2 Corinthians 6
Remember, Paul, in the larger context of this letter here, is speaking to believers. This is important, because he is discussing salvation in a way that is largely ignored in Christendom, and seems poorly understood by all except the faithful, and that is sanctification, the act of God imparting His holiness to us through His work and our cooperation.
We should contrast this with justification, the act of God declaring us righteous in the first place. This is why Christ died in our place according to the Gospel. He became human, he lived for between 33 and 34 years as a human, in perfect obedience to God under the Law of Moses, and then deliberately and knowingly gave up that life as a perfect substitutionary sacrifice for us vicariously on the cross. All those big words are chosen and precise in their definition, but the basically mean that Christ died for OUR sins as a substitute (vicariously), atoning for them (propitiation), with God then declaring us righteous in Christ (expiation), which pronounces us as faultless before God (justification). This is a sole work of our triune God, as opposed to sanctification, which God allows His new creations in Christ to learn to CHOOSE to do His will, and instead of simply imputing His righteousness (giving us the righteousness of another, Christ) monergistically (alone by Himself), He imparts His righteousness to our changed natures by teaching us to choose His will and live according to His Word. This is defined as sanctification, the process whereby He makes us holy, and it is said to by synergistic, that is we are allowed by God to participate in the act by our choices, that will move out into our works. However, it is still mostly His work – and none of what we do to become holy is worth two cents if we have not been born again, or saved, or converted, or justified, or redeemed, or regenerated – whatever term you want to choose for justification.
Paul is speaking of sanctification here to believers, and when justification does come up (as it does in 4:15, for example), it is mentioned as happening as a result of Christians that have said yes to sanctification and are choosing to live as God commands. If you read carefully, Paul is using this kind of sanctification as evidence of justification before God and all of His gifts to men, including His own Apostleship. Here is where my review of ground we have already covered begins.
Paul, you will recall, was put out to the extreme, I think to the point where it began to distract him in His service to Christ. After his second visit to Corinth, he was so saddened and deflated that he simply quietly returned to Ephesus. In Ephesus, he wrote the “angry” letter that he sent and then wished he hadn’t. He began to be distracted here, I think – you know, that gnawing thing in your mind and gut that just makes you crazy to know what happened? I wasn’t there, but Paul was one of us – human – and it seems reasonable that he would have human responses.
He was becoming so distracted, he left Ephesus and set out for Troas, where Titus was after his own trip to Corinth. It is entirely reasonable that Paul was after news of what happened with that letter that might have been like a hand grenade in the wrong setting. He didn’t find Titus, so he went looking for him in Macedonia, eventually finding him, and receiving a blessed report that at least a majority of the people there were with Paul and not the false teachers that were calling themselves “super apostles” and attacking Paul’s character.
So what is the first thing Paul chose to confront these “super apostles” with? The idea of suffering, and how that suffering perfects the believer. We talked about how the false teachers were essentially trying to use the gospel as a means of gain, and that’s never good. Paul, on the other hand, would not allow the Corinthians to support him while he was there. We talked about how Paul had gone through real life-threatening trials for the sake of the gospel. Were any of these false apostles ever stoned for preaching his message? Not ever. Paul was. Were any ever beaten with rods for speaking publicly about Christ? No, but Paul was, and he was even given 39 lashes on three different occasions. (One more stoke is a death sentence, if you didn’t know.) Had any of them ever been shipwrecked and lost at sea? Paul was, for a day and a night, for the sake of the work of Jesus on earth. No, beloved, suffering perfects us – if we will cooperate with God and let it.
What we saw was Paul talking about how the Lord had led him in real triumph – but it wasn’t Paul’s triumph, it was Christ’s. He speaks greatly here of his own motives in writing that angry letter, and what that meant to the work, his own state of mind, and the effect it had on the Corinthians. It is a sort of apology in our modern sense, but also an explanation of why he wrote it.
In Chapter 3, we studied the actual connection between the Old and New Testaments, or Covenants. Paul compared them directly. This is a particularly crucial area of study, because if you get the Covenants confused, or worse ignore the one that has gone before, you end up with some really whacked-out ideas on things like tithing, resisting sin, like that. We saw that we live in a new and spiritual reality (more of the now/coming, present/future kingdom stuff we’ve been talking about on and off since we studied Ephesians), and that it is a reality that needs to be intentionally chosen to live in by act of will on our parts. Walking in the Spirit requires that we chooses to set aside all those old acts of the flesh (sins) that will kill us, and instead choose life, being renewed in our minds, and transformed in our characters into the image of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In Chapter 4, we saw a need to let God do the work and for us to submit and either cooperate or get out of His way. In his contrasting of the righteous versus the unrighteous, we saw that we can fit into both categories, and in fact that those category differences, the contradictions in our character, not only perfectly describer humanity, but actually give glory to God as we allow Him to work in our lives. We talked about the cost of following God like this, and we saw that it was in fact everything we have and are. Christ exchanged His life for ours. We are no longer our own, and we must live like that matters, by focusing on the unseen, spiritual reality we now find ourselves in. We have not arrived, and we will not arrive until Jesus comes for us personally.
In Chapter 5, we got a look at what our behaviour as servants of God Most High should be, as we looked at the reasoning of Paul and how he was motivated to behave in his own walk and service of Christ the King. I know that this letter to Corinth was Paul’s justification of his ministry to Christ, but the best way I have found to read it is to make personal application, as if I were called to do what Paul was called to do in terms of the gospel. I know I’m not Paul, I’m not an apostle (Capital or Lowercase A), I’m not a prophet or the son of a prophet, I’m MAYBE an evangelist, but we are all supposed to be that, and I’m barely a pastor and teacher. I understand that–but did not Paul say we are to be imitators of him as he was an imitator of Christ? He did, back in 1 Corinthians 11:1 (Also 4:6).
