Paul’s Ministry in the Midst of Difficulties. 2 Cor. 6, 1-10.

Fellow-workers of God: V.1. We, then, as workers together with Him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain. V.2. (For He saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succored thee. Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.) Paul had just given a summary description of the ministry of reconciliation which had been entrusted to him, and had sent forth a ringing invitation to accept the grace of God. He now makes the application in an admonition to sanctification: We, then, working together with Him, also entreat you not in vain to receive the grace of God. In carrying out the Gospel-ministry, in issuing the Lord’s urgent invitation to accept the effected reconciliation, Paul and all ministers of the Gospel are God’s assistants, working with Him for the salvation of men’s souls. “Therefore God is the true Master within, in the heart, that performs the best work; and we help and serve Him to this end externally with the ministry of preaching.” 20) It is necessary, then, to add admonition to Gospel exposition, as the apostle here does, entreating the Corinthians, appealing to them not to hear the message of the grace of God without benefit. “To accept the grace of God in vain can be nothing else than hearing the pure Word of God, in which the grace of God is offered, and yet remaining apathetic and not accepting it, remaining as one was before.” 21) The grace of God is offered independently of man’s faith and obedience, but if it is not accepted by the hearers, it will, instead of profiting them, result in their everlasting condemnation, chap. 2, 16a. If a person feigns interest in the forgiveness of sins, but will not truly repent of his sins; if he makes a practice of referring to the Redeemer, but himself trusts in his own merits; if he is a member of a congregation and uses the means of grace, but incidentally leads a life by which the mercy of God is disgraced, then he belongs to the class of those whom the warning of the apostle strikes.

In order to give proper weight to his evangelical admonition, Paul supports it with a passage from the Old Testament: at an accepted time I hearkened to thee, and in a day of salvation I succored thee, Is. 49, 8. This word of the prophet was being fulfilled before the eyes of the Corinthians, as it is today, for he speaks of the time of the New Testament as that of the dispensation of grace. What God had promised to His great Servant, the Messiah, that is being given by grace to all those that accept the Christ in true faith. Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation; that is Paul’s explanation and comment. Since Christ has been made manifest in the flesh, the propitious time has come, the time of His good pleasure, the time of His good will toward men, in which He intends to reveal His mercy, power, and glory. The present Christian dispensation is the day of salvation, with God freely extending His gracious help to all sinners that will hear His call. The repetition of the word “behold” emphasizes the point that the present time is that in which God so accepts, in which He so dispenses His grace and mercy. Now they have free access to the redemption of Christ, Heb. 4, 16; Rom. 5, 2. Now, today, they should make their decision and partake of His bounty, accept the hand of reconciliation extended to them. Mark: If the time of grace is neglected, if its invitation is ignored, it may soon be past forever, to be followed by a time of wrath and condemnation. "Now that God has given us His mercy in such rich measure,... truly it is necessary that we do not set the grace of God at naught and let Him knock in vain. He is standing at the door: well for us if we open to Him. He is saluting us; blessed he that answers. If we overlook His passing, who will bring Him back?" 22)

The example of Paul in the midst of difficulties: V.3. Giving no offense in anything, that the ministry be not blamed; v.4. but in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, v.5. in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in watchings, in fastings; v.6. by pureness, by knowledge, by long-suffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned, v.7. by the Word of Truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, v.8. by honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report: as deceivers, and yet true; v.9. as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; v.10. as sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things. Paul here sets forth his own example, partly in vindication of his own conduct, partly with the intention of stimulating emulation. He conducts himself so that he gives no one an occasion for stumbling, since any deliberate act of that kind would have reacted upon the Gospel. He could not indeed hinder the self-righteous and self-conceited from taking offense at the Word of the Cross and blaspheming both the office and its ministers, 1 Cor. 4, 12. 13. But he made use of the most untiring vigilance in doctrine and life, lest some one should find a reason for censuring him; he took heed to himself in the most scrupulous manner, lest on his account some one should stumble and fall.

