Reading Time: 3 mins

Epistle: 2 Corinthians 6:1-13 (Pentecost 5: Series B)

Reading Time: 3 mins

Paul’s endurance substantiated and authenticated his ministry as being “of God” in ways not unlike other Christian witnesses and martyrs.

This pericope begins in a curious spot. Verses 1-2 really belong to the conclusion of the preceding chapter 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” (2 Corinthians 6:1-2).

Paul is celebrating with these capstone verses that the restoration of Israel finds its fulfillment in the new creation where 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 the sheer, unadulterated Gospel of divine grace. So, we must understand, 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, points out Paul’s internal, lyrical structure. There are three categories of thought in verses 4-10. In 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 also troubles from others; “beatings, imprisonments, riots.” At lastly, there are 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 his 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 very things of the Holy Spirit of God.

Paul’s troubles and lack of “victorious Christian living” did not disqualify him from his ministry and apostolic authority. Rather, these were the hallmarks he was sharing in the sufferings of the Messiah.

That is where verses 6-7 lead us. Namely, it is endurance through 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 is, again, evidence 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 a third use of the Law or, alternatively, life in the Spirit of Christ who leads us in paths of righteousness.

Paul’s endurance substantiated and authenticated his ministry as being “of God” in ways not unlike other Christian witnesses and martyrs. This faith bears fruit, but it may be fruit that turns the world’s values upside down.

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” (2 Corinthians 6:11-13).

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Additional Resources:

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

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

Lectionary Kick-Start-Check out this fantastic podcast from Craft of Preaching authors Peter Nafzger and David Schmitt as they dig into the texts for this Sunday!

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

[2] Hughes. 2 Corinthians. 133.