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The Ideal Minister, Of Christ
2 Corinthians 6:1-10
We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain. (For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.) Giving no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed: but in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings; by pureness, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, by honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report: as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things. (vv. 1-10)
This is the standard that the Spirit of God sets up for every servant of Christ, and is that at which every true “minister of God” should aim. You will notice the apostle speaks of such as fellow workers with the rest of His people. “We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain.” The New Testament minister of Christ, the scriptural pastor, evangelist, or teacher, is not one who lords it over the consciences of God’s people, but he is a fellow worker with them. The words, “with him,” which may suggest workers together with God, are not really found in the original. The apostle is not exactly saying, “We are fellow workers with God,” for we are under God as our Master, but we who are members of the church, and those of us who have particular responsibility, are fellow workers, we are laborers together for the blessing of the whole body of Christ and for the evangelization of a lost world. Addressing this church, the apostle says, “We…beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain.” Christians have been richly blessed; God has lavished His goodness upon us. What response are we making to the love of His heart? To receive His great goodness, to glory in salvation by grace, and yet to live carnal, worldly lives is indeed to “receive…the grace of God in vain.” Let there be on our part a constant response of loving devotion to Him who has so graciously accepted us in the Beloved.
“For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time: behold, now is the day of salvation.” The apostle quotes this passage from the Old Testament to remind us how God has taken us up when poor sinners and has made us His own. But I cannot pass the last part of this quotation without reminding any who are out of Christ that this message of salvation is still going out to a lost world and to all men everywhere. God is saying, “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” If you are still in your sins, still out of Christ, there is no reason why you should go on even for one more day, for one hour, even for one minute, refusing the salvation God is offering, or fearing to appropriate it lest it might not yet be God’s time to save. It is ever God’s time: “Now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” The moment you are ready to turn to God as a poor, lost, needy sinner, that moment He is ready to receive and to save and to grant you His forgiveness and to make you His child. This verse really comes in parenthetically. In the verses that follow the apostle sets forth the ideal minister of Christ.
In the first place, he must be careful of his own personal behavior that he may not stumble another. “Giving no offence in any thing.” By the term offence he does not mean hurting people’s feelings. It is quite impossible for any servant of Christ to behave himself so as never to hurt the feelings of someone. It is impossible to so speak, to so act that one can forever be free from hurting people’s feelings. Some people carry their feelings on their sleeves all the time. If you do not shake hands with them, you probably intended to slight them. If you do, you hurt them, forgetting they have rheumatism. If you stop to speak with them, you are interrupting them. If you do not, you are “high-hatting” them. If you write them a letter, they are sure you want to get their money. If you do not, you are neglecting them. If you visit them, you are bothering them. If you do not, it shows you have no interest in the flock. It is impossible to please everyone, but when the apostle says, “Giving no offence,” he means so behaving yourself that no one can point to you and say, “That man’s ways are such that I lose confidence in the salvation that he professes.” The minister of Christ must first of all be a regenerated man, and then a man walking in the power of the Holy Spirit, “giving no occasion of stumbling in anything, that the ministry be not blamed. But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience.” How much patience the minister of Christ needs!
The apostle then gives us three series of nines. First, he gives us in nine different expressions the training of the minister of Christ. He is to manifest much patience in affliction. He is not to expect to be above affliction; it is the common lot of God’s people in this scene. And the minister of Christ must share with the rest in necessity. He is not to expect to live in luxury while others are often distressed. I have been thankful for experiences that God has given me in difficult pioneer days in Christian work. They enable me to enter into the feelings of others who are in deep need. I have often known what it was to pull up my belt one notch for breakfast, and another for lunch, and another for supper. The longest time I went without food and kept on preaching, was three days and three nights, and yet by the grace of God I was enabled to preach three times a day during those three days and nights. I happened to be in a place where I had no money, and God’s people thought I lived by faith and they let me do it, but nothing came in for food. I have often thanked God for those days, for I have found out how God could sustain a man altogether without food. I shall never forget when on the morning of the fourth day I thought I would stay in bed for breakfast, and then I saw a letter slipped under my door. I opened it and found these words, “Enclosed is an expression of Christian fellowship,” and there was a ten-dollar bill. I went out and enjoyed the best breakfast that I ever remember having in my life. Hunger whets the appetite. I fancy there are very few who have trod the path of faith who have not known these things.
