2 Corinthians 7:2-7, 13b-16

2 Corinthians 7:2-7, 13b-16

Make Room!

I don’t know about you, but when I read this letter of Paul’s to the Corinthians, I get the impression that I’m watching a relationship go through its ups and downs, and at the end of each chapter, I’m left asking, “Will they ever get back together?” Ross and Rachel, anyone? It’s not unlike watching a TV show where some friends have a particular conflict that tries their relationship and that moves one of the parties away from the other, and the viewer is left wondering what will happen to the relationship. Is there room for Paul in the inn that is the hearts of the Corinthians? Have the Corinthians kicked him out for good? There’s good news in this chapter to suggest that they’re not a lost cause, nor that Paul has been defenestrated from the windows of their souls. The chapter, even though it begins highlighting much trouble, leads the reader to conclude that Paul and the Corinthians can have a happy ending after all. And we have Titus to thank for that. If you think that this is irrelevant to your life (because, well, who cares? Paul and the Corinthians are gone from the earth), their relationship was not dissimilar to the typical relationship that Christians have with each other. Granted, Paul was the apostle/ambassador of Christ, and the Corinthians were recipients of God’s revelation through Paul. However, at the end of the day, Paul was just one of them—one of us: a servant of Christ saved by grace through faith. There’s exhortation to be had by us all.

It may seem odd to have a blog post addressing the first and third portions of the chapter, while neglecting the middle third (vv. 8-13a). The reason for this unusual break-up is twofold. I see a similar theme working from start to finish in the letter and want to address that main idea in one fell swoop; and I want to zero-in on the middle section in a post on its own and address repentance.

There’s one major concern for Paul in chapter 7: his relationship with the Corinthians, and whether they will make room for him. In 7:2, Paul commands, “Make room for us” (the Greek has no word for “hearts” in verse 2, but the ESV inserts it because of 6:13 and 7:3). The command for the Corinthians to receive him is based on their reluctance or outright rejection of doing exactly that, depending on the individual Corinthian. In 6:12, for instance, Paul says, “You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections.” Then in the next verse, he exhorts them, “Widen your hearts also.” Before proceeding, let’s take a moment to point out the irony found between 6:11 and 7:2. Paul assures the Corinthians that he loves them dearly, that his heart is wide open to them. He then speaks about God indwelling believers (6:16). Paul has them in his heart (7:3), but they do not have him in theirs (7:2), basically denying the union they have with each other in Christ as God indwells them both. For Paul, therefore, to ask the Corinthians to make room for Paul is a sad testimony to some of the Corinthians’ practical rejection of Paul’s place in Christ. They’ve kicked him out of God’s presence! (That, or they’ve denied God’s indwelling them; but I suspect they’d sooner remove Paul than themselves.) They’ll take Christ in their hearts, but not Paul his apostle. Do we see how we are like the Corinthians in this way? We may think of those who get on our nerves, who are weird, or who are just different from us, “Yes, give me Christ. Him I need. But they can go.” Some in a congregation may even (without sound biblical reason) reject Christ’s gift to them in a faithful pastor and preacher. Christians are quick mentally or spatially to do away with other Christians (even in the same congregation), thereby essentially denying God’s indwelling them and gift to them in each other. May God guard our hearts from such division. May God open our hearts to each other!

Coming back to Paul’s command for the Corinthians to enlarge their lives to include Paul’s presence, we notice that Paul offers at least 5 reasons for reconciling the relationship (even harking back to his appeal in 5:20 and 6:1). We’ll look at each of them briefly. The first is that Paul has done no wrong to them (v. 2). He denies doing any injustice, corrupting anyone, and taking advantage of anyone. He’s presented the open statement of the truth, his concern is the Corinthians’ cleanness, not corruption, and he’s unlike those super-apostles who take advantage of the sheep of Christ. The Corinthians, therefore, have literally no good reason to close off their hearts from Paul et al. They have, truly, every reason to allot him more space in their hearts. Second, the Corinthians are already in Paul’s heart, so they should reciprocate (v. 3). Paul is in essence saying, “Even though we are not entirely in your hearts, that’s not going to stop us from receiving you in ours.” Do you see Christ’s love in that attitude of Paul’s? He’s treating them as he’d love to be treated. It takes God’s mighty work of grace in Paul’s heart for him to say something like that. Clearly, he wants the Corinthians to open their hearts to him. Therefore, he opens his to them. You know how challenging it is to move towards someone who’s not giving you an inch in the relationship. The Corinthians gave him few inches. But when Christ opens his heart to you, and when he opens your heart to his, you move towards others by grace.

