The Closed Heart
Hurt closes hearts. When someone hurts you deeply your heart that was once warm towards them now feels cold. You used to long to see them, to be with them, to share life with them, but now the thought of being around them brings pain, fear of being hurt again, and perplexing questions of why and how they could wound you so badly.
As Christians, we often have a nagging feeling that we’re not “allowed” to just avoid someone who has hurt us for the rest of our lives. We know that we should probably try to treat this other person kindly, at least politely, but does it have to be more than that? Does God really expect that we could once again feel genuine warmth towards them?
Perhaps for years a wife has not felt loved by her husband. She consistently thinks that he doesn’t understand her. He seems to disregard her opinions. She continually resolves to be a “good wife” to him and a loving mother to the children, but with each oversight and insult she closes off more and more of her heart to him. She longs for a husband who knows, understands, and loves her; and yet after years of hurt she gives hardly any of herself for him to know and love. She no longer shares her feelings with him. She is willing to care with her hands, but there is nothing left in her heart. Isn’t that enough? Or, does God somehow call her to open up her heart?
Or maybe a longtime friend was going through a really hard time. You poured yourself out for him. Long phone calls, meetings over coffee, many shed tears, pleading prayers and carried burdens. Yet one night he tells you it isn’t enough, “You just haven’t really been there for me,” he explains, “I know you’re busy and all, but I’m really going through a lot.” Subtle comments about your inadequacy and questions of your care continue to come and eventually he quits returning your calls. After a few months you learn that he’s attending a different church. You see him in the grocery store or while dropping your kids off at VBS and you feel a coldness of heart. You can smile and be polite, but is it possible that you could really care for him again?
The Apostle Paul was no stranger to relational pain and spurned love. It seems that some were always openly critical of his life and ministry (Phil 1:17). In 2 Corinthians we find that, despite his deep love for the Corinthians as brothers and sisters in the faith, even they had become influenced by his critics and began to think the worst of his intentions and actions.
The accusations of his critics abounded. He was insincere (1:12; 2:17), lording his authority over his converts (1:24), and tearing others down (7:3a; 10:8b; 13:10). They claimed that he was inferior in knowledge and unskilled as a speaker (10:10; 11:6), his financial requests were suspect (7:2; 12:16), and his apostleship was a sham (12:12; 6:8; 11:13). They implied that he had crafty motives and was taking advantage of people (12:16-17) – even that he was “out of his mind” (5:13). It is hard enough to have someone accuse you of such things, but it’s another thing altogether when even your friends start to believe them. In the face of such misunderstanding and hurt Paul had every reason to close his heart towards the Corinthians.
Yet incredibly we see that rather than their coldness pushing Paul away, he grows in warm affection for them and continues to open himself up to them in love.
We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open. 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 Cor 6:11-13)
Paul’s love for the Corinthians shows us that our hearts can widen towards others, even in the face of great hurt.
Have you been misunderstood, maligned, or accused of selfish intentions when seeking to genuinely love? The Apostle Paul was as well. His example shows us, though, that it does not have to lead to having a callused heart or one guarded in a thick-walled fortress. God is able to work in us in such a way that we can have a heart still “wide open” in love towards those who have pushed us away.
The Call to a Widened Heart
Paul not only models this in his actions, but he also commands the Corinthians to do the same. Paul says that they had become “restricted in [their] own affections” (6:12), and he calls them to “widen [their] hearts also.” He reaffirms this idea in 7:2, “Make room in your hearts for us.” He is not merely calling them to “treat him nicely” but instead to widen their affection for him. As a loving father can expect his children to reciprocate that love, so also he calls them to love him like he has loved them (6:13).
Has your heart grown cold towards brothers and sisters in Christ? The Apostle’s call is to us as well: God wants to widen our hearts – even towards those who have hurt us. What does this look like? How does this happen? We will look more at that in part 2, but the first step is to realize that those cold zones in our hearts are places the Lord longs to warm by the power of the gospel.