2 Corinthians 6:3-5
Placing the Text in Context
So, let’s place our passage this morning in its context of 2 Corinthians: One of the major reasons Paul was motivated to write this letter to the Corinthian church was because certain influential and persuasive personalities had come into that body of believers casting doubts about Paul, undermining his authority as an apostle, suggesting or perhaps even outright claiming that Paul was not truly an apostle of Christ, his character was questionable, and he was not to be trusted or followed. And in the course of this letter we have seen a range of accusation designed to impugn Paul’s life and ministry (for example: Paul is fickle and indecisive, Paul is doing foolish things in public and getting stoned and imprisoned, and he is not eloquent, he doesn’t have any powerful gifts that would commend him, etc). So a major reason for this letter was to answer some of these things – because for Paul nothing less than the gospel was at stake.
Paul, as an apostle of Christ, had been entrusted with the word of reconciliation through Jesus Christ and his life and ministry flowed out of and bore witness to the truthfulness and glorious power of that word of Christ and to discredit Paul and reject his ministry on the grounds suggested by some in Corinth was to dismiss, reject, and belittle the fruit and evidence of the gospel. This is so important to Paul, not because he feels personally rejected and disliked, this is not about Paul, rather he is so concerned about his being rejected because if this assembly looks at Paul’s life and ministry and makes the determination that a life like that is not of Christ – than they have radically misunderstood the very nature of the gospel itself and its power and its fruit.
Scripture Reading: 2 Corinthians 6:3-13
We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.
We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also.
So let’s look at verse 3,
We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry…
Paul is making the claim that his life truly is in line with the truth of the gospel. He is claiming that any so called obstacle suggested by the underminers in Corinth don’t exist. In his life and ministry Paul is intentional about making sure there were no obstacles in anyone’s way to Christ. He did not want any fault found in his ministry.
Now, of course, there are ways of placing obstacles between people and the Lord Jesus Christ and the reconciliation He secured. There is a way that what we do can either help or hinder people from seeing Christ. Does your life make it easy for people to see Jesus? Or are there obstacles that make it hard for people to see over and around you to finally get to Jesus and His word and work? Does your life give evidence to the truthfulness and power of the gospel or does your life smack of hypocrisy and distract people from the word of reconciliation? Are you a window that people can look through to easily see Christ in the gospel, or is your life more of a wall? Who do people see when they look at you? Not your just your words, your life?
…but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way…
So again, Paul’s desire is to demonstrate the connection that exists between his life and the word he proclaims in the message of the cross. The power of the gospel exists in his life; his life actually bears witness, it commends him as an apostle, a follower of Jesus, a new creation.
The question we should be asking ourselves is whether this is true of our own lives and ministries. Does your life demonstrate the power of the gospel? Does your life give evidence that you are in Christ? We are about to see the kinds of things that Paul understood in his own life as giving that kind evidence. And the things he is about to point to are not what the underminers are demanding from him. Paul is not about to point out his eloquence or popularity or giftedness or record of conversions. But he is going to point to things far more fundamental and basic. And in this study we will begin looking at the first thing he lists here.
Commended by Great Endurance
2 Corinthians 6:4-5
…as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger;
So what Paul has done here is to point to great endurance as the first thing that commends his ministry and then he lists nine circumstances in which this endurance is being demonstrated. What will commend us as servants of Christ? Well, the first thing from Paul’s pen is great endurance. What commends Paul and demonstrates the power of Christ in him is his perseverance in the faith and in ministry for Christ in the midst of ongoing difficulties.
What will commend us as authentic followers and ministers of Christ is not flash in the pan zeal, but long term endurance through difficulty for Christ’s sake. Endurance for Christ through difficulty demonstrates the value of Christ and commends us as genuine ministers of His.
3 Sets of 3
So the 9 circumstances that Paul lists here are the places he demonstrates endurance and they can be grouped into 3 sets of 3 – endurance through: afflictions, hardships, calamities; endurance through: beatings, imprisonments, riots; endurance through: labors, sleepless nights, hunger. The thing that commends Paul is great endurance through these things.
