliefs that may offend we may wish to wisely avoid. Especially, Paul refers to the quality of character that the servant of God should possess.

 

In verse 4 he begins a long list of experiences that he and Timothy went through for the sake of the gospel:

 

but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities,[6]

 

The servant of God needs endurance. The Lord Jesus even gave the quality of endurance as proof of genuine salvation. You do know, do you not, that there are many who think that they are right with God, but are not? Although we can have assurance and we should have assurance of our salvation,[7] there is also the possibility that we have believed in a defective gospel and that we are not right with God. The only absolute test of salvation is endurance to the end of life:

 

And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved. [8]

 

We need to endure!

 

“In afflictions…” The life of a servant of God, and that is what every follower of Christ is, is not always rosy. If you serve God faithfully, there will be afflictions.

 

“In hardships…” Some versions here have “necessities.” The idea seems to be a lack of resources that cause hardship. One man of God has said this:

 

“We should not think that riches are a sign that we are blessed by the Lord or approved by Him. On the contrary, it may be that want, necessity, and poverty are the true qualifications of a minister of the new covenant.”[9]

 

“In calamities…” Bad things happen. You cannot avoid them no matter how hard you try. Bad things happen because we live in a fallen world. Even more, if you are faithful to the Lord, you may experience even more calamities because both the gospel and righteous living are opposed by the world.

 

beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger;[10]

 

Verse 5 lists more negative experiences of the apostle. Our brothers and sisters in Muslim and communist countries still experience these things. And these things have finally come to America because, as a people, we have become more wicked and more antagonistic to the gospel and to righteousness. You may have seen the local news. In St. Louis, just a week ago, a group of peaceful Catholics were gathered around a statue of St. Louis and were just praying. Black Lives Matter showed up and beat them.

 

In verse 6 Paul lists the positive traits of a servant of God:

 

by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love;[11]

 

These are the qualities that we should pursue in our own lives.

 

by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left;[12]

 

Speak the truth! Do you know what you must do in order to speak the truth? The first thing that you must do is speak! Brothers and sisters, you must cease being silent! In order to speak the truth we must speak! If you are having trouble, fall on your knees and ask God to empower you. Paul follows “truthful speech” with “and the power of God.” The implication is that he and Timothy spoke, not by their own power, but by the power of the Living God! And you will too!

 

“The weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left.” This shows that the proper life of a servant is a life in the battle, fighting for God’s kingdom. Weapons on the right hand, such as a sword, are offensive. Those on the left hand, such as a shield, are defensive.[13]

 

We fight the battle, not just defensively, but offensively. This battle is a battle of ideas and ideas are expressed in words. Therefore, we see again that we must speak in order to be engaged.

 

In verses 8 through 10 Paul presents the contrast between what the world thinks of us and the way things truly are. Do not be concerned what others think about you if you are living according to God’s word. They will think the worst. They did of Jesus. They did of Paul. They will of you. Get used to it!

 

O ye Corinthians, our mouth is open unto you, our heart is enlarged.[14]

 

The apostles, whose lives were so fitted to the ministration of the new covenant, opened their mouths to speak. They spoke to the lost and they spoke to the Corinthians. They also enlarged their hearts towards their fellow believers. Because they had enlarged hearts, they could love all followers of Christ whether faithful or stumbling.

 

We have problems with both types of believers, don’t we? Those who are very committed we sometimes feel uncomfortable around. We may even avoid them. Why? Because our consciences are bothered – we know that we are not living unto the Lord the way they are. I do not have this experience, but I know many do. (When I meet someone who is more mature in the faith than me or who knows more than me, I want to spend more time with them so that I can learn from them.)

 

I did not go to seminary until late in life. I was already retired from my previous career before I even started. I had read the Bible through cover to cover many times and I had been studying it for literally, decades, before I went to seminary. To be frank, I already knew more than all the other students. In my classes, when the professor would ask questions, I would very often answer, and my answers were usually correct (but not always). I thought I was being a good student. How surprised I was when a fellow seminarian, a man in his 20’s as most were, was talking to me and confessed to me that he hated me. I asked why. He said because I was always answering the questions. He didn’t use this word but, as far as I could tell, he was jealous. Some of us have a problem with believers more faithful than we are!

