A. The seriousness and character of Paul’s ministry.
1. (1-2) The responsibility of God’s great offer.
We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For He says:
“In an acceptable time I have heard you,
And in the day of salvation I have helped you.”
Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.
a. Workers together with Him: Paul sees himself as a co-worker with Jesus Christ. They are partners, and Jesus has given us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18). Since Paul is among the ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20), he works with Jesus.
i. What an amazing job: workers together with Him! It isn’t that God needed Paul, or any of us. Instead, it is that God wants us to be workers together with Him for our good. It’s like the little boy with the toy lawnmower following dad as dad mows the lawn. For the sake of pure efficiency, dad should ask the boy to go away because he is really just in the way. But it is so good for the boy to work with dad! And because dad loves his boy, he wants him to work together with Him.
ii. The word “workers” itself is important. There is something good and important in work itself, so much so that God wants us to be workers together with Him. God’s best for our life is never a state of ease and comfort and indulgent inactivity – even if we did all those things together with Him. God wants us to be workers together with Him, not “couch potatoes” or “pew potatoes” together with Him.
iii. We are workers together with Him. Paul never said God works together with us. It isn’t our work that God helps us with. It is His work that He asks us to do together with Him. Instead of trying to get God to help us with our work, we need to find out what God’s work is, and do it with Him.
iv. The picture of ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20) is especially helpful in understanding the nature of being workers together with Him. An ambassador can rightly be described as working together with his king. Yet, the ambassador himself has no power or authority or agenda on his own – it is all bound up in his king. The king delegates power and authority to the ambassador and reveals his agenda to the ambassador, and then the king expects the ambassador to fulfill that agenda.
b. Also plead with you: Paul told us that God was pleading through the ministry of the apostles (2 Corinthians 5:20). Now Paul will also plead with the Corinthian Christians. To plead is to beg, and Paul isn’t too proud to beg with eternity on the line.
c. Not to receive the grace of God in vain: The Corinthian Christians had obviously received the grace of God. They would not be Christians at all had they not received the grace of God. Yet having received it, they were potentially guilty of receiving the grace of God in vain, so Paul pleads with them to not do this.
i. What does it mean to receive the grace of God in vain? It means to receive the goodness and favor of God, yet to hinder the work of grace in one’s life. It means to receive the favor of God and to fail in what Paul spoke of in 1 Corinthians 15:10: But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.
ii. According to 1 Corinthians 15:10, if Paul did not work as hard as he did, the grace of God would still be given to him, but in some measure it would have been given in vain. Grace, by definition, is given freely, but how we receive grace will help to determine how effective the gift of grace is. Grace is “frequently used by St. Paul to express the favours and privileges offered to the members of the Church of Christ, not to be limited to grace given at any special moment (such as at salvation)… it is offered, independently of man’s faith and obedience, but it will not profit without these.” (Bernard)
iii. Grace isn’t given because of any works, past, present or promised; yet it is given to encourage work, not to say work is unnecessary. God doesn’t want us to receive His grace and become passive. Paul knew that God gives His grace, we work hard, and the work of God is done.
iv. Many Christians struggle at this very point. Is God supposed to do it or am I supposed to do it? The answer is, “Yes!” God does it and we do it. Trust God, rely on Him, and then get to work and work as hard as you can! That is how we see the work of God accomplished. If I neglect my end of the partnership, God’s grace doesn’t accomplish all that it might and is therefore given in vain.
v. “God’s grace is always coming to my heart and life in very wonderful and blessed experience of now. Yesterday’s grace is totally inadequate for the burden of today, and if I do not learn to lay hold of heavenly resources every day of my life for the little things as well as the big things, as a Christian I soon become stale, barren, and fruitless in the service of the Lord.” (Redpath)
d. Now is the acceptable time… now is the day of salvation: By quoting and applying Isaiah 49:8, Paul wants to give the Corinthian Christians a sense of urgency. God has an acceptable time for us to work with His grace. God has a day of salvation that will not last forever. This is no time for Christian lives consumed with ease and comfort and self-focus. It is time to get busy for the Lord and to be workers together with Him.