With that as the foundation, Chapter 6 shows us (starting in 5:21) the GOSPEL! Paul does make some contrasts and comparisons as to how the servant of God should conduct his life, but the main thrust I saw in this chapter is the gospel, and our specific response to it. I broke the chapter into Paragraphs like this:
KV18: Sons and Daughters of the Living God
1, 3-10: The Contrasts in the Life of God’s Servants
2: NOW Is the Time for You To Respond to the Gospel
11-13: Do Not Let Your Feelings Drive Your Responses
14-18: Separate Yourselves from the World for God
Paul has done something that means I will have to handle this a bit differently than normal. He has included a sort of non-sequitur parenthesis in verse 2. I see it as related, but the Holy Spirit chose to put it here, and it makes my explanation a bit disjointed if I don’t handle the parenthetical comment separately. Because of the way the text flows in the chapter, I will do so as a second and unique paragraph. You’ll see what I mean when we get there.
KV18: Sons and Daughters of the Living God
God is calling all of us to this if we are believers, and more than the simple privilege of being His children, He is calling us to be mature sons [Gk., huios, a mature son capable of standing on their own, distinguished from teknon, a child, which we are, also, according to John in his epistles, which we hope to look into at some point.] and daughters [Gk., thugater, a spiritual daughter in the same sense as the mature son from contextual use]. We need to be those that are learning our duties, and how to conduct ourselves in all circumstances that the Father presents us. Christ has expunged our pasts, and the Holy Spirit, we learned last week, lives inside us as a down payment that guarantees our future with Him in eternity, among other and more immediate matters. It settled once and for all the question of our eternal destiny – we are to be His and be with Him throughout eternity in whatever form that will take, and we don’t know a lot about that yet.
Because God is calling us to be those mature servants that can stand on our own, and is building us up together as living stones in His eternal house, we must learn how to conduct ourselves as He puts us to work in his harvest fields. Jesus has told us that those fields are white to the harvest, meaning it is NOW time for that harvest work, and is calling for labourers to go out into that field and work for and with Him. Beloved, will YOU answer that call? Because it is time. What are we all waiting for?
We’ll jump into the chapter here, with all that in mind.
1, 3-10: The Contrasts in the Life of God’s Servants
I have, for the ease of dealing with the chapter, removed verse 2 from the parenthetical position that the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to put it in, and I must tell you that, because its positioning is not only relational in that it gives the context of the work we are doing, it tells us what all our work should be about. With that understanding, let’s get into the text.
1: And working together with Him, we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain—
- The first thing to notice is that “with Him” does not appear in the Greek. Most translations have it in there, but I’ve checked the Greek text here. The words are sim[ly not there. The verse reads, “συνεργουντες δε και παρακαλουμεν μη εις κενον την χαριν του θεου δεξασθαι υμας…” (just to show you I actually do check the Greek texts with the help of an interlinear translation and I do actually have more than one Greek text–I use the Scrivener 1894 TR and the Byzantine Greek Unparsed Text for this work. The latter reads, “Συνεργοῦντες δὲ καὶ παρακαλοῦμεν μὴ εἰς κενὸν τὴν χάριν τοῦ θεοῦ δέξασθαι ὑμᾶς…” which is IDENTICAL for those that want to argue about text bases, and I used to be a proofreader, so I can make a character by character comparison).
- So, “What does this mean?” I hear you ask. Well, to explain it, I think the JND translation (done from the Byzantine text base if you were curious) puts it in an understandable light–“But [as] fellow-workmen, we also beseech that ye receive not the grace of God in vain…
- The point I am making is that we are all supposed to be fellow workmen, and although disagreements about things can arise, about doctrine, about practice, about activities, and about directions in service, we are all fellow workmen for Christ. The words “with Him” may not offer clarity here for the careful reader, but He, that is our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, should always be foremost in our minds as we work together. And what is that work?
- “We also urge you NOT to receive the grace of God on vain.” In other words, we are obligated in at least some measure to be careful about making false converts by preaching a gospel based in easy-believeism by preaching a lawless Gospel, the modern gospel that perhaps you’ve heard out there: “God luuvs ya and has a wunnerful plaan fer yer liiife…”
- Beloved, we need to be clear on what the gospel we preach is, and we will talk about that when we talk about verse 2 in our separate and breakout paragraph. I find it easier here to follow the context of what Paul is saying by looking at it in a moment or two.
3: giving no cause for offense in anything, so that the ministry will not be discredited,
- So not only are we supposed to urge people to receive the grace of God, and not a vain cheap-grace gospel, we are also not to give a cause for offense in anything. Okay, I can feel some eyes narrowing at me, realizing that I have been of late taking on a more polemical bent, and approaching things in a more confrontational manner. I will explain what this is, and how it relates here.
- Polemics is the field of theology where we compare what people are saying God says with what God actually says in the word of God. Sometimes, there is really no way to say something without offending someone, but we still have to say it. I will be general in this study, because I do not want to be kicked off Twitch at the moment, but we have occasionally covered some of these hot-button issues in this study. Particularly Romans 1: 18-32, 1 Corinthians 6:9, and a few others. Look those up if you want to know what I refer to here. I will only resort to confrontation when I see no other way to make my point, or if I am addressing actual false teaching. I would address a false teacher with a call from the gospel to repent, and I would be very plain and blunt about it these days, but I would also seek to do it in a biblical way, involving Matthew 18 church discipline, and in order within the meeting, the church, and as gently as possible, as befits servants of God. Why the concern for the false teacher?
- Well, it isn’t so that I don’t hurt anyone’s feelings. It is part two of this verse. This should be at the forefront of everyone’s mind when they address any kind of error or even sloppy behaviour (especially that) – that the ministry – that is the GOSPEL from verse 2 that we will look at shortly – will not be discredited. Need an example? Ask our brother Alex how he preaches the gospel to his Roman Catholic family. It requires a gentle touch and special grace to share the truth with those who actually seek it, because we as humans have been conditioned to fight back whenever we are presented with what seems like an attack (a small minority just shut off and won’t respond also). And worse, we have been conditioned to see any disagreement with our own ideas and values as an attack, when it isn’t. We must be conscious of this when addressing people, beloved, so that we do not bring shame on, that is make harder, the work of the gospel. And this verse ends with a comma, which means Paul has more to say.
