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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. || 2 Cor. 6.11-13

In Paul’s pleading with the Corinthian saints in this passage, we are supplied with a glimpse into the very heart of Jesus Christ for the Church with regard to Gospel-grounded fellowship. He pleads with them as a father would to stiff-arming children, yet the gravity of the wall which separated them from him is of even greater seriousness than the earthly example.

As true apostles, not as professional ministers, Paul and his co-laborers could describe their relationship to the Corinthian saints with these remarkable terms: “We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open.” 

This is no glib description, no cheap or meaningless display of argumentation or self-defense. Paul had spoken “freely” to these saints over the course of his initial 1.5 year stay in their midst, and yet further on his subsequent visits. That is to say, his life was an open-book before them. He was not putting on airs, seeking to please men, nor preaching himself. He was a man who knew what it meant to “speak the truth in love,” to preach Christ with boldness and clarity, to confess his own faults, and to walk in the light with the brethren. He could speak so freely because he was “free indeed,” and thus he had written to them, “By the grace of God I am what I am….” 

When a man is not grounded upon the foundation of “Jesus Christ, and Him crucified,” when the Gospel is not at the heart of his view of himself, when he finds identity in his ministry (“that demons are subject to you in My Name”) rather than in the sonship which issues from the Atonement (“that your names are written in heaven”), he cannot know this kind of “free speaking.” All his speaking, even in a Christian setting, will be fatally mingled with selfish-ambition, self-exaltation, self-consciousness; he will be aiming, in one way or another, to “save his life,” rather than being free to “lose his life” for Jesus’s sake, and for the “sake of the elect.” A man in that condition may be a child of God, but he should not be appointed a pastor, nor a pioneer missionary.

He will invariably draw men after himself. His speech will be laced with leaven, whether it be the fear of man type of leaven, or the superiority-complex kind, which looks condescendingly upon God’s people. Not so with Paul and his apostolic companions. They had been brought by God into an honest, sincere, selfless, no non-sense kind of speech which was infused by the Light of Jesus Christ. They were not aloof professionals. They spoke as fathers, and this is the kind of heart and speech which must be recovered in local churches and missionary endeavors in our day. They were not perfect men, they were men who knew what it meant to truly depend upon Christ. They were what they were by the grace of God. Thus they could say, “We have spoken freely to you….”

This kind of speech was possible because their hearts were “wide open” to the saints. They had nothing to prove, nothing to manipulate, nothing to prop up in hopes of maintaining the appearance of a reputation which didn’t match their true character. They had died to the ambition of establishing anything on the basis of human agenda. They saw themselves as servants who were called to “plant” and “water” in the fields of harvest, that God Himself might give the increase as it pleased His heart.

Paul was jealous to convey to the saints that he was not putting up any walls between his own heart and theirs. He had spoken freely with an open and vulnerable heart, and what they saw in him, if they were seeing rightly, was what he truly was in Christ. He was the genuine article, a man walking circumspectly before God, pouring out his life as a drink offering for the glory of the Lamb and upbuilding of His people. Therefore, his heart was wide open to the saints.

His grief in this passage is that the Corinthian saints were “restricted” from the same kind of liberty that he was enjoying and seeking to nurture in them. Their relationships one to another were strained, their view of Christ was warped, their doctrine was decaying, and this was evidenced by many maladies, not the least of which was their inability to see him by the Spirit. They were relating to him on the basis of flesh, and the blessing that they should be receiving from Christ through his apostolic labors was being hindered.

They were not restricted by him or his co-laborers, but rather in their “own affections.” A hardening had taken place in their view of the Body of Christ, a calcification of fellowship, and the warmth of simplicity and purity in relationship to one another had cooled. They were “restricted” in their affections for the apostle, and this meant that their love for Christ too was being suffocated.

Paul was not concerned about this restriction out of embarrassment for a potential failing ministry, but as a spiritual father for his children in the faith. His desire was for their liberty in Christ; that they should not be enchained by the wisdom of the world which restricts the fluidity of “wide open” fellowship with the Lord and with His people. He knew that if walls were being erected between the apostle and the saints, so were they being erected between the saints and their God.

So he pleaded with them as a father with his children, “widen your hearts also.” 

He was not a distant religionist, but a servant of Christ for their sakes, so he refused to make peace with the presence of a closed-hearted brand of fellowship. That kind of restricted fellowship was distinctly un-Christian, for it lacked the vibrancy and character which Gospel-light provides. It left the Corinthian saints to a jagged kind of relating to him and to one another, a worldly kind of relationship, one by which every man looks to his own preferences and wants, rather than to the glory of God and the eternal good of the brethren.

What shall we gather from this for our own lives and ministries? Can it be said that we know what it is to “speak freely” and to relate to one another with widened hearts? Are we growing in the grace of this kind of fellowship, or are we living as strangers, passing one another week by week, cordially “exchanging glances”, but incapable of speaking freely one with another? Are our fellowships and ministries marked mainly by cultural conversation, casual and cost-less commitment to one another, secret suspicions and jealousies, leaving us in a state of being by which we are leery of widening our hearts for fear of rejection?

Do we know what it means to “walk in the Light” with the brethren, or are we propping up doctored images of ourselves? As teams of elders or as pioneering leaders in a missionary work, are our hearts “wide open” to one another in the Gospel, such that we’re able to “speak freely” in the way of Paul and his companions? Or have we settled for something much more convenient that falls “short of the glory of God?”

What is the temperature and quality of our fellowship? Is it warm, full of light, “wide open” in Christ, or is it clinical and culturally tempered— more catered to self-preservation and driven by a man-pleasing spirit?

Just before the passage in view, Paul had declared to the Corinthians,

“From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh.” || 2 Cor. 5.16a

But that is precisely what the Corinthians were doing, and the open-hearted, free-speaking apostle was jealous with a fatherly affection that they should be liberated. They had been “restricted” in their own “affections,” and the teeming, life-giving fellowship which is ours in Christ, along with the witness that should have been going forth from them, was coagulating. Paul sought to break up the fallowed ground of that ever-increasing “restriction” through his prayers for the saints, his ongoing teaching and preaching, his own faithful example, and his pleading with them as a father, “widen your hearts also.”

May we receive from the Lord the same kind of passion for His house, and respond accordingly.

Lord, free us from cultural Christianity, which may look proper and even seemingly Biblical on the surface, but is marked by a regarding of one another according to the flesh, a speech that is devoid of Gospel-freedom, and a kind of faulty fellowship which is experienced in a drab way, without widened hearts. Teach us to walk circumspectly before You, to draw wisdom and life from the Scriptures, to be filled with and to “keep in step with the Spirit,” and to “widen our hearts” one to another for the glory of Your Name and the building up of your Body.  Surely the world is languishing in the wilderness of closed-heartedness, restricted from seeing the glory of God in the face of Christ. As we are the only witness-People bearing the Good News by which their hearts may be quickened and widened, bring us to repentance and set us upon the sure foundation of Your Son, that they may “see” our “good works,” and “praise” our “Father in heaven.” None has been more unrestricted in love, more open-hearted and free-speaking than You. Be merciful to us then, O God, and cause us to bear Your image in the nations. Amen.

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