0823 bible speaks

8/23/2014 7:00 AM

Widen Your Heart

Background Scripture: 2 Corinthians 6:1-7:4.

Devotional Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:16-21.

I have always been disdainful of what I term “contractual salvation” — doing something like kneeling at an altar or saying “Lord, I accept your grace” and then I’m “in.” I’m a Christian. I’m saved.

But is this what Paul meant when he wrote to the Corinthian church: “At the acceptable time I have listened to you, and helped you on the day of salvation. Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:1,2).

No, I don’t believe that’s the way it is. It doesn’t end there. God’s salvation is not a brokered one-time deal.

Paul makes this clear in his last written sentence before he speaks of “the day of salvation” (6:1). “Working together, then, we entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain” (6:1).

What would make it “in vain”? Answer: If, having accepted God’s grace, they had not grown beyond that point.

Shortly after I joined the staff of First United Methodist in Dallas, Texas, my wife, Valere, and I were invited to conduct a retreat for young adults.

We gave each person a sheet of paper and asked them to draw a graph from their starting point in Christian discipleship to where they saw themselves at that time.

The graphs they drew looked like the kind published in the business section of local newspapers — high points, low points, periods of rapid change and others of no change.

We were surprised to find that some had drawn a straight line that pretty much ended at the same level it began. We were also interested to find some people who were surprised, even shocked, at how little growth in discipleship their graphs indicated.

Widen Your Hearts

Some of the graphs showed deep valleys and also mountain peaks. Paul gives a verbal description of that kind of life: “As servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, tumults, labors, watching, hunger; by purity, knowledge, forbearance, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love, truthful speech and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand ... in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true, as unknown, and yet known; as dying, and behold we live; as punished and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything” (6:4-10).

Paul is making a skillful defense and then he challenges the Corinthians to accept how he and his associates have met every challenge: “Our mouth is open to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide. 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.”

There is always a temptation to do just the opposite, to narrow one’s heart, to exclude rather than include. To protect their supposed spirituality some, like fastidious Pharisees, see other Christians as dangers rather than brothers and sisters in Christ.

But narrowing our hearts is the real danger to our assumed purity.

On another occasion, Paul proclaims, “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10). That is the meaning of the cross.

A Symbol of Triumph

Yes, the cross is probably the foremost symbol for Christians, but the meaning of the cross is that, in the midst of suffering, we can be triumphant, choosing either the agony or the triumph.

We may not be able to stop or diminish the agony — physical, mental or spiritual — but we can rejoice, as Paul did, in that we have not let our affliction take away our trust in God.

That is why Paul — and we — can say, “When I am weak then I am strong.”

Paul could have pulled rank and as an “Apostle for Christ,” demanded both an apology and a pledge of loyalty from the Corinthians.

But Paul provides for us an example of dealing with dispute and controversy in a manner consistent with the faith.

Although my seminary education was excellent, the one thing for which it did not prepare me was how to handle disputes in the church.

The Mennonites have done remarkable work in training people for resolving disputes. They have proved that differences and disputes do not have to divide or wreck a congregation.

Even today, there are those who choose to seek the power of political compulsion rather than spiritual attraction. That is why political affiliation with the state is bad for the state and even more disastrous for religion. Let us widen our hearts.

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