4: but in everything commending ourselves as servants of God, in much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses,
- Rather, we should be doing everything we can to keep our reputations as servants of God. Paul refers to this as “commending ourselves,” or rather “establishing” ourselves as servants of God. Beloved, people should be able to see something different in our conduct. That means we cannot be mucking about with the things of the world, because our reputation is very easily made to look dirty. And there are people out there that make it their mission in life to do so. Don’t worry about them, they’ve always been there, but we should be mindful of that and keep ourselves from being sullied! And Beloved, this is no small order.
- Here, Paul begins a list of things to be careful of, and we will look at each thing as we add it to a to-do list of sorts, because NONE of us have arrived, least of all me.
- Endurance: Gk., hupomonee, patience, a remaining under [the situation, trial, etc.]. It’s the same word in 1:6, incidentally. Patience it part of endurance. In fact, it is endurance over time, and it speaks to the willingness to remain in the situation God has put you in until He takes you out of the same.
- Afflictions: Gk., thlipsis, pressure, a pressing. This can be anything that burdens you in spirit, according to Vine. That means that God Himself can cause your pressing. We call that a burden around here. We have burdens for evangelism and discipleship, do we not? It places an amount of pressure on us to see it happen. Like that.
- Hardships: Gk., ananke, a “necessity,” whether imposed by external circumstances (say, we are losing our meeting place, not such a stretch, because it has happened to entire congregations, plural, here in Ontario where we live) or inward pressures, like we spoke of earlier. The point here is that it is a need that is created that must be filled.
- Distresses: Gk., stenochoria, narrowness of place. Here it is used in the plural, and means it could be a number of different things, but the idea of the narrow, constricting place is what is seen. Gee, we don’t know anything about this in Ontario at the moment, with the police either intimidating congregations or actually closing churches, do we?
- Beloved, these are the responses we should choose to at least try to reflect when these rough circumstances meet us. More could be said, but we’d run out of time I suspect, given that last Friday it took us a little over an hour and a half to answer three simple, short questions from The Holiness of God by R. C. Sproul…
5: in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in hunger,
- Here this list gets a little darker and more intimidating. Beloved, Paul went through all of these things. Before He did, our Lord Jesus went through all these things. How can we who wish to follow Him expect to be any different? I mean, He said, “Take up your cross and follow me.” (Matt. 16:24, Mark 8:34, and Luke 9:23). For the record, the cross is the slow torturous instrument of your earthly execution. It isn’t meant to be pleasant.
- Beatings: Gk., pleegee, meaning a blow or strike to your person. Sometimes, we can be beaten physically in our stands for the Lord Jesus. Ask brother Steve Camp about that. He preached the gospel to a bunch of GLAAD representatives. They beat him badly enough he landed in the hospital. We must stand. That’s hard for those of us that have been beaten by our dads, by the way. But He gives a greater grace. I’m not saying I want to find that out in a practical fashion, by the way.
- Imprisonments: Gk., phulakee, a keeping watch or guarding. The word is almost always translated as having something to do with prisons. Some of us now know what that is like here in Canada. James Coates. Tim Stephens. Artur and Dawid Pawlowski. Look, I freely admit, I don’t want to go to jail. I’m diabetic, and the prison diet is mostly carbohydrates, the things that really set of my diabetes. I’d have to go back on insulin, and worse, the prison staff would have to administer it, because we wouldn’t be allowed to have sharp objects. Yay, stabby time again…
- Tumults: Gk., akatastasia, a state of disorder or chaos. Anarchy. Gee, that hasn’t happened in North America anywhere in the last 12 months, has it? *Portland* *Seattle* *Minneapolis* Or what do you call it when a crowd of people for whatever reason violently protest anything and light police vehicles (and officers!) on fire?
- Labours: Gk., kopos, a striking or beating. Figuratively, it is used of toil resulting in weariness, labourious toil, worked to the bone weariness. And Beloved, sometimes it really feels that way.
- Sleeplessness: Gk., agrupnia, just like it sounds. No sleep. KJV renders this “watchings,” which back in the day, meant sleepless watching, like a guard on duty. I don’t know about you, but l’il ol’ diabetic me can’t do that like I used to. My body goes to sleep all on its own.
- Hunger: Gk., nesteia, a fast, or fasting, the opposite of eating. The Greek prefix ne is like the prefix a and is used on esthio, to eat. I can’t do that either. I will pass out. It has happened. To be fair, Paul is speaking here of involuntary fasting, we think, though it might include willing privations, as a result of times of diminished resources. Rationing would be an example of this.
- The news here, isn’t all bad, however! Next verse…
6: in purity, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in genuine love,
- After listing off the bad circumstances in which we must display godly character, he begins to list off the good characteristics that we also must reflect.
- Purity: Gk., hagnotes, the state of being pure from defilement. Look, Beloved, you don’t have to fight to define these. You KNOW what this means. You know what is wrong, and not to do it. You have the power to say no. So don’t do that defiling stuff.
- Knowledge: Gk., gnosis, a seeking to know, an enquiry, an investigation. Used here in an absolute sense, it refers to spiritual knowledge of truth. Again, Beloved, don’t fight to define this, or rather mis-define it to mean secret knowledge given only to the initiated acolytes. Truth is absolute, and is knowable by all. And you know what it is, too.
- Patience: Gk., makrothumia, forbearance, patience, longsuffering. Again, you KNOW what this means. So put away the silly questions about when to have patience. Have it all the time. With everybody. Regardless of the skubalon they’re giving you, I might add.
