2 Corinthians 6:3-13

2 Corinthians 6:3-13

Open Wide

I don’t think I’m stepping out on a limb here by supposing that you’ve been under-appreciated for the things you’ve done for others. (Do know that I’m not writing this to butter you up; Lord knows that in our hearts we self-butter enough. I’m simply pointing out a common experience.) Teachers, you do so much for and receive so little in return from the students you teach every year (your “kids,” as you doubtless call them). Mothers, how many meals do you carefully craft for your offspring that go un-thanked if not outright hated and uneaten? Sound booth guy (whoever you are), surely, your work is hardly on anyone’s mind but your own, yet how valuable a work it is! Pastors, admittedly, your work on Sundays is commendable, but it should be since you don’t have to work the other days, right? In these verses of chapter 6, much can be said: what an authentic ministry looks like, the various sufferings that accompany genuine servanthood, the dualism of life-on-earth v. life-in-Christ, etc. Rather than doing that (which I’ve done in part in previous posts), I want to focus vv. 11-13 in light of that authentic ministry and those afflictions.

Paul returns to his ministerial self-defense class for the Corinthians in which he highlights the Corinthians’ childishness and immaturity. He even tells them that he is speaking to them as his children (v. 13). He plays a note he’s already played back in chapter 4. When speaking of his afflictions, the light of the gospel, and the treasure of Christ in his feeble body, he underscores the hardships of his ministry. His ministry is fraught with affliction, perplexity, persecution, and strikes (4:8-9). Nevertheless, Paul and his co-laborers reject underhanded ways of getting the gospel into the hands of God’s image-bearers. They eschew disgracefulness, cunning, or tampering with God’s Word (4:2). In a similar vein, now in chapter 6, Paul reminds us that his ministry is a faultless, obstacle-free ministry (6:3), despite all the afflictions that come their way, which he details in vv. 4-5 and 8-10: hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger (4-5), dishonor, slander, considered to be imposters, unknown, dead, punished, sorrowful, poor, and having nothing (8-10). He’s not saying he and his co-servants in the Lord are sinless, but he is commending himself, Timothy, and Silvanus to the Corinthians. He affirms that they’ve made every attempt to put nothing in the way of the gospel. They’ve endured much. Still their witness to God’s truth has remained firm. It’s been tried and tested, and by God’s grace, they and their witness continue to be the aroma of Christ to God. By God’s grace, Paul and his cohorts can commend themselves by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, the power of God, and weapons of righteousness. They are true, well known, alive, not killed, always rejoicing, making many rich, and possessing everything (6-10), because they belong to their Lord Jesus Christ.

When we consider all the troubles of these faithful men, we ought to be amazed at their steadfastness, and we ought to be thankful for God’s preserving grace in their lives. What a mighty God we serve! Paul et al. had every earthly reason to abandon hope, call it quits, and go back to whatever they had been doing before entering the ministry. One severe beating alone would test a man’s allegiance and possibly break him. One riot alone could knock us to the ground and tempt us to stay there prone to the floor. Imprisonment could shake our confidence. Hunger could veer us off the path. Sleepless nights could make us insane. But here we have God’s sustaining grace such that these men are not simply surviving. They are alive! They’re living the abundant life irrespective of the punishments, sorrows, poverty, and dishonor they’re receiving at the hands of enemies and disgratitudinous Corinthians. Not only are they alive, but God is using them to make others alive and rich in Christ, causing much rejoicing all around. God truly is good to his people.

Would that the Corinthians recognized such powerful grace! Would that the Corinthians grew up! Hear Paul’s heart in vv. 11-13. He says that he and his co-laborers have spoken freely. Literally, he’s saying that his mouth has been open to them. In other words, he’s not holding back the truth. He’s presenting the open statement of the truth (cf. 4:2). They get the truth and nothing but the truth of God delivered to the doorsteps of their hearts, and Paul is pleading with them to open and receive the truth. Furthermore, Paul et al. say that their heart is open to the Corinthians (v. 11). Not only is the truth delivered to their hearts, but so are their very lives. Have you ever tried to hug a person who doesn’t want it? You know, they just keep their arms at their sides, drooping downward. You put your arms around them, and there’s nothing in return. No feeling. No affection. Sometimes I feel that way when hugging my 13-year-old son. He all of a sudden goes limp on me. But he’s 13, and it’s not the coolest thing in the world for a teenager to receive a hug around the neck and a kiss upon the cheek from dad. Thankfully, however, there are other times when he says, “Daddio, give me a big ol’ jolly H-U-G!” and it’s a pure delight.

Paul, with arms wide open, is calling for a heart-hug from the Corinthians in return. He says, “widen your hearts also” (v. 13). Daddio Paul is saying to these Corinthian children, “Open up! Receive my affections.” And it’s not so much that Paul wants the Corinthians to widen their hearts toward him because he has some spiritual need that needs to be met. He’s learned to be content whether he has friends at his side or whether they’ve all left him to loneliness. Nevertheless, to receive Paul is to receive God since Paul is God’s apostolic ambassador who comes with divine truth and compassion. Paul as apostolic messenger is giving them the truth and showing them true brotherly love and affection. So, to spurn his message and love is for the Corinthians to say that they don’t want any part of God’s Word or the church. And that’s a hard place for professing children of God to be.

Paul has noted the Corinthians’ small affections and little desire to hug him back (v. 12). They’re restricted in their own affections. Their love is so narrow that they can’t get their arms around him, nor do they want to. The word “restricted” is one that Paul used in 4:8 when he spoke of himself not being “crushed” despite the every-sided affliction. The Corinthians here are self-crushed, self-narrowed in, self-confined with respect to their affections, compassions, and love for Paul. They’ve boxed Paul out and have excluded him from a full-hearted, entirely opened love. Despite Paul’s faithfulness, whole-heartedness, open mouth, and many afflictions, the Corinthians return little to nothing by way of brotherhood and love. Like a faithful yet under-appreciated father, he remains firm, saying, “Don’t think I don’t love you. Lord knows that I do! Look at my life and ministry on your behalf. See that I’ve given you words of eternal life. See that I’ve given you myself.” Paul is gently rebuking the Corinthians for their childishness. Like a thankless child who doesn’t acknowledge all the time, money, resources, and efforts put in by his parents for his good, the Corinthians say, “OK, we kind of like you too, Paul.” Ouch! That must hurt.

Paul sets before them not only the truth but also themselves. He sets before them God’s Word and true brotherhood. Sadly, the Corinthians are still children in the faith in need of milk and a class in Christianity 101. The Corinthians, ironically, had a love problem. I say “ironically,” because the most famous “love chapter” was written to the Corinthians earlier (1 Cor. 13). They were begged by Paul to “reaffirm” their love for the repentant sinner in 2 Corinthians 2. Now they’re being asked to widen their affectionate love for Paul and his co-ministers.

Should we not likewise consider all those people in our lives that God has given to us for our good? Thanks be to God that through them we have grown closer to God in knowledge and holiness. Thanks be to God that through them we experience genuine love from our brothers and sisters in Christ. Maybe we ought to give God thanks for them. Maybe we ought to encourage them with thankfulness to them. Maybe we ought to widen our hearts to them. Of course, it’s not truly surprising to learn of their love problem. We suffer in the same way. We don’t love one another perfectly. We’ve been burned one too many times to freely widen our hearts to others. And on and on the excuses go.

But it’s the gospel that moves us to others. God didn’t wait for his image-bearers to appreciate him before he sent his Son to the earth. He didn’t wait for us to get our acts together. Even while we were hateful sinners, Christ died for us. While our hearts were closed off toward God, his was wide open toward us. And because of the gospel, we open wide.