Series: 2 Corinthians
2 Corinthians 6:1-10 SEV
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.
After the stirring gospel appeal that the apostle Paul had just written, what he writes here could seem out of place, unless we remember that the overall theme of this section (5:11-6:10) is the essence and exercise of the gospel or new covenant ministry.
Paul is setting forth the true nature of new covenant life and ministry against the criticisms of those who evaluate both by this-worldly standards. He does not back down or try to lessen such complaints. Instead, he boldly presents what the ministry of the new covenant involved for him. On the one hand he doesn’t provide an opportunity to cause anyone to stumble. But on the other he commends his life by great endurance in the service that God had called him to. He asserts that he has been faithful to the Lord. He tells them, “Here is what it means to be a new covenant minister in the time between Christ’s ascension and Christ’s second coming.”
So then, what we have here is a new scorecard, a new covenant scorecard, for properly evaluating ministry. It has nothing to do with what is called success from a this-worldly point of view. It lacks any reference to academic credentials, to oratorical skills, to visionary leadership, to a slick, sophisticated presentation, to personal charisma, or worldly popularity.
As God’s servants we must do everything for the glory of God in new covenant ministry. This means that we must also avoid what hinders others and actively live serving God.
I. Christian ministry involves carrying the cross (6:4b-5).
A. A triad of outward circumstances
1. Afflictions refer to the sense of oppression or pressure from trying circumstances in this present age.
2. Hardships are calamities, such as torture or bodily pain.
3. Pressures are confined places from which there can seem to be no escape.
B. A triad of difficulties inflicted by others – Paul was no stranger to this triplet.
1. Beatings were received as lashes from the Jews five times or with blows from Roman rods three times (cf. 11:24-25). People like to inflict severe pain on people. After the pain, Paul would be left with injury or disfigurement.
2. Imprisonments were also his lot. At the time he wrote 2 Corinthians, about AD 55, the only one we know of from Acts was at Philippi (Ac 16:19-40). This lets us know that Luke did not write an exhaustive account of Paul’s ministry.
3. Riots were a common occurrence wherever Paul went, when the enemies of the cross of Christ stirred up opposition against him: Pisidian Antioch (Ac 13:50), Iconium (Ac 14:5-6), Lystra (Ac 14:19), Philippi (Ac 16:22), Thessalonica (Ac 17:5-9), Berea (Ac 17:13), Corinth (Ac 18:12-17), and Ephesus (Ac 19:21-23). Paul didn’t seek riots, but riots were a way that the evil one tried to hinder the spread of the gospel.
C. A triad of self-imposed hardships
1. Labors can refer to hard work of two kinds. One would be what Paul did to support himself partially in this world. He usually received financial support from churches and individuals, but sometimes the money was inadequate or slow to come or denied by him as he did at Corinth. The other labor would be the constant work of preaching and teaching, talking with people, writing letters, and wrestling in prayer for the spread of the gospel.
Comment: Thank you for your generous financial support over almost seventeen years. Your sacrificial giving is deeply appreciated by us! Prior to coming here, both Sharon and I were each working three other jobs, besides our labors for the gospel, to keep bread on the table.
2. Sleepless nights could come from taking time to support oneself financially and/or from staying up late to teach the word (cf. Ac 20:7). It is no easy matter to fall asleep after such intense mental activity. And then there are people who have problems of various sorts, and sometimes such situations deprive the minister of sleep.
3. Times of hunger were caused by the difficulties of traveling in the ancient world and his lack of cash to buy food. Remember also that Paul did not have a wife to look after him in these things, and it is easy to understand his hunger.
Apply: Since worldly-minded people evaluate by things like power, fame, and success, Paul would be rated a failure. However, Christ thinks differently (Mt 10:17-42; Mk 8:34).
II. Christian ministry involves grace-characterized qualities of character (6:6-7).
A. Four qualities of personal relationship
1. Purity probably is the general quality of living according to the gospel. We might, because of our culture, assume that this means sexual purity, and that is included. But it also means gospel purity in financial affairs and keeping one’s heart devoted to God. In particular in this connection is moral blamelessness in interactions with other people.
2. Knowledge is insight or understanding. It is knowing the right thing to do. This is more difficult than simply acquiring a mountain of facts.
3. Patience is being “long-tempered”. It is the ability to wait calmly, whether in trying circumstances or in regard to people. Patience is not simple endurance with people or situations, because there is nothing you can do. Instead, patience is a quality that wants to wait calmly for change.
