CARING IN MINISTRY 2 Corinthians 6–7
“We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. . . . As a fair exchange—I speak as to my children—open wide your hearts also” (2 Cor. 6:11, 13).To minister effectively, we must do so in love.
Paul expressed his love for the Corinthians by facing hardships (6:1–10), by personal openness (vv. 11–13), by confrontation (v. 14–7:1), by expressing confidence (vv. 2–4), by joy (vv. 5–7), by rebuke (vv. 8–12), and by delight at Titus’ affection for them (vv. 13–16).
Understanding the Text
“Now is the time of God’s favor” 2 Cor. 6:1–2. Most feel these verses belong at the end of chapter 5. Yet they also fit here. Paul was about to express his feelings for the members of the church in Corinth. These feelings were intense, because he was gripped by a sense of urgency. “Now,” Paul was convinced, “is the day of salvation.” Driven by this conviction and by love for others, Paul gave his all to win them to Christ and lead them to a full present experience of salvation. Both a sense of urgency and love are vital if we are to have an impact for Christ on those around us. We must be convinced that “now” is vital for them. And we must care. “As servants of God we commend ourselves in every way” 2 Cor. 6:3–10. Real love is expensive. And Paul had spent himself without holding anything back. Some might think the physical hardships Paul listed—beatings, imprisonments, sleepless nights, hunger—are the greatest evidences of his love (vv. 3–5). Yet we all know that it’s much harder to always show “purity, understanding, patience and kindness” to our loved ones than to suffer hardships for them. You or I might give our lives for a loved one. Yet we find ourselves snapping at him or her in irritation, being critical, or uttering some cutting word we’d never think of saying to a stranger. Let’s remember, as Paul did, that we are “servants of God.” As God’s servants we have been assigned the task of showing His love to others. We may never have to show that love by braving the kind of hardships Paul faced. But we daily have the opportunity to show love by our purity, patience, understanding, and kindness. “We have spoken freely to you” 2 Cor. 6:11–13. When I first read 2 Corinthians as a young Christian, I was embarrassed for Paul. He seemed so, well, emotional. I much preferred the reasoned argument of Romans and Galatians, or the visionary images of Ephesians. Only much later did I realize that while Romans and Galatians represent the head, or the intellectual content of the Gospel, 2 Corinthians represents the heart, or the emotional drive of ministry. Actually, the heart is at least as important as the head. And in this book Paul “opened wide” his heart, for us to see. His emotions spilled out freely, touching us almost against our will. His feelings are so strong that we either draw back, as I once did, or we respond to the warmth. Why did Paul share himself so freely with the Corinthians, where many were already critical of him? Paul realized that human beings are whole. People are not computers who output programmed information, but sentient beings whose feelings play a vital part in every significant choice. Emotions play such a large part in every life. If we truly wish to influence others, we must love them, and let the love show. “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers” 2 Cor. 6:14–18. Paul wasn’t speaking here about casual friendships (cf. 1 Cor. 5:9–11). We’re not asked or encouraged to cut off all contact with non-Christians. The image of “yoked together” draws an analogy from an Old Testament law which forbade the Israelites to hitch animals of different kinds to the same plow. Two oxen might work a field together. Or two donkeys. But not an ox and a donkey. Thus partnership in a cooperative endeavor is what Paul forbids. Don’t go into a business partnership with a non-Christian and expect that you’ll pull together. Don’t marry an unbeliever, and expect to walk through life in harmony, matching stride for stride. There’s no guarantee that a professing Christian will make a perfect partner or spouse. But you will have Christ in common, and God will “live with them and walk among them.” A common commitment to Jesus is the foundation on which we can build harmonious relationships in our significant personal relationships (see DEVOTIONAL). “You have such a place in our hearts that we would live or die with you” 2 Cor. 7:2–7. People we care deeply about can have a powerful effect on us. Paul’s relationship with the Corinthians had been rocky: they’d given him many an hour of anguish and worry. Yet at the same time that love makes us vulnerable to hurt, it opens up our lives to unexpected joys. It’s this that buoys up the apostle. Despite the troubles that had marked the relationship, Paul had great pride in the Corinthians, and word of their continued affection for him stimulated great joy. Caring may make us