And then the Christian minister is to approve himself in distresses, and if he cannot find anything otherwise to distress him, he will always find someone to help him along. In Paul’s day ministers had to pass through what few of us are called upon to pass through these days. “In stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in watchings, in fastings. “Here you have the training of the minister. He is to learn his lessons in the school of affliction that he may able to enter into and sympathize with the people of God in their afflictions.
And then in verses 6-7 we read of nine characteristics that should mark him out as a man of God. He is to be characterized by pureness. The minister of Christ is to be above anything like uncleanness of life or thought, he is to be marked by that purity that characterized the Lord Jesus Christ. And then “by knowledge.” It is his responsibility to become acquainted with the things of God and with other branches of useful knowledge that may help him to minister to people in their various states of heart and mind, for he should be Christ’s servant to the fullest possible extent. Then he must be marked “by longsuffering,” not readily provoked. In fact, the apostle tells us that where love controls the heart, one is not easily provoked. Nothing so shows a man out of fellowship with God as a bad temper. A bad-tempered minister will never be a real testimony for Christ. Then, “by kindness.” And how one fails in this, how little he rises to this ideal! Men and women long to find those who have a tender, kindly interest in them. And this should characterize the pastor.
But next we read, “by the Holy Ghost.” He is to be a man not only indwelt by the Holy Spirit but filled with the Spirit of God, living in the power of the Spirit, and so ministering by the Spirit. I have prayed hundreds of times, and I still pray, “God keep me from ever being able to preach except in the power of the Holy Spirit of God.” I would rather be smitten dumb than mock God and mock the people to whom I speak, by simply standing up to give them my own vain thoughts instead of the mind of God in the energy of His Spirit. And then again we read, “By love unfeigned. “A love that is genuine, not put on, that is not pretended but is real, because implanted in the heart by the Spirit of God. “By the word of truth.” The minister of Christ must know his Bible, and preach the Bible by the power of God, which only comes as one draws from Him in secret before appearing in public. “By the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left.” That is, right living, right doing.
And then in closing this description of the ideal minister we have in verses 8-10, nine paradoxes which are all to be seen in the man of God. “By honour and dishonour. “ Some may approve and some may disapprove, but he is to keep the even tenor of his way. “By evil report and good report.” Some may say wicked, unkind things about him, but he is not to retaliate. Others may over-praise him, but he is not to be lifted up but to go on in dependence on the Lord. “As deceivers, and yet true. “Men may claim that he knows not whereof he speaks, but he is to give his message knowing it to be the very Word of God. “As unknown, and yet well known.” How little the minister of Christ counts for in the great world outside, and yet how much he may mean to the people of God. I remember well how stirred I was when our late beloved brother, Dr. E. A. Torrey, passed away. I was in New York and I picked up a newspaper, and there saw a little two-inch item saying that Dr. R. A. Torrey had died, and in the same paper there was a column-and-a-half telling of the death of a movie actor on the same date. But when I picked up a Christian journal a little later, I found column after column telling of Dr. Torrey, and there was no mention of the actor! It makes all the difference which crowd you belong to. “As dying, and, behold, we live.” The apostle says, “I die daily,” and then again, “We which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake” (4:11). And then, “As chastened, and not killed”-as patiently enduring divine discipline and yet not killed. “As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” How can a man be sorrowful and always be rejoicing? No man can look around upon a world like this without sorrow if he possesses the Spirit of Christ. Yet we are made to rejoice as we think of the goodness of the Lord. “As poor, yet making many rich.” I have heard of very few servants of Christ possessed of much of this world’s wealth. They go through life giving not only their testimony but of their means to bless and help others, and die at last leaving little behind them, and yet if they have been the means of bringing many souls to Christ and building up His people in the truth, what a privilege that is, for they have been making many rich. “As having nothing, and yet possessing all things.” The minister of Christ surrenders in a large measure his right to a place in this world, to the honor of this world, to the wealth of this world. But though surrendering it all, though it seems he may be literally throwing away his life, in Christ he has everything. This is the ideal minister of Christ. To what extent do we who are engaged in the work of the Lord measure up to it? Let us test ourselves by these verses, and seek by grace to manifest those things that the Holy Spirit here puts before us. Then our hearers will indeed realize that we have been with Jesus and learned of Him!
