Description / Transcription
Father, help us now that we would listen. We’re not here by accident. We’re not listening to this sermon by accident. We don’t want to simply endure these next minutes and be on to the remainder of our Sunday evening. We want to hear from you. We need to hear from you. Give me grace to preach your Word faithfully, humbly, winsomely, with authority; and help us to listen, for surely all of us need to hear this Word from you tonight. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
We come into God’s word to 2 Corinthians chapter 6. If you will turn there in your Bibles to 2 Corinthians chapter 6, just 3 verses: 11, 12 and 13. This is a gem of a passage. I love these three verses. Not because I’m so good at them, as we will all learn, but because they are so easily overlooked, quickly forgotten, and yet deeply profound and enormously practical. Verses 11 through 13.
“We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, our heart is wide open. You are not restricted by us but you are restricted in your own affections. In return, I speak as to children, widen your hearts also.”
Think about your life for a moment, yes, hard to do. All of it one brief fell swoop, but think about your life. What have been the happiest and the hardest moments in your life? And take out the obvious and the immediately shocking moments — the illness, the accident, the cancer diagnosis – we know that those are hard; and set aside the happy instances, someone says, “You won a prize, you get the award, here’s a million dollars.” Besides those obvious examples where someone says, “You won, you lost,” think of more broadly the days, weeks, months, the seasons that were the happiest and have been the hardest.
If you think of those happiest moments, you probably think of a great two-week family vacation where actually things went according to plan or they didn’t go according to plan, and that was some of the shear wonder of it because you were all together and you were seeing sites and you were laughing and playing games. Maybe it’s a getaway with your wife. My wife and I are hoping to get away in the near year. It is our 20th anniversary. We don’t get to do that very often. Four years ago or so, we went away for the better part of a week to Hawaii because I was preaching there, somebody had to do it, and boy, that was good. Sorry kids; it was really good to be away with just my wife.
Maybe you look back and it was a road trip you took with friends in college, or a team that you were on, and you worked so hard and you sweat and you were disciplined, and whether you won the championship or your team was terrible, you were in it together, and that hard work and teamwork was immensely satisfying. Maybe it’s a job you love. You look forward to going to that every day. Or it’s a small group you’ve been a part of or maybe you’re in right now in church, or a weekly game night with friends or comradery with colleagues as you all talk about the same things and work together for a common goal. What are some of the happiest moments and seasons in your life?
And conversely, you think what have been some of the hardest. Set aside the cancer, the illnesses, that suffering. The hardest are probably marriages that have gone sour, a terrible job environment – it looked good on paper, yes, I’m going to love this – and then it was just so crazy overwhelming or you didn’t like the people you were working with. Maybe it was a church conflict you endured or wayward kids or controlling parents, who even once you grew up, you could never seem to please them. Maybe it’s a friendship that drifted apart or maybe it’s thinking about a best friend you had for two decades, and now you just can’t seem to see eye to eye on anything. Or maybe it was a family reunion that you had planned for years and you were going to finally have all the kids and all the grandkids together and you just talked about politics and you fought and it turned out to be a disaster.
When we look back on our lives, almost without fail, the happiest and the hardest days, weeks, months, years, seasons, have to do with relationships. Relationships are so important that they can make your hardest moments into some of your happiest moments. I know some of you have this testimony. In the midst of a cancer diagnosis or when a tragedy struck your family or when your husband or wife passed away, it was in those moments, as sad and as hard as they were, that you felt the love of your family and friends and people showering you with calls and texts and meals, and they were there with you and they let you cry on their shoulder and they came to your aid, and even in that hard moment you never felt so loved because relationships made that hard moment into something sweet and precious.
Conversely, relationships can make what should be your happiest moments into something miserable. A perfect job with a terrible boss. A great house, what a deal, awful neighbors. Missionary service. How many missionaries have left the field because of relational problems, conflict? Or maybe you’ve found a church at some time that had wonderful worship and teaching, but the church was always fighting. Or maybe you had a long plan for a family get-together that turned into nothing by backbiting and hurt feelings. If the relationships aren’t there, they can turn what should be the ideal situation into something painful, sad, lonely.
