Be reconciled to God. 6:1-13
Having explained his ministry of reconciliation (his work of evangelism, his gospel ministry, 5:11-21) Paul now calls on his readers to be reconciled to him, to accept his gospel ministry among them, a ministry of "considerable endurance." "We urge you not to receive God's grace in vain", v1, but rather to "open wide your hearts", v13. So, we have in our passage for study an appeal to the Corinthian believers to fully accept their apostle and his gospel.
v1. The living God has acted toward lost humanity in Jesus Christ to give life so that we might live no longer to ourselves, but live for God, 5:15. Paul and his team labor to this end. He now calls upon his readers to accept "God's grace" (God's free gift of the benefits of Christ's death and resurrection) operative through his ministry. He is calling upon them to accept "his gospel" and his ministry. Obviously, the Corinthians made an initial response to the gospel, but "their practice did not measure up to their profession as Christians, their lives were so inconsistent as to constitute a denial of the logical implications of the gospel, namely that Christ died for them so that they may no longer live to themselves but to his glory", P. Hughes.
v2. The Bible quotation Paul uses here reminds the Corinthians that they can now share in the blessings foretold by Isaiah - salvation and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. The implication is that they are in danger of missing out on God's "favor". By failing to accept the authority of Paul's teaching, the church has negated the message of salvation.
v3. Paul's desire that the Corinthians accept his ministry, is already evident in the integrity of his mission. Paul and his team have sought to give no offense. In fact, in every way they have sought to commend the gospel by their behavior, cf. 1Cor.1:17, 9:27.
v4-5. In fact, the behavior of the apostolic team lines up with the way "God's servants" have always behaved in the face of difficult circumstances. Paul now describes these external circumstances:
"endurance" - hanging-in-there in the face of trouble, Rom.5:3, James 1:3.
"afflictions" - the troubles promised by Christ, John 16:33.
"hardships" - testing circumstances that cannot be avoided. Especially those caused by preaching the gospel, 1Cor.9:16.
"distresses" - calamities, situations of utter perplexity.
"in beatings etc." - the full range of troubles.
v6. Having described the external circumstances of his life (from a human perspective, signs of weakness or even of hidden sin, but in truth, signs of a prophet), Paul describes the inner moral characteristics of his life. This list of qualities includes the phrase, "in the Holy Spirit." Translated literally, "in holy spirit" may be a reference to the person of the Holy Spirit, but in such a list of Christian qualities it must mean something like behaving "with a spirit of holiness", ie. possessing spiritual graces. The list concludes with "love".
v7. Paul now turns to his work as a preacher, noting three particular qualities. His preaching was: i] "in truthful speech" - literally a "word of truth", "message of truth"; ii] "in the power of God" - it wasn't Paul's eloquence, but the powerful operation of the Spirit of God which made the gospel effective; iii] "through weapons of righteousness" - more rightly, "with the armor of righteousness", ie. the armor supplied by God. cf. Rom.6:13, 13:12.
v8-10. Paul now describes a standard twofold response to his gospel ministry - acceptance and rejection. He then goes on to describe the paradoxical life he has lived - "having nothing, possessing everything."
v11. "I have gotten off the track, I have left the point I wanted to make to you (in v1), so let me say right from the heart what I want to say to you."
v12. The original Greek is very difficult, but the NIV gets the point over. Paul has not withheld his affection from the Corinthians, rather they have rejected it.
v13. Paul then repeats his appeal made in v1 (repeated again in 7:2). He calls on the Corinthians to accept his apostolic ministry, and thus, his message of truth.
Glory and dishonor
In our passage for study we see Paul striving for reconciliation with the Corinthian congregation. His apostolic authority has been questioned and so his relationship with the congregation is now damaged. So, he calls on the Corinthian believers to accept the grace of God operative in his gospel, to open again their heart to him and his ministry.
In calling for reconciliation, Paul takes time to verify his apostolic credentials, and he does this by describing his ministry as one of considerable endurance. The gospel is sometimes explained in terms of blessings in the here and now, a success gospel where faith in Jesus whisks all our worries away, but this was not Paul's experience.
Most believers will testify that their troubles have multiplied since becoming a believer. Jesus never promised that if we believe in him our life will by "joy, joy, joy". No, the Christian walk is both glory and dishonor. There is a sense where our life is lived possessing everything, but having nothing. We will have to carry this tension with us always while in this "mortal frame." Doing the splits is not easy, but it is how we must live life - one foot in heaven and one on earth.
Like Paul, our experience of the Christian life will be marked by good times and bad. At the end of the journey we too will be able to say "we have known our sorrows, but joy is ever with us." Such is life with Christ.
1. The main thrust of this passage concerns ministry and our tendency to respond as a "stiff-necked people." Assess how your church responds to the word ministry.
2. Discuss how life is so often "sweet and sour", particularly as a believer.
Print-friendly: Sermon Notes. and Technical Notes
Index of studies: Resource library
Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources
Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons