Elevating Community 3: Christian Fellowship (2 Corinthians 6:11-13)
We are in the process of wrapping up our year-long sermon series on the foundation of this local church—what does it mean to elevate God, elevate community (with other Christians) and elevate others (non-Christians)?
In the last two posts we began digging into the Bible to understand what Christian fellowship and community is supposed to be—what is our responsibility to other Christians in a local church? How does Christian fellowship differ from non-Christian friendship?
In this post we will continue looking to the Bible for what it means to elevate community…
Please open to 2 Corinthians 6: In 2 Corinthians 5 Paul has just written to the Christians at Corinth about their mission—being ministers of reconciliation, being literal ambassadors and representatives of the Lord Jesus by telling non-Christians about the Gospel so that they can hopefully receive Jesus as their Savior and follow Him as their King so that they can be reconciled to God: to go from being opponents of God to teammates with Him, to go from orphans to children of God, to go from enemies of God to friends of God—that is the meaning of reconciliation!
And so it is in light of this co-mission that all Christians have together that Paul writes the following verses in 2 Corinthians 6:11-13:
11 We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you.
12 We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us.
13 As a fair exchange—I speak as to my children—open wide your hearts also.
Oh how these verses talk about the difficulty of true Biblical Christian community and fellowship! The Apostle Paul and a few others—Timothy, Luke, etc.—had opened wide their hearts to the Christians at Corinth, had exposed both their emotions and their will to their siblings in Christ by serving them, praying for them, teaching them the Bible, and putting their needs ahead of their own. Paul and others opened wide their hearts so that the Corinthian Christians could see both their victories and defeats, their valleys and their mountain tops, their faith and their fears!
But many of the Corinthians Christians had not done this to Paul—their hearts were CLOSED! Oh what a hindrance to fellowship & community when we are closed up and sealed off to other Christians, when we merely occupy the same space once a week but have no space in our emotions and decisions for other Christians to get close to us, to really know the real us and not just our “best foot forward”!
And so I began praying and thinking through that last week: WHY were the hearts of these Christians closed? Why is MY heart closed to other Christians—why is YOURS?—and what can we do with the help of the Holy Spirit to unseal our hearts and pry them open?
I believe we don’t often truly open wide our hearts to other Christians because of the pain/hurt/wounds in our past, either from non-Christians or other Christians.
- Wounded turtles stay “safe” in their shells (but go nowhere); healing turtles come out of their shells and courageously follow the Lord Jesus across the dangerous super highways of life to what’s on the other side: in this case, true fellowship & community. Without realizing it, many of us enter the church building each week with our guards up and our fists up to protect ourselves, instead of our hearts opened wide to the LORD & others to receive & give.
So what can we do to start healing and start opening wide our hearts to other Christians?
One of the Biblical keys is forgiving as flushing…
When we are hurt by others, how can we get the hurt into the toilet (though vertical communication with God and horizontal communication with others) and then flush the toilet so that past hurts don’t overflow/backup into future situations?
This seems to be a huge issue for us—how can we start each day with a clean slate with the people we see regularly, especially our spouse, children, families, roommates, classmates, teammates, co-workers, neighbors, local church attenders, and even extended family who we don’t WANT to see regularly?
- Because of hurts, frustrations and irritations over the past year, for example, we are much more likely to be “on the edge” toward certain people today, whereby the slightest thing they do wrong to irritate us causes us to explode at them (or stay away from them/sealed off from them). If they had done that exact irritating thing the first week we met them, we would have had much more patience with them because our “relational toilet” was empty and unclogged…
- But over time, if we don’t learn from God how to flush the times they have sinned against us, then our relationship begins to smell terrible and eventually overflows at the slightest irritation, often ending the friendship. We bring past hurts from other local churches into a new local church and assume that these people will do the same thing that the previous people did.
The Lord Jesus wants to teach us to flush when others hurt us—how else could we forgive our brother “70 x 7 times”? (Matthew 18:21-22) That’s when ONE Christian hurts us 490x, not when 490 Christians hurt us once each!
- No toilet can handle 490 bowel movements if none of them are ever flushed away. But if they are flushed one at a time, a toilet can theoretically handle thousands and thousands of bowel movements—forgiveness as flushing is the key. If Jesus asks us–commands us!–to forgive thousands of bowel movements, hundreds of times when people hurt un intentionally or unintentionally, I have to think it means that He will teach us to flush them so they don’t back up and overflow the bowl.
So how do we spiritually and emotionally and mentally flush?
