Marks of a Widened Heart
The call to a widened heart can feel ambiguous. We know that the relationship doesn’t feel right, but what it would look like to truly respond in love is not clear to us. Fortunately, Paul’s correspondence with the Corinthians gives us a glimpse of a widened heart. As we look through 2 Corinthians we find three main ways that Paul models genuine love in the face of criticism, mistrust and pain.
Moving Towards the Other
Even though his encounters with the Corinthians have been painful, Paul continues to express a desire to visit them. Rather than avoiding he seeks to move towards them in person and through his letters.
“I wanted to come to you first, so that you might have a second experience of grace. I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia…” (1:15-16)
Our natural tendency is to avoid. We want to pull away in the face of hurt, but love enables us to move towards others even when doing so is not pleasant. Fight this natural tendency by initiating contact with the person who has hurt you. Take the time to ask how they are doing and then really listen. Find out a way you can serve them or invite them to share a meal with you. You may be surprised how far a small gesture can go in restoring the relationship.
Affirming Our Love
Paul repeatedly affirms his love for the Corinthians, even though their love for him has been lacking.
For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you. (2:4)
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…I have great pride in you. (7:2-4)
When someone has spurned our love, our tendency can be to downplay our love for them or to cease offering it. We often only hold out as much love as is being reciprocated. It is scary to offer more love than someone has for us. It’s a vulnerable feeling. It opens us up to rejection and hurt. Yet Paul shows us that a widened heart is one that can affirm love in a disproportional way. He even calls them to love him as he has loved them: “make room in your hearts for us” (7:2). This is a radical, risky request. So go ahead and tell them that you love them. Tell them that you are hurting. Even tell them that you want to make things right but don’t know exactly how to go about it. It is possible that your vulnerability may motivate them to respond in kind.
Letting Them In
The candor with which Paul speaks to the Corinthians is striking. He speaks freely with them about what is on his heart – his joys, his sorrows, his struggles (2:1-4; 6:3-10; 7:4).
“For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.” (2:4)
His affirmation of his wide heart towards them (6:11) comes immediately after he opens up to them and describes the difficulties of his ministry (6:3-10), explaining to them not only what he did, but how he felt in the midst of it,
“We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.” (6:8-10)
As we seek to rebuild relationship it can be difficult to know what to say. Our conversation becomes relegated to small-talk. Paul shows how wide-open love involves letting the other person in on what is really going on in our hearts. Are there thoughts, feelings, emotions, descriptions of your life that can be shared with them? Willingness to let them in beyond the mere expectations of polite interaction is a sign of a widening heart.
The Making of a Widened Heart
We have seen that we are called to have a widened heart as Paul exemplifies toward the Corinthians. But what enables Paul to respond in this way? How can his heart, rather than shrinking, actually widen in the face of attack? Paul makes it clear that it is “the love of Christ” that motivates and directs his love toward them (5:14). God’s love for him shown in Christ widens his heart in the face of adversity.
Ultimately our hesitancy to open wide our hearts indicates an inadequate view of God’s heart towards us. His love is not one of action only, as if He has saved us and continues to be kind to us but He does not feel deep affection for us. The salvation that God brings is not merely of position or status, but also of relationship and delight. The Scriptures are filled with images of the Lord’s affection for his people, and yet so often we fail to believe that God’s heart is really moved with love towards us. The battle to have a widened heart is a battle to glimpse the heart of God.
“You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your sons marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” (Isa 62:4-5)
The “breadth and length and height and depth” of God’s love shown to us in Christ expands a heart shrunken by years of neglect (Eph 3:18). It warms a heart grown cold by repeated hurt. His grace makes us people whose hearts widen when they should naturally close, and this gospel-empowered response points others towards the unfathomable dimensions of His redemptive love.
Has your heart grown cold towards a brother or sister in Christ because of how they have hurt you? Allow Paul’s call to the Corinthians to “open wide your heart also” to be yours as you consider your relationship with this person. Pray that the Lord will warm your heart with his love for you and give you the ability to overflow in love towards them. Prayerfully consider what it would look like to take steps towards a widened heart – moving towards them, affirming your love, and letting them into what is really going on in your life and heart. Seek counsel from others about what this could appropriately look like*. And then pray that the love of Christ would compel you to be able to take steps of faith in opening wide your heart to them as the Lord gives you opportunity.
*Note: Some forms of “hurt” such as physical and severe emotional abuse are beyond the scope of this essay. Seeking wise counsel is strongly suggested for those who long to have a right heart attitude while maintaining appropriate distance for determining godly sorrow, repentance and acceptance of the consequences of sin. To find a biblical counselor in your area, click here.