2 Corinthians 6:1-13
Paul was the founding pastor of the church at Corinth, a cosmopolitan city on the Isthmus of Corinth (an isthmus is a narrow strip of land that connects two land masses) connecting the mainland of Greece (Northern Greece) with the Peloponnese (Southern Greece). Paul spent approximately eighteen months in Corinth on his Second Missionary Journey (Acts 18:1-11).
After leaving Corinth, Paul traveled extensively (Acts 18:18-23), settling in Ephesus for an extended period of time (Acts 19). During that period, he wrote at least four letters to the Christians at Corinth. His first letter has been lost to us (see 1 Corinthians 5:9). His second letter is the letter that we know as 1 Corinthians. He wrote a third letter––a severe letter––”out of much affliction and anguish of heart” (2 Corinthians 2:4) so that when he visited Corinth he “wouldn’t have sorrow from them of whom I ought to rejoice” (2 Corinthians 2:3). He wrote a fourth letter, which we know as 2 Corinthians. He visited Corinth again after writing this fourth letter (2 Corinthians 12:14). (NOTE: There is considerable scholarly debate as to what constitutes which letter, but that goes beyond the scope of this exegesis.)
Underlying much of 2 Corinthians is the fact that “false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as Christ’s apostles” (11:13) have mounted significant opposition to Paul’s ministry. Paul deals with this opposition in detail in chapters 10-13, but the conflict influences what he has to say elsewhere as well. These opponents have treated Paul as an imposter (6:8). When we hear Paul talk about reconciliation (vv. 18-19)––and God “having committed to us the word of reconciliation” (v. 19)––and his claim to be an ambassador of Christ (v. 20)––we should keep in mind that he makes these statements, in part, in response to the opposition that he has been facing.
2 CORINTHIANS 6:1-2. DO NOT RECEIVE GOD’S GRACE IN VAIN
1 Working together, we entreat also that you not receive the grace of God in vain, 2a for he says,
“At an acceptable time I listened to you,
in a day of salvation I helped you.”
2bBehold, now is the acceptable time. Behold, now is the day of salvation.
“Working together, we entreat (Greek: parakaleo) also that you not receive the grace (charis) of God in vain” (6:1). In 5:20, Paul said, “as though God were entreating by us,” which suggests that “working together” in 6:1 means “Paul working together with God.”
The Greek word parakaleo combines two words, para (near) and kaleo (to call), and means to call near––to invite––to beseech––to exhort. It is a strong word that implies urgency. God, through his ambassador Paul, is entreating the Corinthian Christians to “not receive the grace of God in vain”––but rather to accept the grace of God and appropriate it to their lives.
Grace (charis) is a significant word in the New Testament. The use of charis in the New Testament has its roots in the Hebrew word hesed, used in the Old Testament to speak of God’s lovingkindness, mercy, and faithfulness. God’s grace is beyond measure (hyperballo Ephesians 2:7)––sufficient to cover our sins, no matter how numerous or grievous. We don’t need to earn forgiveness, but need only accept the gift that Christ offers. Paul is urging these Corinthian Christians not to spurn this wonderful free gift.
“for he says, ‘At an acceptable (Greek: dektos) time (Greek: kairos) I listened to you, in a day of salvation I helped you'” (6:2a). “For he says” refers to God. Paul is God’s ambassador, and is delivering to these Corinthians what God has given him to say.
This verse quotes Isaiah 49:8. In its original context, it was news of the impending release of Israel from their Babylonian Exile. Paul appropriates that verse to speak of the salvation that God has made available through Christ.
There are two Greek words for time––chronos and kairos:
- Chronos has to do with chronological time––clock time––the time by which we keep daily appointments.
- Kairos has to do with special time––special moments in time––the forks in the road that make all the difference––moments with the potential to determine destinies. Paul uses kairos here, signaling that he is speaking of a significant moment in time.
When Paul uses the phrase “acceptable time” here, then, he is telling these Christians about a special moment in history (the cross and resurrection) when God listened to them and helped them. They dare not spurn such an important Godly gift.
“Behold, now is the acceptable time. Behold, now is the day of salvation” (6:2b). Paul takes it one more step, saying that NOW is the acceptable time–– that NOW is the day of salvation for these Corinthian Christians. NOW is the moment that will determine their eternal destiny.
2 CORINTHIANS 6:3-10. SERVANTS OF GOD
3 We give no occasion of stumbling in anything, that our service may not be blamed, 4 but in everything commending ourselves, as servants of God, in great endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses, 5 in beatings, in imprisonments, in riots, in labors, in watchings, in fastings; 6 in pureness, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in sincere love, 7 in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, 8 by glory and dishonor, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; 9 as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and not killed; 10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.
“We give no occasion of stumbling (Greek: proskope) in anything” (6:3a). The Greek word proskope means stumbling. Paul is saying that he has not thrown any roadblocks in the way of these Christians’ faith. He has not introduced anything that would cause them to stumble spiritually.
