As I think of Paul, I think of a single minded, stubborn, individual. Seeing women and men reconciled to God shades all of Paul’s desires, letters, or actions. Paul wants to see men and women reconciled to God. The Jew first and then the gentiles. Paul is committed to living in a manner which does not discredit the grace of God, but rather the goal is that of increasing the family of God. Reconciliation is between the person and God the Father, the person and Jesus, God the Son, and the person and God the Holy Spirit (II Corinthians 5:18-19). Reconciliation allows those who will believe to become adopted into God’s household (Romans 8:15, 8:23, 9:4, Ephesians 1:5, and Galatians 4:5).
Paul’s message is Jesus crucified, buried, and resurrected. It is through the blood of Jesus the Christ that we are brought near to God (Ephesians 2:13). It is in this reconciliation that Jesus breaks the division between the Jew and Gentile (Ephesians 2:14). Baptism allows the believer in Christ to identify with Christ in his death and resurrection (Colossians 2:13-14).
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household (Ephesians 2:19).
Paul considers his life as a drink offering poured out for the benefit of those who received his words (Phil 2:17). Paul desires that receiving the grace of God in Christ produce the following: fruit in reproduction, fruit in attitude and deed, unity between each believer and God, and unity among the followers of Jesus.
It is from this foundation that I want to consider II Corinthians 6:1 through 7:4.
6:1 And working together with Him, we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain—
Paul is working together with God. In this statement reconciliation and unity between Paul and God is implied. It is from this position that Paul urges the Corinthian church that they not receive the grace of God in vain. This is an urge or exhortation and not a condemnation. In I Corinthians, Paul assures the Corinthian church that their work in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Cor 15:58).
To express that which is fruitless Paul uses the noun κενός, κενή, κενόν which means fruitless, vain, or of no effect. Other words Paul employs include εἰκῇ (adverb) and ματαιόω (verb) which are translated as vain. Those other forms aside I would like to take a moment to visit a couple examples of Paul’s use of the noun κενός.
- Preaching & Faith are vain if there is no resurrection – 1 Cor 15:13– 14
- Paul urges the Philippians to hold “fast the word of life” that in the “day of Christ” he will have “reason to glory” because he did not run and toil in vain (Phil 2:14-18).
- Paul was concerned that the tempter might derail the Thessalonians and his labor was of no effect (1 Thes 3:5) .
- Paul tells the Galatians that it is vain to depend on the law to perfect their faith. In Philippians 2:14-18 Paul alludes to the life in Christ as a marathon, and running and laboring are the descriptors of living as to the Lord. (Gal 3:1–5)
From 6:1 with its warning “not to receive the grace of God in vain” Paul tells his hearer that he is working together with God. So we see that working together with God is possible. Paul encourages the church, God does listen. Then proclaims, this is “the acceptable time” now is the “day of salvation”.
6:2 for He says, “AT THE ACCEPTABLE TIME I LISTENED TO YOU, AND ON THE DAY OF SALVATION I HELPED YOU.” Behold, now is “THE ACCEPTABLE TIME,” behold, now is “THE DAY OF SALVATION”
Focused on the propagation of the good news, Paul wants to identify himself as well as the Corinthian church as “servants of God.” To this end he wants to present himself in a way as to not discredit the message of grace. I have often thought of senior pastor I worked with while I was in seminary, Bob Cushman. Bob provided nurture, support, and training for many who were just starting out on a life of ministry. I, for one, am appreciative of his work. Staff meetings were a time to take the pulse of the church. Success was the expectation. People were meeting Jesus and needs were being met. Don’t sink the boat. That was Bob in more ways than one. Bob had a sailboat, and it seems to me that he loved the sea, the peace of the water and the solitude with God. Don’t let the ship sink seemed to be pregnant with meaning. The ministry of Princeton Alliance Church was the charge given to Bob Cushman. Staff meeting were pleasant, Bob was pleasant, and all of the staff were pleasant. Bob encouraged unity, there was mutually encouragement. Don’t sink the boat. Hiding cracks or holes in the ministry of the church was not a part of the program. If you needed help, ask. Trust me on this, I am sure. I needed help moving, six of the pastoral staff showed up to help me move, we were done in two hours. A little different take on sharing in suffering and sharing in joy. If a hole popped up, it did not stand a chance. Here, the repute of the church, comes into play. We accomplish more with a good reputation than we do with a discredited reputation.
6:3 giving no cause for offense in anything, so that the ministry will not be discredited, 4 but in everything commending ourselves as servants of God.
