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The Path of the Servants of God (I)
2 Corinthians 6:1. The last verses of the preceding chapter contain an exhortation for all the people who still live without God and without Christ in the world. The exhortation is: “Be reconciled to God.” In the first verse of this chapter there is an admonition addressed to the believers in Corinth and to all those who call themselves Christians. This admonition is “not to receive the grace of God in vain”. Is it possible to receive God’s grace in a way that it doesn’t work out anything? That really is possible!
For a child of God salvation is sure and secure. This is an absolute truth that is based on the faith in the work of the Lord Jesus. This work is accomplished completely independent of you and is accepted by God. Anyone who has a part in it is perfectly saved. But there is yet another truth namely that of the responsibility. This side of the truth is about what others can see in your life that you are a child of God. That is evidenced when they see the Bible at work in your life. They can see that, for instance, in the way you react when something is said to you from the Bible.
If someone is truly converted he will love the Bible and love to do what is written in it. If someone wants to hear and do only the pleasant things of being a Christian then he leaves a question mark behind his confession that he is a believer. Paul’s exegesis here is about this point. Among the real children of God there could be people who were never in the light of God; they accept the things of God only with their mind and feelings. They have never gone to the Lord with real repentance for their sins.
It is not enough to know that God is merciful. The letter of Jude speaks about people “who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness” (Jude 1:4). It is possible therefore to deal with the grace of God in a completely wrong way. The grace of God becomes ineffective in such cases.
2 Corinthians 6:2. For those who really believe there is a word in 2 Corinthians 6:2 which is the touchstone of real salvation. The first part of this verse is a quotation from Isaiah 49 (Isaiah 49:8). This is about God’s hearing of the Servant of the Lord Who is the Lord Jesus. The Lord Jesus there says that His work is in vain. But then God says that He will connect His blessings to His Son’s work (Isaiah 49:4-Judges :). The acceptable time, the time of hearing, dawned when God raised the Lord Jesus from the dead.
A further hearing is yet to come when the Lord Jesus returns to the earth to take possession of all. At that time He will receive the reward that God will give Him for His work. We are living in between these two hearings. How wonderful it is to see that we also have an acceptable time and a day of salvation and that is now! Everyone who confesses his sins and goes to God with repentance and asks Him to save him will be heard and will receive salvation.
This is what Paul preached and the Corinthians believed. Paul now reminds them of this. He says so to speak: ‘You must bear in mind that when you deny us as servants you show that you never really believed our preaching. Then all could be in vain.’
2 Corinthians 6:3. Paul had sufficient reason to speak to the Corinthians in this way. There were false apostles who disparaged him and his co-workers charging that they labored for their own honor and fame. Paul elaborates on this in chapters 10-11. The Corinthians inclined themselves to listen to those so called preachers who unlike Paul presented a convenient gospel. How did Paul present himself as the genuine servant of God? Surely not as someone who enjoyed all the comforts, while preaching to others that they should live accurately.
No, the way he lived was completely in accordance with what he preached to others. He did his utmost not to be an offence to others. He would have been an offence to others if there was a difference between his life style and his preaching. What a blasphemy his ministry would have been then!
This is what a lot of people are irritated about when the gospel is preached to them. They can cite profuse examples of people who sit in the church on Sundays, but they are the very same people who are cut throats from Monday through the week. When what you say is not real in your everyday life then your words will have no impact on others. Does it mean that you must be perfect and impeccable before you give a testimony? No, it means that you must confess your sin if you make a mistake. Paul’s preaching and his acts were consistent and therefore no one could point a finger at him. I hope your life also is like that.
2 Corinthians 6:4. One can say that 2 Corinthians 6:3 shows the negative side and therefore make sure that you do nothing the wrong way. Then the positive side is shown in 2 Corinthians 6:4 and the ones following; they show how you can show that you are a true servant of God. We find in these verses a list of no less than twenty eight characteristics for a true servant of God.