Separation From Evil
2 Corinthians 6:11-18
O ye Corinthians, our mouth is open unto you, our heart is enlarged. Ye are not straitened in us, but ye are straitened in your own bowels. Now for a recompence in the same, (I speak as unto my children,) be ye also enlarged. Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty. (vv. 11-18)
All down through the ages since God has been working redemptively in delivering men from sin, from its guilt and its power, Satan has been seeking in every possible way to thwart that work, and although Calvary has demonstrated the fact that he is already a defeated adversary, yet he still persists in trying to injure by all means in his power everything that is of God. You will find as you read both Testaments, that in every instance when God begins a new testimony Satan seeks to destroy it by persecution. He stirs up the hearts of those who hate God and hate His Word to work injury upon those who love Him and love the Scriptures. This was particularly true in the beginning of the history of the church of God. Persecution broke out first in Jerusalem, and then spread through the world, finally centering itself in Rome, and for two hundred awful years the Devil did everything possible to destroy the church of God by stirring up the hatred of men and women throughout the entire Roman empire, so that literally hundreds of thousands of Christian men, women, and children were martyred for Christ’s sake. But down through the ages it has been demonstrated, as Augustine said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Satan always finds that persecution is utterly unable to destroy the testimony of God.
And then the enemy of souls works in another way. He persecutes, he destroys, he puts God’s people to death, gives them to realize the bitter enmity of the world, and when that will not keep people from coming to Christ, nor keep the church from witnessing for Christ, he turns the tables, and seeks to become in some sense the patron of Christianity. He endeavors to render the testimony of the church innocuous by amalgamation with the world. It is in this way that Israel fell. As long as Israel remained a separated people they had a testimony for God in the world, but when they followed after the idolatry of the nations, when they made marriages with the heathen, they lost their testimony, and so God set them to one side. They were of no further use as a witness in the world. It has been the same with the church throughout the centuries.
As long as the church walked in holy separation from the world it has been a power for God, sinners have been convicted, and anxious ones have been saved. Whole nations have been stirred by a separated, devoted, godly people, but just as soon as the church has listened to the suggestions of the enemy, coming now in the guise of a friend, and has given her fair hand to the world, has amalgamated with the world, at once her testimony has been annulled, she has ceased to be of any real account for God in this scene. In the Word of God we find the importance of separation from evil stressed. If we would really count for the Lord we need to remember this, for the professing church all about us has become contaminated to a great extent by the spirit of the world. How often we find ourselves going after the ways of the world, and very often we dress and behave just like the world, and indulge in the same things that the world indulges in, and so lose our power with souls.
The story is told of a young woman, brought up in a very careful Christian home, who when she went away to college was persuaded by some nominal Christians that if she would have any influence with her fellow students she would have to let down the bars a little bit. So at last she was persuaded to learn to dance, and she later went to the college prom. There on the floor she was dancing with a young man, and as she danced she said to herself, “I am doing this in order to let people see that I am not narrow, to let folk see that I can meet them on their own ground, and I must remember to bear witness for Christ here.” And so as the dance went on she tried to say a little word, but her partner did not know what it was all about. As he led her back to a seat she said, “What I am anxious to know is, are you a Christian?”