“that our service (Greek: diakonia) may not be blamed” (6:3b). Diakonia is where we get our word deacon. Diakonia suggests humble service such as taking care of guests (Luke 10:40; 1 Corinthians 16:15) or administering alms (Acts 11:29), but it can also mean spiritual ministry (Acts 1:17, 25) as it does here.
If these Christians stumble spiritually, they will have no one to blame except themselves. Their spiritual mentors have been faithful.
“but in everything commending ourselves, as servants of God, in great endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses, in beatings, in imprisonments, in riots, in labors, in watchings, in fastings” (6:4-5). Shortly after Paul’s vision of Jesus on the road to Damascus, Jesus said that he would “show (Paul) how many things he must suffer for (Jesus’) name’s sake” (Acts 9:16). The first thing Paul lost was his superior status under Jewish law as a Pharisee. But Paul could say, “However, what things were gain to me, these have I counted loss for Christ” (Philippians 3:7).
For a detailed account of Paul’s sufferings on behalf of Christ, see Acts 9:16, 28; 13:50; 14:4, 19; 16:22; 21:30; 22:22; 23:1-10; 1 Corinthians 4:9; 2 Corinthians 4:8-12; 11:16-28; 2 Timothy 2:9; 3:10-13.
We should especially note 2 Corinthians 11:23-28, where Paul speaks of having experienced abundant labors, imprisonments, and stripes in his service to Christ. He goes on to say, “Five times from the Jews I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I suffered shipwreck. I have been a night and a day in the deep. I have been in travels often, perils of rivers, perils of robbers, perils from my countrymen, perils from the Gentiles, perils in the city, perils in the wilderness, perils in the sea, perils among false brothers; in labor and travail, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, and in cold and nakedness. Besides those things that are outside, there is that which presses on me daily, anxiety for all the assemblies” (churches).
Only a person with total commitment would accept sufferings such as this as a consequence of their calling. Paul’s sufferings validate his ministry.
“in pureness, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in sincere love” (6:6). But it isn’t only Paul’s sufferings that bear testimony to his ministry. His purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, and love also show his true heart, which manifests these positive attributes because he is “in the Holy Spirit.”
“in the word of truth, in the power of God” (6:7a). Paul’s truthfulness and Godly power also bear testimony to the quality of his ministry.
“by the armor (Greek: hoplon) of righteousness (dikaiosyne) on the right hand and on the left” (6:7b). The Greek word hoplon means instruments of war such as weapons or armor. That is instructive, especially linked to his reference to the right hand and the left.
Christians often experience opposition and persecution. We have read about the persecutions of Christians at the hands of Romans and Jews in the first century, but far more Christians died for their faith in the twentieth century than in the first––and we are on track for even worse in the twenty-first century. Opposition to the Christian faith literally comes from every direction––from the right and from the left––so we must deploy our defenses broadly.
The best Christian defense is the witness of righteousness (dikaiosyne). This word has its roots in the Old Testament, and appears frequently in the Septuagint as well as in the New Testament. In both, it connotes the meeting of high ethical standards and the sense of being found not guilty. However, in Biblical use it goes beyond that, because righteousness is possible only as we are in a covenant relationship with God. It is gift of God.
“by glory and dishonor, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things” (6:8-10). In these verses, Paul sets forth nine antitheses (contrasts or opposites) that typify his ministry.
Paul might have in mind things that are seen one way by believers and another way from opponents. “Evil report and good report” and “deceivers, and yet true” are two examples. Believers would see “good report” and “true,” while unbelievers would see “evil report” and “deceivers.”
But in some cases, people of faith can see both sides as evidence of true faith.
- For instance, Paul says, “as dying, and behold we live.” Christian martyrs are alive not only in heaven but also in our memories and affections. The witness of their faith continues to exert great power over our lives even centuries after they died.
- Christians look at the world sorrowfully because of wrongs that are all too apparent––but also rejoice when faith triumphs in the midst of these wrongs.
- Christians are often poor in material possessions, but rich spiritually. We might possess nothing––but we possess everything that is important.
Verses 3-10 constitute a defense of Paul’s ministry. His purpose is to gain credibility with these Christians so that he might be able to counter the “false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as Christ’s apostles” (11:13) who oppose him.
2 CORINTHIANS 6:11-13. I SPEAK AS TO MY CHILDREN
11 Our mouth is open to you, Corinthians. Our heart is enlarged. 12 You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted by your own affections. 13 Now in return, I speak as to my children, you also be open wide.
“Our mouth is open to you, Corinthians” (v. 11). Paul has been candid and forthright in speaking to them––and in his teachings.
“Our heart is enlarged” (v. 11). Paul’s heart is large enough to harbor great affection for the Corinthian Christians.
“You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted by your own affections” (v. 12). Paul has not squeezed the Corinthian Christians out of his affections, but they have allowed the false teachers to squeeze their affection for Paul.
“Now in return, I speak as to my children (Greek: teknon), you also be open wide” (v. 13). The word teknon means child. Paul uses the word in this verse metaphorically to show the parental affection that he feels for the Corinthian Christians.
This is Paul’s appeal to the Corinthian Christians that they open their affections to him even as he has opened his heart to them.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Copyright 2017, Richard Niell Donovan