It begins with “endurance”. It is said that what is ‘well begun is half done’. But it must be added that this cannot remain like that; the other half must follow. Endurance is best shown when it is put to test. Then the apostle names other characteristics through which this can happen. Before you let this list work in you, you must bear in mind that God is called the “God of patience” (Romans 15:5). He helps you to persevere despite trials. Also read the encouragements we find in 2 Thessalonians 3 and Revelation 3 (2 Thessalonians 3:5; Revelation 3:10)!
The first test is “affliction”. This means you come under pressure. You can think of believers who are being persecuted. You can also think of your own situation. How easily you come under pressure when you know that in all possible situations you are observed as a Christian for your attitude and reactions. Listen to what the Lord Jesus says: “In the world you have tribulation: but take courage, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
The second one, “hardships”, has to do with things you lack, but which you need. You may rely on God for His provision.
In the case of “distresses” the thought is that there is no room for any free movement, being in a situation in which you do not know how to behave to uphold the honor of the Lord. You feel that you are inevitably dependent upon the Lord. He will see to it that you do not deny Him.
These first three trials are common in nature. They go together and God uses them as a means by which you can show your endurance, while at the same time you can go to Him for what you need.
Now read 2 Corinthians 6:1-4 again.
Reflection: How did you receive the grace of God?
The Path of the Servants of God (II)
2 Corinthians 6:5. We continue with the testing of your patience or endurance. We considered the first three tests. The following three also belong together. You recognize them easily: “In beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults.” These have to do with the body and they were inflicted by others on Paul. They were not trifles. In Acts 16 you read how he was beaten and thrown into prison (Acts 16:19-Jeremiah :). In Acts you also see how he was at the very center of tumultuous crowds (Acts 19:29-Obadiah :; Acts 21:27-Zephaniah :).
Then again follows a group of three which belong together: “In labors, in sleeplessness, in hunger [or: fastings].” However, there is a difference between this group and the previous ones. The previous tests were involuntary. A life which shows that one is a witness for the Lord Jesus often provokes a negative reaction from other people. However, labors, sleeplessness and hunger (or fastings) are situations the servants of the Lord expose themselves to voluntarily.
There are many Christians who are satisfied that they are saved from hell; but when it comes to ‘labor’ in living as a Christian they shun all inconveniences. The word ‘labor’ means strenuous work.
‘Sleeplessness’ or ‘watchfulness’ means that you must keep awake all the time and you cannot fall asleep because dangers are imminent. The spiritual application for you and me is to keep the eyes wide open and be on the alert for the lurking spiritual dangers which could in a jiffy put your Christian life on the back burner. All sorts of persuasive logics of people can’t lull you into thinking that all things will end well without you taking any pains in your spiritual walk.
The same goes for ‘fastings’. It primarily means that one does not take food. It also means that you voluntarily waive certain pleasures which are not wrong per se but which can disturb your life’s priorities. A bit of relaxation is not wrong. But it is certainly wrong to enjoy relaxation at the cost of your Christian obligations, for instance if you reject a call to preach the gospel.
You can by all means exonerate yourself from these three obligations. But a true servant of God will not do that because he is always conscious of his life as a servant.
2 Corinthians 6:6. 2 Corinthians 6:6-2 Samuel : list the characteristics God looks for in His servants, the characteristics which become predominantly visible in God’s servants as they go through circumstances mentioned previously.
1. The first is “purity”. Purity means you keep yourself unspotted from the world, and have no friendship with it.
2. This is followed by “knowledge”. Knowledge means you know God and know what He expects from you; for this you have the Bible.
3. “Patience” you have to show in your contacts.
4. By “kindness” you let others know something of the goodness of God.
5. The power to present yourself this way is not in you but it is “in the Holy Spirit”.
6. “Genuine love” is the unfeigned, not hypocritical love. Love is the nature of God and you must show it. That does not mean that you condone what is wrong or feign as though it is not there.
7. 2 Corinthians 6:7. That’s why the servant of God always must use “the word of truth” and apply it to all life’s situations.
8. “The power of God” will manifest itself when he uses the word of truth in dependence on God and not by human wisdom.
9. “The weapons of righteousness” refers to the practical life of the servant. When the servant cannot be accused of unrighteous practices, because he gives to everyone his right, then this is a weapon with which he can repel all the accusations leveled against him from all sides. For a servant is always subject to criticism both from the right and from the left side. That’s why he has to be balanced to be able to defend himself against both sides.
