Scripture Reading: II Corinthians 6 - 8 ...
There is perhaps no other place in Paul's letters to the churches where he bares his heart for the Church so deeply. Paul said in Chapter 5, verse 14: "Christ's love compels us!" Why? Because, as he says at the beginning of Chapter 6, "NOW is the time of God's favor, NOW is the day of salvation" (6:2). There was a sense of urgency in Paul's ministry that is sadly lacking in much of the church today. Paul saw himself, as every Christian should see themselves, as a servant of God. So he goes through this long list of attitudes and actions in Chapter 6, verses 4-10. As I read through these verses I thought of my own ministry and asked myself: "Could I say the same things?" I have not endured anything near what Paul did for the sake of the Gospel, yet it is my heartfelt desire to be willing to suffer for the Gospel, to give my all for the Gospel ... why? Because I long for people to know Christ, to experience His love, to receive His grace, to be saved and to understand LIFE and to live it to the fullest - the way GOD intended!
Paul says, "We have spoken freely to you ... and opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding our affection from you ... open wide your hearts also" (6:11-12). It is in this context that Paul exhorts them not to be yoked with unbelievers! "Let us purify ourselves ... perfecting holiness out of reverence for God" (7:1). Then he says again, "Make room for us in your hearts" (7:2). He even says, "I have said before that you have such a place in our hearts that we would live or die with you" (7:3). If you remember Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, he called them to account for allowing incest among them, for the divisions they had in the church, for the way they were worshiping and a number of other things. BUT, he did it because of his love for them and his desire that the church be all that Christ intended it to be.
We need always to remember that the church does not belong to US ... the true Church is the very Bride of Christ, His body. HE is the One who gave His life for the Church and HE is the One who is the Head of the Church. As we saw at the beginning, we are SERVANTS, called to serve one another, to love one another and to be instruments in God's hands to call others to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Paul never forgot who he was without Christ and wanted others to understand God's love and grace, too. Far too many people today want the church to be all about them. They want preachers to tell them stories and to make them feel good about themselves. Yet, it is in the call to repentance and to faith in Jesus Christ that the Gospel brings the power of God to transform those who are spiritually dead into disciples of Jesus!
One of the greatest examples of true repentance was displayed in the church in Corinth. Paul says that he actually regretted speaking to them so forcefully (7:8), but was happy that God had used his words (inspired by His Spirit!), to bring them to repentance, "as God intended." For "godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death" (7:10). Paul was encouraged by the Corinthians, and there is nothing more encouraging for a leader in the church than to see the fruit of repentance, faith and joy in the Lord! These are evidence of the work of the Spirit of God and it is the Spirit who unites true believers as one Body in Christ.
Even Paul's request for an offering from the Corinthians came out of his earnest desire to see them growing in Christ. He used the example of the Macedonian churches to spur them on: "Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. ... they urgently pleaded with us for the PRIVILEGE of sharing in this service to the saints!" (8:2-4). Then he encouraged the Corinthians, "But just as you excel in everything - in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us - see that you also excel in this grace of giving" (8:7).
Some might think that Paul was trying to compliment them in order to get an offering, but that was certainly not the case. This is the Spirit speaking through Paul to teach the Corinthians the joy of giving. He even points to Jesus as the ultimate example, that "though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through HIS poverty might become rich" (8:9). Giving is such a huge issue in Christian circles today. All sorts of "gimmicks" are promoted to get people to "sow seed into the kingdom" (taken from 9:6 and following). Paul uses no gimmicks or "money-back promises." He simply expresses the need and calls them to do what they know in their hearts God wants them to do for their brothers and sisters in Christ who are in need. The majority of financial giving should be done through the local church because the leaders are accountable to the members of the congregation as fellow servants. Much damage has been and is being done to the reputation of Christ and His true Church by those on television who promote themselves rather than Jesus Christ!
God's Word speaks honestly in all these areas to those who are given ears to hear and we need to do the same. We in the church often spend our time, our energy and our money on things other than advancing the cause of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Why? Perhaps because we do not believe that our time is limited, that NOW is the time of salvation, for someone, for many, for the world!! We need desperately to be honest, to speak the truth, to have the same attitudes and be willing to endure the same suffering Paul and others have suffered and do suffer for the sake of the Gospel and for the building up of the Church. Being servants of God should not be easy, but it seems that's what we often want and even expect.
It's time to get serious. It's time to get to work. It's time to be HONEST ... NOW!!
"Oh Lord, our God, the Church is Your own labor of love and we are called to love one another as You love us. May Your love compel us to speak honestly, to bare our hearts, to love sincerely and to give freely so that others may come to know You and love You, too, and join us in serving You by serving others, in Jesus' name, Amen"