The apostle now speaks of the distinctive characteristics of his apostolic office in detail: But in all things commending ourselves as God’s servants do, He acted so conscientiously in all things pertaining to his office and to his whole life that his boast of proving his worth was not too strong. He and his fellow-workers were examples of all that was good in their office as well as in their daily conduct. As it was appropriate for the ministers of God, their whole life was a testimony to the office with which they had been entrusted. This was true, first of all, in the enduring of outward hardships. They did their work in great patience, in determined perseverance, in steadfast calmness, since this was necessary for enduring and conquering the peculiar difficulties which they were obliged to encounter. They worked in afflictions occasioned by the hatred of their enemies; in distresses, in various troubles which fall to the lot of the persecuted; in straits of perplexities, from which there seemed to be no escape, which left them at a loss as to how they might proceed. The enemies of the Gospel also succeeded in making their enmity felt in the person of Paul, in stripes, when he was beaten, Acts 22, 24; in imprisonments, Acts 16, 24; in tumults, when the people did not wait for the judgment of the authorities, but aroused the rabble in a demonstration against the person and work of the Christian teachers, Acts 13, 50; 14, 5. 19; 16, 22; 17, 5; 18, 12. He was troubled also in hard labors, both in preaching the Gospel and in supporting himself while so doing, making his body weary and sapping his strength, 1 Cor. 15, 10; Acts 20, 26; in watchings, many a sleepless night being credited to his account, since he was active day and night, Acts 20, 7. 31, in behalf of the souls entrusted to him; in fastings, which he undertook voluntarily, partly as a fine outward training, Acts 14, 23, partly to keep his body in subjection, 1 Cor. 9, 27, partly also to strengthen his body for the endurance of hardships, chap. 11, 27. What an example for all ministers of all times! And how earnestly does this account rebuke the superficiality and externalism of many modern Christians!

The apostle next shows his behavior as a true minister of Christ in inward gifts and qualities: in integrity of mind and life, in the moral purity which cleanses itself from all contamination of flesh and spirit; in knowledge, which is essentially the right understanding of the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God, the ability to form the proper judgment regarding the various conditions and circumstances of men in the light of God's Word; in long-suffering, an attribute of especial value in a missionary, since it enables him to bear the weaknesses of those deficient in knowledge and to hold back his righteous indignation on account of insults; in kindness, according to which the apostle showed his benignant gentleness in seeking and promoting the welfare of his neighbor, whether friend or enemy. All these qualities are not natural abilities of the apostle, but they are gifts of the Holy Ghost, who also works love unfeigned, true, genuine love, which knows nothing of hypocrisy and dissimulation, 1 Cor. 13: Col. 3, 12. And as a possessor of these gifts and qualities, Paul does his work in the Word of Truth, in his activity as a messenger of the Lord, for he preached only the pure, unadulterated, divine doctrine, chap. 4, 2; in the power of God which enables him to do the work of his ministry, which causes him to take all his own reason and ability captive under the obedience of Christ, chap. 10, 5; Rom. 1, 16.

A further feature of the apostle’s work was this, that he commended himself as a minister of God through the weapons of righteousness on the right and on the left, carrying on the warfare of the Lord not with carnal instruments, but with those means that are appropriate for the justice of the Lord’s cause, using them for offense as well as for defense. In doing this, he was undaunted, no matter whether the way of his ministry led through honor or dishonor, through evil reports or good reports; exposed a she was to slanderous, malicious tongues, he accepted it in the spirit which characterized his Lord, as a testimony for the fact that he was doing his work as a servant of God and not of men, Gal. 1, 10; John 15, 18.

Thus Paul proved his character to be diametrically opposite to that which was ascribed to him by his enemies. He was defamed as a deceiver, just as his Master was before him. John 7, 12, as one that was trying to defraud the people by false doctrines, by teaching new gods, Acts 17, 18; and yet he was true, in the eyes of God as well as in those of men that were won by the Word of Truth. He was unknown, misjudged, misunderstood, represented as an obscure person without proper credentials, as the teacher of a sect which was everywhere spoken against, Acts 28, 22; 24, 14; and yet he was well known before Him who had inscribed his name in heaven, Luke 12, 20, as well as to them that had felt the power of the Gospel in their hearts, Gal. 4, 15. He was dying, surrounded on all sides by enemies that sought his life, and may often hare been reported dead, and he himself often gave up all hope of life, Acts 27, 21; 2 Cor. 1, 8: and yet, behold, by a miracle of God he was living, he had till now triumphed over death. He carried on his work as chastened, stricken with the consequences of sin in his body, as his adversaries were sure to sneer of him, 2 Cor. 12, 7, and yet the chastening of the Lord did not kill him, Ps. 118, 18, its intention rather being to purify him in life and work, to make him more valuable for the ministry which was entrusted to him. Sorrowful indeed he was; for the enmity of men, the evil reports, the distresses and perplexities, the chastenings of the Lord caused him sorrow according to the flesh; and yet he was always rejoicing, for all the troubles of this present life could not rob him of his joy in the Lord and his blessed hope of salvation, Phil. 4, 4. Poor he was in this world’s goods, a pauper so far as the money of this life was concerned, yet he made many rich, beyond the dreams of avarice, in spiritual blessings, in the treasures of heaven. Yea, he was one of those that had nothing which is counted in the eyes of this world, neither wealth nor social position; and yet he possessed all things, 1 Cor. 3, 22, having the riches of the grace of God in Christ Jesus as a treasure which no man could take from him. Note: What Paul here says of himself and of his fellow-ministers is true of all messengers of the Gospel at all times, and, in a degree, of all true believers. It therefore behooves them to pass through the dangers and persecutions, through the trials and distresses of the world, with their eyes fixed upon the heavenly glory which is promised them as a reward of mercy, in their Redeemer, Jesus Christ. 23) It is worth while to notice also in this section how the enthusiasm of the apostle carries him forward on a wave of eloquence: “When Paul’s heart was all ablaze with passion, as in Second Corinthians, he did pile up participles like boulders on a mountainside, a sort of volcanic eruption.... But there is always a path through these participles. Paul would not let himself be caught in a net of mere grammatical niceties. If necessary, he broke the rule and went on. But Moulton is right in saying that all this is ‘more a matter of style than of grammar.’ It is rhetoric.” 24)