vulnerable. But it also expands our lives and gives us deep and abiding joys. Don’t hold back for fear of pain. Press on to deepen your relationships with other Christians in expectation of joy. “Your sorrow led you to repentance” 2 Cor. 7:8–9. Scholars believe the letter mentioned here is not 1 Corinthians, but another, lost epistle. Paul must have spoken very bluntly: so bluntly he regretted rebuking his beloved friends. But the letter had its desired result, and the Corinthians responded. Bluntness and rebuke are an important element in love. An acquaintance of ours brought up a son without ever rebuking him. Even worse, whenever the son was in trouble, the mother protected him from harmful consequences. Today the son is married with three children, is in constant trouble with drugs and alcohol, has permanently lost his driver’s license, and only holds a job because he works in his father’s factory. Misplaced love, unwilling to rebuke, contributed to his situation. If you really love another person, you will rebuke him or her when you see wrong. “Godly sorrow brings repentance” 2 Cor. 7:11–13. The world’s sorrow is an “I’m sorry I got caught” kind of sorrow. The individual is sorry for himself, and the consequences he now has to pay. Godly sorrow is grief about the original act, and repentance—a commitment to turn from wrongdoing. We need to be careful when someone says with tears, “I’m sorry.” If they’re crying because they’re sorry for themselves, don’t expect a change. If they’re weeping because they feel grief over what they did, there’s hope. “I had boasted to him about you” 2 Cor. 7:13–16. Tim brought his new girlfriend, Liz, along to meet Sue and me the other day. He’d told her, “Don’t worry. They won’t be critical.” It would have been hard to be critical of this girl even if we’d tried. And of course we didn’t. Later Tim told us Liz had been worried, and felt so relieved afterward. Tim hadn’t been worried. He knew we’d welcome her. It was so nice to hear that Tim had been confident in introducing us to his currently constant date. That’s just what Paul was telling the Corinthians. “Titus really appreciated you. I told him he would, and he did.” It makes others feel good when we can tell them honestly, “I am glad I can have complete confidence in you.” Along with infrequent rebukes, true love offers frequent reassurance and praise.
Be a Father(2 Cor. 6:14–7:1)Most of God’s promises are claimed simply by faith. Here’s a promise, however, that’s contingent. “Touch no unclean thing” the Old Testament says (Isa. 52:11), and “I will be a Father to you” (2 Cor. 6:17). At first this seems a strange promise. After all, God is our Father through faith in Christ. But He is able to be a Father to us only as we live holy lives. My wife’s oldest, Matthew, lives in Michigan with his father. For five years he lived with us, and while he was here, I was able to be a father to him. I disciplined him, took him on fishing trips, got him to bed on time, and did all the other things that are part of parenting. But when he moved to Michigan, I could no longer be a father to him. The distance between us is just too great. That’s what Paul is telling us here. God, who is a Father to us, wants to be a Father to us. But it’s our responsibility to see there’s no distance between us. Usually when you and I read Paul’s warning in 6:14–16 about being yoked together with unbelievers, we think of disasters that can result if we disobey. We think of the partner we can’t trust; of the spouse whose values and commitments are so different from ours. But Paul wants us to consider first the impact of being unequally yoked in our walk with God. You see, we Christians are to be completely separated unto the Lord, with that separation as sharp as the dividing line between light and darkness, between Christ and Satan, and between the temple of God and a shrine where idols are worshiped. In short, we are to “purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit.” Why? Because sin’s contamination separates us from God. He is our Father even then, but when we isolate ourselves from Him by bad choices, He is not able to be a Father to us in the same, intimate way He would if we were in close fellowship with Him. What a joy it is to have God be a Father to us. To walk hand in hand with Him. To be disciplined, yes. But then to be caught up in His arms and comforted as well. No wonder Paul urges us to purify ourselves from everything that contaminates out of reverence for God. There is no greater experience here on earth than to walk with the Lord, and have God be a Father to us.
Each step away from sin is a step closer to our Heavenly Father.
“My Lord and my God, take from me all that separates me from Thee! My Lord and my God, give me everything that will bring me closer to Thee! My Lord and my God, protect me from myself, and grant that I may belong entirely to Thee!”—Nicholas of Flue