The Bible Passage: Second Corinthians 6:1-13
1As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. 2For he says, “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! 3We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, 4but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; 6by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, 7truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; 10as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
11We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you. 12There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours. 13In return—I speak as to children—open wide your hearts also.
For some general comments on Second Corinthians, a letter written by the first-century preacher and evangelist, Paul, see my first pass at last weekend's lesson, also taken from that book. This explains the general context of this book and of this particular section of it.
1. Five verses, coming at the end of Second Corinthians 5, intervene between the end of last week's Bible lesson and the start of this week's. In those verses, Paul asserts that the new way Christians have of looking at life--no longer dazzled by possessing the visible things which die, focused instead on the unseen things that are eternal, is a gift from God. It amounts to freedom from death and freedom to live as God designed human beings to live.
We are, Paul goes on to assert, ambassadors of God's new creation to the old one. Our mission is to make the reconciliation between God and sinners God affords us through Jesus Christ known to everyone. It ends with this ringing assertion about what God has done through Jesus Christ:
For our sake He [God] made Him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. [Second Corinthians 5:21]Jesus, Who was sinless, bore the punishment for sin which we deserve, death, so that we can have a right relationship with God and so live with Him forever. (See also Romans 6:23)
2. Following the principle of "context helps us understand content," the last five verses of chapter 5 set the table for our lesson. Paul says that as "we," he and his ministry team, which includes the young pastor, Timothy, don't accept God's charities--His grace--without allowing it to change the way you live.
3. From there, Paul quotes from Isaiah 49:8, to say that now, today, is the time when God's saving action in Christ has blessed us and now is the right time to respond to His grace through lives that reflect that grace and Christ's presence in our lives. Paul would have no patience for "someday, I'll" Christians, who resolve that "once things have settled down" or "once [you fill in the blank] happens," I'll devote myself to following Christ and expressing my faith in my living.
4. Bryan Findlayson summarizes, accurately I think, the theme of these verses:
Paul now calls on his readers to not only accept his ministry among them, but to accept the content of the ministry, namely, the gospel. "We urge you not to receive God's grace in vain", 6:1 - "Open wide your hearts", 6:13. So we have in our passage for study, an appeal for a genuine acceptance of gospel truth.The greatest frustration for any pastor is not to be spurned by others, painful though that is. The greatest frustration comes in being personally accepted, even loved, by those they serve, yet seeing their congregation and community, through their lives and attitudes, spurn or ignore the new life in Christ for which the preacher is an ambassador.
This was the frustration faced by Paul. Writes Findlayson, quoting another source:
v1. The living God has acted toward lost humanity in Jesus Christ to give life so that we might live no longer to ourselves but live for God, 5:15. Paul and his team labor to this end. He now calls upon his readers to accept "God's grace" (God's free gift of the benefits of Christ's death and resurrection) operative through his ministry. He is calling upon them to accept "his gospel" and his ministry. Obviously the Corinthians made an initial response to the gospel, but "their practice did not measure up to their profession as Christians, their lives were so inconsistent as to constitute a denial of the logical implications of the gospel, namely that Christ died for them so that they may no longer live to themselves but to his glory", Hughes. [italics added]5. Paul, no doubt still stinging from the dismissal he received from so-called "successful" preachers, then delivers eight verses in which, from various angles of vision, he authenticates his ministry. Again, based on Findlayson's excellent look at the passage, those angles are:
- Externals (vv.3-5): Paul endured many of the difficulties encountered by Old Testament prophets who spoke God's truth, but whose lives were dogged by opposition and suffering.
- Internals (v.6): Paul strove to live ethically, according to certain holy and internalized values, none of which the world may value that much.
- As a preacher (v.7): Paul spoke truthfully, employing not his own power--he admits his own weakness, but God's power.
- In the paradoxical life that befalls all who seek to be faithful (vv.8-10): Paul receives, as Findlayson, points out, both "acceptance and rejection." Jesus promises us eternity and His presence with us now; He doesn't promise us smooth sailing. Paul's experience of both elements of Christian living authenticates his faith, no matter what his critics may say.
There is great risk in Paul's authentic ministry. Some will recoil at a minister who admits to chinks in her or his armor. But since the only people Christ can save from sin, death, and purposeless living are those honest enough to admit their own flaws, needs, and weaknesses, such preachers and such Christians, generally, will attract others willing to make an honest leap into the hands of God. It's only in admitting our vulnerability and letting Christ be our Protector and Savior that we can unforced and unpretentious peace in our lives.
Through his honest admission of weakness and earnest dependence on Christ, Paul invites the Corinthian church to a similar openness to God's grace. Chris Haslam notes:
They [Paul and his team] have laid everything (their innermost thoughts) on the table to the Church (v.11). He loves without limits all at Corinth--even his opponents who do not love him. May his critics grow up ("children," v 13) and imitate his love.