He looked at her and said, “Good gracious, no. You are not, are you?”
“Oh, yes,” she said; “I am.”
“Well, what on earth are you doing here, then?”
She realized at once that even the world has a high standard for a Christian. The world expects a Christian to walk in separation from it. It will do what it can to get the Christian to lower his standard, but always despises him when he does lower it.
I was having meetings in a church in San Jose, California, some years ago. One night the leader announced that a certain young lady would sing a solo. She was very beautiful, and had a carefully-trained, well-modulated voice, and sang very nicely. The title of the song was, “Jesus Satisfies.” I was quite moved by it myself, and hoped others were. At the close of the meeting I asked any anxious ones to meet me at the front or to remain in their seats. I noticed a young woman sitting by herself, and so I went down to speak with her. I said, ‘Are you anxious about your soul?”
She looked at me and said, “Well, yes and no. I was anxious; I came to this meeting with the thought that I would like to become a Christian, but if ever I become a Christian I want to be a different one from Miss So-and-So,” and she gave the name of the young lady who had sung the solo.
“Oh,” I said, “you are acquainted with the young lady?”
“But you don’t like her particularly?”
“Oh,” she said, “she is my best friend.”
“But what do you mean, then?”
“Well,” she said, “it is just this. I believe a Christian ought to live a different life from a worldling. I am a worldling, and I do not profess to be anything else. I have been trying to find satisfaction in the world; I confess I have never found it, but my friend, Miss So-and-So, got up and sang, ‘Jesus Satisfies,’ and that is a lie; He doesn’t satisfy her. She professes to be a Christian, and she often tells me I ought to be a Christian, but when I go to the theater I always find her there, when I go to the ball I find her there, when I go to play cards she is there, when I go into anything of the world, she is always there. What difference is there between her and myself? The only difference I can see is that she professes to have something which I do not profess to possess, but it does not do anything for her. Her life is just like mine.”
What could I as the preacher say? I talked to the young woman, and tried to show her that no matter how Christians fail, Christ abides and He never fails, but she got up and went out unsaved.
The Christian’s power comes from a separated life, and a separated life results from being filled with the Holy Spirit of God. As you walk in obedience to the Word of God the Spirit of God fills you, and thus you go out to live in the world to the glory of the Lord Jesus. One of the troubles of the Corinthians was this, there were many Christians there, but they were trying to give their friends the idea that Christianity was a very liberal thing, and so were amalgamating with the world. And the apostle says, “O ye Corinthians, our mouth is open unto you. We do not want to find fault with you, we do not want you to think that we are narrow and bound, and do not sympathize with you. We love you, our hearts go out to you; we put these things before you because we love you.” Christians, and especially at times some of our dear young Christians, imagine that when those of us who are interested in their souls speak to them seriously and earnestly about the folly of worldliness, and try to guide them in the path of devotion to Christ, that it is because we have grown older that we do not sympathize with youth and do not understand their problems. Let me say, “Ye are not straitened in us.” Our hearts are really concerned about you, “but ye are straitened in your own bowels,” you are narrowing your own life by worldliness. You do not realize this, you think you are enjoying life because you are letting down the bars, but you are not. You are not getting out of Christ what you might, and you are not getting out of your Christian life what you might, if you were more devoted to the One whom you call Lord. Your life is narrow and straitened because of inconsistency. This was true of the Corinthians, and this is true of many today.