6:4b through 6:10 serves as a resume or work history. Paul reminds the Corinthian of his manner of life, a life totally spent for the sake of the gospel.
The Corinthian church was not just some distant church which Paul decided to instruct. The Corinthian church were direct recipients of Paul’s sacrificial ministry. Paul was not above leveraging his labor and suffering to strongly encourage his audiance accept and embrace his position. The letter to Philemon is aimed at reconciliation between Philemon, a leader in the Colossian church and his slave, Onesimus. Onesimus met Paul while Paul was in prison. Onesimus became a brother in Christ through Paul’s proclamation of God’s grace.
Philemon and II Cor 6 share a few threads worth mentioning:
- Paul’s lifelong labor is propagating the gospel – even when in prison
- Paul’s stated desire is for reconciliation
- Paul’s use of his resume to tip the scale toward his argument
- Paul’s reference to the heart
Writing to Philemon, Paul says in verse 12, “I have sent him back to you in person, that is, sending my very heart.” Here Paul uses σπλάγχνα which Strongs defines as “the inward parts; the heart, affections, seat of the feelings.” In v11 of our passage, Paul uses ἡ καρδία ἡμῶν (the heart of us.) Strongs defining καρδία as “the heart; mind, character, inner self, will, intention, center.”
6:11 Our mouth has spoken freely to you, O Corinthians, our heart is opened wide.
“Spoken freely”/”heart is open wide” both speak the same sentiment, I lay myself open to you, my affection is for you, I hold nothing in reserve.
6:12 You are not restrained by us, but you are restrained in your own affections.
Here you have a picture of an older Jewish man, give him a bit of dust from the road and a body fit from walking. There he is on his knees pleading, I have done this for you, won’t you do the same in return. I could almost see my father in law in this picture. No, it is not his personality to leverage a ledger of this for that. Then after that, the metaphor falls flat. He is not a follower of Christ at this time, so this idea of reconcilliation between God and people just dissapated into the air. Paul can say, I have sacrificed myself for you, I held nothing back. The Corinthians church held back. When a person, group, or God is restrained from another person group unity is limited. The heart of the Corinthians was not fully open to Paul. God’s heart is always open to us, always ready to reconcile.
- The Corinthian were restrained. There was not a unity between Paul and the Corinthians.
- Paul’s ministry did not constrained the Corinthian church.
- Paul’s concern was the church’s affections.
13 Now in a like exchange—I speak as to children—open wide to us also.
I am awed as I hear God call me to open my heart, to be more transparent, to offer my love and affection. It could, just as well be Christ on the cross pleading for our mutual affection. This is the spirit of the plea Paul aims at the Corinthian church .
- In like exchange – Paul appeals to the Corinthian to open their hearts to him based on fair trade. Exchange – ἀντιμισθία (antimisthia) – a reward, recompense, retribution.
- I speak as to children – Paul appeals to a familial relationship.
14 Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?15 Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?
Our fellowship is with God and the people of God. So while Paul appeals to the church to open their heart, he lists areas the church might open itself to systems which were not of God:
- partnership with lawlessness
- fellowship with darkness
- harmony with Belial
- common with an unbeliever
- agreement with idols
16 Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, “I WILL DWELL IN THEM AND WALK AMONG THEM; AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE.17 “Therefore, COME OUT FROM THEIR MIDST AND BE SEPARATE,” says the Lord. “AND DO NOT TOUCH WHAT IS UNCLEAN; And I will welcome you. 18 “And I will be a father to you,
And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” Says the Lord Almighty.
Paul Reminds them who and what they are:
- God’s temple
- God’s companions
- God’s people
- God’s daughters and sons
God’s temple is to be holy. The church is to be separated from what is unclean
In 7:1-4 Paul wraps up this section by restating his request.
1 Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.2 Make room for us in your hearts; we wronged no one, we corrupted no one, we took advantage of no one.3 I do not speak to condemn you, for I have said before that you are in our hearts to die together and to live together.4 Great is my confidence in you; great is my boasting on your behalf. I am filled with comfort; I am overflowing with joy in all our affliction.
We have the promise that we are God’s temple, companions, people, and children. The church is called to complete separation/distinction by cleansing the things which defile the flesh and spirit (see 6:14-16a).
The tone is encouragement not condemnation, and Paul reasserts his heart’s desire, “Make room for us in your hearts.”
The Church is not expected to fall short! Great is Paul’s confidence in God and the church.