2 Corinthians 6:11-13 “We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. As a fair exchange – I speak as to my children – open wide your hearts also.”
The Bible is a miracle. Those words are often on my lips. Whenever we meet together we are meeting in the presence of the supernatural. Here is a Book that comes from another world, unlike any other book, its composition was supervised by God so that what it says is exactly what God intended its authors to write. What the prophets and apostles once did by their presence and their ministries this Book does today. The Lord Jesus says that the Scripture cannot be broken. It will endure for ever. Almost all of us are familiar with the opening chapter of those enduring Confessions of Faith that came from the 17th century, the Westminster, the London and the Savoy Confessions. They all begin with a ten paragraph chapter on the Holy Scriptures, and there they speak of such things as “the heavenliness of the matter … the majesty of the style … the scope of the whole (which is to give glory to God) … the many other incomparable excellencies, and its entire perfection.” Presbyterians, Congregationalists and Baptists all begin by confessing their admiration for the Bible.
There is a familiar anonymous tract called, “The Holy Bible” and it says what I want to say to you today. Let me read it to you slowly: “The Bible reveals the mind of God, the state of man, the way of salvation, the doom of sinners and the happiness of believers. Its doctrines are holy, its precepts are binding, its histories are true, and its decisions are unchangeable. Read it to be wise, believe it to be safe, and practice it to be holy. It contains light to direct you, food to support you, and comfort to cheer you. It is the traveller’s map, the pilgrim’s staff, the pilot’s compass, the soldier’s sword, and the Christian’s charter. Here paradise is restored, heaven opened, and the gates of hell disclosed. Christ is its grand subject, our good its design, and the glory of God its end.
“It should fill the memory, rule the heart, and guide the feet. Read it slowly, frequently, and prayerfully. It is a mine of wealth, a paradise of glory, and a river of pleasure. It is given you in life, will be opened in the judgment, and will be remembered for ever. It involves the highest responsibility, rewards the greatest labour, and condemns all who trifle with its holy contents.”
What the apostle Paul is saying in our text is that he has kept back from them nothing important. He has opened up, in quite exhaustive detail, information about his own life and experiences as he sought to be a real pastor and father in the faith to the Corinthians. He reminds them just how comprehensively and affectionately he has addressed them – both in his earlier preaching and also in his letters to them, and then he exhorts them to respond in kind. His loving words demand to be embraced with affection – and reciprocated. This is what every writer of the Bible says, because every one has been helped by God. They have all opened wide their hearts and given to us the mind of God himself.
1. GOD HAS SPOKEN A COMPREHENSIVE WORD TO US.
“We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians” (v.11). In other words, “We have spoken comprehensively and without any restraints,” he is saying. The apostle has given them a full disclosure of his credentials as an apostle and man of God. He had been reminding them of the great doctrines of the atonement of Christ and his imputed righteousness. He has fired those truths at them, but then, as it were, he puts himself in the cannon and shoots himself at them. If they are going to turn against the truth and be drawn to the false apostles then they will have to crawl over his beaten-up, scarred body which bears the marks of the sufferings of Christ, and trample all over his godly life before he will let them leave the gospel. What he writes here is that he has “opened his mouth wide.” That is what Paul literally says. That is, he has kept back nothing in his effort to keep them advancing in the truth. In other words, from the beginning of his ministry he has proclaimed the whole counsel of God to them, hiding nothing that can advance Christlikeness. That is what you will always get from the apostles and prophets. “We have spoken freely,” they are saying to you today. The God who sent them as his spokesmen says, “I have told you everything you need for meaning, salvation and happiness.” We have a big, comprehensive, clear word from God.
But from the very beginning man has been encouraged by the god of this world to reject what the Lord has said, and to criticise it as being inadequate or confusing. “Has God really spoken freely? Is his counsel so simple, and plain and comprehensive?” whispers Satan. “No. I won’t read the Bible,” says the man in the world, “because I won’t understand it, and it is not relevant.” How does he know? He’s never tried. The devil (who has never ceased to scorn the free speaking of God from the very beginning) has blinded people so that they don’t listen to the Lord.