Criticism and opposition are things you must always expect when you live and work for the Lord. Not that you must feel exalted above all criticism, for that is arrogance.
10. 2 Corinthians 6:8. Here it is about a servant who wants to please his master in all things. In such cases you go through “glory and dishonor”. Sometimes you are hailed and at another time you are nailed.
11. The greater the servant, the more people talk about him, in a negative as well as in a positive sense. He goes through “evil report and good report”; one portrays him as a deceiver and another as a trustful one.
12. 2 Corinthians 6:9. In the world he is unknown, but with God he is well-known. As for the world he is as dying, useless for the world. The cause of that is that he lives for God and not for the world.
13. By all he experiences he feels “as punished” by the hand of God. Chastisement is not punishment and surely “not put to death” by it. Chastisement is always meant as education. For that education God uses all kinds of means, as for example you have read in 2 Corinthians 6:4-Deuteronomy :.
14. 2 Corinthians 6:10. Chastisement is not a pleasant experience; it certainly can make you “sorrowful”. But because you experience in it God’s love and care you can make others “rejoicing”.
15. A servant does not have riches in this world. In this respect he is “poor”. His real wealth is in Christ and with this wealth he can make “many rich”.
16. The end of 2 Corinthians 6:10 shows that he is “as having nothing” in this world. His real wealth is Christ and that’s why he is “possessing all things”, for all things are of Him.
It is not a small thing to say of yourself that you are a servant of God. When I say this I hope you will not be discouraged but conversely you will be encouraged. For this service incorporates a lot of rich promises.
2 Corinthians 6:11. Perhaps you can imagine a bit of what deep impression these verses would have made on the Corinthians. Paul opened his heart to them. He poured out his heart without reservation. They must know what is hidden in his heart. He loved them with all his heart. In order to bring the gospel to them he underwent all the experiences he talks of here in these verses.
Do you see how personally he addresses them as “Corinthians”? In two other letters he addresses the recipients of his letters in such very personal terms. He does so to the Galatians (Galatians 3:1) and the Philippians (Philippians 4:15). In all these three letters he speaks from an overflowing heart.
2 Corinthians 6:12. Here in Corinth he wants to have in their hearts that special place which he had earlier. The problem is not that they had a restricted place in his heart. His heart was wide but they were restricted. They had very little room for Paul in their hearts. They could not reciprocate his appreciation of them.
2 Corinthians 6:13. He appeals therefore that they open their hearts again for him and his ministry. He says that he deserves room in their hearts as recompense or as reward for all that he did for them. Did he not dedicate his whole life for them? Then should they not love him with a special love? They were his “children”, weren’t they?
You can notice how best he writes to win their hearts again. His yearning is that the relationship between him and the Corinthians would be restored and that they would again listen to his wise counsels. Paul’s prime concern was the honor of the Lord and the well-being of the believers.
Now read 2 Corinthians 6:5-13 again.
Reflection: What things that are listed in 2 Corinthians 6:4-2 Samuel : are found in your life?
The Unequal Yoke
2 Corinthians 6:14. Quite a lot has been said and written about these verses. It is because they are of great importance for your practical faith life. You must pay attention to the stark contrast between these and the previous verses. In the previous verses Paul describes the life of a true servant of God. Did you discover in it any characteristic that would bring you any respect and honor from this world? Not in the least. But the Corinthians were after them. They also wanted the profits of the world.
They were narrow-minded with regard to Paul and his ministry. But they were broadminded when it came to their relationship with the world. They easily fell in line with the world’s systems. They wanted the benefits of the world. With this unhealthy mind-set they preferred to be spared from every unpleasant and extreme circumstances and hardships Paul experienced.
Unfortunately today there are Christians young and old who are also of the same mind-set though these things are not said aloud. Their life shows that their connection to the world is not thoroughly severed. The subject here is the sort of compromises which prevent a believer from pursuing the right way of obedience to the Word of God.
This does not mean that you should not at all have any dealings with unbelievers. For instance your work or school situation is something different. With your colleagues or class-mates you are definitely not living in an unequal yoke. It is your duty to go to work and to school. It is wrong to free yourself from such obligations.
But there are relationships that lead to disobedience. This could be business connections or friendships. This is certainly true of marriage as well (although this is not the prime subject here). The simple rule is to never have a close friendship with an unbeliever. Then a marriage will never follow.
In the Old Testament you can see God saying the same with regard to connections between His people and the surrounding nations. He speaks of this figuratively when He says: “You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together” (Deuteronomy 22:10). An ox is a clean animal, which can be sacrificed to God. A donkey is an unclean animal; its neck must be broken or it must be redeemed with a lamb (Exodus 13:13). The same as these two animals cannot plow together so a believer and an unbeliever cannot get along. With this picture in mind Paul demonstrates the razor sharp difference that exists between believers and unbelievers.
Before I dwell further on these verses let me call your attention to 2 Corinthians 6:17-Job : where you find great promises in store for everyone who says good-bye to the world. Do you find it difficult at the moment to let go off anything that still connects you with the world? Have you no strength to break with it? Then read 2 Corinthians 6:17-Job :. Let them encourage you.
Now back to 2 Corinthians 6:14. The Corinthians are called upon not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers. You know if your life is not wholly connected to the Lord Jesus that will inevitably lead to a connection with the world. A few comparisons which follow this admonition clearly show why such relationships are impossible.
A believer and an unbeliever are opposite poles as they are guided by totally very different sets of motives and feelings. There is a vast difference between their life’s starting point and their life’s goal. The source of an unbeliever’s life is completely different from that of a believer. There are great and unimaginable differences between them. Paul here shows their two extremes, not to exaggerate, but to show things as they are. Any other depiction will obscure the facts.
These are the facts:
1. “Righteousness” is doing what is in tune with the rights of God. “Lawlessness” is doing one’s own will without recognizing any authority. What “partnership” can these two have with one another? ‘Partnership’ means to have the same part in something. Righteousness belongs to the new life of the believer. The unbeliever does not have this new life and so he does not listen to God and also he does not recognize His authority. These two expressions of the life of the one and the other are far apart.
2. “Light” and “darkness” denote the spheres which both parties find themselves in. On the first page of the Bible, right after creating light, God causes a separation between light and darkness. This fact shows more clearly than the first fact that any form of “fellowship” between a believer and an unbeliever is absolutely unthinkable. ‘Fellowship’ means there is something in common, a common interest. In light a believer enjoys intercourse with God. In darkness an unbeliever enjoys sin.
3. 2 Corinthians 6:15. “Christ” and “Belial” specify to whom an individual belongs. The believer belongs to Christ and the unbeliever to Belial. I need not tell you Who Christ is. He is the Man Who is after the heart of God and also after your heart since your conversion. The name ‘Belial’ appears only here in the New Testament. We find this name more often in the Old Testament. Originally it meant ‘worthlessness’ or ‘useless pile of rubble’ or ‘utmost malignity’, ‘devastation’. So it is clear that it is a name for satan. Can you imagine just one thing in what Christ and Belial have “harmony”?
4. “Believer” is the term for a follower of Christ and “unbeliever” is the term for a follower of Belial. A believer is the one who places his complete trust in Christ not only for eternity but also for his daily life. An unbeliever does not consider Christ. The “common” part of the believer is Christ and that of the unbeliever is satan.
5. 2 Corinthians 6:16. In “the temple of God” God is honored and served by the believer. There is no place for “idols”. Idols fill the life of the unbeliever. Paul says even more emphatically about the temple of God: “We are the temple of the living God.” That means the church is the dwelling place of God.
The perception here is God’s desire to dwell with His people and walk with them. He wants to be their God and He wants to acknowledge them as His people. With reverence it can be said: God wants to feel at home here and to move around freely. This is possible only when there are no disturbing elements. But this is inevitable when believers associate themselves with the world. “Holiness befits Your house, O Lord, forevermore” (Psalms 93:5).
The logical sequence can be none other than the appeal in 2 Corinthians 6:17. I would like to continue on this subject in the next section.
