This pericope begins in a curious spot. Verses 1-2 really belong to the conclusion of the preceding verses in which Paul explains divine reconciliation. Drawn from Isaiah 49:8, what a conclusion it is: “Working together with Him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For He says, ‘In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helpful you.’ Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (verses 1-2). Paul is celebrating with these capstone verses that the restoration of Israel finds its fulfillment of the new creation in which Jew and Gentile, reconciled to God and each other through the cross, are the new Israel in Christ. Then the thought transitions to our current reading, starting at verse 3.

Paul’s defense of his Christ-ordained ministry in this section flows from a compelling plea for the Corinthians to be reconciled to God by God. He had just explained how reconciliation with God is the work of God alone (5:18-20). This is what makes it pure gospel. It is sheer, unadulterated gospel of divine grace. So, we must understand that people are never called to make their peace with God. It is all His work, His accomplishment.

R. Kent Hughes notes the distinctives of our present section: “It consists of twenty-eight descriptives (in the original Greek), of which the first eighteen are introduced by the word ‘in,’ the next three by the word ‘through,’ and the final seven by the word ‘as.’”[1]

Hughes, working from Saint John Chrysostom’s sermonic commentary, evidences Paul’s internal lyrical, structure. There are three categories of thought in verses 4-10. The first part, verses 4-5, Paul commends great endurance in multiple troubles. Troubles, however, come in various forms. There are general troubles: “in afflictions, hardships, calamities” (verse 4b; also reference John 16:33 and Acts 20:23). There are troubles from others: “beatings, imprisonments, riots.” At last, there are also self-inflicted troubles: “labors, sleepless nights, hunger.” The response we have to these problems and challenges, Paul says, is an even greater endurance. More exactly, writes Hughes, “...patient endurance, fortitude, and great persistence under persecution.”[2]

Contrary to conventional thinking, Paul’s troubles, and lack of “victorious Christian living,” did not disqualify him from Holy Ministry and apostolic authority. Rather, these were the hallmarks he was sharing in the sufferings of the Messiah. They authenticated his ministry as full of faith, love, and commitments — the things of the Holy Spirit of God.

Paul’s troubles authenticated his ministry as full of faith, love, and commitments — the things of the Holy Spirit of God.

That is where verses 6-7 lead us. Namely, endurance by Spirit-given graces. Paul references the inner graces from which he derived his great endurance: “By purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God.” I like the idea of an ‘em dash’ following, “Kindness — the Holy Spirit.” What follows are again evidences of the work characteristic of the Holy Spirit: Divine love, divine speech, and divine power.

Verses 7-8 make a connection with the doctrine of justification by grace when Paul articulates endurance through righteousness. The Greek bears out more particularly the following: “...through the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left.” Rather than leaving this passage to refer to works of righteousness, the relationship seems to be more in keeping with 5:21. “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” The righteousness of God is Christ Himself. He is our righteousness and, so, we are justified freely by Christ alone. But like the gift of repentance and faith, so too righteousness becomes ours post-facto. It is Christ’s righteousness which saves, to be sure, but Christ and therefore all of His gifts and realities become ours when He gives Himself to us. So, this righteousness becomes a way of life. Both senses work in this section. Both senses preach pure Gospel and third use of the Law or, alternatively, life in the Spirit of Christ who leads us in paths of righteousness.

It is Christ’s righteousness which saves, to be sure, but Christ and therefore all of His gifts and realities become ours when He gives Himself to us. So, this righteousness becomes a way of life.

Paul’s endurance substantiated and authenticated his ministry in ways not unlike Christian witness that they are of God. This faith bears fruit, but it may be fruit that turns upside down the world’s values.

Verses 11-13 bring us to the Apostle’s conclusion. He is no longer speaking in the apostolic “we” and now addresses the Corinthians with the intimate and personal “me,” as it were. He cares for these saints, and it is for this reason he has had to substantiate his ministry but in doing so he could be mistaken for other motives. Here, however, such a possibility is eschewed as he speaks from the heart: “We have freely spoken to you, Corinthians; our hearts are wide open. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own afflictions. In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also.”

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Additional Resources:

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in 2 Corinthians 6:1-13.

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach 2 Corinthians 6:1-13.

[1] R. Kent Hughes, 2 Corinthians, Preaching the Word Series (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006), 132.

[2] Ibid., 133.