- Kindness: Gk., chrestotes, goodness. According to Vine, in this verse it is used in the sense of other believers and is translated as “kindness” because kindness is goodness put into action. Again, you notice you don’t have to work to define this! If you do, we need to talk about your need of repentance.
- Holy Spirit: Yes, this means EXACTLY what you think it means. It is possible for us as believers and followers of Christ to “establish ourselves” as servants of God–in fact, there is no other way we CAN establish that. He is our down payment, you’ll recall.
- Genuine love: The word for genuine here is anupokritos, meaning literally, without hypocrisy. You will recall that hypocrisy is literally putting on an act for people. Don’t do that. What is unhypocritical here? Love, the Greek agape. God’s love, that He gives us, that is not possible to have without Him! Again, if you’re working hard to define or understand this stuff, we have to talk about your need to repent of your sins and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.
- This list isn’t over, but I need to say–the only way this is even possible is to have God regenerate your spirit and save you in His Son Christ Jesus. And you can’t do that, He must. And YOU must surrender to Him for that to happen. Moving on…
7: in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left,
- Paul continues here.
- In the word of truth: What is the word of truth, Beloved? Anyone? It is His holy word, the Bible–al of it–both Old and New Testaments.
- In the power of God: That’s very easy to define. God, by definition, holds ALL power. He is said therefore to be omnipotent. We have only what He gives us, and no more, or we have none. The word for “power” here is dunamis, the explosive, miraculous power of God. Where we get our word dynamite! It is the power to do anything He wants. Wait – this means He gives it to us to establish ourselves by these means and characteristics as His servants! Wow!
- By the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left: What is this referring to? Well, the first passage that came to my mind was the passage in Ephesians 6:10-20, where the whole armour of God and its purpose is described. At first, I thought that maybe that refers to the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit, but then I realized, it actually refers to all of it. We won’t take the time to examine that list of armour here, as glorious as that would be, but we already looked at it when we studied Ephesians, and we have a limited amount of time, so we’ll instead consider what Paul was using those weapons for, and we will consider it again in detail when we get to Chapter 10 of this letter. I am referring to 10:3-6, which reads,
- “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, and we are ready to punish all disobedience, whenever your obedience is complete.”
- This is what it means to establish ourselves as His servants in the word of truth, and in the power of God. We make application for ourselves to choose to cooperate with him in our own sanctification by reflecting all of these characteristics.
8: by glory and dishonor, by evil report and good report; regarded as deceivers and yet true;
- Here Paul begins to make statements that can really only be described as oxymoronic. I know, we tend to use such statements as degenerate or insulting, but it is a legitimate literary device. An oxymoron is a rhetorical device that uses an ostensible self-contradiction either to illustrate a rhetorical point or to reveal a paradox. Hopefully you’ll get the idea as we go along.
- By glory and dishonour: The Greek here gives the sense that both approval and being degraded, both can be used to establish our reputation as servants of God. Approval is obvious, and those who would denigrate us are those who are perishing. When the saints approve, you know you are serving God. Likewise, when the reprobate get mean, you can know you are serving God.
- By evil report and good report: a similar concept is seen here. All preachers know about this. I have preached a sermon where I was told that I “hit it out of the park,” and thank you for your kind words, but for the very same sermon, I was told my teaching was too dry, and that I shouldn’t take the time to define my terms, because people will catch on. Beloved, I don’t think that latter statement is true. Case in point–“Black Lives Matter.” I wholeheartedly agree, because all lives matter, and if the black ones are being persecuted, the people need to be reminded of that fact. But were you aware that the founders of BLM are all trained Marxists (their own confession)? They aren’t defining the word “black” the same way I am. To them, “white” means the privileged bourgeoise oppressor,” regardless of skin colour. “Black,” on the other hand means, “the disadvantaged and oppressed proletariat.” These are identity groups and they are not based on skin colour, but on level of privilege. Ever notice that Yellow and Red are never mentioned as skin colours? Being a red man, I have. Of course, they consider me black, even though my skin is white. Call me melanin-deprived. The REALLY dirty part of all this is that they forgot to mention that they redefined the words to anyone that wasn’t a Marxist for maximum divisive effect. No, Beloved, we ALWAYS need to define our terms, and we need to do it in the context of the historical use of the word, or there is nothing that can be taken for a fact. This is something I have known since before I was 10 years old.
- Regarded as deceivers and yet true: This is a deliberate encouragement to those of us that preach the gospel. Ever been called a liar for preaching the truth? It happens, and I’ve seen it, though it hasn’t ever happened to me personally. I was in the room when it happened to a friend kind of thing. Man those GPAC people were mean that day. Mike was bold, though! I’ll tell you the story later if you want to hear. They chanted “Liar, liar, pants on fire,” at him the whole time he open-air shared the gospel with them. But really, he was telling them the truth. Just an example to show you.
9: as unknown yet well-known, as dying yet behold, we live; as punished yet not put to death,
- Paul isn’t finished yet!
- As unknown yet well known: Who are we in terms of the wider world? We’re certainly not famous or celebrities. Nobody knows who we are out there. There’s a part of me given the current environment for Christians that is glad for that, but the point is no one really knows who we are. Week after frustrating week, I see the lack of traffic at our website, and the lack of views for our content. AFTER a reformed Baptist pastor no less than JD Hall said publicly on Facebook that EVERYONE should watch our stuff. But Beloved, we ARE known. We certainly know each other, and that’s a small part of this, but more importantly, CHRIST knows us, and knows what we are doing to try to advance His kingdom here while we await his imminent return.