“We have spoken freely to you,” God says. He has breathed out his word to us, that is, what is written is as much his word as if God himself were speaking aloud continually for the twenty-five hours or so it can take to read the entire Bible. God would not have to pause on a single occasion as he was reading and say, “Oh dear, Moses got it wrong here,” or “Tut, tut, Paul was up the creek there,” and “No, those are just his theories. I disassociate myself from these words.” What the Bible says, God says. God says nothing more, nothing less, and nothing different from what is written. So, you can appreciate how wide God has opened his mouth! We are not left in the dark, but are guided throughout our lives, and basically in three ways:
i] God speaks directly and gives us clear unchanging absolutes – the sanctity of truth, the sanctity of life, the sanctity of marriage, and so on.
ii] He also gives us scriptural principles and practices that cover all circumstances of life – “join this sort of congregation, believe these teachings, marry this sort of person, raise children in this kind of way” – and as we sit under Biblical ministry week by week we learn increasingly to handle our own dilemmas in a way that pleases him.
iii] Then God also speaks directly and indirectly by implication which help us make either/or choices. These might present us with a limited number of equally legitimate options. Usually we are not facing right or wrong options, but two or three right options. God has spoken freely to us.
What has he said so fully to the world? Let me emphasise four things:
i] God knows you completely. He knows your entire history and all your inward life. There was a woman who bumped into the Lord Jesus and he began to talk to her and to tell her about herself. She later spoke to her friends and neighbours, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” (John 4:29). It is a great theme in the Bible: “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebs. 4:13). What he says so freely to you shows his comprehensive knowledge of you.
The world is baffled at the behaviour of certain men. For example, here is a man who was a middle-aged family doctor in a small town in Lancashire, married, with grown up children, the sort of person you would pass in the street and to whom you would not give a second glance. This bearded bespectacled man, who helped many people as their family doctor so that they spoke warmly of him, is now in prison for killing a dozen people. He actually might have murdered over 300 people. Who can comprehend that combination of helpfulness and destruction? We would be baffled without the word of God. We cannot begin to understand the way children who enjoy soccer and Blue Peter can kill another little child, or the other unspeakable cruelties that human beings perpetrate every day. This year religious men have shot some women dead for some alleged sin in a football stadium in front of the goal, and the crowd in the stands have risen to their feet at the execution and cried, “Great is Allah!” The prophet Jeremiah says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9). Then the Lord himself responds and says, “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind” (Jer. 17:10). You cannot understand the heart of man without the Lord. It is because God knows what makes the true human condition that we have hope. He has opened his mouth wide and told us straight about ourselves in the Scriptures. The Lord knows you, and so I also know you. How often does a member of the congregation think that someone has been speaking about him to the preacher and that the service is a set-up to get at him. But I only know of you from the full revelation God has given to me of the make-up of every human being in the Scriptures.
ii] Your problems are common to men. There is a verse often quoted and underlined in many a Bible which is found in I Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man…” No Christian is facing some unique test in the history of the human race. Paul can tell the European Christians who lived in Greece that what had happened almost 1,500 years earlier to the Israelites was pertinent to what was happening in their lives: “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for you” (1 Cor. 10:11). So there are no freshly minted virgin problems facing any member of a congregation. Your present difficulties have happened to other people in other places, and today those problems of yours can be found all across the world. There are just so many basic combinations and patterns of sin, and then no more. Problems seem unique but soon we recognise them as battles we have had in our own heart in one form or another. So God knows your heart and he knows your own problems.
iii] There is a divine solution to every problem. God “will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (I Cor. 10:13). The Lord Jesus was tested in all points just like us. He met every test without sinning. There was not one very complex, seductive, wearing, impossible trial which finally got to him and pulled him down. Not one. He never says, “Well, I’m a sinner too.” He says, “I know the power of temptation.” But he resisted, and so he can help you however bad things get. God has spoken freely and equips us for every exigency of life. There are answers to every one of your problems. Let us illustrate that by hearing how Pastor Conrad Murrell of Louisiana helped one man who came to him: he says the following,
A few years ago a pastor brought a troubled man to me for counselling. When I asked him about his problem, he replied, “I want to serve the Lord but I am having a terrible time.” “What seems to be hindering you?” I asked. “Everything and everybody it seems,” he said. “Let’s get down to particulars,” I insisted. This is his story.
“I have a smoking problem. I know I shouldn’t be smoking. It is harmful to me and a blight on my testimony but I am having a hard time giving it up. Then there is my wife. She thinks I am a fanatic and she says if I insist on living a Christian life, she is going to leave me. She wants to have some fun, and I don’t want to go back into that kind of life; but I don’t want to lose my wife. Then there is my business partner. He is not a Christian and we are having a conflict over some unethical business deals he wants to pull. He says I am holding back the business with my stupid morals and if I don’t shape up he is going to force me out. Then, last week I was down in Tucson in a restaurant feeling sorry for myself and this young divorcee approached me. She liked me and made some obvious suggestions and approaches. I almost fell into what she was proposing. But, I don’t want to live like that. I’m just in a terrible mess.”
“You surely are,” I said, “but maybe I can help you get some things settled. It seems to me you have about four options here. You can only take one of them so you may as well eliminate the other three. Let’s find out which ones you can take and which ones you cannot and then see what we have left. Here is your first option. You can walk out that door the same way you came in with nothing changed and nothing settled. Can you do that?” “I don’t want to.”
“But can you?”
“If I had not wanted help I would not have come here.”
“But can you leave without it? Are you willing to walk out of here the same way you came in? Can you do that? Can you go on living the way you are now? Think about it. Because if you can, you will. There is no use of me wrangling around here with you for two or three hours only to have you refuse to do what you must and leave the same way you came in. If you can do that, then go ahead and do it now. Let’s not waste anymore time.
He looked at me, saw I meant it, thought about it a bit and then said, “No, I can’t do that. I have got to have some help. I cannot live any longer the way I am. Something has to be settled.”
“Then we can eliminate that option. It no longer exists. Something has to be settled before you leave here tonight. Now we have only three left. Here is your second option:
“Forget about being a Christian and serving the Lord. Put the thought of it out of your mind and go ahead and do what you like. If you want to smoke, stop feeling guilty about it and puff away. If your wife wants you to go out and get drunk and raise hell with her, go ahead. If your partner wants to pull some fast deals that can make you rich and won’t get you in jail, go to it. Take advantage of anybody you can, make as much money as you can, do what you like and live it up. If you see that divorcee again, take her up on the proposition. Whatever you feel like doing, help yourself.”
He stared at me incredulously.
“Can you do that?” I asked.
He shook his head, “No, I can’t do that. I can’t live that way.
“Are you sure?”
“Think about it now, and settle it. If you can do that then you ought to go ahead because you will sooner or later. But if you can’t, then settle it in your mind that you can’t and forget about it. It’s no use you ever thinking about it anymore. It is an utter impossibility.”
“I can’t do that.”
“All right, that eliminates two options and two more are left. Here is your third one: Go home. If you do not have one at home, stop off at a pawn shop and pick yourself up a pistol. Get out in the yard so that you won’t make a mess in the house for someone to clean up, take good aim so that you don’t miss and put a bullet in your brain.”
He jerked his head back and stared at me. “I can’t do that. I’d go to hell.”
“Probably so,” I said, “but at least you wouldn’t have to live in this hell till you get to the next one.”
“No, I can’t do that.”
“Then it looks like you have only one course left. Follow the Lord. Obey Him. If your wife leaves you, follow the Lord. If you lose your business and all your money, follow the Lord. If it costs you all your pleasures, follow the Lord. You really don’t have any other option. You cannot do anything else. Live, die, swim or sink, you must follow Him.”
He thought awhile, then lifted his head and slowly as the truth began to dawn upon him, a relieved smile spread across his worried face. “That’s right isn’t it. It’s really very simple. He is my only hope of life. There is nothing else to do.”
I prayed with him, shook his hand and dismissed the meeting. Nearly two years later I was back in the same city and this man came to the meeting. His wife was with him, clinging to his arm. They had been, it seemed, through hell itself. His faith had been tried in the fire. The devil had exhausted his resources in his attempt to shake him from the commitment he made that night. But when he had left that counselling session, he was a single-minded man with only one place to go. His eyes were steadfastly fixed upon God as his deliverer. He and his wife both wore the broad sweet smiles of a victory that endures. They had learned indeed that faith is the victory that overcomes the world. Such as these can give unerring testimony that God is indeed worthy of our trust” (Conrad Murrell, “Faith Cometh”, Saber Publications, Bentley, Louisiana 71407, 1976, pp.35ff). There is a divine solution to every problem. You can change. There is hope for a new abundant life right now. The misery of living sinfully can be alleviated. When anyone has truly come to Christ everything is made new.
iv] Your life does have meaning. It is not a life full of sound and fury and meaning nothing. A mother brought her daughter June to a pastor. The girl was twenty, overweight and depressed. She had written down on an inventory, “I am disgusting, stupid, ugly, rotten and a complete failure.” When the pastor read this aloud the mother spoke up immediately and said, “Don’t believe her. She is a wonderful girl …” The pastor stopped the mother and said, “Now listen, June knows more about her life than you or me or anyone else but God, and if June says she is disgusting and stupid and a failure she must have good reason for saying so.” He turned to June and he said, “June, tell me just how stupid you have been. Tell me what it is that makes you disgusting. Tell me something about the ways you have failed.”
June’s head had been hanging down since she entered the room, but now she picked it up and looked at the pastor. “Is this man for real?” she was thinking, and came to the conclusion that he was, and so she began to tell him about herself. He took her seriously when she spoke of her sins. She had had a series of short-term goals, and she had been living abysmally, and she could see that all she had done was ‘vanity’ – as the book of Ecclesiastes says. There was no meaning to her life, but God has opened his mouth widely and he has told us what the meaning of life is, to know him the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom he has sent. The Lord came that we might have life and have it more abundantly. He came to take our death away by dying himself in our place. He now gives eternal life to those who come to him as helpless sinner. Then he is with us all the way home. He will help us every step of the way, carrying us in his arms at times when we are too weak to go a step further. Your life has the meaning of Christ, his coming to seek and save sinners, what he has said, and what he promised to do for you should you come in repentance and entrust your life to him. These, then, are the truths God has made spectacularly clear. He has opened his mouth wide and spoken freely – God knows you completely; your problems are common to all men; there is a divine solution to every problem; your life does have a meaning. God has spoken a comprehensive word to us, so that we are without excuse if we will not hear it.
2. GOD HAS SPOKEN A LOVING WORD TO US.
“We have … opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding our affection from you … I speak as to my children,” (vv.11&12&13). In other words, there was plenty of room in Paul’s heart for the Corinthians. When a mother has six children and discovers that a seventh is on its way she doesn’t worry that she has used up all her love and there’ll be none left for another baby. There’s plenty of love for however many sons and daughters God gives her. So too the writers of the Bible speak a word of love from the wide-open heart of God. There are few restraints on that love. Who is the God who speaks in the Bible?
i] God is spirit (John 4:24). He has no body; then he would be limited to just one place. Because he is spirit he fills the heavens and the earth. ii] God is light (I John 1:5). There is no darkness in him at all, that is, he is utterly devoid of anything that is mean, and cruel, and tawdry. He is light alone, utter perfection in all his goodness. iii] God is love (I John 4:8). It is not that God loves, but he is love itself. Love is not one of his attributes but love is his nature. Imagine it! Here is a being who is love. You go into him and he is love; you go in and in and he is love; you go in and in and in and he is love; you go in and in and in and in and he is love; you go in and in and in and in and in and he is love. There is nothing unloving in his nature or in anything that he says or does. This is the God of the Bible.