I’ve told you before about the summer I spent when I was in college. I had an opportunity to work with one of my professors and another student, and we went to the most beautiful and absolutely exquisite location in the mountains of Colorado where this professor had a summer cabin. It was in hundreds of thousands of acres of national forest, and yes, there was an outhouse, and you would just look out upon the mountains at eight or nine thousand feet up. You could go on beautiful runs and see snowcapped mountains; and I was working and doing research and things, which actually I liked, and I had all sorts of free time to read at night whatever I wanted to. On paper, it had so many things that seemed absolutely perfect, but it was missing friends. And so, I look back even to this day and see those three months were some of the most miserable of my life. I was so alone and frightened and discouraged to be by myself without the relationships that I need, that you need.
There are all sorts of good books about building relationships, enduring in relationships, working with messy relationships, handling conflict in relationships; and all of those are useful. These verses give us one other angle. Not the only one, but one that we often miss. And the biblical counsel in these verses is simple to understand, hard to put into practice but can be absolutely life changing.
Look at and remember the issues that the Corinthians had with the Apostle Paul. They weren’t sure they liked his Gospel anymore. It didn’t seem as impressive as the message they were hearing from the false prophets. And closely related to that, they weren’t sure they liked Paul’s Gospel and more painfully, they weren’t sure they liked Paul. They thought he was a phony. He talked a big game in his letters and then in person he was full of weakness. His speech was unimpressive. He preached the Gospel for free, and in their mindset, if it’s free, it must not be worth anything. That’s why you give it away. And it was a scandal that he had suffered. He had been beaten. He had been mocked, stoned, afflicted. What kind of divine messenger is this? And on top of that, remember they thought that he was fickle. He said he was going to come and then he didn’t come. He was delaying. He seemed to lack integrity in their eyes. And besides all of that, he told them things that they didn’t like to hear. He challenged them. He sent a hard letter to them. And so by this point, there was a lot of water under the bridge. There were a lot of issues in their baggage together. And they weren’t sure. They were pretty skittish about the Apostle Paul. They weren’t sure what to make about this guy. He had been top on their list and now they weren’t so sure.
Have you ever had people like that in your life? Maybe you’ve been that person in someone’s life, someone, wow, this person is all of that, and something of the shine starts to wear off and you’re not so sure and you get cautious and guarded and suspicious. They were not sure how they felt about Paul, but Paul was still sure how he felt about the Corinthians.
2 Corinthians 2:4.
“I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love I have for you.”
These people had hurt Paul. He’s not some super hero without real emotions. He was hurt. He didn’t like the things they said. And yet, he confesses to them his full affection. He uses this rare vocative form, “We have spoken freely to you, oh Corinthians.” You can translate it. He uses this in Galatians to the opposite effect, “Oh, foolish Galatians who has bewitched you.” It is an expression of great emotion to the Galatians. He said, “Oh, Galatians, who’s done this.” Now he says, “Oh, Corinthians, how much do I love you?” He did not approach his ministry with a cool sense of detachment and professionalism.
We all do this when we get hurt. We start to keep people at arm’s length. We get cautious, reserved, suspicious, self-protective. I think of a couple years ago in a different church, not here, and I knew that they were not happy with my ministry. I wasn’t making it up. They told me that. And I still see them at church, and you can be polite for a few seconds at a time, most of us can, “Hi, grrrr.” I had to pray, yes, even as a pastor I had to pray. I would go and I would think, “I hope I don’t run into them. I hope I don’t see them.” I would pray, “Lord may I not shut my heart to these people even if perhaps their heart may be closing to me.”
We get cautious, reserved, suspicious, self-protective but not Paul. He’s laying it all out before the Corinthians. He said, “I have abundant love for you. I would do anything to help you grow in the Lord Jesus. Why are you shutting me out?” And you see the phrase he uses. It’s such a perfect phrase in verse 11. “Our heart is wide open.” I love that phrase – wide open.
