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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

2 Corinthians 6

Verses 1-18

Unreality

2 Corinthians 6:1

The Apostle is here warning us against what we fear is a very common fault in the present day. So many people seem to receive the grace of God, but it has no influence upon their lives, they receive that grace in vain. I want to say a word or two about the importance of sincerity and reality in religion. If we profess to have any religion at all, let us take great care that it is real. By 'real' I mean that which is not base, hollow, formal, counterfeit, sham, nominal; not mere show, pretence, skin-deep feeling, temporary profession, outside work; but, on the other hand, that which is genuine, sincere, honest, thorough; something inward, solid, intrinsic, lasting. Our religion may be weak, mingled with infirmities, but that is not the point now is it real?

Epochs in a nation's history have been described as a golden age, a silver, a brazen, and an iron; if we measure the religion of the age in which we live by its quality rather than its quantity, it is an age of base metal and alloy. On every side we want more reality. Consider, then, the importance of reality in religion. The idea that this reality is common is a delusion, and the charge that it is uncharitable and censorious to question the assertion that 'all have good hearts at bottom' and are sincere in the main, is a false one.

I. What saith the Scriptures? Look at the parables of our Lord. The sower, the wheat and tares, the draw-net, the two sons, the wedding garment, the ten virgins, the talents, the great supper, the pounds, the two builders, contrast the true believer and the mere nominal disciple; all bring out in striking colours the difference between reality and unreality in religion, its uselessness and danger.

II. Look at our Lord's denunciation of the scribes and Pharisees; eight times in one chapter He denounces as hypocrites, in the most scathing words, men who, at any rate, were more moral and decent than the publicans and harlots. It was all intended to teach the abominableness of false profession and mere outward religion in God's sight. Open profligacy and sensuality are indeed ruinous sins, if not flung aside; but there seems nothing so distasteful to Christ as hypocrisy and unreality.

III. There is hardly a Christian grace or virtue which has not its counterfeit described in the Word of God.

(1) There is an unreal repentance. Saul, Ahab, Herod, Judas Iscariot, had feelings of sorrow for sin, but they never really repented unto salvation.

(2) There is an unreal faith. Simon Magus 'believed,' yet his heart was not right in the sight of God. So also the devils 'believe and tremble' (Acts 8:13 ; James 2:19 ).

(3) There is an unreal holiness. Joash, King of Judah, became apparently very holy and good while Jehoiada lived, but at his death the king's religion vanished (2 Chronicles 24:2 ). Judas Iscariot's life resembled that of his fellow-Apostles until he betrayed his Master; nothing outwardly suspicious, yet he was a thief and a traitor.

(4) There is an unreal love and charity. There is a love which consists in tender expressions, and a show of affection in which the heart has no part. So St. John exhorts: 'Let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth'; and St. Paul: 'Let love be without dissimulation' (1 John 3:18 ; Romans 12:19 ).

(5) There is an unreal humility. An affected lowliness of demeanour which covers a very proud heart (Colossians 2:18 ; Colossians 2:23 ).

(6) There is unreal prayer. Our Lord denounced this as one of the sins of the Pharisees: 'for a pretence they made long prayers'. Their sin did not consist in making no prayers, or short prayers, but unreal prayers.

(7) There is unreal worship. 'This people draw nigh unto Me with their mouth, and honour Me with their lips; but their heart is far from Me' (St. Matthew 15:8 ). The fatal defect of the Jewish worship was its want of heart and reality.

(8) There is unreal religious profession and talk. In Ezekiel's time some talked like God's people, 'while their hearts went after their covetousness' (Ezekiel 33:31 ). St. Paul tells us that we may 'speak with the tongues of men and angels,' and yet be no better than sounding brass and tinkling cymbals (1 Corinthians 13:1 ). These things show clearly the immense importance which Holy Scripture attaches to reality in religion.

IV. See to it that your Christianity be genuine, thorough, real, and true. Beware lest your Christianity consist of nothing but Churchmanship; that you base all on membership, on the fact that you have been baptised, married, and will be buried, according to her formularies, but have never followed her doctrine or lived the life of a true Churchman.