2. (3) How this responsibility affected Paul: his passion to be blameless as a servant of the gospel.
We give no offense in anything, that our ministry may not be blamed.
a. We give no offense in anything: Paul was willing to do most anything to make sure he gave no offense in anything. He was willing to forego his salary as a minister of the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:3-15). He was willing to allow others to be more prominent. He was willing to work hard and endure hardship. Paul was not afraid to offend anyone over the gospel of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:18-25), but he would not allow his style of ministry to offend anyone.
b. That our ministry may not be blamed: Of course, Paul’s ministry was blamed and discredited by the Corinthian Christians. What Paul means is that our ministry may not rightly be blamed. Paul could not do anything about false accusations except live in such a way that any fair-minded person would see such accusations as false.
3. (4-10) Paul’s credentials as a blameless minister.
But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings; by purity, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, by honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold we live; as chastened, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.
a. In all things we commend ourselves: Paul will now recount his resume’ to the Corinthian Christians. Here are the things he will list to commend himself before them.
b. In much patience: Paul’s first qualification was patience. The ancient Greek word used here is hupomone, which has the idea of endurance instead of simply “waiting.”
i. We often think of patience as a passive thing – the ability to sit around and wait for something to happen. That is not the idea of the word Paul used here. It is an active endurance instead of a passive waiting. The ancient Greek word hupomone “does not describe the frame of mind which can sit down with folded hands and bowed head and let a torrent of troubles sweep over it in passive resignation. It describes the ability to bear things in such a triumphant way that it transfigures them.” (Barclay)
c. Tribulations, needs and distresses: In Paul’s resume’ as an apostle, ambassador, and co-worker with Jesus, he follows patience with describing why he needed this endurance. First, it was because of the general struggles and trials of life. Paul was often stressed and under pressure (this is the idea behind the word for tribulations), often needy, and often in distress.
i. “Distresses signify, properly, a man’s being straitened, or thrust up in a place, so as that he knoweth not how to steer himself; and, metaphorically, a want of counsel, not knowing what to do, or which way to turn ourselves.” (Poole)
d. Stripes, imprisonments, and tumults: As Paul continues his resume’, he writes of sufferings directly inflicted by men. Stripes were the wounds on the back from a whipping, imprisonments referred to the frequent time Paul spent in jail, and tumults speak of violence from an angry mob.
i. “Nowadays it is not the violence but the mockery or the amused contempt of the crowd against which the Christian must stand fast.” (Barclay)
e. Labors, sleeplessness, and fastings: Paul continues his resume’ with describing his self-inflicted hardships. No one made him work so hard, keep so many sleepless nights, or go without food so often. These were true trials but ones Paul chose willingly as a co-worker with Jesus Christ. Paul isn’t complaining about these, because they were self-inflicted, but they were relevant to his need for patience.
i. Paul knew he needed endurance, and he knew many things in his life drew him to seek that endurance. Some of them were the general trials of life, some were sufferings directly brought by others, and some were self-inflicted. Not every trial was the same, but they all made him need endurance.
f. By purity, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left: Here, Paul begins to describe the resources he took advantage of in triumphing over adversity. If he honestly listed his trials, he will also honestly list the fruit of the Spirit and the power of God in his life.
i. Yes, Paul had the trials of 2 Corinthians 6:4-5 in greater measure than most men. Yet he also had the blessings of 2 Corinthians 6:6-7 in greater measure than most men.
ii. The idea of on the right hand and on the left is of holding both offensive and defensive weapons. It probably has in mind “both advancing and being attacked.” “Particularly, the shield and the sword; the former on the left arm, the latter on the right hand. We have the doctrine of truth, and the power of God, as an armour to protect us on all sides, every where, and on all occasions.” (Clarke)
g. By honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold we live; as chastened, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things. In concluding his resume’, Paul will list his references, describing both what the world thought of him and what God thought of him.
i. The world (including the worldly Corinthian Christians) described Paul with words like: dishonor… evil report… deceivers… unknown… dying… chastened… sorrowful… poor… having nothing.
ii. In His reference, God described Paul with words like: honor… good report… true… well known… behold we live… not killed… always rejoicing… making many rich… possessing all things.
iii. Which description was true – the world’s or God’s? 2 Corinthians 4:18 gives the answer. According to the things which are seen, the world’s estimation was correct. According to the things which are not seen, God’s estimation was correct. Which estimation is more important to you?
