2 Corinthians 6:6b-13
As you read through 2 Corinthians Paul is building a case for the authenticity of his own apostolic ministry. He is showing it to be in harmony with the gospel. And the section we have been looking at comes at the end of a rising crescendo in the argument. Starting in 6:1 “working together with him (God), then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain… Behold now is the favorable time; behold now is the day of salvation…”
This is the day of grace. As Steve pointed out last week, there is an urgency in this moment just before Christ appears a second time and so, as Paul did, we must endeavor to live our short lives here for and to the Lord of lords who will soon return. And as Paul points out in this section we are in a battle. Christ is Lord of heaven and earth and yet many do not yet recognized Him as such. But we, His servants, must be endeavoring to serve the Lord with faithfulness in these brief moments before the end, making Him known and putting no obstacle in the way to the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We want, like Paul to be able to commend ourselves in every way so that no fault may be found with our ministry.
This morning we will see again the kind of things that will commend us and the kind of things in our lives that will block others from seeing, submitting to, and trusting the Lord Jesus Christ. My hope also is to think again about what will help us grow to be more and more effective witnesses and ministers or Christ in this world so crazed with sin.
Let’s examine some of the things that will commend us.
2 Corinthians 6:1-13
Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. 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.
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.
Affection Toward the Unaffectionate
Let’s start our exposition this morning by looking at the last few verses of this section, verses 11-13, where we see Paul’s heart exposed toward the church in Corinth, a church from which so many accusations and questions about Paul’s character had conduct had come. Verses 11-13 show us Paul’s heart posture as he has written defending his apostolic ministry and message:
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 unpack this a bit: “We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians…” What Paul means here is, we have not hidden anything from you; we have spoken openly and truthfully to you, not keeping you in the dark or holding you at arms reach. We have been open, honest, and truthful. He goes on, “…our heart is wide open…” In other words, our affection for you has been and is real and evident. Paul is not writing because he wants their praise or is looking for status; he is not writing because he wants to prove them wrong or shame them or hurt them; his heart posture is love toward this difficult church.
He says, “You are not restricted by us…” Meaning, we are not withholding anything from you. The relationship between the apostle and the church was strained, but Paul is claiming that it was not because he had been restricting them from him. “…but…” he says, “…you are restricted in your own affections.” The relationship is strained because some in the church body had little affection toward Paul. It is not Paul who has little affection toward them. Some in this congregation have not recognized Paul or his ministry as being from Christ and so they have turned away from him and grown cold toward him. But Paul had not turned away from them.
It is important to remember here that in rejecting Paul, an apostle of the risen Christ, they were rejecting not simply Paul as a person, but also rejecting his ministry, his message, and ultimately his Master, Jesus Christ.
So, Paul concludes in verse 13, “In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also.” In other words, “I am speaking to those whom I love as my children, open your hearts toward us.” Paul is not implying here that they are childish or immature, but expressing how he feels toward them. We need to remember that he was indeed their father in the faith. Without him this assembly of believers in Corinth would not have come to hear the gospel (see 1 Corinthians 4:14-15). And so he viewed them as beloved children.
To summarize: Paul loves these saints and longs to see them grow and flourish and so like a father toward his children, Paul longs for them to rightly understand the Good News and its fruits in the world; he wants them to understand what the gospel is and what it looks like when it takes root in someone’s heart and life. And so if they reject Paul, they betray a rejection of the gospel, which had taken root in Paul’s life and ministry. This is heart wrenching to Paul because he loves them.
So as we pursue lives and ministries in this moment before the King returns, which are commendable, is our heart posture toward those we are bringing the message of Christ to like Paul’s? Do we love those we are called to serve? Are we laboring out of love to see others come to Christ, encouraged and built up in Christ, and equipped and flourishing for Christ? It that our motive in ministry?
And let me be clear, I am not talking exclusively about ministry to those out there, but also to those in here, in our minister to each other as a church family and in our closest Christian friendships, in our homes, with our spouses and with our children.
When we are misunderstood by fellow believers and our motives are questioned and people question our character and conduct (all of which happened to Paul) it is so easy to become bitter and resentful and cold. Can we truly say that we are, like Paul was, motivated by love? Is it really our desire to see others flourish and grow in Christ, even when they seem to be against us – do we long for their progress and joy in the faith? Do we labor for their good? Do we love each other?
Paul’s heart posture was love toward those difficult to love.
And, let us mark, that is the only heart posture in harmony with the gospel of Christ’s grace to us and so when we love each other and the world, especially when it is difficult we will be evidencing that we are genuine ministers, but if we do not love each other, but turn away from those who are difficult to love, we will be putting an obstacle in front of Christ.
Again, how was it possible for Paul to love those difficult to love? And how is it possible for us to grow in love toward those difficult to love in this hour of urgency? Well, the plain fact is that we first have to be gripped by the grace of Christ ourselves. And I think this will come forth clearly as we back up and walk through verse 6-10 together.