- As dying yet behold, we live: There are a number of ways to look at this, but the way I most often view it is that I am dying. Not fast enough according to some, LOL. I have several serious health conditions, and some of you who know me well and have been my friends for several years have SEEN that. Alex and Dan have both seen me be a bit late with my insulin shot, and the carb-induced naps I sometimes involuntarily take while others are talking. I’m not trying to be rude, my body just turns itself off. My wife can tell you about the terrifying trip I took to the hospital on the night of November 2, 2014, while I was in active non-stimi–a kind of heart atack. Fortunately, there was no damage to the heart tissue, but I never want another one. My high blood pressure puts me at elevated risk for that, and for stroke if it isn’t controlled. High cholesterol is not my friend either. Praise God for all the medications for that, but even with those, there are times I feel more dead than alive. And yet, God gives me the strength when I need it to accomplish what He needs me to do. Mine is a dramatic example, and that’s why I shared all that. But don’t you DARE feel sorry for me. If I have a fatal event, if just means that I’ve gone home at Jesus’ request. Don’t wish me back from that.
- As punished but not put to death: The Greek here is talking about child training, believe it or not. No loving parent ever put their own kid to death by disciplining them. It is the same with us from God our Father. He enforces discipline upon those He loves, because it actually forms internal controls in us that eventually allow us to “adult,” as my kids put it. And “adulting” is hard. Why expect anything different in a spiritual sense?
10: as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing yet possessing all things.
- Paul is just finishing up his list of contrast here.
- As sorrowful yet always rejoicing: There is a part of this that words fail me when I try to describe what this means, but I understand it. There are times when I am absolutely grieved at the state of [fill in the blank with your main spiritual concern]. Or even just the state of my own soul at times. I am the sorriest person I know because of…reasons. Yet, no matter how desperate, or sorrowful, or even miserable I get, there remains this deep, abiding, sometimes maddening, sense of real JOY. And I know that THAT joy comes from God Himself. I can’t explain it, I don’t know WHY, but it is there. Because God is GOOD to us.
- As poor yet making many rich: That’s pretty easy. I’m not a rich person. Never have been. I come from a dirt-poor bunch of half-breeds that whites and aboriginals alike wanted nothing to do with. I have never had more money than I know what to do with, that’s for sure. I don’t have enough now. And yet, I have the awesome privilege and even responsibility to make others rich. Not in a worldly wealth sense, though that was true for a few years too, but in a spiritual sense. And it amazes me because of the last part of this verse.
- As having nothing yet possessing all things: I’m serious. Compared to almost everyone else I know, I really have nothing in a worldly sense. I don’t own my own home, the bank owns most of it, and if I don’t give them money every two weeks, they’ll take ALL of it back, including the part I own on paper. And then the city taxes me to keep it, or they turn off things like water, street lights, like that. Yet, for all the financial pressure, the need, the lack–I own all things with the saints, and it is held in trust for us until the time where our adoptive Father sends our big brother Jesus back to give the sons and heirs the victory. And He will.
Remember that the purpose for all of this is to establish ourselves and our reputations as God’s servants. This requires a wholehearted pursuit. I mean how many of you can remember that whole list we read about without looking? I know I can’t, and I just read it out loud more than once! But the point is, we are called into His service, and we should be practicing these characteristics to establish that we are indeed servants for God. If you aren’t willing to do this, well then, you are establishing something else, and it is for you that the next paragraph is about in my thinking.
2: NOW Is the Time for You To Respond to the Gospel
Remember that parenthetical remark that Paul included between verses 1 and 3? That’s verse 2. It’s about the gospel that the real servant of God is to be representing. That’s what we need to talk about now. I have the honour of saying it a lot, and I know what it is, but do you know the gospel? Because if you don’t, I’m here to tell it to you.
It actually is stated in its entirety in the last verse of Chapter 5, verse 21. “He made Him who knew no sin to become sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” He, God the Father, made Him, God the Son, who had never know sin ever, to become sin on the Cross for us, to pay the price for our sinning and redeem us to Himself, all so that we might become the righteousness of God, the Trinity entirely, in Him, God the Son. I won’t take the time to explain that in great detail here, because we talked about it at great length last week, and we will again. But let’s look at this verse in some detail now.
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”—
- He here is God. It is God that said these things, and long-time BereanNation.com members will understand that the text in all capital letters are quotations from the Old Testament. When we see those, we want to see the original context as well as the usage context the New Testament writer had in using the quote, because even differences can be instructive.
- The first quote is actually from Isaiah 49:8 which reads, “Thus says the LORD, “In a favorable time I have answered You, And in a day of salvation I have helped You; And I will keep You and give You for a covenant of the people, To restore the land, to make them inherit the desolate heritages;”
- We note that Isaiah was addressing Israel in His person of Jacob [the rascal] (49:5), and not the clearly Gentile Christians in the city of Corinth. He was speaking of a day that God would have an “acceptable time” for helping them, and that He would do so and turn them to Himself again. In short, He would save them. Now: Paul knew this, and under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, gave a different interpretation that you will note does not exclude or invalidate the one in Isaiah.
- God say to these Gentile pagans and believers alike, “AT THE ACCEPTABLE TIME I LISTENED TO YOU, AND ON THE DAY OF SALVATION I HELPED YOU.” Paul is saying to them, there is an acceptable time for you to appeal to the God of Israel! The Creator of heaven and earth! On that day of salvation, you will find that God’s the real God’s help! When is that day?
- Behold, now is “THE ACCEPTABLE TIME,” behold, now is “THE DAY OF SALVATION!” That time is NOW! Beloved, one thing that I have become absolutely certain of in my reading of Scripture over the years is this: The offer of God to save people from His own coming wrath is a limited-time offer. When is the time to call on the name of the Lord and be saved? NOW! NOW is the acceptable time! NOW is the day of salvation! If you’re out there listening, and if you’re wondering, or you’ve been procrastinating (Hey, I was there too, I know), stop! Repent of your sins and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and his atonement on the cross, almost 2000 years ago now. We don’t know when He will return. And even if that’s a long time away, you are never promised more than this time right now. You could walk out to mailbox to check it and get hit by a stray car. You could, God forbid, get COVID-19 and die. If you’re thinking about this, don’t wait long! You may not get another chance!
