2 Make room in your hearts for us; we have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one. 3 I do not say this to condemn you, for I said before that you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together. 4 I often boast about you; I have great pride in you; I am filled with consolation; I am overjoyed in all our affliction.2 Corinthians 7:2-4
If I were to identify a purpose statement for the entire letter we call 2nd Corinthians, it would be these three verses. From the opening lines of the letter where he embarks on an explanation of his own delays, and a defense for his actions, on through to how the heart of the Gospel has been on display in his own ministry and within the church, and how that calls us to be new creation, all of it concludes at these three verses. Paul has undertaken these Herculean efforts for the purpose of reaching out to a wounded community that, at present, seems more than content to keep Paul at arm’s length and follow the beat of a different drummer, or rather the beats of several different drummers intent on pushing their particular agendas. All those pulling at the bare threads exposed by this conflict seem happy to lead this fledging Christian community into compromising the witness of the Gospel in order to live comfortable lives in conformity to the passing wisdom of the world.
To put it another way, one of the driving messages Paul tries to convey in this letter is the Christian community’s need to make room for others as we reconcile our common hurt. In a society that places the individual at the center of concern, I can think of no harder task than making room in our hearts for enemies. Our tendency is to box out an enemy, or to cut off another who has offended us.
Paul’s countermove to this trend, this letter that he has written, has been an apologia, a defense that is aimed not at justifying Paul the man, but making the case in Christian love that the community should open its hearts to him and his fellow co-workers. Make room, he commands them. Paul and his co-laborers are not in the wrong. But this command isn’t made in a spirit of condemnation of the community that has treated Paul so poorly, but is, instead, a desperate plea motivated by the love of Jesus Christ.
Here, all the flighty talk of new creation, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, or being the fulfillment of God’s redeeming purposes through whom God appeals the Gospel to the world points to the desperate need for this reconciliation in the body. This wound that has festered isn’t just a matter of pride or hurt; they are one in Christ, and the division burns in the very heart of Paul and his co-workers. He loves them, he is telling them, and despite their difficulties, neither can be whole until room is made for God’s peace to invade the chasm and fill the division with his presence. Even in his affliction, Paul tells them, he is overjoyed because this hurt brings with it signs of life and repair; only a living heart that is healing can hurt in this way.
And here we come to a powerful takeaway for us today. The simple truth is that though we belong to Christ AND to each other, and though we are certainly new creatures with a new way of thinking and being in the world, we are also human, susceptible to all the foibles of that nature that still snaps at our heels. We fall into quarrels and divisions; at our worst, we hurl anathemas, or condemnations at each other. Pride still needs to be dethroned.
To hearts like these, Paul’s command to make room is a command we need to hear daily. I don’t know about you, but this is hard for me. When someone angers me, or when I am upset, I find that what I have done is sealed the offender off form the entryway to compassion, understanding, and tenderness in my heart. I’ve katy barred the door, so to speak, and taken the furniture of my heart and mind to seal it shut. I tell myself all the ways the other has wronged me; I recount the litany of grievances; I justify my hard heartedness. When this happens, if we are honest, the room of our hearts, our capacity to show grace, mercy, and compassion becomes just a little smaller as I rearrange the furniture around my wounds.
When this all-too-human tendency arises, we need to make room. If following Jesus means anything, it must mean making room for others who don’t deserve the mercy extended to them. In another letter, Paul puts it like this: “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) If God has made room for us at the table, then we need to do the same, especially with our enemies. We can’t be whole otherwise.