Now read 2 Corinthians 6:14-16 again.
Reflection: Is there something present in your life that shows you are unequally yoked?
Separation – From What and to What
2 Corinthians 6:17. The word “therefore” is meaningful. God will dwell in the midst of His people and walk among them and that’s why His people cannot associate with the world. His people must be radically separated from the world and from everything found therein. The preceding verses make it clear that this separation already exists, but that God’s people must live this out in practice. A believer must break all relationships in which God does not have the first place.
This applies primarily to relationships a believer enters into on a voluntarily basis. It is about relationships in which a believer carries responsibility together with an unbeliever and makes compromises. The unbeliever is guided by an entirely different set of motives and therefore the believer has to make compromises. Jehoshaphat – a Godly king in the Old Testament – was reproached by God for being unequally yoked (2 Chronicles 18:1-Leviticus :). You can read about God’s mind in 2 Chronicles 19 (2 Chronicles 19:2). Unfortunately he falls into this error again (2 Chronicles 20:35-Haggai :). You can see there the consequences are more serious than the first time.
There are also other examples. I know of young men who played in a music band and quit the band after their conversion. They still play music but now only with believers and for the Lord. I know believers who had relationship with unbelievers. When they realized that it was not right they confessed it as sin before God and broke off the connections. Sometimes the Lord worked in such a way that the other got converted later and the relationship resumed and they got married.
In connection with this, a few words about marriage. Once a marriage has taken place it should not be broken. God hates divorce. The appeal “come out from their midst and be separate” does not apply to marriage (1 Corinthians 7 makes it very clear about this issue). But all other connections you contract with unbelievers in order to achieve a common goal and in which you cannot give God the first place you should give up and let go. You can think of a business you want to set up with someone in which both you and the other person are equally responsible for the management. On the basis of this scripture such a partnership cannot be approved if the other person is an unbeliever.
Obedience to these instructions cost some people terribly. Separation can be painful. It also can be painful to the other party from whom you separate, because that person can get the impression that you are superior. This never may be the reason. Then try to explain to the other party about the specific issues you cannot compromise. I cannot guarantee that the other person will understand or will accept your decision, but you are responsible to the Lord to obey His Word.
2 Corinthians 6:18. You separate from something or someone. Separation in itself can be nothing else than Phariseeism, the kind of holiness doctrine that indicates that you feel yourself far superior to others. Separation in the biblical sense does not have a negative but a positive goal. God wants you to be set apart for Him. In order to help you to reach His standard God gives you the following great promises in which He shows what He does with you and what He wants to be for you.
1. “I will welcome you.” You might ask: ‘Was I not already welcomed?’ Yes, that’s right. But in this verse the point is that you also enjoy it. When you are not separated God cannot let you feel that you are received.
2. “I will be a Father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me.” Here also you can ask: ‘Was I not so already?’ Yes, but He cannot let you feel that you are precious to Him. For example, my children are and will remain my children, no matter what they do. But if they are disobedient I cannot let them feel my love as their father. So it is with the Father in heaven. He cannot recognize His children as His children when they live like the worldly people. He is ashamed of them. He very much wants that His children exhibit His character.
The power to separate lies in “the Lord Almighty”. The name “Lord” indicates the connection God had with Israel and the promises He has given to these people. All these promises will be fulfilled. “Almighty” is the name by which God revealed Himself to Abraham. Abraham is a good example of someone who broke away from his family and lived separately in a pagan country. He put his faith in God. For him God was the only One Who will fulfill everything He has promised. God is not ashamed to be called his God (Hebrews 11:16).
How God blessed Abraham! In Isaiah 51 there is a beautiful verse: “Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who gave birth to you in pain; when [he was but] one I called him” (Isaiah 52:2) The consequence of your separation could be that you stand alone. Then think of Abraham and see what God did for him. Your obedience will end in God’s blessings. Probably you already know God so well that you know that He gives back twofold or threefold of all that you give up for Him. God is no man’s debtor.
Now read 2 Corinthians 6:17-18 again.
Reflection: What is the result when you break a wrong connection?
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op 2 Corinthians 6". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany