This morning we are going to tackle a lengthy section - it’s probably the longest section of verses we’ve looked at in this study.
This passage is a transition section - Paul is moving away from explanation and into application. Remember that up until this point in the letter Paul has been defending his ministry.
False teacher invaded the church in Corinth after Paul’s departure, and tried to turn the church against him. But through writing letters - hard letters - through a painful visit - the relationship between Paul and this church had been restored…but more work needed to be done.
What Paul has been doing through the first 5 chapters of this letter, and now into the 6th - is defend his ministry. He defends the suffering and affliction he’s endured by showing that suffering and affliction serve to authentic his ministry.
Paul’s defended the gospel he preached. Paul is a minister of the new covenant - preaching salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus. And what we see here in chapter 6 is Paul’s defense reaching its climax.
In continuing his defense, Paul doesn’t look to the content of his ministry…he’s already done that…here he defends his conduct. Paul had been accused of being worldly and wishy washy in his decision making and conduct…he had been accused of being cursed by God, not called by God…but here, Paul writes about the characteristics of his ministry…and defends the way he conducted himself.
And all of this comes to a tipping point in 11-13 - where Paul lays it all out on the table. In effect what he does in these verses is he’s forcing the Corinthians to make a choice.
Who will they follow? Who will they align themselves with? Their spiritual father or the false teachers?
To me, the passage breaks down like this. 3 distinct sections.
Section 1…verse 1&2…we have Paul’s concluding thought to the previous section. Paul and his coworkers are coworkers with God in the ministry of reconciliation.
In Section 2 - verses 3-10 is Paul’s defense of his ministry. It’s a resume of sorts - though he includes some interesting items on this resume.
And finally in vv.11-13, we have the aforementioned appeal for the Corinthians to make a decision.
So we’ll read 2 Corinthians 6:1-13 …hear God’s Word.
1 Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. 2 For he says, “In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. 3 We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, 4 but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5 beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; 6 by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; 7 by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8 through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9 as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; 10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything. 11 We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open. 12 You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. 13 In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also.
We really could have included these verses in last weeks study because they really are the concluding thought to the argument Paul started in 5:18-21…Be reconciled to God.
Paul appeals to them not to receive God’s grace in vain.
Now this phrase...”We appeal to you...” is actually a really important phrase in Paul’s writing. As readers and interpreters of the Bible, we have to pay attention to repeated words and phrases as we read…that way we’ll better understand what is written and how to apply it to our lives.
So Paul writes in 6:1 - we appeal to you…Paul often uses this phrase as a transition phrase…to transition out of teaching and in to application.
Think of Romans 12:1 - We urge you brothers…you appeal to you. And Romans 12:1 is the great turning point in the book of Romans. Paul spent the first 11 chapters of Romans writing a brilliantly crafted defense of the gospel…but in Romans 12:1, he switches gears…and moves away from teaching and exhortation into application.
1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
He beings to answer the ever pressing question - “So what?”
So here to in 2 Corinthians - Paul is transitioning out of the instruction section of his letter and into application. And his application continues his line for thought from the section we looked at last week.
Paul interrupted himself in v.21 with a theologically brilliant statement about Jesus’ death - he who knew no sin became the sin offering for us! - incredible.
But here in vv.1-2 of chapter 6, Paul picks up the thought of being an ambassador for Jesus. He picks the thought up…but also adds a sense of urgency to it.
He charges the Corinthians, don’t receive God’s grace in vain. What does he mean by that??? Receiving God’s grace in vain.
Paul doesn’t want his beloved spiritual children to fall away from the faith quickly. He wants God’s grace - his amazing, unmerited and undeserved favour - to have a lasting impact on their lives.
Paul doesn’t want to see his spiritual children be like the seeds planted on the rocky ground or among the thorns. Where there is quick growth - but not depth...
so when trouble, or in this case, false teachers, come along - there is a quick disregard for faith.