Harvest Thanksgiving

2 Corinthians 6:1

The food of the world is the gift of God, the great All-Father who provides for us, His children; and for the harvest, as year by year it comes, we have to thank Him. Yet there is this to remember, that God does not give this independently of ourselves.

I. Workers with God in the Harvest of Nature. To get it we have to work for it; to get it we have to be workers with Him. When St Paul said, 'If a man will not work, neither shall he eat,' he was not merely emphasising a precept of social economy, or stating the law that ought to underlie the constitution of human society; he was enforcing the Divine law that man must earn his food by the sweat of his brow. God gives us the seed, but He leaves us to sow it. Unless our part of the twofold work is done, our very sustenance will be withdrawn from us, and though this law came upon us as a punishment for sin, yet, like all God's judgments, it gives a blessing.

II. Workers with God in the Harvest of the World. There is a second way in which we are to regard ourselves as workers with Him, for there is a second and a greater harvest the harvest which will come at the end of the world when the reapers will be the angels. 'Lift up thine eyes,' said the Lord at the start of His ministry, 'and look at the fields, for they are white already unto the harvest.' 'Go ye into all the world,' He said at the end of that ministry, 'and preach the Gospel to every creature.' Those were wonderful words. We find Him constantly teaching that the seed is the word of God; the field is the world; the hearts of men the soil in which it is to be sown; and, like the harvest of earthly grain, this harvest depends upon the power of God. None but He can provide the soil; none but He can cause it to bring forth. Yet even in this harvest God will not work alone.

III. Workers with God in the Harvest of the Soul. There is a third way in which we must be workers together with God. There is the harvest of ourselves, our souls and bodies. What has God given us? He has given us life and time, strength, power of body and soul and spirit. He has given us influence. He has given us much that we can use for ourselves and for other people, and has given us much that we may use for Him. It can bear fruit only by His power. Without Him we can do nothing, and God could, if He would, reap a rich harvest without any effort of our own. For every talent He has entrusted to us He can get tenfold, and from every one of us He can force fruit some thirty, some a hundredfold. He could if He would. He could, but He will not. We have to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling with Him.

References. VI. 1. C. Gutch, Sermons, p. 199. T. Binney, King's Weigh-House Chapel Sermons (2nd Series), p. 61. J. Keble, Sermons for Lent to Passiontide, p. 12. J. C. M. Bellew, Sermons, vol. iii. p. 127. VI. 1, 2. A. MacKennal, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlix. p. 248. VI. 2. C. O. Eldridge, Preacher's Magazine, vol. iv. p. 271. J. Aspinall, Parish Sermons (2nd Series), p. 20. C. Perren, Revival Sermons in Outline, p. 233. C. Bosanquet, Blossoms from the King's Garden, p. 1. R. W. Hiley, A Year's Sermons, vol. iii. p. 177. J. Keble, Sermons for Lent to Passiontide, p. 53. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. x. No. 603, and vol. xxiv. No. 1394. VI. 3. Expositor (6th Series), vol. iii. p. 279.

2 Corinthians 6:4

Compare Macaulay's description ( History of England, ch. VIII.) of the arrest of the seven bishops by James II. 'On the evening of the Black Friday, as it was called, on which they were committed, they reached their prison just at the hour of Divine Service. They instantly hastened to the chapel. It chanced that in the second lesson were these words: "In all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments". All zealous Churchmen were delighted by this coincidence.'

References. VI. 6. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 360; ibid. (7th Series), vol. v. p. 67. VI. 6. Ibid. (6th Series), vol. iii. p. 238. VI. 7. Ibid. vol. x. p. 191.

2 Corinthians 6:8

J. M. Neale inscribed these words above his study door.

The Unknown Apostle (for St. Matthias' Day)

2 Corinthians 6:9

What is the use of our thinking of an unknown Apostle who became an Apostle nineteen centuries ago?

I. We may Learn from Him:

(a) About our Faith. The election of St. Matthias is one of the proofs of the truth of the great central fact of our religion namely, the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus. He was chosen to be a witness of the Resurrection. He could not possibly be mistaken as to whether our Lord had risen, for he had seen Him. No doubt he laid down his life because he believed in the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

(b) About the Divine Origin of the Church. Directly their Master was taken away from them, the Apostles chose one to fill the place of the traitor. They will not be called eleven any more, because our Lord called twelve and He promised that they should sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Theirs was not a diminishing body, not a Church likely to fail, but one which they know will go on increasing as a grain of mustard seed, until our Lord Jesus comes back again.