Here are some Biblical thoughts to help us flush the manure that gets thrown at us so that we can learn to open wide our hearts to other Christians–we will look at two ways this post and five others in the next post:
- We don’t need our life to be just as we want it to be in order to be full of Jesus’ joy and peace, to have the full life that Jesus wants us to have (John 10:10) (This is not just regarding having community with other Christians but in ALL areas of our lives).
We don’t need our external situations in life to be “just so”—spiritual/emotional/relational/financial “feng shui,” working hard to get our lives in a particular order (OUR particular order)—to have Jesus’ internal blessings. We simply don’t. This is a main reason why we don’t do the simple commands Jesus has for us—His commands are not part of the plan WE have for OUR lives. We try (maybe!) to fit in Jesus where we can in our plan for ourselves, but without realizing it we live each day pursuing our goals/dreams and not the LORD’s.
- For example, we’ve been hurt in the past, so sometimes without realizing it we think, “My first priority is me, keeping myself safe and not letting anyone get so close that they can hurt me–fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. You’re NOT going to fool me again.” Proverbs tells us to “guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” But it doesn’t say seal up your heart so no Christians can ever hurt you again. We need the Holy Spirit’s wisdom here. The only way to truly have Christian fellowship IS to let some Christians get so close so that they could hurt you, and if you know them long enough, they almost certainly will hurt you at some point (and you will probably hurt them as well)..
The secret is Christ in me, not me in a different set of circumstances (Elisabeth Elliot).
Paul learned contentment (Philippians 4:11-13)—in ANY circumstance, not just in some circumstances, in plenty AND in need, not controlling his life but letting Christ control his life! I can do all this—being content no matter what situations I am facing!—though CHRIST who gives me strength. Christ alone can give us peace & joy & contentment not just in the safe harbors of life but also in the stormy seas of community as we follow Him & open wide our hearts to other Christians.
Just as a single person doesn’t have to get married, just as a childless couple doesn’t have to have a baby, just as a paralyzed person doesn’t have to regain the use of their body to have Jesus’ joy and peace, to have the full life that Jesus wants us to have. To have true joy & peace, we must repent and receive the Lord Jesus as our Savior, take up our cross and follow Him as our King, not cross off our list and follow our dreams.
Please remember David’s words in Psalm 23:
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death—
[even though my life’s circumstances are not what I want them to be and have literally led me to the door of death, even though others who I have let into my heart have betrayed and hurt me and a part of me is dying, I will open my heart wide to other Christians as You lead]—
I will fear no evil…
[WHY? Because You will make my life easy and comfortable and safe and predictable? NO!
For YOU are with me,
[even IN the valley of death, not just before and after it–You are all I need, LORD, to do all that You have commanded me]…
Your rod & Your staff, they comfort me…
[I can receive Your comfort when NOTHING in my life is going how I planned it!]
You prepare a table before me, in the presence of my enemies,
[we can enjoy God’s feasts in the middle of our storms/trials, not just before & after them, God caters a relational feast for us–knowing Him/tasting and seeing that the LORD is good!–when we are SURROUNDED by enemies, not just before and after we are surrounded!]
You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows.
[Our cup of joy & peace overflows because of God choosing us, not because of us choosing our circumstances! Oh loved ones, we will follow the Lord Jesus into ALL the dangerous situations He leads us when we have faith that it is CHRIST ALONE—not our circumstances—that we need, when we truly believe and know “that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).]
Surely Your goodness & mercy will follow me all the days of my life,
[the grace & goodness & love & mercy & Truth of God follow us not just into the safe places but into the dangerous places of life as we learn to obey & trust the Lord Jesus! We don’t have to try to control our lives to get joy, like old t.v.’s where you had to get the antennae just right so you could see the movie! We can thus follow Jesus wherever He leads—even into the dangerous life of opening our hearts to other Christians!—because His goodness & mercy follow us ALL the days of our lives!]
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”
[We can dare to let Christians into our hearts & home because the Father has let us into His heart & home.]
Another way to forgive and flush when others hurt us:
2. Believing that God can turn others’ feces into our fertilizer; believing that ultimately God is in control of everything (Genesis 45:1-15).
We see this powerfully in the account of Joseph in Genesis (please read Genesis 37—50 this month!). If ever someone had reason to keep his heart closed to his biological and spiritual family and be bitter, it was Joseph–his brothers literally sold him into slavery and pretended he was dead (and lied to their other relatives about it!). They didn’t just make a mean post about Joseph on Facebook or not invite him to their birthday party or forget to call him on his birthday–they literally sold him into slavery.