Paul pleads with them to not receive God’s grace in vain…he longs for it to have a lasting impact in their lives. And to press the urgency of the situation even more, Paul quotes a verse from Isaiah.
Paul has spent considerable time and space in this letter detailing who he is to the Corinthians. He’s spent considerable time showing how afflictions are preparing him for an eternal weight of glory.
He’s spent time writing about the reconciling work of God and here…he adds urgency to the process. Now is the favourable time - now is the day of salvation.
Now - today - was the time for them to withdraw from the false teachers and be reconciled to God and to Paul. Now was the time believe once again in the gospel Paul brought to them.
Now is the time for the Corinthians to stop taking advantage of God’s grace and instead have his grace make a lasting impact on their lives - in their attitudes and actions.
Paul’s Resume - vv.3-10
Paul’s Resume - vv.3-10
And in vv.3-10, we have in these verses Paul’s resume for ministry. Paul urges his spiritual children to reconcile to God - to reconcile their relationship with him.
And what Paul does in the middle section here is show the Corinthians their falling out with Paul had nothing to do with Paul’s conduct or behaviour. “We put no obstacle in anyone’s way...” Paul writes in v.3
And in order to prove the veracity of that statement, Paul lays out his resume for ministry. Now, it’s an odd resume, ins’t it? Usually on resumes you highlight your work experiences, successes you had in your career...
Maybe you highlight a few of your shining attributes…Basically - a resume is the one place in life where its OK to brag about yourself. But take a look at Paul’s resume for ministry here in 6:3-10 - it’s bold and honest.
Yes, this resume highlights the power of God and the work of the Holy Spirit in Paul’s life and ministry - but this resume highlights Paul’s weakness, his fragility - and the hard experiences of life in ministry.
We aren’t going to go into great detail in regards to this listen here - that would take too long - instead i want to draw you attention to a few teaching points from Paul’s ministry resume. Paul highlights what its likes to be a minister of the gospel…whatever shape or form that ministry takes.
First - the Christian minister should expect to suffer. The student is not greater than the Master. As ministers of the gospel - we are followers and students of Jesus.
Jesus suffered greatly while he was here on earth. And Paul believes that when he suffered for the sake of gospel, he was actually participating in the sufferings of Jesus - becoming more like Jesus through his suffering.
And this is something that is very important for us to grasp. Being a minister of the - however and wherever that looks like for you - isn’t all rainbows and unicorns and sunshine.
I’ll be honest with you, as Paul writes…there are sleepless nights - many sleepless nights. Depending on how bad the situation is or how mad you make people - there might be riots!
In ministry there are times of hunger - maybe voluntary hunger as you pray and fast…or maybe times when your stomach is tied in so many knots its impossible to eat…or times when you’re so stressed you can’t eat and go hungry.
Anyone in any position of leadership has experienced this feeling…or will experience it eventually.
I love the honest truth of Paul’s resume - he doesn’t fancy it up - he doesn’t leave out the bad bits…he includes everything.
However, even though he includes the hardships he’s experienced…Paul also adds that when a Christian is armed with the right tools - they will be able to endure.
Paul didn’t put obstacles in anyone’s way - an open path to the gospel. He writes, despite riots and beatings and imprisonments and calamities and hardships…he faced all of that with great endurance.
By the power of the Holy spirit - he lived a life or purity, patience, and kindness - Paul was truthful in speech.
And in verse 7, Paul makes this statement - armed with the weapons of righteousness. When Christians have the right tools - they too can live with endurance through hardships.
Paul loves military images - it’s a remember that as Christians we are indeed in a battle. We are involved in a spiritual war.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:8 - Paul writes about putting on the spiritual armour. In Romans 13:12 - Paul encourages the Christians in Rome to put on the armour of light.
12 The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.
8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.
And of course in Ephesians 6 - Paul details the six pieces of armour that make up the full armour of God - used to protect ourselves from the attacks of Satan.
And here in 2 Corinthians 6:7 - Paul writes that when armed with the weapons of righteousness in the right and left hand - the Christian is able to face any circumstances with endurance, patience, purity and kindness.
The overall point of this resume section is this - conduct in ministry is as important as content. Yes, it matters what we say. Previously Paul defended the content of his ministry. He defended the new covenant he preached…salvation, not through trying to laws you can never keep, but salvation through the one dying for all - by Jesus becoming the sin offering for us.
But here, instead of continuing to defend the content of his ministry - Paul writes about his conduct. Paul didn’t put an obstacles in people’s way…he conducted himself with honesty and integrity. And this should be the case for all Christians - not just for Paul or pastors…but every Christians should conduct him or her self with honesty and integrity.
We are to draw people to Jesus - not only by the hope and gloriousness of the truth we hold…of the gospel we proclaim - by our content...
but we also draw people to Jesus through our conduct…how we act…especially how we act during hard times.
When, through the power of the Holy Spirit, when armed with the weapons of righteousness, we can walk, even though hard times - with endurance, patience and kindness.
in vv.8-10, Paul concludes this lengthy resume section by giving 2 differing perspectives on his ministry - a worldly perspective and God’s perspective.
From a worldly point of view - Paul’s life and ministry was a miserable failure. But when seen through God’s eyes - he was known…Paul’s ministry was true.
Paul could rejoice in sorrowful circumstances…and he possessed everything he needed.
It’s a lengthy resume section - but when we see the teaching points in it - it helps us better understand what Paul is doing here.
Laying it on the Line - vv.11-13
Laying it on the Line - vv.11-13
And in the 3rd section of the passage - vv.11-13, what we have here is Paul putting his cards on the table, or, if you don’t like cards, we could say he’s wearing his heart on his sleeve. He does this so that the Corinthians will make a choice of whether or not they are going to following Paul or the false teachers.
He writes openly and honestly about how he views the Corinthians. And he writes that it is the church who’s actually holding their relationship back.
For any of your who have ever been in a relationship before - you know that eventually one person will always say to the other, “Where is this relationship going?”
And from there - hopefully what follows is a open, honest and constructive conversation about the status and future of said relationship.
Well, that’s what’s happening here. in the ancient world there was this idea of reciprocation. Something given in fair exchange for something returned.
In Latin it would be quid pro quo.
Paul writes to the Corinthians - our hearts are wide open to you - I have spoken with you and to you in love and kindness and patience and sincerity…it’s your turn!
Paul honestly lays it on the line - he tells the Corinthians that they are hte ones who are holding back this relationship. By entertaining false teachers, by not defending their spiritual father, they are leaving Paul out to dry.
We really see the pastoral heart of the apostle Paul in these verses. He’s not afraid to write the hard words - but he also longs for a restored relationship with this church taht he founded and pastored. He writes as a pastor…but also as a father who deeply loves his children.
He’s done his part…its time for them to do theirs.
The section is lengthy - perhaps a little confusing at first, but when we break it down it begins to make sense. Now is the day for reconciliation - allow God’s grace to make a lasting impact in your life.
Don’t expect service for Jesus - whatever share and form your service takes - don’t expect it to be smooth sailing. Yes, there will be unimaginable highs as you work in and rely on the God’s strength and Spirit.
but there will also be times of struggle and hardship…but God’s grace is big enough to see us through those hard times too.
Remember the conduct of a Christians is as important as the content of our message.
And finally, Paul writes with pastoral sensitivity to a flock he cared deeply about. He wasn’t afraid to lay it on the line in order to further his relationship with the Corinthian church.
And sometimes in ministry we must follow this pattern. In Christian love and kindness - as leaders - as ministers - we must lay ourselves on the line in order to bring about a restored relationship.
Next week, we’re going to look at what Paul meant when he wrote, “don’t be unequally yoked with unbelievers.” That’s next week. If you want to read ahead, read 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1.