2 Corinthians 6:1-7:1 – When we need an example of true love

 

Let us Pray

 

Speed dating is very hip on the south coast, with a whole host of venues promising to find you love in four minutes. But can you find love in the time it takes to boil an egg?

With no time to waste, I cajole my friend Stephen to join me at the launch night of the ironically named Slow Dating in Southampton.

After registering online and reading the welcome email, which says: "...you will be made to feel comfortable", I feel more like I am going into hospital to have my appendix out than going dating.

By the look of fear on Stephen's face, he would rather be having an anaesthetic and part of his insides ripped out.

It sounds like a nightmare to me, but apparently speed dating is a good thing, and helps people meet other people – without wasting time – you get four minutes to ‘interview’ prospective partners before moving on.

The idea that you can find love in four minutes is, of course a little optimistic. 

People probably want to meet people who they might want to meet again – and see what develops.

So that hopefully, eventually, they might find love.

But if they found love – what would they find?  Would they know it is they found it?

What does it mean to ‘find love’?  What is there to find?  What is love?

Love is a very versatile word.  We can give love, and take love.  We can make love.  We can show love – we can talk about love.  We can fall in love – and fall out of love.

Love warms our hearts, and gives us a sense of emotional wellbeing.  It’s a good think – we encourage one another to be loving – good things are altogether lovely.

Love is good, and we should love.  But still – what is love all about?

Turn with me if you would to 2 Corinthians 6, on page 1161 of the bibles in the chairs, as we see what God’s word has to say about love.

Paul the apostle gives us here an example of love in action.  He writes to the Corinthians – people he cares deeply about, and people who have wandered away from God’s word on some issues.  Paul, as he says in verse 11, has opened wide his hearts to them.

Tonight we can learn from Paul’s example, from the way in which he lived and taught, as we seek to better understand what it means to love.

But we should also hear what Paul has to say to the Corinthians, and be challenged as they were challenged by God’s word.

So what does Paul have to say?

1. Love God (6:1-10)

Look at verses 1 and 2:

6:1 As God's fellow workers we urge you not to receive God's grace in vain.  2 For he says, "In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you." I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation.

 

In chapter 5, Paul has outlined the calling which he and the Corinthians, and we have received – the call to be ministers of reconciliation, to call people to be reconciled to God.

 

We are called to tell people about Jesus Christ – about how he paid the price for our sins, so that we might be counted righteous, and innocent before God.

 

Now, in verse 1, Paul wants the Corinthians, and us, to not receive God’s grace in vain.  In verse 2, Paul quotes from Isaiah 49, verse 8.  We had the first few verses of Isaiah 49 read to us – and the promise of salvation beyond Israel which they contained.

 

Paul is encouraging the Corinthians to remember what God has done in Christ – by his grace – in saving even Gentiles – and to not receive that grace in vain by not doing anything about it – by not changing accordingly, by not being transformed by the power of God.

 

The Corinthians had begun to follow Christ as saviour and lord – but now they were in danger of falling back into their old ways, and therefore rejecting Christ as their saviour and lord by looking for salvation elsewhere.

 

Paul warns that this is dangerous – not least because now is the time to act – the day of salvation – the opportunity to turn to Christ.

 

Paul says – keep on loving God.  Keep on remembering what Jesus did for us.  And then, in verses 3 to 10, he gives us a worked example of what that means.

 

Verse 3 gives the reason for the way Paul acts:

 

3 We put no stumbling block in anyone's path, so that our ministry will not be discredited.

 

Paul’s ministry, remember is the ministry of reconciliation, calling people to be reconciled to God in Christ.

 

Paul wants to act so that he doesn’t put a stumbling block in anyone’s way.  He doesn’t want to cause any problems for someone coming to Christ.

 

They might still stumble over the ‘scandal’ of the cross – but Paul doesn’t want to be the stumbling block.

Instead, Paul wants to commend himself to others:

 

4 Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance;

 

In verse 4, Paul starts a list of how he commends himself in every way.  To our ears, this may sound arrogant – but all Paul is doing is asking the Corinthians to judge him by how he has behaved.

 

And how does Paul commend himself?  In great endurance.  He’s going to go on and list a series of things, sufferings mostly, that he has endured.  What is commendable here is not that Paul has suffered – but that he has endured, and endured in such a way that Christ’s ministry of reconciliation can be seen through Paul.

 

He has endured because he loves God, and wants people to be reconciled to Christ.

 

So how might we show our love for God by enduring?  What might we have to endure for Christ’s sake?  How should we endure?

 

a. Endure Suffering:

 

4 in troubles, hardships and distresses;   5 in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger;

 

Paul lists nine areas of suffering we might face in life.  Paul faced them all – and faced them all for the sake of Christ – so we can assume that we will face at least some of them.

 

They split into three groups.

 

There are troubles, hardships and distresses. 

 

This is a fairly general category.  The kind of things that life throws at us – the kind of things that life throws at everybody.

 

Everybody has troubles, and hardships and distresses.  The loss of a loved one.  Job insecurity.  Financial difficulties.  Problems in marriages.  Problems with children – problems in having children.