B. Paul speaks to the Corinthians as a father.
1. (11-13) Paul’s desire for reconciliation.
O Corinthians! We have spoken openly to you, our heart is wide open. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted by your own affections. Now in return for the same (I speak as to children), you also be open.
a. O Corinthians! Paul has spent enough time laying down the principles. Now he makes a pointed appeal to the Corinthian Christians. We can sense the depth and passion in his heart as he cries “O Corinthians!”
b. We have spoken openly to you, our heart is wide open: Paul is practicing what he preached in Ephesians 4:15: speaking the truth in love. He genuinely loved the Corinthians with an open heart, yet he would also speak openly to them.
c. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted by your own affections: The Corinthian Christians played the “victim” before Paul. Out of godly necessity he was firm with them on previous occasions (1 Corinthians 4:18-21, 2 Corinthians 1:23). Now, they probably claimed to be restricted by the “hurt” Paul caused them. They probably said, “We would love to reconcile with you Paul, but the pain you caused us restricts us. We just can’t get over it.”
i. But the real problem was that the Corinthian Christians were restricted by [their] own affections. It wasn’t that Paul did not love them enough (which was their claim as “victims”). It was that they loved too much! Their own affections restricted them.
ii. What did they love too much? First, they loved the world too much, and Paul will deal with that love in following verses. They also loved themselves too much and refused to really deal with their selfish and worldly attitudes towards Paul.
d. You also be open: Paul wants to see the same self-searching honesty in the Corinthian Christians that he just displayed to them. They had to do this so that they could be reconciled. The rift between Paul and the Corinthian church could be healed, but it was in the hands of the Corinthian Christians to do it. They had to also be open.
2. (14-18) Paul tells them to narrow their love.
Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said:
“I will dwell in them
And walk among them.
I will be their God,
And they shall be My people.”
“Come out from among them
And be separate, says the Lord.
Do not touch what is unclean,
And I will receive you.”
“I will be a Father to you,
and you shall be My sons and daughters,
says the LORD Almighty.”
a. Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers: Paul is speaking to the overly broad affections of the Corinthian Christians. They had joined themselves to unbelievers, and this prevented their reconciliation with Paul.
i. The idea of do not be unequally yoked together is based on Deuteronomy 22:9, which prohibited yoking together two different animals. It speaks of joining two things that should not be joined.
ii. In what ways had the Corinthian Christians become unequally yoked together with unbelievers? How can we do this? Certainly by marrying an unbeliever, which is the most common way this principle is applied. “A very wise and very holy man was given his judgment on this point: ‘A man who is truly pious, marrying with an unconverted woman, will either draw back to perdition, or have a cross during life.’ The same may be said of a pious woman marrying an unconverted man. Such persons cannot say this petition of the Lord’s prayer, Lead us not into temptation. They plunge into it of their own accord.” (Clarke)
iii. However, Paul means much more here than only marrying an unbeliever. It really applies to any environment where we let the world influence our thinking. When we are being conformed to this world and are not being transformed by the renewing of your mind (Romans 12:2), we join together with unbelievers in an ungodly way.
iv. This speaks especially to the issue of influence. Paul is not suggesting that Christians never associate with unbelievers (he makes this clear in 1 Corinthians 5:9-13). The principle is that we are to be in the world, but not of the world, like a ship should be in the water, but water shouldn’t be in the ship. If the world is influencing us, it is clear we are unequally yoked together with unbelievers. And this unequal yoke, or ungodly influence, may come through a book, a movie, a television show, a magazine, or even through worldly Christian friends. Most Christians are far too indiscriminate about the things they allow to influence their minds and lives.
v. We all like to believe that we can be around ungodly things as much as we want and that we are strong enough to ward off the influence. But we must take seriously the words of Scripture: Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits” (1 Corinthians 15:33). It needs to come back to the simple question from Romans 12:2: Are we being conformed to this world, or are we being transformed by the renewing of your mind?
vi. The Corinthian Christians thought like worldly people, not like godly people. They gained this way of looking at life – or at least they stayed in it – because of their ungodly associations. Paul tells them to break those yokes of fellowship with the ungodly!
b. What fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? The Corinthian Christians were too loving and too affectionate in the sense that they thought it was “accepting” of them to allow lawlessness with righteousness, to accept darkness along with the light, and to admit Belial along with Christ.
i. Belial is a word borrowed from Hebrew, meaning worthlessness or wickedness. Here it is used as another word for Satan. “The term is used only in this place in the New Testament, but very often in the Old Testament, to express men notoriously wicked and scandalous.” (Poole)
c. What communion has light with darkness? By using the term communion, Paul indicates that he really means influence more than presence. “Parties are said to be in communion when they are so united that what belongs to the one belongs to the other, or when what is true of the one is true of the other.” (Hodge)
d. What agreement has the temple of God with idols? Apparently, the Corinthian Christians still struggled with the idolatry problem Paul referred to in 1 Corinthians 8-10. Their association with idols influenced their thinking, making it more and more worldly.
e. You are the temple of the living God: In 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, Paul wrote of individual Christians as being temples of God. Here, he refers to the church as a whole being the temple. Because temples are holy places and should be protected against things that might defile the holy place, we should protect our hearts and minds as holy places before the Lord.
i. So, because Ezekiel 37:26-27 tells us God is in the midst of His temple (I will dwell in them and walk among them), Isaiah 52:11 tells us how we should make that temple a holy place (Come out from among them and be separate… do not touch what is unclean). The promise and I will receive you reminds us that this is not only a separation from evil but also a separation unto God. “It is not a question simply of trying to empty your heart and life of every worldly desire – what an awful impossibility! It is rather opening your heart wide to all the love of God in Christ, and letting that love just sweep through you and exercise its expulsive power till your heart is filled with love.” (Redpath)
ii. Paul quotes Jeremiah 31:9 to show the benefit of separating from worldly influence: a more intimate relationship with God (I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters). There is always a glorious promise for those who are willing to separate themselves from the world’s influences for the sake of godliness.
iii. As Paul quotes these passages, he isn’t necessarily quoting them word-for-word from either the Hebrew or the Septuagint. When Paul quotes Scripture, he often paraphrases it. “A comparison of texts reveals that he did not feel himself bound to quote slavishly word for word, but rather according to the sense and with the purpose of applying and showing the relevance of the revelation to the circumstances of his readers.” (Hughes)
f. Come out from among them and be separate: This call deals with the problem of “too much affection” Paul mentioned in 2 Corinthians 6:12. We really can love too much, thinking we may just add the love of God without renouncing the ideas of Satan and this world. Remember that one of the seeds that failed in the parable of the soils had ground that was too fertile. It would grow everything.
g. Says the LORD Almighty: The title Almighty uses the ancient Greek word pantokrater, which means, “the one who has his hand on everything.” In the whole New Testament, the word is used only here and in the book of Revelation. Paul wants us to understand that it is the sovereign God of heaven who offers us adoption as His children as we separate unto Him.
i. The call to purity and separation unto God flows from the offer of reconciliation mentioned at the end of 2 Corinthians 5. “A man cannot accept reconciliation with God and live in sin; because the renunciation of sin is involved in the acceptance of reconciliation. Paul never assumes that men may accept one benefit of redemption, and reject another. They cannot take pardon and refuse sanctification.” (Hodge)
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission