Connections 06.24.2018: Opening Up

2 Corinthians 6:1-13

Let’s think about how we talk with one another, and particularly about how we carry out difficult conversations with each other.

Along the way, let’s learn (or remember) a little Latin.

We can choose between two approaches when we are discussing, debating, or arguing with someone.

We can use ad hominem arguments. Ad hominem literally means “to the man” (we would say “to the person”). Someone using an ad hominem argument attacks the other person rather than discussing the issue.

Our other option is to use ad rem arguments. Ad rem literally means “to the point.” Someone using an ad rem argument focuses on discussing the issues rather than on attacking the other person.

It seems to me that people too often use ad hominem arguments rather than ad rem ones. We are quick to attack each other rather than talk about the issues. We see this tendency when people discuss political, social, or religious issues.

Paul has been addressing some contentious issues with the Christians at Corinth. He says, “We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you” (v. 11). Speaking frankly lets out what is inside us. We open our mouths to let someone know what is in our hearts.

When we talk about what it can mean to “open up” when talking to someone about important issues, prepositions matter.

To open up on someone is to open fire. When we open up on the person with whom we are talking, we intend to injure her or him. This should never be a Christian’s approach.

To open up to someone is to share ourselves with them. It is to be honest about our perspectives and positions, but to do so with concern about the effect our words will have on the other person. Rather than attack the one with whom we’re discussing the issue, we love and respect him or her. This is the Christian approach.

To open up with someone is for both parties to share themselves with the other. This is the approach that Paul sought to guide the Corinthians toward: “We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you … In return … open wide your hearts also” (vv. 11, 13). To open up with each other is for both parties in the debate to speak in ways that honestly express their positions while also lovingly caring for the other person. This is the ideal Christian approach.

But the words Paul wrote in the spaces where I put ellipses reveal the difficulty of reaching this ideal: “There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours” (v. 12) and “I speak as to children” (v. 13).

Maybe Paul really did hold the high ground in his debates with the Corinthians (although to be fair, we only hear his side, except insofar as we can infer their position from his critique of it). Or maybe Paul inadvertently reveals the human tendency to put the blame on the ones we’re disputing with. Either way, his words demonstrate that achieving the ideal Christian approach is challenging.

But striving for the ideal is what Christians do in their relationships with each other. As we relate to, speak with, and even argue with each other, let us by God’s grace, Spirit, and love move toward opening up with one another and away from opening up on each other.

Discussion

1. What does it mean for “now” to be “the acceptable time” and “the day of salvation”? How can we make the best use of this time?
2. Read Paul’s list of the difficulties he and his ministry partners experienced (vv. 4b-5) and his list of ways they responded to them (vv. 6-8a). How does he use these lists to demonstrate that “we are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry” (v. 3)?
3. What does Paul say is the difference between what people see in him and his fellow missionaries and what they are really experiencing (vv. 8b-10)?
4. Is it possible to have “no restriction in our affections” toward others? Why or why not?
5. What should we do when fellow Christians don’t seem interested in responding in kind to our loving words and actions?

Reference Shelf

We are alerted, both by the insistence in the appeal Paul is about to make and by his direct address of readers as “Corinthians” in v. 11 that he is bringing an end to this part of his letter and its defense of himself and his apostolate. Clearly he intended all he has said thus far to affect their relationship with him, but in what follows he makes that intent explicit and emphatic.

He begins with his own feelings for them: “Our mouth is opened wide to you” (v. 11a), which Paul Sampley considers a euphemism for the “frank speech” Paul has used all along with the Corinthians. As noted before, frank speech in their culture was a sign of friendship (see the commentary on 1:12). In addition to his mouth being opened wide, his heart also “is enlarged,” and the Corinthians “are not being restricted” in him (vv. 11b-12a). Thus Paul claims his affection for the Corinthians is bold, deep, and unrestricted. However, the Corinthians are “being restricted” in their “affections” (the Greek word is splagchna, lit., “bowels” or “gut,” the seat of emotions in Hebrew thinking; v. 12b). From Paul’s perspective, the problem between them does not lie with him. Thus his explicit appeal: “by the same response [or “the same exchange”], I speak as to children, you yourselves also be opened wide [to us]” (v. 13). That is, he exhorts his “children” to love him as much as he loves them.

Mitzi Minor, 2 Corinthians, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2009), 129.

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra, father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin), grandfather to Sullivan. A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.

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