4. Kindness is compassionately doing what is needful or helpful for others. It sees the suffering of others and acts for their benefit.
B. Four core qualities
1. The Holy Spirit is essential. Nothing happens in a godly way in new covenant life or ministry apart from the Spirit of God. He makes Christ’s presence and benefits real in us and through us.
2. Sincere love touches all aspects of life. Later Paul would write a section of Romans on the nature of sincere or genuine love (Rm 12:9-21). Love is essential to new covenant life and ministry (1 Cor 13:1-7; etc.) It is how other people know that we know Christ (Jn 13:34-35). It is what binds together in perfect unity (Col 3:14).
3. The message of truth means the gospel (Eph 1:13; Col 1:5; cf. 2 Tm 2:15). Everything develops from the gospel. You cannot do new covenant life or ministry unless the gospel is deeply and widely applied.
4. The power of God is necessary to change hearts and lives. As we saw a couple weeks ago, this is resurrection and ascension power!
C. Two qualities of ministerial action
1. Proper instruments of action are weapons of righteousness, which probably means weapons of a righteous nature that are used in spiritual warfare for attack and defense (cf. Eph 6:13-18).
2. Proper acceptance of ways one’s ministry is received. In this world you find out quickly that not everyone likes you. This is true of Christians and non-Christians. Heaven is a world of love, but earth has much hatred and rejection. Christ’s minister, as well as every Christian, experiences glory as they live for God’s glory and dishonor when people don’t like them living for God. This can lead to slander from those who seek to ruin them, while others will see their good works, glorify the Father, and give a good report about them.
Apply: A church is not a place you go to, but a group of learners of Jesus Christ who are Spirit-powered, gospel-driven, and faith fueled. So then, their ministers must have qualities that equip people for what they ought to be in Christ.
III. Christian ministry involves staggering paradoxes (6:8-10).
They show how God’s ministers can appear to unflattering, critical observers in contrast to what they really are in Christ. These paradoxes combine to present again two themes of the letter: life in the midst of death and God’s all-surpassing power helping us in our weaknesses.
A. As deceivers yet true – Since Paul was a former Pharisee and had thought that Jesus was a deceiver (Mt 27:63), it would be easy for his former comrades to put such a charge against him, too. Paul asserts his honesty, now that he knows the glory of the risen Christ.
B. As unknown yet recognized – This could be taken in two ways. In one sense he was unknown in the world, but well-known as an apostle. In another sense it might mean he was relatively unknown by people but well-known to God.
C. As dying and look we live – Paul was near death many times, yet the Lord constantly rescued him many times, until his service was finally completed (cf. 2 Tm 4:6-8).
D. As being chastened yet not killed – Jesus had told him that he must suffer many things for his sake (Ac 9:15-16), from all of these he could learn obedience as the Lord rescued him many times.
E. As grieving yet always rejoicing – Many things caused him grief, such as false accusations or the disappointing behavior of some in the churches he planted. But he had a firm reason to rejoice in the Lord (Ph 3:1; 4:4) and his grace to him.
F. As poor yet enriching many – Paul did not have much money (cf. 1 Cor 4:11), but he was able to make others rich through the gospel.
G. As having nothing yet possessing everything – When the Lord Jesus stepped into his life, he regarded all his gains as losses in order to gain Christ (Ph 3:7-8). Now in Christ, all things were his, as they are ours (1 Cor 3:21-23).
Apply: The life of a gospel minister is filled with paradoxes, just like the people he ministers among. If the Lord Jesus had his ministers live Hollywood-style lives, it would be very discouraging for the rest of his people. If a minister’s life seems too good to be true, it probably is. In this world, Jesus had no place to lay his head, so it should not seem strange when his ministers have various kinds of suffering. Evaluate everything by God’s word, not by worldly standards of success.
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://christmycovenant.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/frampton-dave.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Pastor Dave Frampton: When push comes to shove there is usually nothing more satisfying than for a saint of God to have at his or her disposal a source of biblically sound instruction in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The faithful and spiritually profitable labors of Dave Frampton are here at CMC to be a blessing. Bible teacher and student alike will profit much from his labor in the God’s Word. Visit Newtown Square Baptist Church[/author_info] [/author] [button link=”http://www.newtownsquarebaptist.org/” color=”red” newwindow=”yes”] Visit Newtown Square Baptist Church[/button]