By Joe Chesser
I’m not sure we fully grasp what Paul meant. I’m not sure we want to.
When writing his second letter to the Corinthian church, Paul felt spiritually and emotionally connected to them. The first time he had been to Corinth he spent more than 18 months with them teaching them the word of God (Acts 18.11). For a time he supported himself in Corinth by tentmaking (Acts 18.3). Later, at some point, he had made a second trip to the city, and was wanting to make a third one (2 Cor. 13.1). This brief history is important to our understanding of what he said to the church in 2 Corinthians 12.15.
As he was planning his third trip to visit the church in Corinth, Paul wanted to assure them that he would not be a financial burden to them. He wasn’t interested in their money, goods or support. He was interested only in their spiritual welfare: their relationship with God and with each other (2 Cor, 12.14). To make his point as clear as possible, he wrote, “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls” (2 Cor. 12.15).
That’s what I’m not sure we fully grasp, or maybe even want to understand. What did Paul mean when he said he was willing to “spend and be spent” for the sake of their souls? The answer is whatever it takes. For the sake of their souls Paul was all in, he would hold nothing back, … and do so with gladness. He was willing to spare no expense out of his own pocket; his services would not cost them a penny. The root word used for “spend” and “be spent” in this text was also used to describe the woman who had spent all her money on doctors hoping to heal her issue of blood (Mark 5.26). Paul was willing to spend all his money, time, possessions and energy so as not to be a burden to them, like he willingly did in Thessalonica (1 Thess. 2.9; 2 Thess. 3.8). Any expense that would promote their salvation, he was willing to “spend and be spent.” And he would do so with pleasure!
The natural question is “Why?” Why would Paul “spend and be spent”? The only answer is love. The love of Jesus transformed his heart. Now, instead of himself, Jesus was in his heart, and so were the Corinthians (2 Cor. 7.2-3). Paul is showing us a practical example of what Jesus meant when he said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9.23). Why? Because that’s what love does. Love sacrifices self-interests to meet the needs of the ones who are loved.
This is not easy to do. This is not even easy to want to do … unless we, like Paul, have the Spirit of Christ in our hearts. When we learn to view our time, energy and money like Jesus does, when we learn to view the lost like Jesus does, when we learn to view our spouse, family and friends like Jesus does, and when we learn to view the church and our involvement with it like Jesus does, then we will willingly “spend and be spent” for the sake of souls … and do so gladly.
When Jesus offers you an opportunity to “spend and be spent” for the sake of saving souls, how do you think you will respond? Reluctant and stingy, or generous and joyful?
- Joe Chesser preaches for the Fruitland Church of Christ, Fruitland, MO. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org