The Holy Spirit
So, as we back up now, remember that in verses 4-10 we see Paul finishing this section of his defense of himself, having shown the nature of the New Covenant in Christ and the qualities in his life which are in harmony with that gospel. A few weeks ago we unpacked verses 4,5,6a. Now we turn to 6b and following.
So, consider the end of verse 6 of chapter 6 where Paul list’s 4 more qualities that commend him as a minister of Christ (the Holy Spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God). Notice in this list of 4 what he begins with is the Holy Spirit and what he ends with is the power of God – this is two ways of say almost exactly the same thing. Paul is making the claim that the Holy Spirit and power of God commend his life and ministry – they are present in his life. How do they do that? I think this is what he is describing in this entire list.
If you want to see the Holy Spirit and the power of God in Paul’s life, well, look to his endurance through hardship, look to his purity and knowledge and patience and kindness. But especially look to the two qualities he sandwiches between the Holy Spirit and the power of God in this list: genuine love and truthful speech. When the Holy Spirit is present in our lives (as he is with all genuine believers) what will be seen is genuine love (even toward those difficult to love) and truthful speech.
Notice that genuine love is found here together with truthful speech. We live in a time and culture where speaking the truth is very often seen as unloving. Many people don’t really want to hear the truth because it challenges them or shakes their understanding of the world or it calls them to repent and change. Many feel loved only when they are affirmed, but genuine love cannot affirm sin or deny truth. The Holy Spirit brings with Him both love and truth.
We are to speak the truth in love, even when it is not perceived to be love. I fear that many of us desire to be seen as loving people more than we desire to actually be loving people, which is not always appreciated. Love will say hard things sometimes when they are necessary.
On the flip side, we can in the name of truth speak hateful, harmful, self-serving words that ought not to be said – gossip, backbiting, throwing past sins and failures in people’s faces – are the facts true? Possibly. Is that speech loving? No, those things are not in accord with godliness.
If we will be commended as ministers of Christ we must love those difficult to love and we must speak the truth in love and this will be evidence of the Holy Spirit and the power of God at work in us. Are these things evident in your life? Are we marked by love and truth together? Are we marked by the Spirit of love who is also the Spirit of truth?
Add to this, in the middle of verse 7, Paul says that he is thoroughly equipped “with weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left.” Paul envisions that he is in a battle – weapons are needed, and he has them. He is engaged in spiritual warfare for the Lord and people’s souls are in peril. Paul understands that he is waging war, not against people, but, as he says in Ephesians 6, against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Paul and we are in a war and people’s souls are on the line. But Paul has been thoroughly equipped for this warfare with ‘weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left.’ Paul fights the cosmic powers of evil with weapons of righteousness.
Now I want to ask, are these weapons unique to Paul? Or are these weapons available to us? I think it is clear that these weapons are available to us because Paul is describing in this context the practice of righteousness in his life which flows out of his heart as he is beholding the glory of Christ and being transformed by Him from one degree of glory to another.
So the way Paul envisions fighting against cosmic evil and undermining Satan and accomplishing great victories in the world for Christ’s kingdom is by the practice of righteousness produced by the gospel.
Our weapons against Satan and his army are things like enduring under hardship, being pure and patient. Learning and knowing the word of reconciliation and being kind to everyone. Demonstrating genuine love and truthful speech by the Spirit of Christ and the power of God – the things he has been listing here. And these are what we have been equipped with by the Spirit of God for the cosmic battle.
And again he is equipped for every good work even in the midst of, verse 8, honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. The evidence of the Spirit in his life is not dependent on the praise and approval of people. Paul’s commendation as a servant of Christ is that when he is dishonored and lied about he continues on in purity and patience, kindness and love and truth. And so Satan is beaten down, his works are shown to have been destroyed, when the power of the gospel triumphs in our hearts in this way.
I think it is so important to see how we make meaningful impact for the kingdom of Christ in this world. Paul is teaching us that it is as we are patient with each other and pure and kind and loving and truthful and as we practice righteous in the mist of difficulty that the power of God through Jesus Christ is at work and displayed and Satan is silenced – that is when meaningful impact is made because that is when the power of the gospel is on display.
Growing in Righteousness
But how can we grow in our practice of holiness and righteousness in the mist of the pain and discomfort and loss we experience here? – and believe me we are not immune to serious pain and discomfort, particularly as Christians in this world. I think verse 8b – 10 explains again what sustained Paul and equips him with weapons of righteousness: Faith. Faith is what sustained Paul and produced in him righteousness.
Faith is the Victory
As we come to the end of this list, Paul describes what sustains him. He says,
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.