When we consider the other attributes of God we learn more about his love. God is self-existent – in other words he has no life support system outside himself – so God’s love did not arise from loneliness. He was and is Father, Son and Holy Spirit – a trinity of love. God is righteous, and so his is a holy love, there is nothing sentimental or gushing about it. God is immutable, and so his love is unchangeable – it is foolish to think you could divert the love of God. Men have diverted the course of the Ystwyth river so that it flows out into the harbour and not into the sea at Tanybwlch. But if you were standing on the promenade with the tide coming in, could you imagine yourself running down to the water’s edge and pushing back the waves? Of course not. Could you stand in a storm and as the bolt of lightning came through the sky, grab it and change its course? Of course not. Still more foolish is the thought that you could divert or change the love of God. God is also eternal, and so his love can have no beginning and no end. God is infinite, and so his love is immeasurable. Men can estimate the size of the universe, how fast light takes to travel across vast distances between distant stars, but the love of God is immense, without height or depth. His love is vaster than the universe itself. It is this God who opens wide his heart in the Scriptures to speak to us.
It is the nature of love that it cannot lie dormant. Think of a man who tells you that he is a professional athlete, and yet you only see him sitting in a chair, or behind the wheel of a car, or lying in bed, or leaning against a gate, and rarely walking – let alone running. He cannot be a sportsman because the nature of an athlete is to move and exercise and build up his fitness and endurance. His very deportment shows that he is an athlete. So it is with God. If he is love then he will be active, creative, donating, seeking, moving out. There will be recipients of his love; they will have experienced his love and been overwhelmed with this divine love.
John Bradford the martyr said that he made it his rule not to go away from any duty before he had felt something of Christ in it. He meant, of course, that he strove, when he prayed, to have his heart burning within him before he stopped praying, or that he would not put down his Bible until God had “kindled a flame of sacred love on the mean altar of his heart.” Bernard of Clairvaux used to say to Christ, “I never go away from thee without thee.” He waited on Christ until he had a lively sense of his love which followed him when his devotions were over. Jesus Christ is a living person, and we are to know something of his love for us. What I am saying is this, that it is possible to enjoy much more of Christ’s love and to be much more full of his Holy Spirit than most of us are at this hour. There is not a church in the country that does not need to see more shining faces than we see at present.
Think of the early church and what experience they had of Christ’s presence in a felt manner. They knew of “love shed abroad in the heart” (Rom. 5:5), a “peace that passeth all understanding” (Phil. 4:7), “joy unspeakable and full of glory” (I Pet. 1:8), “boldness” such as men have who have been much in the presence of Christ. The new Christians were intoxicated by the love of Christ, like men “full of new wine” (Acts 2:13). The men of the Great Awakening were those who felt deeply the love of God, and were constrained by it, and spoke much of it. Such things put us to shame today.
There was a captain on a Mississippi river-boat, and as his ship went by another vessel the captain pointed out to some of the passengers the captain of that boat: “See him there, that’s the captain,” and he waved at him. His enthusiasm seemed a little childish and someone hinted at that. The captain said, “Let me tell you about him. I was sailing down the river one foggy night and our ships collided. I was thrown overboard and that man saw what happened. He dived in and saved my life, and ever since then I love to point him out to people.” That is what every Christian should be doing. We speak warmly and well of the Captain of our salvation because he gave his very life to save us, and he never withholds his affections from us sinners. Of course, the members of the Godhead love one another – we can comprehend that – and God loves the holy angels bright and they love him in return, but the greatest wonder about his love is that he has not withheld his affection from sinners. He has opened wide his heart and so loved the world that he has given his only begotten Son. It is not populations he loves but people. It is not masses he loves but men. That infinite measureless love has reached out and embraced individuals who have names and pasts and eternal souls. He loves an innumerable multitude – like the sands on the seashore. Solomon asks this question in the Son of Songs, “What kind of beloved is your beloved?” (Song 5:9). You would say, “Words fail me. My beloved is the altogether lovely one.”
