Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians is interesting because, among other things, Paul is attempting to bridge or repair a schism that had broken out between himself and the church in Corinth (chapters 10 and 11). In fact it had degraded to the level where some we were questioning Paul’s motives and his right to be called an apostle. Much of the letter serves as a defense of himself, his friend and companion Timothy and their ministry in general. In a word, Paul is trying to set the record straight and reconcile their differences, while at the same time attempting to help those affected by the conflict. There are a number of “take-aways” in this letter, but I would like to see what we can apply to our marriages when conflict and conflagration breaks out.
I remember when Cindy and I were dating, whenever we had a fight, the one thing that was most precious to both of us was to maintain our affections for each other in spite of our differences. Sure they were strained, but the love we had for each other enveloped even our most difficult situations. It may sound corny, even beyond belief, but never once was our relationship in jeopardy and some forty years later, nothing has changed in that regard. It certainly wasn’t because I was a Christian, so what was it that bound us so tightly together? The answer I believe has multiple parts and many of them can be found in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. But before diving into the text, let me also say that I believe that although I wasn’t a Christian, I did respect the ethics and teachings of Christ. Also, I truly believe that God was preparing and preserving our marriage for what I am doing today and what we have done since we both dedicated ourselves to serving Christ. The point is that it is because of Christ working in us, to His credit, things have turned out the way they have.
Paul pleads with those who oppose him in the church, “We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us (6:12).” First of all what does the word “affections” mean in this context and in the context of a marriage? They are really much the same, in that there is an emotional component as well as a physical one. Paul recognizes that those who have grown to oppose him have become emotionally detached from him, or even worse, pushing him away. They were creating space between themselves and Paul by speaking to others unfairly about him by looking for allies in the conflict. For many husbands and wives, we justify our actions by claiming that “all we are looking for is a sympathetic ear.” Perhaps there is a genuine need to talk to someone about the situation, but it should never be to talk about your spouse, but to seek advice on how you can draw closer to each other and God in the process. So by definition; a loss of affection is an emotional detachment and if not held in check, can damage a relationship beyond repair.
The second dimension is the physical aspect. For those that opposed Paul it was by talking about him and refusing to meet with him. They even considered cutting off their financial support for Paul’s ministry. So often, when husbands and wives are locked in battle, the subject of money and how it’s spent raises its ugly head. Perhaps there is a need for a conversation about money, but it is best conducted after cooler heads have prevailed. Using it as a weapon to gain advantage is never appropriate.
The most obvious example of withholding affection in a marriage deals with sex and intimacy in general. It goes without saying that sex should never be used as an implement of war in a marriage. But we all know that when things get heated, it’s one of the first things to suffer, if not completely abandoned. But equally important is when we withhold the intimacy of a gentle caress, words of encouragement, or a well timed compliment; it can be equally damaging. I know it’s a daunting task and the only way to be successful is to, as Paul writes, “open wide your hearts…make room in your hearts (6:11, 13; 7:2). Tomorrow we’ll take a closer look at what that means and how to do it.
“As a fair exchange…open wide your hearts also.”