II. Unknown to Man. There is not anyone who does not contemplate with some horror the thought that a century hence there will be nobody in the world who will remember him who will recollect what he looked like, what he said. He passes away into utter darkness. There is a horror in being forgotten that we all of us feel, and many a man, to make his name known in the world, toils until he ruins his health through many busy days, sleeps not at night, devotes himself to thinking out that which will make him renowned. And yet, strive as he may, he does not win anything like the fame of that unknown Apostle St. Matthias.

III. Well Known to God. St. Matthias may well be described as unknown and yet well known unknown to us and yet well known to the Apostles and to Jesus Christ. Remember that in a way each one of us is unknown and yet well known too unknown, perhaps, to our fellow-creatures, but known through and through to the angels and to God. In the Epistle for St. Matthias' Day, the Lord Jesus is spoken of as One Who 'knowest the hearts of all'. A thought like this may be of great use to us. He knows us better than we know ourselves. No man does thoroughly understand himself, but Almighty God knows us, and the angels know us. Let our one idea be that we may not be ashamed for the Lord Jesus to know us our souls and our heart.

The Apostolic Paradox

2 Corinthians 6:9

It will at once occur to you how true this was of the Apostles. Wherever the Gospel of Jesus Christ is preached, and wherever the Word of God is read and loved, the names of Peter and of James, of John and Thomas, are familiar in our ears as household words yet how little we know of any one of them! Nor does this hold only of the disciples. It is equally clear in the case of our Lord Himself. But if the words were true of the disciples and of Christ, they are not without truth for you and me. I wish to show how the Gospel, carried out in life, will make a man unknown and yet well known.

I. First, then, 'unknown' I shall suggest some of the reasons that make the Christian life an unknown life. (1) To begin with, Christianity lays its chief stress upon qualities that do not impress the imagination of the world. Our Lord deliberately laid His emphasis on the undramatic qualities of life. (2) Again the distinctive exercises of the Christian are exercises which he never can reveal. Among all the differences between the pagan faiths and the faith which is our treasure and our glory, none is more marked or more notable than the change from an outward to an inward worship. All that is most distinctive in the Christian his prayer, his battle, his joy, his cross-bearing takes place in the mystical room with the closed door. (3) Again, the distinctive service of the Christian life is not a service that attracts attention. There is no glitter and no glamour in it. There is none of the pomp and circumstance of war. (4) But I have yet to mention the deepest of all reasons, and I shall give it you in the Apostle's words. 'For ye are dead,' says Paul in a great passage, 'and your life is hid with Christ in God.'

II. 'Yet well known.' Spite of the obscurity of the Christian life, it is true that the Christian is well known. (1) He is well known when he little thinks of it. Some one is always helped or always hindered by the kind of life we lead from day to day. (2) The Christian is well known in heaven. In that great world where God the Father is, and where there is one like to the Son of man; in that eternal home where the angels are, and where they watch with profoundest interest this earthly drama, there is nothing of more absorbing interest than the struggle and the service of the saint. (3) The Christian may be unknown now, but he shall be well known in the last judgment. All that we ever strove to be and do, our secret hope, and cry, and struggle, and victory all shall be written out and meet us again when we stand before the judgment seat of God.

G. H. Morrison, The Unlighted Lustre, p. 268.

References. VI. 9. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Holy-tide Teaching, p. 158. Expositor (6th Series), vol. x. p. 359.

The Unlimited Possessions of the Christian Life

2 Corinthians 6:10

What means this apparently extravagant assertion that Christ's servants and witnesses are masters of unlimited wealth? Is it a flight of rhetoric, or a piece of sober truth? We must settle, first, what it is that makes a man rich. And here we may take either the lower or the higher ground; we may be content with the superficial view, or we may grasp the deeper thought.

I. And, first, it may be asserted, without question, that a man's real wealth is not in anything outside, but in himself. It is what you are that makes you indisputable owners, and not what you have.