 

But we also have a problem with those who are weak in faith or who fall into sin easily. We tend to lose patience with them or, God forbid, look down on them. We ought never to look down on them because, except for the grace of God, that would be us.

 

Like Paul, our hearts should be enlarged towards all genuine Christians.

 

Paul and Timothy, with open mouths, were free to speak to all believers about the real situation into which they have been misled.[15] The ESV translates this verse:

 

We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open.[16]

 

They could speak freely, that is, tell them the truth about their condition and what they needed to change. We live in a time when everyone is walking on eggshells. Everyone seems to be so concerned about offending other people. And, people do seem to get offended at the drop of a hat. Things were not this way when I grew up. But I know that was a very long time ago. Even Christians are too concerned about what others will think.

 

This phenomenon, of being easily offended, is a consequence of a lack of maturity. It is actually childish. The truth, by its very nature, will offend some. We must speak it, in love of course, and let feelings be what they will be.

 

It is because Paul’s heart was wide open that he could speak the truth.

 

You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections.[17]

 

The Corinthian believers, because they were childish, were restricted, or contracted, in their feelings toward the apostles. But Paul is saying that there was nothing he nor Timothy had written to them that caused this. They were simply trying to help them grow in the faith. Rather, the problem was in the heart of those Corinthians who were so easily offended.

 

If you are not mature, or if you are not a genuine Christian, then the truth will offend you no matter what the source.

 

About 5 years ago a woman who frequently attended our church came to me and expressed a desire to marry a man that she had been seeing for a while. We sat down and I asked her a few questions. I made no comment whatsoever – I did not say anything at all. I simply listened to her answers. She had been married before and, according to her, there was not infidelity in that first marriage. They just didn’t get along. I only listened. Then I asked her to open her Bible and read Matthew 19:1-9. I said, “After you read this, tell me what you think Jesus is saying.” She read it out loud. After she read it, she stood up from her chair, literally yelled at me and stormed out of the room. She never returned to our church. Do you see what happened? She wasn’t really offended at me. She was offended by the words of Jesus. She was offended by the truth.

 

Let us not be like the Corinthians, restricting our affections because someone has told us the truth. And this is exactly Paul’s concluding word in this section:

 

In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also. [18]

 

We need to widen our hearts!

 

What do we do with what we have learned? We have seen today, as well as the past several weeks, that every follower of Christ is a minister (that means a servant) of reconciliation. We must open our mouths and let others know that they are at enmity with God, but that there is a way to be reconciled.

 

  • There is a character that the servant of God ought to possess. It is endurance. It is not fearing hardship. It is not always seeking comfort. It is living a life of purity. Let us not receive the grace of God in vain. Let us pursue sanctification. We do this by pursuing the knowledge of his will in the pages of Scripture. We do this through the Holy Spirit in the power of God. The Lord does not expect you to grow in life by your own power. He will do it! All he is asking you to do is cooperate with the Spirit!
  • We must open our mouths. Those are Paul’s words in verse 11 (KJV). He means to speak freely. We speak freely to the lost and we speak freely to our brother and sisters who need the truth.
  • We widen our hearts to every fellow Christian. We don’t avoid the overcomers. Neither do we avoid the weak ones. Enlarge your heart! This, too, is by his Spirit.

 

Can we do these three things? Can we live a life of endurance, purity, and knowledge? Can we open our mouths? Can we enlarge our hearts? In ourselves, no. In the Spirit, yes! Call on his name and set your heart to live the life of a servant of God, not the life of a child.

 

 

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 6:17). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 7:1). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

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

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Is 49:4). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 6:3). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 6:4). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[8] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 24:12–13). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[9] Witness Lee, Life-Study of Second Corinthians (Living Stream Ministry, Anaheim, CA; 1984) p. 351.

[10] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 6:5). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

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

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

[13] Lee, p. 357.

[14] The Holy Bible: King James Version. (2009). (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version., 2 Co 6:11). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[15] Lee, p 360.

[16] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 6:11). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

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

[18] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 6:13). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.