 

It’s not the fact that we have troubles like these – but how we face them.

 

Then Paul faced persecution – beatings, imprisonments, riots.  Now at the moment, this kind of persecution is uncommon for Christians in Britain – not unheard of – but uncommon.  So perhaps we may feel that we are not likely to face physical persecution like Paul did.  But we can still face persecution.  And I believe it is likely to increase

 

Let me give you an example.  Recently, parliament passed legislation to protect the rights of transgender individuals – that’s people who were one sex at birth, but choose to live as another sex.

 

As part of that legislation, the right of the transgendered individual to protect their new sex means that others have no right to find out their original sex.

 

So a ‘man’ and a ‘woman’ could come to Christchurch asking to be married – and we would have no right to follow up suspicions we might have as to original gender.  And if someone tipped us off – or if we tipped someone else off – then we could face a hefty fine.

 

A small example – but an example nevertheless of the way in which persecution – no, not physical, but still real – might increase.

 

And even apart from that kind of ‘legal’ persecution, we know, don’t we, of the little ways in which standing out as a follow of Christ – whether at work, or at home, or at school, or at the golf club, or at the football club, can be difficult.

 

And then hardwork, sleeplessness, hunger.

 

Paul faced all these, as he worked for Christ.  We may not face the same as he did, but we must not assume an easy ride.

 

b. Endure with a pure heart

 

Having given some examples of the form suffering takes, Paul turns to the qualities that we should show:

 

6 in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love;  7 in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left;

 

For Paul, endurance is not just about getting through things – no matter how.  It matters how we endure.

 

Paul starts with a list of four ethical qualities.

 

We should endure in purity.  Our endurance should not make us speak evil of others, or make us bitter, or quick to grow angry.  We are called to remain pure, even though we endure suffering.  Enduring for Christ’s sake doesn’t give us a right to be unpleasant company.

 

And we should endure with understanding.  If we are able to see what’s happening in a situation, and act accordingly, we are better able to endure.  We should seek to understand what’s happening – notto retreat into our shell and ignore what’s happening around us.

 

We should also be patient.  When we’re having a hard time, we need to be prepared for the long haul – to accept that sometimes difficult situations may be with us for a long time – whether that’s a long term illness, or a difficult family situation, or a problem with a boss at work, or with a teacher at school.

 

And the flip side of patience is kindness.  We are patient as others cause us problems – and we continue to act with kindness towards all people.

 

This is a tall order.  But Paul moves from these ethical qualities, the ways in which we act, to what lies behind the way we act.

 

We act in the Holy Spirit.  We are not able on our own to do all this – we need the Holy Spirit’s guidance and help, as he makes us more like Jesus, as we seek to speak with sincere love.

 

And we act in the power of God – the power of God enables us to speak truly and sincerely, in situations where we would rather say nothing, or something which is not the truth.

 

Remembering always that we are armed with the weapons of righteousness – the righteousness which God provides for us in Christ, God’s righteousness, enables us to cope with more than we could manage on our own, to do more than we would be able to do, and to live lives more in keeping with God’s call.

 

c. Endure in the good times and the bad times

 

8 through glory and dishonour, bad report and good report;

 

It is not just difficulties that require endurance.  Dishonour can tempt us to give up – but glory may tempt us to become puffed up.

 

Bad reports may weight us down – but good reports may make us loose touch with reality and float away.

 

We need to keep our eyes fixed on what is real:

 

d. See the reality:

 

8 genuine, yet regarded as impostors;

 9 known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed;

 10 sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

 

Whatever others say of us – whatever others think of us – we need to keep our eyes fixed on the reality.

 

People may regard us as impostors – as not being people to be listened to – although we know we have a message for them.  They may regard us as unknown and unimportant, although what we have to say is important.

 

On the outside we may look to be dying – particularly if we face physical persecution – but we live on, and even if we suffer unto death we are not killed, for we have eternal life with Christ.

 

And yes, we may face more than our fair share of life’s sorrows – but we can rejoice in Christ.  We may be poor – we may look to have nothing – and yet in Christ we are rich indeed – we possess everything that it is worth possessing.

 

(pause)

 

Paul suffered, and endured, for the sake of Christ – so that the message he proclaimed would not be discredited.  Out of his love for God he acted, and he gives us an example of what it means to love God – to live a life focussed on him.

 

2. Love Others (6.11-6.18)

 

But Paul also gives us an example of how to love others.

 

We’ll look at his example of love, and see how we should respond to what he tells the Corinthians

 

a. Paul models honesty and openness (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.

 

2 Corinthians is a very honest and open letter.  As we have read through it, I think we’ve got a real insight into who Paul was – his cares, his concerns, his troubles, his joys – and there is still more to come.

 

He’s been honest about his travel plans, honest about his ministry, honest about his love for the Corinthians – and how they have hurt him.

Paul has spoken freely – he has opened wide his heart.

 

This doesn’t mean he has just told them how he felt – in the bible, heart is about much more than feelings – he has shared his values.

 

Think about this for a moment.