What does it mean? Well, let’s start with what it doesn’t mean. Having a wide open heart does not mean we are undiscerning about error. It doesn’t mean when others wrong us that we just quickly forget it and we always say, “No, it’s not a big deal.” Sometimes it is a big deal. It doesn’t mean we just unconditionally affirm whatever someone does. It doesn’t mean that we believe all strong convictions are bad or we naively trust people all the time. Jesus after said, “Be wise as serpents, innocent as doves.” So this is not about being naively optimistic, refusing to confront sin, pretending sin is no big deal. It doesn’t even mean that we don’t disagree with one another sometimes as friends, as family members, as Christians.
Look at what Paul is going to do in verse 14. In the very next breath, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.” And he goes on to offer a rebuke or at least a warning. So we know Paul is not saying, “Check off your brain. You don’t have to evaluate. You don’t have to be discerning. You can never disagree. Everything’s okay. I’m okay, you’re okay.” That’s not what he means. That’s our world’s way of thinking of things.
What Paul means when he says his heart is open is that he is loyal and unguarded in his affections for the Corinthians. Loyal and unguarded. Why do I say loyal?” Well, look down at chapter 7 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.”
This is an open heart. “Whatever I have to say to you, I’ve not left you. I’m not giving up on you. I want to live with you. I want to die with you.” He’s loyal to them. They were suspicious of Paul. Not sure, not sure we want you back here, Paul. Paul says, “I’ll live with you. I’ll die with you.” Loyal and unguarded. Go back up to chapter 6 verse 11.
“We have spoken freely to you.” You see the ESV has a little footnote. In the Greek, it literally says “Our mouth is open to you.” That means Paul is not hiding anything. He was candid with them. They thought he was phony and fickle, but the irony was he was actually willing to speak freely.
We’ve all had this experience before, of talking to someone who is obviously guarded in their speech; and they know it’s awkward with you, you know it’s awkward, they know that you know, you know that they know that you know, it’s all awkward all the time. You have these moments with your spouse sometimes. Zach was describing it several weeks ago, but Zach said he has just heard about it from other people, not his experience of course, but you’ve had this with your spouse. A coldness, a frostiness sets in and you walk by each other in the kitchen and “Excuse me, are you there, I didn’t know that,” as if we’ve only been living together for 30 years, “I didn’t know who you are.” It’s a coldness. It’s a detached. It’s “I’m not going to quite give myself freely to you anymore.” Something is locked up, locked down, locked in. You have this with friends in your life, for family members, and of course it takes wisdom. It doesn’t mean we always say every last thing that we are thinking to people. But when you think about courage in the Christian life, we sometimes think about the missionaries who are willing to die, and yes that’s courage, or being willing to stand up for your faith at school or at work. Yes, that’s courage. You know one of the hardest moments of courage is. Relational courage. To press through that frosty air, that awkwardness and say with a risk to yourself and the relationship, “I don’t like this. This may come out wrong. Can I just tell you what I’m thinking and what I’m feeling right now and hear it from you?”
Paul said, “My mouth is open and I have nothing to hide. If there’s issues, I’ll bring them up.” You don’t have to go around wondering. Isn’t that what makes relationships descend into a dark place, when you’re always second guessing? What did she really mean? What did she say? She said hello, but I don’t think she really meant hello. What does the text mean? There is only one explanation point. Usually there’s five explanation points. What’s happening? You’re not open. It takes the pick axe of vulnerability sometimes to break through the ice of relational conflict. And he was ready to believe the best about them, ready to receive them again. It’s as if Paul is saying, “I have prepared a meal for you in the home that is my heart, and the invitation has been sent out, and if you would but come, I would love to welcome you in.” Is that your attitude toward the people that have hurt you? Is that your attitude toward a difficult relationship with your parents, with your children, with your friends, with your colleagues?
Now, yes, Paul says in Romans 12, “In so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all people.” Sometimes all you can do is all you can do. And if they want to hide out in the bunker of their bitterness or sin, you can’t do anything about it. But what you can do is you can send out the invitation. “Here’s my heart. I’ve prepared a meal. I would love to have you come over and visit my heart again. It’s not shut to you. It is wide open.”
