You know the feeling. You’re having a conflict with someone, and you’re trying to make your case, trying to get the other person to listen to your side. You know that if you’re overbearing about it, you’ll get tuned out, so you work hard at being as reasonable as you can be. But you still get the sense that the other person’s heart is closed to you, at least in part. What do you do?
Second Corinthians is a deeply personal letter, one that provides precious insight into the heart and mind of the apostle Paul as he doggedly pursues reconciliation with a troubled church. Having devoted a good portion of the letter to a defense of his apostleship, he sums up with a heartfelt appeal:
Make room in your hearts for us. We didn’t do anything wrong to anyone. We didn’t ruin anyone. We didn’t take advantage of anyone. I’m not saying this to make you feel guilty. I’ve already said that you are in our hearts so that we die and live together with you. I have every confidence in you. I’m terribly proud of you. I’m filled with encouragement. I’m overwhelmed with happiness while in the middle of our problems. (2 Cor 7:2-4, CEB)
“Make room for us,” he says simply; that he is referring to their hearts is implied both by his earlier appeal for them to “open [their] hearts” (6:13) and his declaration here that they are in his heart (7:3).
In three punchy statements, he declares his innocence while implying the guilt of others: we didn’t wrong anyone (though others did us wrong!); we didn’t ruin anyone (though others are trying to corrupt you!); we didn’t take advantage of anyone (like some of you think I’m doing!).
But aware of how they might take this, he qualifies his words: I’m not trying to make you feel guilty. Haven’t I already said that you’re in our hearts? It’s true — our lives are intertwined with each other and with Christ, the one who died and was raised to life, so that we might have new life.
Paul fairly gushes with positive emotion, because (as we’ll see in future posts) the Corinthians responded positively to the painful scolding he had to write to them from Ephesus. Not everything is settled, of course: he still mentions his “problems” (or “afflictions”), and there are issues he still needs to address in the remainder of the letter.
But in the face of all that’s happened (especially in the disastrous visit that necessitated the scolding), in the face of all that is still happening, Paul’s joy is remarkable. His heart is tender and open toward them; he sounds like a proud father beaming over a child’s honest apology, even after conspicuous and hurtful disobedience.
“Make room in your hearts.” Paul’s appeal doesn’t fall from a lofty height. It’s not an imperious apostolic demand. It’s an invitation to stop holding back, to complete the movement of reconciliation between them. And it’s based on the fact that he himself has not withheld his own affection, even when they’ve treated him so inexcusably poorly.
It makes you wonder. When we’re at odds with others, when we feel they need to open their hearts to us, are they really the only ones whose heart is closed?