- It is THIS gospel, or “good news” from Elizabethan English that Paul is saying that all believers must serve. You too! If you’ve been waiting, what for? If you’ve been procrastinating in your service, why? Do you love sin that much? What has it ever done for you except stop you from serving your loving God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ? Stop waiting for the right moment, or to be asked, or whatever! Serve Him NOW! There are no shortage of opportunities! If you need ideas, stick around after the study and ask! I’ve got a few for you!
Friends and neighbours, no matter where you are in your relationship with the Lord, today is the day you can turn to God and respond to the good news, that is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Having a terrible time walking with Christ, Christian? Repent and Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for your salvation! Do you need His cleansing power from your sins? Repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and Isaiah tells us that your sins, though they be red like scarlet, can be as white as snow today! In either event, the need is the same–turn from your sins and follow Jesus Christ as your Lord.
Still hesitant? Stick around, that’s what our next paragraph is about.
11-13: Do Not Let Your Feelings Drive Your Responses
There is really only a few things that will stand in your way of getting on with the Lord, and all of those can be boiled down to one thing. You love your sin more than you love Christ, whether you believe or you are do not. You need that change of character that God brings about when He regenerates you and calls you irresistibly by His grace. This is called being “born again/from above.” [The phrase in Greek can mean either or both. Yes, the Lord Jesus played word games occasionally also.]
The really noticeable thing here is that the thing that should be driving you is your response to God in Christ. Your emotions are not relevant to the issue, though they may be involved. They are not the things that should be driving your decision making anyway.
11: Our mouth has spoken freely to you, O Corinthians, our heart is opened wide.
- This is only part of a multi-sentence statement, but it is the appeal of Paul and his co-author Timothy. Paul is saying he hasn’t held anything back, he and Timothy have said what they needed to say to the Corinthians with a wide-open heart. This is a great example for would-be servants, by the way. Be open with people. Don’t hide things. Those hidden things, even if they aren’t intrinsically bad in themselves, have an annoying way of becoming evident at inconvenient and even embarrassing times.
12: You are not restrained by us, but you are restrained in your own affections.
- Paul is saying here, that he and Timothy are not holding them back from responding in faith, Beloved–they are holding themselves back from responding. Like I said, there are a huge number of reason for such lack of response ranging from awkward shyness to loving sin more than Christ. This holding back is emotionally based, and that’s right in the text.
- That word “restrained” means to be pushed through straits, or a very narrow and restricting place. That word for “affections” is the Greek splachnon, literally, “the inward parts,” always meaning the emotions in koine Greek when used figuratively like this. And beloved, those emotions are God-given it is true, but should have nothing to do with your choices for the most part. For example, agape, God’s love, is NOT dependant on emotion, but is rather a commitment of the will to what is right for the other individual. It is self-giving, and self-sacrificing, and puts the other ahead of itself. So–love is not love is not love is not love after all. Beloved, all emotions require some cerebral input. Those people that are emotionally driven never end up happy for long, because they are in a self-centered pursuit of happiness. That’s right, you heard me. The pursuit of happiness is not what life as a Christian is all about, regardless of what enlightened nation has it written into their constitution. For the Christian, even the pursuit of what those kinds of documents call “life” and “liberty” are not great activities. The Christian should be concerned with what is good for everyone else, not himself. The believers of Paul’s day, including Paul, did not care if they were killed, though I am sure none of them wanted to die as they did. Because Christ conquered death, that becomes irrelevant. It is an emotional connection to earthly things that keeps us from responding to the good news of Jesus Christ.
13: Now in a like exchange—I speak as to children—open wide to us also.
- Paul here is speaking as we would when we are trying to gently coax compliance and action out of a wayward child. The text here says so! Elsewhere in the chapter (v.18), Paul has used the words huios and thugater to describe mature offspring. Here, he uses the word teknon, a unisex descriptor to indicate small child. The picture Paul is painting with his words is like a loving parent opening his or her arms wide to coax the child to come into their embrace. It’s kind of like monkey see, monkey do, but it often works for the parent. And the child learns by imitation to open up to those who open up to them. Ever notice that it’s often a great deal easier to open up to those who open up to you?
- Now here is the twist I think Paul is trying to teach the Corinthians–he is going first. He wants to teach the Corinthians to do likewise. Yes, it will expose you to the risk of injury, emotionally speaking. I’ve had it go wrong plenty of times. But think of who taught Paul this. Now think about Paul teaching the Corinthians what Christ himself taught Paul. And we’re reading that–Paul is also teaching us that we must go first. We must be the ones to drop the pretention, the hypocrisy, the facades we hide behind and be real with people about the gospel, and about following Christ. For the Christian, nothing else should matter. Not even death, because our Lord has already taken care of that for us. So why is it that we let our emotions control us again?
Paul would have us exchange our closed-off, constrained behaviour for more Christlike and open behaviour. To do this, we must govern our emotions, not have our emotions govern us. We must overcome ourselves, and we can only do that in Christ as He sanctifies us, that is makes us Holy as we walk with Him through the struggles He brings to our lives for just that purpose.
14-18: Separate Yourselves from the World for God
Believe it or not, separating Himself out a people is one of the common arcs you can trace through Scripture. In any event past the creation of man, you read that God calls someone to be separate from the world and serve Him. From Noah to Abraham, to Moses, to David, to the Prophets, to John the Baptist, to Christ Himself, and finally the Church, a part of the “Israel of God,” having been grafted into the people of God by God Himself, it can be clearly seen. Even in the last days of the world, He will still be calling people to come out of the World System of Babylon. Revelation 18:4-5 says, “I heard another voice from heaven, saying, ‘Come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues; for her sins have piled up as high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities….'” In fact, on Friday evenings, we have been reading about how the definition of the word “holiness” means to be set apart, separated from everything else. This separation from the world is NOT in the monastic sense–God never, repeat NEVER, asks anyone to become a kind of cloistered monk. Monasticism actually has its origins in the Gnostic movement of the first and second centuries. This is meant to be a spiritual separation, so that we are a proverbial community of light and life in a larger community of death and darkness. We need to belong to THAT community and serve there, first the people of God, the saints of our gathering, then to the people that God brings across our path in His providence, and then to the greater community at large. That’s how this whole thing is supposed to and will eventually work. Beloved, choose to be a part of that!
Into the text.
14: Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?
- Paul is making the same statement I just made in a very rhetorical but pointed way. The Greek is one word, heterozugeo, and it means to not be unequally yoked with an unbeliever. I have heard many preachers talk about how this applies to marriage, but it actually applies to everything else as well. Would you get into a serious business arrangement with someone that didn’t agree with your basic principles and ethics? That’s the thing we’re speaking about in this verse. In fact, Paul points out this is a difference in Worldview.
- What partnership can righteousness have with lawlessness? The answer is actually none. They are two entirely different ways of viewing the world. Not everyone has the gift of being able to see both, so let me see if I can explain. Righteousness is the opposite of lawlessness. Paul has covered in other places that it is right to keep the law (ANY law) so long as it doesn’t violate the law of God. So if a law were passed making it not only legal but mandatory to murder people with black-and-white stiped shirts on, a believer would have to stand up and not murder the person publicly. Why? Because the Law of God says, “Thou shalt not murder.” (The 6th commandment.)
- I have occasionally been asked what my political views are, usually for the purposes of ridiculing me. These questions are usually asked by people who are from the left of the political spectrum, and they have their own politics that seems to be the reverse of those 10 great commandments of the Moral Law of God. They like to laugh at the old-fashioned responses I will give, but some listen, and that is why I will answer. The ones that will not listen will be laughing out of the other side of their mouth when the Lord returns, and it is something He will do, and I will have no part in that. I am simply asked to live according to the Laws of the coming kingdom now.
- For those that would disobey the law, and in fact make it “against the law” to obey the law of God, PLEASE hear this warning. God will make you give an account like he will us. If it will be hard for US to give an account, it will be absolutely unbearable for you. Please turn from your wicked and foolish ways.
- After all, what fellowship can light have with darkness? None at all. In fact, the light drives out the darkness. And what does the Scripture say about that? It says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.” (John 3:16-21) And Beloved–those are words of Jesus. If you are a believer, men will hate you for this reason alone, and they have plenty of reason to hate the light already. Just get used to it.
15: Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?
- Paul is literally asking, “What harmony can exist between the Anointed One of God (Christ, Messiah) and [Lit.] Beliar [Gk.], the lord of the forest? The original word in Hebrew means “worthless.” In the Old Testament, it describes an entire class of people, “the sons of Belial,” or “the sons of destruction,” speaking about their future destiny. He is said to bring guilt and wickedness to man, and to actually be the “prince of darkness” himself. This is Satan by another name, basically. To answer the question Paul is posing is not hard. As in other places, Paul is asking a rhetorical question, where the answer is either obvious or irrelevant, and here it is just plain obvious from the question. NO harmony can exist between God and His sworn enemy, who is simply a created being. A very great created being to be sure, and certainly more intelligent and powerful than we are, but a created being and subject to the sovereign Creator nonetheless. It just cannot happen, and it isn’t likely that Satan will repent, given all the future prophecies about his eventual demise.
- With all that in mind, Paul asks his real question: What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? Beloved, this is another overarching theme that can be traced through the entire Scripture. The tale of two seeds, the seed of the woman, and the seed of the serpent. The seed of the woman is Christ, in case you were wondering. The seed of the serpent? We mentioned them a few minutes ago. Worthless men, sons of Belial, or sons of destruction. Same people, and like the extended seed of the woman, this seed includes men and women as well, regardless of what they are claiming to be.
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.
- Paul even extends his question into the realm of the imaginary here when he asks what possible agreement could exist between the very real God that has created and actively rules over everything and the imaginary man-made idols, who symbolize pretend deities? Beloved, I am convinced that if we took that difference more seriously, a lot of the struggles we go through would be OVER. Our God is real. No other god is, despite the calls for so-called “proof,” which even if it were provided would be ignored. People love their sin and wrongdoing and ability to continue in it far too much.
- Then Paul says something incredible and wonderful. He goes back to that term he used in 1 Corinthians – WE are the naos of the LIVING GOD! Naos doesn’t just mean temple, referring to the ancient Levitical structure. It doesn’t even apply to the holy place. It applies to the Holy of Holies, the place where God sits, where he communes with His creation, where He reigns us and the entire rest of the universe and beyond. WE are that Holy of Holies, beloved! I admit I do not fully understand this, but I do know that we are being built up into this, as Peter says, as living stones (1 Peter 2:4-5). We are to be His dwelling place, Beloved! Doesn’t that excite you? If it doesn’t, you must be dead!
- Now, we note the OT quote here also. This phrase occurs in multiple places in the Old Testament! We won’t take the time to look them up here, but I’ll give the references for you: Ex. 29:45, Lev. 26:12, Jer. 31:1, and Eze. 37:27. Beloved. When I see this kind of a reference in Exodus, the second book of the Bible, I get the impression that this has ALWAYS been God’s plan, and that everything that we see in the OT and that was fulfilled in Christ is leading us into a glorious future destiny.
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.
- Paul is continuing to quote from the Scriptures, but here, he is doing something VERY interesting. He is prequoting John in Revelation 18:4-5, which we read earlier. That phrase is found nowhere else in Scripture that I have ever found, Beloved. Is that a kind of prophecy? I don’t know, and even if you’re cessationist, this shouldn’t bother you, because Paul was a capital-A Apostle, and they actually had all of these gifts and used them, knowingly or unknowingly, I don’t know. But what is he saying?