That is the true, grand idea of ownership to which every man comes who reads the problems of life aright. It is what he has within that constitutes his wealth: the mind enriched with the highest knowledge and the purest truth, and the heart inspired with goodness responding to all that is noble and Godlike, and beating with all the sweet, brave impulses of prayer, devotion, and love Where that is, you may well say, 'As having nothing, yet possessing all things'. And if you start from that point you are led on to take a still larger account of your possessions.

II. All things belong to you which serve in any way to develop the inner life, and to make you rich in noble qualities and inspiring thoughts. We talk proudly about being heirs of all the ages, and in a surface sense it is true of every one who lives amid our modern civilisation; but in its deeper meaning it is only true of those who aspire to live the good and Divine life. The Christian of today is indeed the heir of all the ages; he enters into all their best legacies; he is in possession of all the highest things that they did, said, and thought. We have a real property in all the saints and martyrs, in all who fought the battle of faith and righteousness, in all the inspired men, all the Prophets, Psalmists, and Apostles, all the God-endowed men who have helped to illumine the human mind with heavenly truths and to stimulate the human will to fruitful endeavours. In a very true sense we own them and all that they did for us. 'Having nothing, yet possessing all things.'

III. If a man's wealth is what he is and what he hopes to be, then all the experiences of a Christian life should contribute to his possessions and make; him richer in those treasures which are inalienable. They minister to the building-up of the Christlike man.

The past is ours, with all its hallowed traditions, its sacred memories, its beautiful legacies of truth, examples, and illustrious names. The present is ours, with all its trying experiences to establish our faith, its temptations to prove our integrity, its needs to teach us prayer, its griefs to purify our emotions, its great volume of human woes to draw out our pities, its innumerable calls for service to make us obedient and earnest men.

And the future is ours, to paint the prosaic dulness of the present with colours fetched from a more heavenly clime, and to fill whatever dreary hours we have with the golden pictures of hope, and to make us strong for all that labour to which we are called.

J. G. Greenhough, The Mind of Christ in St. Paul, p. 121.

The Joy of Suffering

2 Corinthians 6:10

Let me examine some of the constituents which go to form the joy of Christian suffering.

I. Why Times of Suffering should be also Times of Joy His Sovereignty. For God loves to show His power and inscrutability by 'crossing the hands' of our expectation, by doing that which we all thought, if not absolutely impossible, yet very improbable. It is simply 'God is not man,' and 'His ways are not as our ways, nor His thoughts as our thoughts'. And 'He works after the counsel of His own will, and none can say. What doest Thou?'

II. And the Sovereign is the Father. For, just as we sometimes have treasures, which we reserve for our children, and which we unlock and open for them only when they are sick, or in some particular trouble, so does our heavenly Father act with us. And in seasons of special need and sorrow, He has very pleasant things which we never saw or guessed in our brighter hours: thoughts, promises, secret communications, tokens of love and remembrance, kept back designedly in His wise and just and loving economy for this very purpose, for that very time.

III. When God opens our Minds to see it, every Suffering is an Argument of Confidence and Happiness. Is not it part of the promise? See how St. Peter weaves it into the blessing: 'But the God of all grace, Who hath called us unto His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered awhile, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you'. It is the landmark of the way as St. Paul pointed out to the Churches in Asia Minor. 'We must through' that is the path 'we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God'.

IV. It is the Badge of Fellowship with the whole Family of God. 'For the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren which are in the world.' And it is the sequence of all the saints in heaven: for these 'all came out of great tribulation'. And it is the token of sonship: 'For what son is he whom the Father chasteneth not?' And it is the likeness of Him, the Great Sufferer of us all when we humbly, at our immense distance, walk after Him, copy His wounds, bear His marks, drink His cup, share His grave, are 'planted with Him in the likeness of His death'.

Just put all these thoughts together, and is not there sunshine enough there, laid on the dark drops, to make a rainbow? and is not there background enough to reflect sorrow into love, and suffering into joy?