Third, Paul is committed to live and die with the Corinthians (v. 3). Using terms of marital commitment, Paul’s saying to the Corinthians, “Till death do us part!” He has pledged his whole death-and-life existence, all his suffering, toil, comforts, and joy to be lived out with and for the Corinthians. As Christ never leaves or forsakes Paul, the latter is committed never to leave the Corinthians. He’s saying, “We’re in this together, whether you like it or not. I’m not leaving you. So make room for me!” Weaker men would return the Corinthians’ attitude in kind: “Well, if you aren’t going to widen your heart to me, then I won’t widen mine to you. Good riddance!” But Paul is strengthened, comforted even (his word), by God’s strong grace of preservation, that he might persevere in a relationship that is mostly one-sided.

Fourth, Paul’s affliction-filled ministry for the Corinthians has earned him the right to the table of fellowship with them (v. 5). In 7:5, Paul revisits his travel narrative begun in 2:12-13. Re-read 2:12-13 in light of 7:5-6, and you’ll see that both passages are saying basically the same thing. Paul was greatly afflicted in Troas, so much so that neither his spirit (2:12) nor body (7:5) was at rest because of Titus’ absence, so he went on to Macedonia. In Macedonia even he was not at peace until he found his beloved brother there. It was through the person of Titus that God had comforted the downcast Paul (7:6). God comforted Paul by reuniting these brothers. What a sweet testimony of God’s care for his image-bearing creatures who crave godly brotherhood. It’s not merely that Titus was a brother, but that as Paul’s brother, he faithfully ministered to Paul’s own heart. Do you know that kind of Christian encouragement and mutual ministry? Do you have that with some in your church? It made the difference for Paul when it came to his relief of a restive soul and body. It was God’s very means of comforting Paul. Not only did Paul receive comfort by the Spirit through the person of Titus, but as Paul continues, we read that he was comforted with the fact of Titus’ being comforted and refreshed by the Corinthians themselves (vv. 7, 13). Paul loved Titus profoundly, and he wanted his beloved brother to be treated well by their Corinthian siblings. And Paul was concerned about how he and the brothers he sends to them would be received (1 Cor. 16). By God’s grace, the Corinthians received Titus, and even—praise God!—shared their love for Paul! In verse 7, for instance, Paul mentions Titus’ report: that they longed for, mourned over, and were zealous for Paul. That attitude is a great turning-point for Paul’s relationship with the Corinthians, and for the Corinthians’ walk with the Lord. It seems like the Corinthians have begun to see that Paul has suffered much for them; they, in turn, should see his affliction as one manifestation of his open heart towards them. Will they, therefore, make more room for him in theirs? Based on 7:7, it appears that many of the Corinthians are at that point, while some still need some convincing.

Fifth, Paul’s boasting of the Corinthians is a demonstration of his wide heart. His heart is full of boasting for the Corinthians (v. 14), which is fundamentally a boast in the God of all grace. If you’ve been riding the roller-coaster that is the Corinthians, you know that Paul is the better man for saying such things. The Corinthians have given him few reasons to boast greatly! Nevertheless, it’s those few reasons to which Paul clings. He is charitable and loving. As such, he “believes all things” (1 Cor. 13:7). That is a lesson in itself, so don’t miss it.

Paul says that he was not embarrassed when he told Titus of his confidence in and love for the Corinthians. He didn’t need to retract or qualify his endorsement or recommendation of the Corinthians to Titus. Perhaps you’ve vouched for someone based on what you knew about that person, only to find out later that he dropped the ball. That is embarrassing, isn’t it? You thought you knew someone. You told another person who trusts your word and respects you, “He’s good people. He’d be great for the position,” and on and on. But it turns out you didn’t know him as well as you had thought. Your word now becomes less trustworthy, your reputation more suspect. For Paul, he didn’t experience that kind of embarrassment or shame. Not only was he not ashamed, but he was even more joyful, as Titus his reporter himself grew in affection for the Corinthians. The Corinthians demonstrated real repentance and faith through obedience. That they received Titus warmly and as an emissary of God’s gospel is evidence of their “fear and trembling” before the Lord (v. 15). This is all great news! The Corinthians, therefore, should widen their hearts all the more!

What began with trouble (7:2-5) ends with joy (7:16). What gives? Why the change? Their faith and repentance (7:8-13), which we’ll look at next time. Before concluding, however, remember that in the first paragraph I said that Titus was to thank for the Corinthians’ keeping Paul in their hearts. There is room for Paul in their hearts. He doesn’t need to squeeze in; he fits in comfortably. God had used Titus as a mediator of sorts. He was able to bring Paul’s letter and heart to the Corinthians, and the Corinthians grew in their warm welcoming of Paul. To be sure, there were some outliers, others skeptical, still others hostile to Paul. But we mustn’t miss what the gospel can do in the hands of jars of clay. God uses his people even to bring them closer to each other. We have hope, therefore, of a happy ending for us all.

 

 

     
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