And yet watch how the LORD enabled Joseph to forgive and flush and open wide his heart to his brothers’ horrific treatment of him—because Joseph realized that though his brothers meant these terrible acts for evil GOD meant them for good. Joseph learned to trust that God would bring good out of Joseph’s own suffering, and that enabled Joseph both to forgive his brothers and to treat them well when Joseph had the moral and legal power to cause them to suffer.
Genesis 45:1-15 (please click HERE)
Verse 2: Joseph wept over all that he had endured, all the suffering, all the wondering if he would ever see his family again, all the doubt that they would ever change and have their hearts softened & humbled by the LORD. Joseph wept deeply of both joy and pain.
Verse 4a: Joseph invited his brothers close to him–not to get a good grip on their necks but to open wide his heart to them in mercy and forgiveness. Oh Lord help us. He associated himself with them–“I am your brother”! No bitterness, but not because Joseph was such a great guy. This was a result of the LORD working in him over many years since his enslavement, helping Joseph to forgive and to flush and to focus not on his brothers but on God, not to focus on what was done to him but what God was doing for him, carrying him through his trials and suffering and pain.
Verse 4b: Also notice that Joseph didn’t pretend what his brothers did to him wasn’t a big deal—he was in Egypt but he wasn’t in DENIAL!—Joseph didn’t sweep under the rug their terrible sin–he NAMES it for the heinous act that it was!
Verses 5-8: But he doesn’t stay in the past long–he brings his brothers into the present and encourages them not to beat themselves up forever; God had taught Joseph that the LORD was using the terrible sin of Joseph’s brothers and bringing good out of it as only God can (turning coal into diamonds)! God is in control of everything, especially the suffering we endure at the hands of others, and that Truth provided the bedrock for Joseph to stand on in his ferocious storm!
Verses 9-11: Joseph had the power to either execute his brothers or to simply do nothing and allow them (and their families) to starve. Oh thank the LORD that He doesn’t give us this power over those who have hurt us–how many of us would act less honorably than Joseph! But Joseph choose not to do evil and choose also not to do nothing (which in this case would have been evil!)–Joseph choose ultimately to do good by his family and bless them, to give them the good that they did not deserve (grace!). What an example…
Verses 14-15: Then Joseph wept over his brother Benjamin AND his other brothers. This is such a portrait of full forgiveness and reconciliation that only God Himself can accomplish–Joseph brought his brothers close and opened his heart wide to them, kissing them and talking with them. May the name of the LORD be praised…
In the next post we will look to the Bible for more ways to flush & forgive & open wide our hearts to other Christians for real fellowship & community…
“We have opened wide our hearts…Open wide your hearts” (2 Corinthians 6:11-13).
We often don’t know how to (or want to!) reconcile with people after they hurt us—we simply move on to different friends, a different local church, and we sweep everything under the rug until the rug blocks the door of our hearts and barricades it closed. We must learn to reconcile with and forgive brothers & sisters in Christ—we must! Turn off social media and netflix and sports and get on our knees with open Bibles and repentant hearts and cry out to the Lord to humble us & teach us to forgive & reconcile! We Christians are ministers of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5)–how can we cry out to non-CHristians to be reconciled (go from enemies to friends) to God when we don’t know how to be reconciled to other Christians!
This is difficult and dangerous—most vulnerable thing you can do is open wide your heart because it leaves you wide open to being hurt. It’s the only way you can truly have Christian fellowship, have deep relational joy, but it’s also the only way to get deeply wounded. We cannot protect ourselves from pain without insulating ourselves from joy. Sealing up your house in the winter from the cold is good but it also breeds more germs and leads to sickness—there is no airflow in the house to bring in fresh air! Oh what a risk community is!
- I love dogs and cats. I often feel like a pet-grandpa: I love to play with them and spoil them…and then give them back to their devoted owners to walk them on cold January mornings. 🙂 When a dog rolls over on its back so you can rub its belly, what a blessing, what a sign of trust and friendship! A dog in the wild would NEVER do that—it would make itself much too vulnerable to attack. And yet for a beloved pet, doing that is one of the best ways to grow closer to another human—both pet and person are blessed through the pet’s willing vulnerability.
We must learn to forgive and heal from the past if we are to open wide our hearts in the present & have real Biblical community with other Christians.
- Jesus washed the feet of His disciples KNOWING that in a few hours they would desert Him. Wow. Community comes from serving other Christians pre-emptively, knowing that there is a high chance that eventually they will hurt you or desert you or not come through for you in your time of need. But Christ is our example here, as always. He did it for us, we are to do it for others…
May we cry out to the LORD for healing and courage to open wide our hearts to other Christians so we can have the kind of Biblical community that causes non-Christians to hunger for Jesus as their Savior & King…