Paul tells them, “I want you to be enlarged, to get the best out of life, to enjoy to the fullest what Christ has for you,” and in order that this may be, he gives them a most earnest exhortation: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers.” What does he mean by that? The reference is, of course, to the passage in Deuteronomy 22:10. God said to His people, who were an agricultural people, “Thou shalt not plow with an ox and an ass together.” The ox was a clean beast. It could be offered in sacrifice and its flesh used for food. The ass was an unclean beast. It could not be offered to the Lord and its flesh could not be eaten. And God said, You are not to take these two and yoke them together, even for service, for they do not belong together. And so He says to the Christians, “You cannot expect to glorify Me if linked up with an ungodly man or woman, even for service.” “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers.” The passage applies to church relationships, to things in society where you have to be in fellowship with unsaved people, to being in business with unsaved folk. Many a Christian has found out to his sorrow that he made his mistake by going into business with an unsaved man, because an unsaved man is actuated by different principles from those which actuate a saved man. And, of course, it applies to the marriage relationship. What a serious thing it is for a Christian young woman to think of giving her hand in marriage to an unconverted man, in the hope, of course, that someday she will be able to win him for Christ, or what a foolish thing for a Christian man to take an unsaved girl for a life companion. If they won’t come to Christ through your earnest pleading before they are married, you are never likely to win them after the honeymoon is over. They will settle back into their own way, and the chances are that instead of you drawing them your way in the days to come, they will begin to draw you their way. You have heard of the boys who found two linnets in the field. They brought them home and put them in cages hung on either side of their canary. The mother asked the reason for this, and they said, “Well, you see, we got these young, and we have hung them by the side of the canary so that they will be accustomed to listening to the canary sing, and so instead of learning to chirp like a linnet they will learn to sing like the canary.” The mother did not say anything, but shook her head, and later on when they came in, they exclaimed, “Why, Mother, listen! Our canary is chirping like a linnet!” That is the way it works. That canary did not get its song back again until they had covered it up for some days, and then when they put it out in the bright sunshine and took the covering off, the little thing began to sing once more. If you are going to count for God you must avoid the unequal yoke. If not, you are going contrary to the Word of God and you cannot expect blessing.
“For what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness?” How can you expect to get on if you have chosen the path of righteousness, and the other, the path of unrighteousness? “What communion hath light with darkness?” Either the darkness must flee before the light, or the light will soon be dimmed by the darkness. You cannot have both at one time. “And what concord hath Christ with Belial?” If you have taken Christ as your Savior, He is your Lord and your Master, and how can you expect to glorify Him if you link up with one who is a follower of Satan? “Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?” By “infidel” it does not mean necessarily an atheist, but it means an unbeliever. You profess to believe in the Lord Jesus, you believe that through His death upon the cross your soul is saved. Well, then, what fellowship can you have with one who refuses to trust your Savior? Oh, be careful, Christian. You say, “Well, I want to win them for Christ.” You will win them best by obedience to the Word of God, not by disobedience. Walk with God yourself in holy separation to Christ, and you can expect your testimony to count with others.
“What agreement hath the temple of God with idols?” The two are in opposition, the one to the other. “For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” This is the divine ideal, this is what the church of God really is, and any company of believers in any given locality is the temple of the living God in that place. How careful we should be then of anything that would mar the temple, of anything that would hinder the display of God among His own people. Do you know that each Christian meeting with any group of believers is either a help or a hindrance to the entire testimony that goes forth from that place? If you are living for God, walking in holy separation to Christ, you are helping the testimony; if walking waywardly, in willfulness, in worldliness, then you are just helping to that extent to obscure the light that ought to shine forth from the temple of the living God.
The apostle closes that solemn section with this earnest exhortation, “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.” What does this mean? It means exactly what it says; it does not need any explaining. “Come out from among them” means come out from among them. “Touch not the unclean thing.” What does that mean? It means, touch not the unclean thing. If I tried to explain it, I would only confound and confuse it. Christians are called to walk in separation from the world and to refrain from anything that would contaminate their consciences and hinder their fellowship with God. If you take this position, He says, “[I] will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” Is God not my Father if I am a Christian, even though I am not wholly separated from the world? God is the Father of all believers, but He is a Father unto us only as we walk in obedience to His Word. I am the father of my child, but if he is willful and disobedient I cannot be a father unto him in the sense I would like to be, and so God cannot do what His loving heart yearns to do when we are not walking in obedience to His Word.
Let us yield glad, happy obedience to Him, and thus know the blessedness of these words, “[I] will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.”
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 6". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29