Admonition to Flee the Fellowship of Unbelievers. 2 Cor. 6, 11-18.

V.11. O ye Corinthians, our mouth is open unto you, our heart is enlarged. V.12. Ye are not straitened in us, but ye are straitened in your own bowels. V.13. Now for a recompense in the same, (I speak as unto my children,) be ye also enlarged. V.14. Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness? V.15. And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? V.16. And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. V.17. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, v.18. and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be My sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty. The enthusiasm of the inspired writer has carried him forward to a wonderful height of eloquence in picturing true faithfulness in the ministry of the Gospel. Before making the application of the appeal of v.1 to the various relations of life, therefore, the apostle here pours forth some of the affectionate feeling which he cannot hide from them: Our mouth is open to you, O Corinthians; our heart is enlarged. He feels constrained to speak openly and without reserve to them; for it is his love which causes him to speak with such plain candor and frankness, which will not suffer him to remain silent, but urges him to show such confidence toward them. A similar thought is contained in the thought of the enlargement of his heart in their behalf, for the expression indicates the widening of his sympathy for them. In speaking to them so frankly, Paul had really become aware of the depth and extent of his affection for them.

This fact being so, the other thought follows: You are not straitened in us, but you are straitened in your own affections; you have no small room in us, but you have very little room for us in yourselves. The apostle’s heart was enlarged in love for them, it widened out in sympathy and love for them and encompassed them all, but they, on their part, did not feel an equal love and sympathy for the apostle. He was not a man of narrow sympathies, as his opponents may have suggested, but the lack of sympathy was all on their side. And yet, he had a right to expect that: But as a retribution, a recompense, of the same kind (I speak as to my children) be enlarged also you. Because children are bound to make a return of love for a father’s lore, because they should feel obliged to pay back the same amount of love that they have received, therefore he calls upon them to be enlarged in heart, to exhibit a wider affectionate sympathy toward him. That he expected.

That his admonition is intended only with reference to himself and to his work and does not apply to the undue tolerance which would permit the worship of false gods, the apostle now brings out in a passage replete with brilliancy: Be not united incongruously with unbelievers. That is the thesis, the topic, of the entire passage. If they should be yoked together with unbelievers, it would be an unequal yoking together. The apostle has in mind the provision of the Jewish ceremonial law according to which the yoking together of clean and unclean animals was prohibited, Deut. 22, 10. If the believers, the members of the Christian community, should in any way join with the heathen in their idol worship, if they should associate with them in such a way as to erase the essential difference between Christian and heathen, then this union would be absurd and wicked, with the peril of leading to denial attached, and should therefore not be practiced by the Christians.

The apostle enforces his thought by illustrating the incongruity between Christianity and heathendom in five contrasts. He asks: For what communion, what fellowship, is there to righteousness and lawlessness? What have they in common? On the one hand, there is the active disposition to live in accordance with the divine will; on the other hand, there is no knowledge of the divine, sanctifying will, and therefore nothing but unrighteousness. Obviously, then, there can be no participation between the two; they are contrasts. Or what communion has light with darkness? On the one side is light and salvation, with God; on the other is darkness and destruction, with Satan; the two can never unite without destroying their substance.