Yet, as Maurice Roberts points out, “There is the very real possibility in every Christian that he will learn to live at a distance from the very love of Christ. Our corruption works in us a constant tendency to withdraw from Christ into the shadows. Days and even months can go past in the experience of the Lord’s people in which they are virtual strangers to the inward enjoyment of the love of Christ in their hearts. The soul grows callous. Layers of worldliness or coldness, like coats of paint on an old door, overspread the soul till we have become accustomed to feeling nothing, enjoying nothing, expecting nothing, knowing nothing of those heart-warmings which are all important to spiritual well-being. The next step is that the believer falls into a dead formalism. Prayer is got through as mere duty and routine. The Bible is read either to keep up appearance or to salve the weak voice of conscience” (Maurice Roberts, “The Thought of God,” Banner of Truth, 1993, p.64). So, many of our longings are that this deadness should end and tat we experience again his love. A little kindling can happen in a strange way.
This week I was moved by something I read in the Times. The paper published extracts from a diary of a man called Vincent Lovegrove. He had kept it in May and June 1993 during the last weeks of the life of his six year old son Troy who was dying of Aids. The disease had been transmitted to him by his mother who had also died of Aids shortly after he was born, all those years earlier. The little boy showed a maturity as he faced death, and some of their conversations were moving. For example, the day before he dies his father Vincent says to him, “I seem to have run out of ways to tell you that I love you. I hope you can feel my love and know that you have taught me what love is, and how to love.” Troy replied, “Of course I know, Daddy. You don’t have to worry. I’ve always known you love me … more than anything else on earth. I’ve always felt it, and I know now.” Then he stroked his father’s hand and adds, “And I love you, and I always will” (The Times, June 29. 2001). Now God has opened wide his heart to us. He has not withheld his affection from us. He speaks to his people as to his own children, “I can’t stop telling you how much I love you and my longing is that you feel and know my love for you.”
The Bible is God’s love letter to us. The first chapter of the letter to the Ephesians is said to contain the longest sentence in the Bible. Ephesians 1:3-14 in the King James Version has no full stop (or ‘period’ as the Americans call it). In that section Paul is writing about everything that has happened to the people of God ‘in Christ.’ He says early on in that sentence, “In love God predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will…” (Ephs. 1:5). Everything that happens to us in our salvation does so because God opened wide his heart to us and withheld not his affection from repenting sinners like ourselves. Because of his love we are chosen (1:4), sanctified (1:4), adopted (1:5), accepted (1:5), redeemed (1:7), forgiven (1:7), enriched (1:8), enlightened (1:9), sealed (1:13), made alive (2:5), exalted (2:6), consecrated (2:10), reconciled (2:16), and united (2:21). All this has been accomplished for us by God’s love. That was the fountain head from which all the refreshing and cleansing rivers of grace have flowed, and every one of his people have become its beneficiaries. Let me illustrate it in a parable recorded by the late Dan deHaan in his little book, “The God You Can Know” (Moody Press, 1982).
There once was a girl who lived in a big city. She decided to go to college in a small town where that school was the only institution. She was unattached and acted as though she would be single forever. But the moment she stepped onto the campus of the college, she heard about a man who was supposed to be the “greatest guy in the world.” She ignored the talk. Certainly, she figured, no man could be that great.
Weeks went by and she still heard of his being so fantastic. Everywhere she went she heard about the fellow – in the laundromat, in grocery stores, and especially among the girls on campus. After several months she told the other girls, “Your problem is that you so seldom meet any good-looking men in this town that you go bananas when you see one!”
The talk, however, went on and on. After about six months, she was studying for exams when the phone rang. She picked it up, and guess who was on the other end? No, you are wrong. It was the father of the fellow about whom she had heard so much. He said, “Sally?”
“Yes, this is Sally.”
“Well, I am the father of ‘so and so’.
“Oh, I have heard a lot about your son.”
“I trust it was good.”
“Oh, yes, too good. I doubt anybody could be quite as great as what I have heard!”
“Well, the reason I have called is to tell you that I have chosen you to be the wife of my son.”
“What? No, no. Get this straight. I am not going to marry any person whom I haven’t met!”
“I can understand that. He will be over to pick you up for a date at seven thirty.”
“Well, I can’t be ready in that time.”
“I’m sorry, but you must be ready at seven thirty.”
When she hung up the telephone, she called her friends to tell them what had happened.
Finally, the moment came. He was there at 7:30, and they had their date. She came home so dumbfounded that she just lay across the bed and thought, “How could anybody be so amazing?” She said to herself that he was ten times greater than anyone told her: “I thought for sure he would be a letdown, but he was like no one I have ever known.”
The relationship progressed until one day he popped the big question.
“Sally, will you marry me?” “Yes,” she replied.
Everything had happened so quickly, and she found herself so wrapped up in their relationship that Sally was forgetting her past. She felt that this man was too good for her to jeopardise the marriage by bringing into it all her past debts. You see, she had been a spendthrift. She had bought a new car and still owed a large balance. She had bought furniture for her apartment, and designer label clothes. She had purchased jewelry. She was in big debt. How could she drag that debt into the marriage? She could not even bear the thought of telling her husband to be about it. She decided to go to each place where she owed money and work out a plan, even if it meant giving back what she’d bought.
She went to the car showroom and told them that she was marrying a fantastic guy and could not drag her debts into their marriage. She said, “I am even ready to give up the car. What will you give me for it?”
The office manager looked at her, frowning slightly, “You haven’t heard?” “I haven’t heard what?”
“Well, just before you came in, a fellow was in here and he has cleared your debt.”
“What?! You mean…”
“Yes! The car is all paid for.” She staggered out of the office, then ran back in. “What did he look like?”
“He had dark hair, blue eyes, and a nice smile.”
She drove to the business office of the department store where she had bought her furniture and clothes. She went in and said, “I am getting married to this great guy. I know I have considerable debts on the store’s credit card, but I am able to pay much more now because I am no longer making monthly repayments on my car. Can we work out something?”
The office manager looked at her with surprise. “You haven’t heard?” he said. “Just this morning a guy came in and paid the entire debt. You are free from any more payments to us.”
“You must be kidding me!”
“What did this guy look like?”
“He had dark hair, blue eyes, and a smile like-”
“That’s him!” she said, “That’s the one I’m marrying!”
She got into her car and zoomed over to the jewelry shop. Her mind had been blown away with all of this. She stumbled into the office and began to explain that she was getting married and wanted to clear her debts with them, and that she had more money to repay on the monthly installments because she no longer had to keep up the payments on her car, or to the big department store. “Can we work out something?” she asked.
The office manager looked at her just like the others had. “You don’t know, do you?” he said.
She said, “Oh no! You have to be kidding me!”
“No, the fellow just left. I don’t know how you missed him. He’s paid everything in full.”
She was silent and very reflective.
On the way to her apartment she began to cry. She wept because she felt so unworthy, and yet so special, for being the bride-to-be of such a man. She ran into the house to call him. When he answered, she said, “Thank you, thank you, thank you. Everywhere I went today you’d been before me. You knew all about my debts and you’ve cleared them. Thank you, thank you, thank you. You are a wonderful man.”
“Oh, you are welcome,” he said. “Are you going to be free tonight? . . .
Good, I will be over at seven.
The wedding day was drawing near. She decided to go to Bond Street in London to buy her gown. There was one she had always wanted in silk with a ten-foot train. She chose it and went to the cashier to pay, but the cashier looked at her and said, “You haven’t heard? Yesterday a gentleman came by and gave us your name and said, ‘Anything my bride chooses you put it on my account.’ Your wedding gown is paid for already.” She didn’t know whether to be angry or to laugh.
Let us pause for a moment with this parable. Multiply by infinity. This is the message of Ephesians 1. God the Father has loved us, and he has called us to be the bride of His Son. Not only did Christ invite us to be his very own, but he also took responsibility for all our liabilities. With one move of his nail-scarred hand, he wiped clean all the debts that we had incurred. He lavished upon us the riches of his forgiveness in order for us to be a perfect bride (Ephesians 1:7-8). That is the message of the word of God. God has opened his heart to us. He has not withheld his affection. God has given us the hand of his Son in marriage, and with him he has freely given us all things. That is the message of love that comes from God which is found in this Book:-
From heaven he came and sought her,
To be his holy bride.
With his own blood he bought her,
And for her life he died.
3. DEARLY, DEARLY HAS HE LOVED, AND WE MUST LOVE HIM TOO.
This is the great conclusion to Paul’s exhortations here. God has spoken to us freely and comprehensively. God has opened his heart and loved us, not withholding his affection. So what are going to do? “Open wide your hearts also,” says Paul (v.13). Isn’t that a “fair exchange?” he asks. They have had all these negative thoughts about Paul sown in their minds by the false apostles. Be rid of them, he says. Because God loved Saul of Tarsus he has been enabled to love sinners in return. He looks for the same love in us. If we are the recipients of love so amazing, so divine, it demands our love too.
Consider again the parable I have told you. The wedding day came, and finally they were married. What a blessed union it was! How Sally loved her loving husband. She had only one desire: never to hurt her husband in any way, but to love him and serve him and obey him. At times she did hurt him, but he would just forgive and love her in return. She would often look at the ring he had given her, especially when he had to be away for long periods of time. She would view the ring as a sign of their marriage. It comforted her in her loneliness to know that he had put that ring on her finger. She would do anything to please her kind and generous husband. Every day she would find new gifts, large and small, that he had purchased for her, new ways of pleasing her.
So it was when we became Christians, that is, when we were joined to Jesus Christ by trusting in him, God not only forgave us and cleared all our sins and debts, but he sealed our union with himself by putting the Holy Spirit on the finger of our souls. We were his for ever and ever, his very own possession. He gave us new energy to please him in everything. Then his mercies to us were new every morning.
Let me ask you a question. What do you believe had motivated Sally to love and serve her husband? Simple: you know it had to be the love and grace which she had received from him. Because she was so loved she opened wide her heart also in return. Because she had been forgiven much she loved much. The highest motive in heaven and earth for godly living is love that comes from grace. If a man would give you a million pounds today, you wouldn’t disdain him. You’d say, “What can I do for you? Can I help you in any way? Do your children need anyone to sit with them and read to them? Does your house need anything that I can do – hoover the floors, polish the silver? Can I take your dog for a walk? Can I wash your car? Can I mow your lawn? Anything at all?” You will do anything to show your appreciation for what you’ve been given. That would be a kind of fair exchange. You had got a million and you wanted to show your appreciation. Maybe there are things your benefactor doesn’t like, and so immediately you’d stop doing those things – simply to please him. Once the Lord had met with Saul on the road to Damascus he stopped being mean to Christians! He changed in order to please the one who had shown his love so wonderfully towards him.
There was once a pastor who was finding it very difficult to motivate the members of his congregation to do any work in the church. Every day he would go out for a walk and stand in admiration at the level crossing as the 2.35 train would roar through. Then he would walk home. After this had gone on for months someone walked home with him. He was a little fearful that the pastor might be thinking of ending his life, and so he asked him the reason why he was keeping this strange daily appointment with the express train. The pastor said, “I just need to see something move around here that I don’t have to push!” That is a lament of more mothers than preachers! There is only one way to move a congregation, and that is to continually remind Christians of the wonderful mercy they have received from God.
Paul never forgot the debt he owed the Lord. He was so thankful for the smallest gifts God had given him which he saw everywhere. Paul had forfeited the right to have anything from God. He had hated God’s Son. He had caused Christians to blaspheme the name of Jesus, but God had forgiven him. What grace God had shown to Paul. He loved Paul with the same love wherewith he loved his own Son. He adopted Paul into his family and made him a joint heir with Christ. What blessings Paul knew in Christ, so nothing Paul did could be too much for the Lord who had loved him and given himself for him on Golgotha. Do not withhold your love from him. Open wide your hearts to God also. There were times when my mother was in the last years of her life and living with us, and I would tease her. She would say, “Don’t be mean.” Those words today are like an arrow in my heart. I wish I had never teased her once, that I could ever have been mean to someone who loved me so unconditionally, how ashamed it makes me. Paul had loved these Corinthians and he pleads with them here to open their hearts to him in return.
July 1, 2001 GEOFF THOMAS