Let’s take up that first set of 3: afflictions, hardships, calamities. It appears that Paul is referring here simply to general difficulties. When you bring the word of reconciliation to a fallen and hostile world there will be difficulty, there will be afflictions and hardships and calamities. Ministers of Christ are not exempt from suffering. We are exiles and pilgrims still looking forward to our eternal home. Here, even as we have great hope for the future, we still suffer.
I think it is important that we get this clear in our minds.
When you are faithful to the Lord of lords, do not be surprised when fiery trials come upon you. Our children are still subject to autoimmune disorders. Cancer can still attack our bodies, death and dying will still mark us until Jesus comes. And add to this that the word of the cross is foolishness and an offense to those who are perishing. It is not naturally received with joy by the world. To receive the gospel is a supernatural work of God.
But what commends the servant of Christ is endurance through afflictions, hardships, and calamities. These do not discredit a minister of Christ, they actually serve as a commendation when met with endurance. The question is not do you have difficulty, our Lord Jesus said we would. The question is will we endure faithfully through those difficulties?
The next set of three gets more specific: beatings, imprisonments, riots. You know, sometimes, Beth has to step out of this service to care for the little ones and afterward she’ll ask me about how the service went. Or sometimes when I get back from a meeting she ask how things went. I have yet to report that I have ever been beaten or stoned for my sermon. I have yet to report that their was a riot that broke out at Mary Ann’s because of my witness. I have yet to report that the Windham police came and broke up the meeting and arrest me for disturbing the peace.
But all these happened to Paul repeatedly and they have happened to Christ’s people throughout the history of the church and they are happening now around the world today and they may yet happen here – not just to me, but to all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus and are committed to the word of reconciliation.
We have it so easy right now. It very well may be here soon. Are we ready to endure?
The thing that commended Paul as a genuine minister was when he stood up after getting stoned and went back into the city. What commended him was when he escaped from the rioting crowd only to go on speaking the truth among hostile people, when he was released from prison only to go on boldly proclaiming the word of reconciliation, and landing bcc in prison – all the way to Rome and history tells us all the way to death. These difficulties did not discredit Paul, they commended him when met with endurance.
The final 3: labors, sleepless nights, hunger. This group of three seem to describe the suffering associated with the cost of his traveling from place to place in order to spread the gospel. We know that Paul worked hard with his own hands to pay his and his companions way. He was a tentmaker by trade, what we would probably call a leather worker. And this is probably the labor he is talking about here. Even, as he says on a number of occasions, he had the right to be supported in ministry by God’s people, he wanted to demonstrate the power of the gospel in his life and put no obstacle in anyone’s way and so he labored at his trade so as not to be a burden to anyone. This too probably explained the sleepless nights, either working to make tents by night or working by day and teaching into the night, as we know Paul at times did (note poor Eutychus, Acts 20:7). Hunger too was probably related to the fact that Paul traveled widely and did not want to be a burden to anyone. So he kept on in his ministry working hard, being tired and scraping by – he didn’t give up.
So to summarize the kinds of things that demonstrated that Paul was a genuine minister of Christ: Paul kept on through all kinds of difficulties and all kinds of rejections and dangers and through all kinds of labors. Paul did not give up. He endured in the ministry Christ had given him.
For the Joy Set Before Him
How can we grow to be more and more characterized by this kind of endurance? We who are so easily discouraged, so easily stopped, turned aside, distracted, so easily frightened?
How could Paul endure through such difficulties without throwing in the towel? Without giving up? What sustained this man?
If you have been with us you will know that Paul was sustained because of the hope that he had in Christ. Paul wasn’t just a preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ, he was a believer in the gospel of the Jesus Christ – one whose necessary daily bread was to feast upon the promises of God in Christ Jesus. His view of life and the world had been radically changed when he was confronted with the risen Christ. In the past few weeks we have seen Paul explain his boldness and courage and zeal and now his great endurance in the midst of incredible difficulty by telling us what he believed:
- he believed that God has raised the Lord Jesus (4:14).
- he believed that God will raise everyone who trusts Jesus (4:14).
- he believed that God will present everyone who trusts Jesus to Jesus for joy and reward (4:14).
- he believed therefore that his body was comparable to a jar of clay, mortal flesh, a wasting away outer self. Even as he was afflicted he was not crushed; he was perplexed, but not driven to despair; he was persecuted, but not forsaken; he was struck down, but not destroyed (4:8-9).