Let’s just walk through this and consider what Paul believed:
“We are treated as impostors, and yet are true;
Paul knows that he is genuine, that he is true, even if no one else does. Do you know this about yourself?
as unknown, and yet well known;
Paul knows that He is known to God – do you? Is your name written down in glory as one who believes on the Lord Jesus Christ
as dying, and behold, we live;
Paul knows that he will live forevermore with Christ – do you know this?
as punished, and yet not killed;
not really – do you know that death has no power over you?
as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing;
the sorrow and the pain of his life did not remove or expunge the joy of Christ’s victory – how about you? Do you live in the good of the good news? Soon and very soon we are going to see the King!
as poor, yet making many rich;
Paul understood that what he was about in this life was not accumulating wealth here, but he was about making many rich in Christ – Do you believe that though you ‘miss out’ and suffer lose in this world and have little extra, yet you do have infinite treasure to share with others?
as having nothing, yet possessing everything,”
Do you know that you possess all things!? You are an heir with Christ! This is a battle of faith.
We may be treated badly, we may be dismissed, we may be punished, we may be poor, we may experience great sorrow and difficulty, we may be imprisoned, we may be put to death, but in Christ we are true, we are well known to God, we will live forevermore, death will not have the final word, we can even in the mist of these sorrows always rejoice because in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us, in Christ we possess all things.
And it is our privilege, while we are here waiting for Jesus to appear, to make many rich eternally by bringing to them the great message of God’s grace in Christ Jesus.
This is the key to how Paul and how we will grow to make more and more impact for the kingdom of Christ. It is what Paul knows, what he believes. He believes that he is genuinely in Jesus Christ by faith which means that he is known to God, he is spiritually alive in Christ and will be forevermore, he is sustained in body and spirit by God, he is always rejoicing, and he believes that he is making many rich, he knows that he possesses everything and so what grows out of faith like that is a ministry marked by endurance and purity, patients, valuing the word of God, kindness, genuine love, and truthful speech.
If we are going to be make a difference for the kingdom of Christ we must be grounded in the truth of the gospel and it must be as real to us as the nose on our face. If you do not believe and embrace the glorious truth of the gospel is does not matter what you say you believe – and if our identities are not rooted in Christ than our capacities of love and godliness will not grow. Our attitudes, words, and behaviors will not reflect that we are rooted in Christ.
I long personally to flourish and become a greater and greater force of the kingdom, and I long for that for you as well, for this local body, but greatness and power must begin in each one of our hearts. It is as the gospel takes root in our hearts that the cosmic battle moves forward unto Christ’s glory.
I think we are prone to want to see big things happen. We want to see mega churches and mega stadiums filled with people, we want to see countries turned around, abortion eradicated, national and world homelessness eliminated, crime disappear, terror attacks happening no more, the hungry throughout the world fed, the sick throughout the world healed. We want to see big things happening. And we tend to think that big things happen when we have lots of money and influence and resources and worldly power.
But Christ’s kingdom advances as the word of reconciliation – the gospel of Christ dissension, life, death, resurrection, and ascension for the forgiveness and reward of all who trust Him – is proclaimed and individuals trust, embrace, and live upon Jesus Christ. That is how the kingdom of Christ advances and no other way. Individuals must be born again – you can have stadiums full of people, and great wealth, and armies, and the best minds in the world, and most powerful political influences, but unless the Lord Jesus Christ is loved and honored and trusted, the power of God is not there. But you can have a small, weak, poor congregation of 2 or 3, 20 or 30, where each one is living upon Christ and there you have the power of God to destroy strong holds and defy cosmic powers and advance Christ’s kingdom.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
Too many of us, I fear, are prone to think that meaningful impact in the world is made as we increase in earthly power and influence. Meaningful impact, we tend think, happens by that which is large and pervasive and noticeable and eloquent and flashy. But, Paul believed exactly the opposite when it came to his life and ministry. He was poor and unknown, slandered and beaten, but his life was the fragrance of Christ everywhere he went.
It is genuine faith in King Jesus the Savior, which is the victory that overcomes the world. And it is when we as individuals believe upon Jesus Christ by the power to God’s Spirit such that endurance and purity and kindness and patience and love and truthful speech and righteousness mark our lives – it is then that we will be engaged in significant impact for Christ’s Kingdom and be a shining beacon for Christ in this community and the world. And it is when we don’t have a living faith, when we are Christians in name only, that we will putting up obstacles to Christ and covering over and darkening the light of the gospel.
So the question is this: is the gospel of Jesus Christ all your hope and stay and is that faith evident in you life? Is Christ your all in all and is that demonstrated in your thoughts, words, and attitudes and deeds as you live here for a few more moments?
There is an urgency to preach the gospel for Christ, the King will soon appear. And if we look out at the ocean of unbelief in the world it is easy to panic or despair or think that we must do something really big with a show of external power. But, truly, the most needful and powerful thing that each one of us can do is to believe upon the King and Savior Jesus Christ, to have genuine faith which is accompanied by love and good works for the glory of Jesus. It is then and only then that we will be faithful ministers, salt and light, those who impact the world for Christ. And so let us know, let us press on to know the Lord and the wonderful deeds that He has done and let us let proclaim His praises to each other and to all those we meet here there and everywhere.