 

It’s one thing for me to tell you that you have hurt me, or for you to tell me that I’ve upset you – because of my tone, or the way you spoke, or the words I used.

 

It’s another to admit that we can be damaged and hurt at a much deeper level than our feelings.  To admit that we really do care what someone things of us – when they misrepresent us.  To admit to someone who has wronged us that they have the power to hurt us because they can strike at the things we value – our reputation for honesty, or kindness.

 

It’s one thing to not like the way someone is towards us.  It’s another to admit that we might have weaknesses that others could exploit.

 

Paul desires openness and honesty from his brothers and sisters in Christ, the Corinthians. 

 

If we are to truly love one another, then we need to strive for that openness.  To go beyond the superficial, to go beyond the emotional, to our core values.  We need to be open with one another.

 

So the next time someone here asks you how you are – and might have time to hear your answer – tell them. 

 

And the next time you get the opportunity to enquire after someone’s wellbeing, ask – and be prepared for the answer.

 

We are called to love one another – to be open and honest with one another.

 

b. Paul models Loving truth telling (6.14-6.18)

 

Being honest means telling the truth in love.  Paul gives us a fine example here of what that means in practice.

 

The Corinthians have a problem.  And Paul would not be loving them if he didn’t help them to tackle it.

 

  14 Do not be yoked together with unbelievers.

 

We’ll get to what this means in a moment – but first note how Paul models truth telling.  A glance down the passage to verse 18 reveals that Paul doesn’t pull any punches here.

 

He is challenging us to loving truth telling. 

 

We don’t love someone when we ignore an activity they are involved in which is damaging them.

 

We don’t love someone when we tell them all is well, when it isn’t.  When we pretend there are no problems.

 

We don’t love someone when we are not open and honest with them – even if that openness and honesty means having to say hard things.

 

c. Responding to the rebuke (6.14-18)

 

In some way, some of the Corinthians were yoking themselves with unbelievers.

 

What did this mean?  What does this mean?  What does it mean for us – how should we respond to paul’s challenge?

 

A yoke ties two oxen together in a team – and it means they can’t help but go in the same direction.

 

So being yoked to an unbeliever means being in an association with someone who does not know Christ as Lord and saviour which determines the way we live our lives.

 

How does this work in practice?

 

Traditionally, this passage has been applied to marriage – and cautions Christians against getting married to someone who does not know Jesus as Lord and Saviour. 

 

But this also applies to other relationships. 

 

A trivial example.  I am a very casual Everton fan – which is probably just as well.  I used to be more committed – I used to have a season ticket.  Now if I’d decided to become a more committed Everton fan – to be a proper fan – would there not be a danger of being unequally yoked?

 

If I prioritised football games over church and family for example?  I don’t think Stephen would be too impressed if I wanted every Sunday off when Everton were playing to go and watch them – I don’t think Kirsty would be too pleased either!

 

A trivial example – but hopefully one which helps us see the point  Paul is making.

 

This might also apply to a business relationship.  For example, if we entered into a partnership which led us to unethical business practices for the sake of profit – might we not be being yoked to an unbeliever?

 

And what’s the problem with being yoked in this way?

 

14 For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?

 15 What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?

 16 What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols?

 

The questions themselves here are not difficult. 

 

Righteousness and wickedness are opposites – as are light and darkness – they don’t have anything in common.

 

Christ has not harmony with Belial, a Hebrew name for the devil – they are enemies, and Christ defeated the devil on the cross.

 

And a believer does not share a portion  - a better translation than in common here  - with an unbeliever – a believer’s portion is promised by God – the promise of forgiveness in Christ – this is not shared with those who don’t believe.

 

And of course, there is nothing in common between God’s holy place, and idols.

 

And then Paul backs up what he says by quoting various passages from the Old testament which show how God’s people, as his holy Temple, should be separate:

 

16 For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people."

 17 "Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you."

 18 "I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty."

 

Separate – come out of them – touch no unclean thing – is Paul calling us into monasteries here?

 

No.  Paul’s point is about not being unequally yoked – not about having no involvement with the world.  

 

He is challenging the Corinthians, and us to live as God’s people, loving one another.

 

Being reconciled to God is about being created anew – and into a new community.

 

We are the temple of the living God – together.  How we behave towards one another is important. 

 

So we need to separate ourselves from all those things that harm our ability to love one another.  Separate ourselves from those things that take too much of our time, or energy, or money, or care, so that we are not able to care for one another.

 

We need to re-examine our priorities.  Do we prioritise meeting together with our fellow followers of Christ?  Are we interested in them?

 

Are we behaving lovingly towards one another – are we striving to be open and honest with people we know well?

 

What are our priorities?  Where are our hearts in this?

 

(pause)

 

3. Conclusion – Purity (7:1)

 

Paul gives us an example of loving God – through endurance of suffering for the sake of the gospel, and of love – speaking openly honestly to one another.

 

This is not all we could say of love.  But it gives us a challenging example to follow, as we who are reconciled to God in Christ seek to live as his people.

 

7:1 Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.

 

We have the promises – we know who we are – and therefore we should live accordingly.

 

Let us pray.

 

 

James Hughes

22nd February 2004