2 Corinthians 6:10

The time may come when, sobered and unmettled by age, Shibli Bagarag will no longer be as a war-horse neighing at the Call of Battle. The time may come when, broken and weary, the Musk-Ball may quite fail of its glamour, and work be mere drudgery. Even so he will not faint nor grow weary. The mark of the crescent, the seal of God, is on his spirit. 'As sorrowing yet always rejoicing' he can endure to the end.

James McKechnie, Meredith's Allegory, The Shaving of Shagpat, p. 86.

References. VI. 10. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in a Religious House, vol. i. p. 201. J. G. Adderley, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lix. p. 237. S. Bentley, Parish Sermons, p. 42. F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. v. p. 46. VI. 11. Expositor (5th Series), vol. viii. p. 122.

Enlargement Through Service

2 Corinthians 6:11-13

As the Apostle himself had been. Coming into living personal contact with the living Christ had enlarged his heart, opened his lips, set his life in another key and made him the great missionary to the Gentiles.

I. When we study carefully the Old Hebrew Scriptures, especially the production of those most remarkable men, the Prophets of Israel, it is impossible to escape the recognition that Israel had a unique calling, involving a mission to the world. No study is more instructive than that which the late learned Hebraist, Dr. A. B. Davidson, enables us to make in his great book on Old Testament Prophecy. Under his guidance it is almost impossible to fail of the recognition that the Hebrew people were intended to be the great missionaries to the world at large, that their call was to evangelise the nations and to proclaim a kingdom of God whose characteristic elements should be justice and universality. Except in the persons of their poets and prophets they fall away from their high calling. The Jewish history as given in the Old Testament records, has in it something more than a hint or suggestion a very palpable warning that when God's people refuse to use the truth given them in a great human way for others, the stranger, the foreigner, and specially for those who need it most, they lose it.

II. This historical introduction is, of course, intended to have personal application. My next point is the influence of foreign missions on ourselves. Have they brought us enlargement? In a word, is our humanity of finer and nobler quality than it would or could have been but for our interest in foreign missions? (1) First of all, in enlarging our ideas, and deepening our emotions, as the worship faculty in human nature has been revealed to us everywhere existent. It is impossible to come upon the fact of the universal religiousness of humanity and not be so impressed by it that our thinking shall not be broadened and our feelings made more cosmopolitan. (2) In the second place, if foreign missions have expanded our intellect and deepened and mellowed our humanity, they have also tested our faith in the Divinity and consequent Sovereignty of Christ. We see as we have never seen before, that to confine the Sovereignty of Christ by any race-limit is to deny the essential unity of humanity. In a word, it is to deny the Divinity of our Lord. (3) In the third place, it is necessary to take a glance at foreign missions as attesting the growth-fulness of the faith faculty in the Christianised man. Growth-fulness is the only test of healthy life. We may test the sufficiency and ripeness or our faith by the sympathy we have for man as man.

Reuen Thomas, Enlargement Through Service, p. 3.

References. VI. 12. A. Jenkinson, Christian World Pulpit , vol. xliv. p. 116. VI. 14. J. Keble, Village Sermons on the Baptismal Service, p. 144. H. Bonar, Short Sermons for Family Beading, p. 263. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 323; ibid. (6th Series), vol. xii. p. 65. VI. 14-16. Ibid. (5th Series), vol. iii. p. 387. VI. 14-18. Ibid. (6th Series), vol. i. p. 378. VI. 15. Ibid. vol. i. p. 439. VI. 16. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year (2nd Series), vol. i. p. 9. VI. 17. A. Tucker, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xviii. p. 366. VI. 17, 18. W. Brock, Midsummer Morning Sermons, p. 48. A. Tucker, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xviii. p. 275. VI. 21. Expositor (5th Series), vol. ix. p. 86. VII. 1. J. H. Jowett, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlv. p. 120. Bishop Bickersteth, Sermons, p. 63. C. D. Bell, The Name Above Every Name, p. 99. F. Ballard, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lix. p. 113. Expositor (5th Series), vol. v. p. 137; ibid. vol. ix. p. 351. VII. 2. Ibid. (4th Series), vol. i. p. 202. VII. 5. Ibid. (6th Series), vol. ix. p. 421. VII. 7-11. Ibid. (6th Series), vol. i. p. 216.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 6". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/edt/2-corinthians-6.html. 1910.