And here’s the key, absolutely the key. Paul wanted things to be better with the Corinthians. He wanted things to be better. I can tell you 20 years of pastoral ministry and you all know this from your relationships too. Twenty years of pastoral ministry, sitting down with people, listening to them and their moments of struggle and pain. You can tell when it’s a husband or wife or if couples are at each other’s throat. You can tell in the very way they approach, do they say, “You know I just feel so hurt and I know I have some part in it, but I really want to work this out.” If they want to find a resolution, usually what they need is just somebody to help provide some guard rails, be a mediator, and they’ll find some way.
And conversely, you can have the best counselor with all the certificates and all the biblical training in the world, and if they come in with a posture that there is a heart that is absolutely locked shut, dead bolt door, in prison, throw away the key into a lava pit, you will knock yourself out for years. Nothing will happen. The heart is closed. Paul wanted things. That’s what you have to ask sometimes, and it’s difficult, “Do I really want this to be better?” Sometimes we don’t. If you do, and they do, there’s a lot of Gospel work that can happen.
Think about the difference between a wide open heart, that’s Paul, and the Corinthians in verse 12. What’s the opposite of a heart that is wide open? It’s a heart that’s restricted. You’re restricted in your own affections. Think of a calendar. Somebody says, “Can we get together?” “Well, the rest of the month is really tight.” “What about next month.” “Umm, even tighter. After that, believe it or not, the tightest yet. My schedule is very restricted.” And you feel like, “Okay, I’m never getting in there.” Or, “Sure, the rest of the month is wide open. Yeah, we’ll get there. Maybe not today, but we’ll figure it out.”
Now, the application there is not that everyone’s calendar has to be open to everyone all the time. But rather, what is your heart like? Is it that tightly bound calendar with everyone in your life or is it wide open spaces.
Think about the difference. A wide open heart is eager to love. A restricted heart is eager to condemn. A wide open heart meets other Christians and expects to like them. A restricted heart expects to be disappointed and annoyed by other people. And when that’s your expectation, the expectations are almost always met. A wide open heart is quick to rejoice. A restricted heart is quick to anger and self-pity. A wide open heart looks for the best in other people. A restricted heart assumes the worst. A wide open heart has lots of room for people to come in. A restricted heart is crowded out by fear and suspicion.
That’s why Paul says down in Chapter 7 verse 2, “Make room in your hearts for us. It’s been crowded out by all of your fears, all of your suspicions, and there’s no room for us anymore.” The word for restricted up in verse 12 is the same word used in the Greek translation of Isaiah 28:20. “For the bed is too short to stretch oneself on and the covering too narrow to wrap oneself in.” That word, too short is given in the Septuagint, restricted. Same Greek word. Did you ever try to, well, if you’re my height you’ve slept on a bed before, and it’s one thing for your feet to hang off, it’s another when there’s a footboard and you’re cramped and you’re impinging scoliosis upon yourself to try to sleep here. It’s just too small. Paul says, “That’s some of you with your hearts.” The word is used again in Joshua 17:15. “If you are a numerous people, go up by yourselves to the forest and there clear ground for yourselves in the land of the Perizzites and the Rephaim.” Since the hill country of Ephraim is too narrow for you, too restricted, it’s crowded.
Some people have a heart like Montana, big sky country, lots of room. “Come on in. I can have another friend. I can love someone else. I can welcome you back.” Other people have a heart like a one room apartment in New York City, cramped, not much room, “Don’t bother coming over. I don’t have space for anyone. I have enough friends. I don’t need you back in my life. I’m happy without you. It’s not safe to probably have you here.”
What is your heart like? Here’s the biggest difference in a nut shell between a wide open heart and a restricted heart. One makes it easy to get in and the other makes it easy to stay out. What is your heart like? Easy to find room in there; easy to stay out. What would people say about you. Would they say about you, it doesn’t take much for you to love people? You’re always letting people in, always making people feel at ease. I didn’t ask my wife if I could say this but, I think of her when I think of someone who has an open heart.