- He’s giving the Corinthians a timeless message that even applies to us today–come out of the corruption of the world. Be separated to Yahweh our God. He tells us not to touch what is impure [Gk.] and we as those who have come away and apart to Him will be welcomed by Him. Personally. I’m not sure when that will be, because I can remember a welcoming kind of thing when I surrendered to the Lord in 1985. He confirmed that work in me less than 5 minutes later when I turned down a sin I desperately had wanted literally less than 5 minutes earlier. I had come apart to Him. I urge you to do the same, especially if you are His ALREADY! The passage in Revelation is addressed to His PEOPLE. Revelation 18:4 says, “I heard another voice from heaven, saying, ‘Come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues…'” [Emphasis mine].
- Actually, that argues for a prior sovereign election, doesn’t it? Who is He calling? His people to come out of the corrupt world system [Babylon in context]. How is it that He can call just His people? Beloved, it’s because He already knows who they are! This is the last apparent place where God calls out people from the world in Scripture. After this passage, Christ returns and all of the rest. The reason people get testy about God knowing this ahead of time, in my opinion is that they do not trust God to make the choice ahead of time, especially if they are on the group that is not called. It isn’t sour grapes, either. It is a symptom of how twisted and broken humans became after the fall. We were created in God’s image, and part of that is to make moral choices and decisions. Rather than yield the ground to an Almighty and holy God, they would rather bicker about how God doesn’t have the right. Beloved, He has every right. If you think in those terms, it is because you do not understand the absolute holiness of God and how He alone is able to and worthy to make such a choice ahead of time. Read Romans 8:29-30 with that in mind and then tell me what Scripture says, Beloved.
- There is something else here that is actually prescriptive from God, and it is even written in the imperative. “Touch not the unclean thing.” God is commanding His people to remove things from themselves that will lead them into sin. Here is a mundane example from my life to illustrate what I mean. You all know that I have struggled to lose weight for most of my life. At my heaviest, I weighed just shy of 270 pounds. I’m hovering about 230 pounds now, and it is headed, slowly and painfully, in the right direction. But this actually takes some planning and effort on my part because as you can imagine, I have a BIG appetite and I like to eat. Some have called that kind of behaviour gluttony when that desire to consume is not self-regulated. I have probably fit that word. There is a strong desire to snack between meals that can come up, and I find myself reaching for or going out to buy potato chips, or worse for a diabetic, chocolate. In order to break that habit, I have to have snack material available. Baby carrots, celery, peppers, like that–but cut up and ready to go. For the quantity of snacks that you get, it costs about the same, but you have to put in the effort to pre-cut and prepare the snacks. And I am a busy guy, and I like to be lazy when I don’t have something else to do, because frankly, I work pretty hard. Especially on this kind of study. But the energy is worth expending to set up what I have heard called a “no-fail environment.”
- The same thing can be done with respect to sinful habits for the believer, Beloved. Having trouble with pornography? Set up an accountability application that someone can see your web browsing activity on your devices. Having trouble with adultery? Okay, it’s a big issue, but stop seeing the other person, or only meet them in public places and maintain physical distance. Having problems stealing from your employer? Involve an accountability partner like for porn. And not just anyone, a pastor [Latin for shepherd] or an elder in your congregation. That’s their job, by the way. To shepherd, guide, the sheep and keep them safe from themselves, not just wolves from outside. Do what it takes to set up a SPIRITUAL no-fail environment, saint. Do not touch the unclean thing that is pulling you down and back into the world. Moving on.
18: “And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” Says the Lord Almighty.
- If you will do those hard things, if you will come at my call out of the entanglements of sin and the world system, then I will be a father to you. I will stop here for a moment because I know there are some folks that have not had a real father in your lives. Beloved, God says that HE wants to be your father. I know, in His sovereignty, He didn’t give some us good fathers, and we have had to learn a lot of things the hard way. We didn’t benefit from the love of our own father, or worse, we were taught a false standard with conditions of abuse attached. I can tell you from my own personal experience that God is NOT like that. He is GOOD, and He is a perfect father. He is still teaching ME to be a father. It is only by His grace I can say that. Beloved, come apart from the world and turn to Him. He longs to BE your father. And He is the archetype.
- And not only will He become our father, but WE will become His sons AND DAUGHTERS. I have to tell you that this is actually the only use of this word for daughter in the entire New Testament. This isn’t just for the boys. The girls are included, and I have to mention that here. We make a big deal about the roles of the sexes in the House of God as those who hold to complementarianism. The sisters are included here, and that’s a BIG DEAL!!! They are just as capable of service as men are (sometimes more so) and uniquely qualified in somethings that men are not good at. Women tend to be more relational, and the house of God needs that. Men tend to be the more solitary type, and as such are great watchmen on the walls kind of thing. The house of God, and dare I say the kingdom of God, needs both to do whatever we are gifted with by the Holy Spirit. God calls us all, male and female. Both of us must serve Him in whatever capacity He calls us.
- This verse is also part of the quoting, but this is all seen in multiple places in the old Testament also. For your private edification, here are the references: 2 Sam. 7:14, 1 Chr. 17:13, Isa. 43:6, and Hos. 1:10.
Friends, whether you are already a believer, or if you have not yet landed on faith in Christ our King and God, whether you realize it or not, in fact whether you like it or not, God is calling to you through us, at times like this, and at other times, to come out of a world system that will coddle you along in its ways and paths until it is too late for you to turn to Christ in faith. So answer that call, neighbour! If you need to put your faith in Christ, it’s very easy–repent, that is turn from your sin, even just admit that it is sin–and believe the gospel, that is that God the Father made God the Son, who knew no sin, to become sin on our behalf, all so we could exchange that mess we call a life for His glorious and endless life, and become the righteousness of God in Him.
That’s what I saw in this chapter.