By Sam E. Stone
In the section of 2 Corinthians just before today’s printed text, the apostle Paul discussed why Christians must resolve differences (5:11-21). Compelled by Christ’s love, we are to practice “the ministry of reconciliation” (v. 18). Paul reminded the church that God’s forgiveness of us is a model of how we should forgive others (compare Matthew 6:12).
2 Corinthians 6:1, 2
Although he was an apostle, Paul described himself simply as a co-worker. All who serve the Lord must demonstrate mercy and show forgiveness toward others. Paul quoted
Isaiah 49:8, speaking of God’s response to the cry of his people for help. Since all believers are included in the family of God, they must not allow divisions to come between themselves in the church.
2 Corinthians 6:3-10
Paul was careful to establish that he put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. He did nothing to knowingly offend others and so prevent them from accepting God’s salvation. Then Paul began to list various qualities displayed in his life.
Greek scholar A. T. Robertson, dissecting the King James Version, pointed out, “Paul gives a marvelous summary of his argument about the dignity and glory of ministers of Christ as ministers of God under three aspects.” Roberstson groups the first under the Greek word for “in” (vv. 3-5); the second with “by” (vv. 6-8a), and the third with “as” (vv. 8b-10). Robertson added, “Each word carries a story that can be filled in from Paul’s own life as a preacher with which we can identify.”
A helpful way to understand these terms is to read the passage from a modern-speech paraphrase, such as The Message. For example, consider how verses 4 and 5 are translated: “Our work as God’s servants gets validated—or not—in the details. People are watching us as we stay at our post, alertly, unswervingly . . . in hard times, tough times, bad times; when we’re beaten up, jailed, and mobbed; working hard, working late, working without eating . . .”
As Paul recounted the various challenges he had faced, his readers could identify with many of the experiences. Paul underwent hardships through beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger. These difficulties also call to mind ways in which Jesus suffered as well.
Through it all, the apostle reminded the Corinthians of the character traits and resources needed to endure such problems—purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love. With these characteristics in their lives, it will be natural for Christians to use truthful speech and weapons of righteousness.
J.W. McGarvey noted, “If Paul’s sufferings had given an appearance of weakness to his life, the Holy Spirit had given it unquestioned power and had crowned his ministry with success (1 Thessalonians 1:5; Romans 15:18, 19). The apostle then turns from those traits and gifts which were more passive to enumerate those that were more active.”
In the eyes of the world, Christians are insignificant—known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed. In 2 Corinthians 6:10, Paul contrasted the paradoxes of the life of faith. Although it may appear that Christians have nothing, in the eyes of God we have everything!
2 Corinthians 6:11-13; 7:1-4
Paul had always been completely open and sincere in his relations with the Christians in Corinth (see 1:12-14; 4:2). Philip Hughes noted that the “false apostles among them have been trying to persuade them that Paul does not really love them (11:11). Now the apostle tenderly appeals to these Corinthians, who are the beneficiaries of his love to them.” He offered complete self-disclosure. Even while the church had not shown compassion for Paul, he had not withheld his affection from them. Open wide your hearts also was his request.
Because of his sincerity, openness, and faithfulness, Paul could remind his readers, We have wronged no one. No doubt this message had the desired effect on the church since they all had witnessed his consistent lifestyle.
The spirit of reconciliation for which the apostle called is surely needed among all Christians today. His first-century example is fitting for us as well. William Barclay wrote, “The New Testament never speaks of God being reconciled to men, but always of men being reconciled to God . . . . It is not that God is estranged from man but that man is estranged from God.” Our message must be, “We implore you on God’s behalf: Be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20).
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.