Or would they say about you, or they probably wouldn’t say it because that’s part of having a restricted heart is no one dares to say these things to you, but they think about you and they say it to other people. “You know what, it doesn’t take much to get on her bad side.” “You know what, people are always getting on his nerves.” “No one ever feels comfortable around you.” “People don’t stay on your good side for very long, do they?”
Where does your heart and my heart need to be wider? To whom has your heart grown restricted? Where is your heart too constrained, like a bed that’s too short? Maybe it’s toward people unlike you. Do you have a hard time with people who just are so different? You grew up in the country. They grew up in the city or vice versa. They are from a different country or they have an accent or they have different hobbies or they are into fixing cars. You don’t know anything. You’re into computers. People with a different look about them. “Why would you do that to your hair?” Why don’t you have hair?” Is it people who are unlike you? Is it people who seem beneath you? Oh, we know better than to admit these things. But you look at the way they dress, maybe even the sort of smell they have, maybe the sort of place that they live, and you wouldn’t say it because you’re a nice Christian gentleman or gentlewoman, but they seem to be a little beneath you.
Or maybe it’s the opposite end. It’s people who intimidate you. Strong personality, seemed to have it all together, “Ah, why should they have a big house?” “Why should they get all the fancy vacations?” “Ah, they’re the rich.” That’s one of the last acceptable prejudices.
Or maybe it’s people who make different choices than you do about debatable issues. Can you think of any today? I don’t know, masks, vaccines, education, I mean there’s lots of them. And your heart is “Oh, not gonna let those people in.” Maybe it’s just people who annoy you. They talk too much. They never ask you questions. They’re awkward to be around. They drive too fast. They drive too slow. They listen to lame music. They watch lame movies. They’re not funny, and worse, they think they are. They just annoy you.
More likely than not, it’s the people that you have a long history with. Maybe some old friends. Maybe, if you’re honest, former friends. Ever since she said that one thing to you in the church lobby two years ago, you just have felt a knot in your stomach. How could she say that about your kids? Or ever since that incident last year that you heard about from a friend of a friend, it just hasn’t been the same. And why didn’t she ever come to you? Ever since you got left off the invite list for the parties, you just don’t want to be around him anymore. Maybe it’s someone you had a run-in with in the past. And you were always on the same issue, then at some board meeting or some study, all of a sudden you’re on opposite sides or you got into a public disagreement or she was not shy about voicing her disappointment with you. I know, it’s a temptation to be narrow and constricted toward those who don’t like a past sermon or didn’t appreciate some stand. The natural thing in our hearts is to write people off, avoid them in the lobby, keep them at arm’s length. That’s a restricted heart.
Maybe your heart is restricted to people who turned out to be less than you thought. They disappointed you. You gave them responsibility and they failed. You thought you were in lockstep and then they spoke out against your side at a crucial moment. Or maybe it’s because you had them on a pedestal and now that you’ve gotten to know them, you see, well, actually they have clay feet like anyone else and sins and foibles and weaknesses and you wanted them to be your hero and it turns out there’s only one hero in this story. And they’re a real person just like you, and it’s grown cold.
Maybe it’s the people you are absolutely closest to. That’s where the hearts get most restricted. Husband to wife. Wife to husband. Parent to child. Child to parent. Brother to sister. In-law to in-law. You can only do what you can do. But what God would have you do is examine your own heart. Is it locked up tight as Ft. Knox? Is that where they keep the gold? Is it wide open? We are open 24 hours. Come any time you like. Some of you hang out the sign that says open 24 hours, but you don’t mean it really. I forget what show it was. Somebody came up and said, “Your sign says open 24 hours and you’re closed.” “Yes, but it’s not 24 hours in a row.” Well, that’s sort of how we are. I said, but not right now, not for you. Not all together.
