I met a man recently, a minister of the gospel, who was pretty beaten up. For whatever reason, after 20 years of ministry this guy had suffered two breakdowns as a result of the kind of ministry and the kind of congregation he was called to serve in.
A man in this situation will typically head in one of two ways. Either he becomes embittered and perhaps even abandons the faith or, his heart is enlarged and he becomes a more patient, more humble, more joyful, more tender, man. That’s the guy I’m talking about. The kind that’s more likely to turn up when you’re in strife. The kind who’s more likely to defend the weak, and smile, and laugh, and cry.
This is not the first time I’ve met a man who fit this description and perhaps you’ve met someone like this also.
The Apostle Paul was a man like this.
The word on the street in Corinth was that Paul could not possibly be from God. Just look at the trouble he was in!
Afflicted, in distress, beaten, jailed, caught up in controversy, deprived, subject to false reports, dishonoured, accused of deception and wildly unpopular (2 Corinthians 6:4–10).
In the verse that precedes this list of troubles, Paul had said,
Giving no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed (2 Corinthians 6:3)
Plenty of people had taken offence to this short, funny looking man, but Paul had not given offence.
But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God. (2 Corinthians 6:4)
His conscience was clean before God and he could therefore approve of his own actions, and that’s what mattered to Paul.
One of the marks of authentic, Spirit-driven ministry (2 Corinthians 6:6-7), which is the thing Paul is describing and defending here, is trouble. Hot water. Controversy… and joy, and sorrow, and rejoicing …and the long list of troubles mentioned above.
Like the Saviour He followed, Paul was a controversy magnet. They knew it, and he knew it. Paul’s reply to them was that his troubles did not negate his ministry. Rather, his long endurance through those troubles confirmed his ministry. It was the way of the cross.
This was upsetting to that breed of Christian who always wants things nice and tidy, and who panics at the first sign of any trouble within the church.
Controversy and constant trouble disrupt marketing. It discourages sales. It makes it hard to be friends with the world, and difficult to monetise what you’re doing. That’s why Demas had to leave Paul’s company (2 Timothy 4:10).
There are those who believe that serving God is an indoor job with no heavy lifting. And then there’s that joke from the old American South which said that a hot sun and a slow mule had been responsible for many a call to the ministry.
Likewise, there were men in Paul’s day who confounded gain with godliness (1 Timothy 6:5).
Far from being a temptation confined to your average mega church televangelist, this was such a common problem that Paul had to issue a warning to the Corinthians about it.
For we are not, as so many, peddling the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as from God, we speak in the sight of God in Christ. (2 Corinthians 2:17)
Having worked through his long list of how many times he’d been beat up, Paul then speaks straight to the Corinthians.
Oh, ye Corinthians, our mouth is wide open to you; our heart is enlarged. 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. (2 Corinthians 6:11-13)
They were not restricted by Paul, but by their own attitudes. The kink in the hose was not because of anything Paul had done or said, but the result of their own smallness of heart.
Paul pleads with them as with his own children – be enlarged in heart!
Paul finishes by urging the church to take the risk of the Cross and open wide their heart. He tells them that it was because of his largeness of heart that he had told them about all the troubles he had gone through. His mouth was open because his heart was enormous. It was not Paul who was at odds with the Spirit, but the Corinthians.
I will run the way of Thy commandments, when Thou shalt enlarge my heart. (Psalm 119:32)
When King Solomon asked for wisdom instead of all the other kingly baubles and trinkets, what did God do for him?
And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding, and largeness of heart… (1 Kings 4:29)
Fussers don’t have this largeness of heart. They fuss right and they fuss left. They fuss about the carpet, they fuss about the biscuits, they fuss about the sermons, they fuss about the lack of things to fuss about.
Because this had happened at Corinth, the saints there had fallen prey to certain agitators who wanted to circulate their complaints. Complaints about Paul.
In response, rather than shield his heart from the pain of accusation and runaway from the controversies surrounding his ministry, Paul opened his heart wider still and poured everything out.
Open up, says Paul. Imitate me as I seek to imitate Christ.
Such a spirit-filled and God-honouring walk sounds inspiring, but what is the cost? It means that sometimes you’ll have to work through a mountain of troubles. It means putting up with accusations of the worst kind. Accusations that could cost you your friends, your status and your reputation before the world. It means keeping your conscience clean before God in the midst of chaos. It means resisting the urge to shrink from this life by shrinking your heart. It means,
…looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)
This is why many opt to continue to fuss and whine through their small troubles. Their reputation matters. They don’t want to be shamed, and so they turn down the life of joy that lay on the other side of big troubles.
But when you are in the joy of the Lord, with troubles great or small, you are where Christ is, and the heart is free to grow large and free to love, even at great cost.