A third question, contrasting the Son of God with the adversary of Himself and of all mankind: But what is Christ’s concord toward Belial? How can there ever be an agreement between Christ, the Champion of that which is right and good, which is intended for man’s salvation, and the chief of Christ’s adversaries? The personification of righteousness and perfection against the personification of unrighteousness and lawlessness - that abyss can never be bridged. The last two questions concern the contrast between those that are saved and those that are destroyed: Or what portion is to the believer with the unbeliever? But what agreement is to the temple of God with idols? The Christian, the one that has faith in Christ, can have no part with such as are heathen, as have no faith. Their character, their possessions, their interests, differ so totally and utterly that a combination of the two contrasted parties cannot be imagined. And equally absurd is the idea that the temple of God should have anything in common with idols. One might just as soon think of setting up idols in the sanctuary of God as to have those that have been consecrated to the Lord join with the heathen in any part of their false worship.

For the sake of emphasizing the entire passage, the apostle explains his last comparison: For we are the temple of a God that is living. Any agreement with the worship of dead and powerless idols, no matter in what form, is therefore out of the question. And that Paul is right in representing the body of the true believers as a temple of God he proves from a passage of the Old Testament, which he quotes in a free translation: I will dwell in them and walk in them, and I will be their God, and they shall be My people, Lev. 26, 11. 12. The believers are a habitation of God through the Spirit, Eph. 2, 22. God Himself, the Triune Godhead, has made His abode in them, John 14, 23. Cp. Ezek. 37, 26-28; Hos. 2, 23; Jer. 24, 7. God lives in the midst of His congregation in the Word and in the Sacraments; His Word is effective in them through the ministry of the Word, in effecting faith and a holy life. The believers have no thought for, no interest in, any other God but the one that dwells in them, and He that made them His people is pleased to continue as their God.

From this relation, however, it follows what Paul adds in the form of a peremptory command of the Lord: Wherefore, come out from the midst of them and separate yourselves, says the Lord, and touch not an unclean thing. Paul here, as Luther says, melts together many verses into one heap, and casts such a text therefrom as gives the meaning of the entire Scriptures. The thought is that of Is. 52, 11. 12, where the deliverance of the Israelites from Babylon is pictured as a redemption. The mere touching of the unclean thing will make the believer a partaker of strange uncleanness and a denier of the Lord. “The admonition here is that they should come out in the most decided manner from the whole sphere of heathenish worldly life, should separate themselves in spirit from their heathen neighbors, should avoid all heathenish practices which might defile men consecrated to God, and especially abstain from all idolatrous festivals.” 25)

The result of this uncompromising attitude on the part of the believers is finally stated, also in a combination of Scripture-passages from the Old Testament: And I will receive you, and I will be to you a Father, and you shall be to Me sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty. Cp. Ex. 4, 22; Jer. 31, 9; Hos. 1, 10; Is. 43, 6. The promise of God, contained in all parts of His holy Word, is not only that His grace will make the believers an assembly dedicated to Him, but he promises them the position of sons and daughters, together with the heritage of heaven, Gal. 4, 4. 5. And there can be no doubt as to His ability to make good His promise of adding us to His household and giving us all the blessings of true children, because He is the Lord, the almighty Governor of all things, 2 Sam. 7, 8. Note: The manner in which the apostle quotes the Old Testament is entirely in line with his own inspired character. “The concluding verses of this chapter are an instructive illustration of the way in which the New Testament writers quote the Old. 1. They often quote a translation which does not strictly adhere to the original. 2. They often quote according to the sense, and not according to the letter. 3. They often blend together different passages of Scripture, so as to give the sense, not of any one passage, but the combined sense of several. 4. They sometimes give the sense, not of any particular passage or passages, but, so to speak, the general sense of Scripture. There is no such passage in the Old Testament, for example, as that contained in this last verse, but the sentiment is often and clearly expressed. 5. They never quote as of authority any but the canonical books of the Old Testament.” (Hodge.) Mark also: The language of Paul in this entire section is held in such a majestic strain and, at the same time, shows his command of the Greek language in such a clear way that it is rightly regarded as one of the finest in all his letters. And finally: This passage is properly applied in the case of false union with sectarian churches. For inasmuch and in so far as any church-body has the unclean thing in its midst in the form of any false doctrine or antiscriptural practice, insomuch and in so far it is contaminated and may become contaminating. If even that is a contamination for believers to be united with unbelievers in matters which further the idolatrous ideas of the latter, much more is the unionism of the present day to be condemned, which ignores differences of creed and practice with the specious plea that the Church must be a power in the world. It is only by retaining both doctrine and life in the greatest possible, in absolute, purity that the Church will be able to fulfill its mission of being a salt in the world. But if the salt have lost its savor, wherewith shall it be salted? Mark 9, 50.

Summary. Paul shows that he and his fellow-ministers do the work of their office in the midst of all the difficulties besetting them; he appeals to the believers to avoid all fellowship with the unbelievers and their practices.