Look at the example of Paul. He decided even if the Corinthians’ hearts would be restricted, his would be open. And so his appeal in return in verse 13, “I speak as to children, widen your hearts.” Children here is not an insult. “I speak to you, you are a bunch of little babies.” No, these are his children, lead some of them to Christ, discipled them. He loves them. He could have asserted his authority, but he doesn’t do that here. He appeals to them as a father. He says, “Look, I love you as my own children. I can’t help but care for you. I’m not going to shut you out. I’m not going to pitch you to the curb. There’s a lot of room in my heart if you would make room for me in yours.”
We often want to make demands to get our respect, to get our due, get our vindication. And a better approach, a more biblical approach, is to start by expressing our affection. And then appeal for a reciprocated affection. That’s what Paul does. He doesn’t come in marching with all of his rights and dues and what you owe me. He could have done that, and certain legal matters you do, but here he takes a much wiser approach. He first testifies to them not where they have failed, but he testifies to them his heart. And then he appeals, “As my heart is open to you, would you open your heart to me.” We speak to one another as Christians. We’re always speaking to family members. That’s what Paul does here. “I speak to you. We’re in the same family, and I don’t want this family relationship to disintegrate.”
Here’s the last thought. Just don’t miss, this is so simple, so practical, and so revolutionary. Do you see what Paul did? He took the first step. That’s always the sticking point. And I feel that when I’m in a conflict with my wife, and I know, mentally I know, there’s some percentage of it that’s my fault. It’s probably very, very small, but some percentage that’s my fault and I’m willing to step, but I want her to take three big leaps first. Let’s see that she’s getting it, that she sees it. If she sees it, then I’ll….because I don’t want to see it first because what if I take three steps toward her and she doesn’t take any steps toward me? Well, that’s the risk you take in real relationships. It’s a sticking point with so many of us. We think to ourselves, “I’ll forgive a little bit, but I need to see it from their side first. I’ll admit some of my faults but they got the bigger faults, and they better come clean. I mean, if I admit my fault first, do you know what they’re going to do? They’re just going to say, “Oh, thank you,” and it’s just going to confirm in their mind that it really was all my fault and not their fault. That’s what’s going to happen. No, I’m not going to be taken for a fool.” And we convince ourselves. Well, it’s true. You may be hurt. You may be putting yourself out there. Any time you open your heart, you open yourself up to disappointment. We want the security that we feel with a constricted heart.
People can’t get in that way, and it’s true. I mean you just think of it, I’m not a boxer, you know a boxing stance, if you are like this, that’s how you protect. Open, when you’re open, what can somebody do to you. Well, they can punch you right in the stomach. But you know what they could also do? They could give you a hug. And that’s what we do when we open our hearts. We are taking a chance. The real question for you and me, are you willing to love before you are loved? Will you give to others what they do not deserve before you get what you are sure that you deserve? This is not the way of the world. The way of the world, sure, you love me, I love you. You scratch my back, I scratch yours. You come and you ask for forgiveness, okay I can maybe move on. This is the Christian way. The Christian way is to take a relational risk. You might get punches. You might get hugged. To take a risk and say, “I will take the first step toward you” because Jesus always, always takes the first step towards sinners. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Aren’t you glad that Christ did not expect us to find our way in?
In fact, you know from Revelation, “Behold I stand at the door and knock.” I want to come in. I want to eat with you. I’m ready. I’m prepared. Would you have me over? He opened wide His heart. He set His affections on us. This is what we believe in the Gospel, is it not? “And this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. The one who did not wait for us to take the first step to Him. The one who opened His heart and His arms so wide that He was willing to die on a cross. As I have loved you, so love one another and open wide your hearts.
Father in Heaven, surely if we are honest, all of us can think of some relationship where this is relevant. Maybe we think we’ve done this already. We just need to pray about it. But maybe we’ve really been constricted and we really haven’t tried to take that first step. Maybe there’s a relationship that’s just now starting to set in with that frozen frost in the air and it’s not too late to thaw. Oh, Lord you have shown to us such love, such mercy. We pray that as we gladly receive it from you, we would gladly offer it to others. In Jesus we pray, Amen.