- he believed that the pain in his life suffered for Christ was light and momentary and that it was preparing for him an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (4:17).
- he believed that if this tent that is his earthly home was destroyed, he have a building from God, eternal in the heavens (5:1).
- he believed that God had prepared him to be swallowed up by life and had given the Spirit as a downpayment of his full inheritance (5:4).
- he believed that he and every member of the church must appear before the judgment seat of Christ for a judgement and for joy(5:10).
Paul was looking forward in faith, believing that God was able to do what He had promised. Paul was trusting God to be the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. Paul had come to see that God was holy and just but more than that, He had come to believe that it was God’s delight to serve the needy. Paul looked at the power and wisdom and grace of God in Christ Jesus and he was strengthened in faith.
And so Paul had become like his Lord, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross. Just as our Lord Jesus trusted the Father and submitted Himself to His will, so Paul had learned obedience. Obedience doesn’t grow out of nowhere. Endurance doesn’t grow out of nothing. These things grow out of a heart that trusts the promises of God in Christ Jesus.
A person who does not know, who does not believe that everything will work together for their everlasting good will not be willing to give up comforts now.
A person who does not trust that God is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we could ask or think will not be able to rejoice when trials come.
A persons who does not thrill that all their sins have been transferred to Christ and all his righteousness and reward has been given to them will not sing his praises when world gets hostile.
A person who does not set his mind on things above, on Christ and all the promises of God found in Him, that persons will not persevere in the ministry of reconciliation, because that message of reconciliation is not sustaining him.
But when a person sees God’s wisdom and might and grace in Christ and runs to Him as his only refuge and reward and friend and King at all times that one will endure through difficulty. And that one will bear witness without hypocrisy to the fact that God is strong and God is good and God is trustworthy – as He has demonstrated in Christ Jesus.
If our lives are filled with a lack of endurance – if we bail in ministry when relationships get tough or circumstances get uncomfortable – the message of the cross will ring hollow coming from our lips – no matter how gifted we may be. And Christ and the gospel will be obscured.
And so, let us always pursue a deeper and more accurate understanding of our God’s work in Christ, but not simply to articulate truth more accurately, but to live upon Christ more fully and proclaim Him more boldly.
I think it is all to ease to look at a guy like Paul and think, ‘oh, he was in a different category from the rest of us. He spoke before kings and rulers.’ We tend to do the same thing with pastors and missionaries – they are God’s special servants and the rest of us are something different. I don’t think so. Paul was given a ministry, pastors and missionaries have their ministries and you, if you are in Christ by faith, you have a service to complete as well. If He still has you here, you still have a ministry of reconciliation to attend to.
But, when we ask, how can little old me, wrestle against the rulers and authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places? How can we make an impact in this world for the kingdom of Christ? I won’t stand before kings, I’m not a preacher and I’m not called to distant lands, what impact can I have?
Well, whether you are a Paul or a Billy Gram or a John Piper or simply a father or mother or friend what will commend you as a minister of Christ is not eloquence and giftedness and talents, but a life of endurance that grows out of a heart filled and fixed on Christ.
Faithfulness and fruitfulness in ministry must always happen first in our own hearts, in the small things of our lives and our families and our churches and unless it happens there with power it doesn’t matter how far our influence reaches.
We think the power of God is seen in the big and flashy and eloquent, but God has chosen the weak and small things to demonstrate his power. The power of God is seen at the bedside of a dying saint clinging to the promises of God in their last breath. It is seen in the tough marriage when a wife submits to a difficult and foolish man because her hope is in God. It is seen in the local church when humility and love and long suffering prevail because the gospel has taken root. When the gospel has taken root in your heart it will grow up with fruit – and one of those fruits is great endurance. The power of God is seen when for the joy set before us we endure hostility at home, in the church, at work, and in the public square, continuing to run the race set before us – and let God worry about the scope of your influence.
Let us as the people of God, loved by Christ, learn this word of reconciliation very well; let us live upon this word of reconciliation everyday; let us, like Paul, leave a legacy of endurance in bringing this word of reconciliation everywhere we go.
Benediction : Romans 15:4-5, 13
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus …May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.