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‘And working together with him we entreat also that you do not receive the grace of God in vain.’
So as those who are His ambassadors, as those who are ‘workers-together’ with Him (compare 1 Corinthians 3:9), we are therefore to plead with men that they do not receive the grace of God in vain. Here it is especially Paul speaking to the Corinthians, and even more especially to those who were opposing him. It is directly they who are in mind. God’s unmerited favour has reached out to them through the Spirit, and through His ambassadors, and he is concerned lest it be ineffective. Their very presence among God’s people ensures the continuing activity of God’s grace towards them. But let them make sure that they have responded and been open to the gracious working of God, or if not let them now respond to His call, otherwise it will be in vain. Lest they be found to be the seed that sprang up, but then withered and died (Mark 4:16-17), or the withered branches that had appeared to have been a part of the vine, but because they had no life had to be cast forth and burned (John 15:1-6), or the man who had built his house on sand so that it collapsed (Matthew 7:26-27).
‘In vain.’ Having achieved nothing, being empty, useless.
Others see it as a plea that they ensure that they do not remain stagnant in their Christian lives, that they put into practise the words of 2 Corinthians 5:15-17, so that they have that which is good to present at the judgment seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10). But the next verse might rather be seen as supporting the first. He wants to urge the certainty of their response to the day of salvation.
God’s Ministry of Reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:11 to 2 Corinthians 6:2 ).
Having spoken of God’s work in the heart through His Spirit, and of the new covenant, followed by the revelation of the Christian’s future by means of the resurrection, Paul now goes back to the basis of it all, man’s reconciliation with God. If men are to know these things that he has described there needs to be a new creation. And man needs to be reconciled to God, a reconciliation which is only found in Christ through the cross.
But before he can press home that message he feels he must again bring out his own genuineness in comparison with those who are all outward show.
‘For he says, At an acceptable time I listened to you, And in a day of salvation did I succour you. Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.’
In order to support this urgency he cites Scripture. ‘At an acceptable time I heard you,’ (that is ‘heard and responded’), says God. ‘In the day of My deliverance I succoured you.’ When God’s time came, and come it now had, He would hear and succour those who professed to be His people in order to seek to bring them to Himself and save them fully. And that time, says Paul, is now. God has now begun His final saving work. The time is His accepted time, it is His day of salvation. Let them not be sure that they do not miss out on it.
The words are taken from Isaiah 49:8. They were spoken to the Servant of the Lord as He too was seen as beginning His saving work, the work which Paul and his fellow-workers were now carrying on. The past tenses signify the certainty of that future work, ‘I listened and responded, I succoured’. The application is then made by Paul declaring that they too must ensure that they participate in and be a part of the Servant’s work by submitting to Him, lest they be left out and find that it is too late, that God’s day of salvation, His acceptable time, has passed..
‘Giving no occasion of stumbling in anything, that our ministration be not blamed; but in everything commending ourselves, as ministers of God, in much patient endurance: in afflictions, in necessary hardships, in distresses, in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings.’
Paul wants them to know that he and his fellow-workers take great care not to behave in such a way as to cause any to stumble, or even to give cause for stumbling, so that discredit might come on their ministry. Rather do they bring credit on their ministry in various ways, through what they bear for Christ’s name. They are true ambassadors for Christ in every way. Note the contrast of ‘giving no occasion of stumbling in anything’ with ‘commending ourselves in everything’. Paul’s dedication to serving them faithfully is wholehearted, both in what he does not do and in what he does do.
‘In much patient endurance.’ They endure hardships patiently. The introduction of ‘much’, distinguishing this from what follows, suggests that this is a heading under which the next nine items should be subsumed. What follows is then describing in more detail what they have patiently endured. This thought of patient endurance reopens the ideas with which the letter began (see 2 Corinthians 1:4-7, especially 2 Corinthians 6:6), and is constant throughout. As the Corinthians eat and drink with their idolatrous associations (2 Corinthians 6:14-16; 1 Corinthians 10:7; 1 Corinthians 10:18-21) Paul and his co-workers endure with much endurance, they eat and drink of the sufferings of Christ because they are yoked to Him (Mark 10:38-39; Mark 14:36).
It is then followed by a ninefold cluster, (the first item of which, ‘afflictions’, was prominent in 2 Corinthians 1:4-7 compare also 2 Corinthians 2:4; 2 Corinthians 4:8; 2Co 4:17 ; 2 Corinthians 7:4; 2 Corinthians 8:2; 2 Corinthians 8:13), which can be split into three threes, the first three describing their sufferings in general terms, ‘in afflictions, in necessarily determined hardships, in distresses’, the second amplifying the detail, ‘in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults’, and the third describing how they countered it, revealing their durability, ‘in labours, in watchings, in going without food’.
The Greek word for afflictions (thlipsis) refers to the pressures and anxieties of life that come our way. They may be external or internal ("conflicts without", "fears within," 2 Corinthians 7:5), although the term is regularly used of the harassment and affliction of God's people at the hands of the world. Ananke refers to hardships which must necessarily come on those who would serve Christ faithfully. They are sharers in the sufferings of Christ (2 Corinthians 1:5). Distresses (stenochoria) refers to being in tight corners or in narrow straits with no apparent way of escape, like an army platoon under attack in a long narrow pass with no space to manoeuvre or retreat, so that all they can do is fight on and press forward.
The second group of three is ‘in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults’. Their afflictions included an element directly resulting from men’s hostility, whippings and beatings, periods in prison, and riotous, hostile crowds. They were not loved by the world.
‘Beatings’ refers to physical blows that occurred as a result of mob action or court punishment. Paul reveals elsewhere that he was lashed on five occasions by Jewish authorities and whipped on three occasions with Roman rods (2 Corinthians 11:24-25). With regard to imprisonments, Luke records only the imprisonment in Philippi prior to the writing of 2 Corinthians (Acts 16:16-40). But Paul informs us in 2 Corinthians 11:23 that he had been imprisoned a number of times, more times than his opponents, although we do not know when and where. Riots occurred in many cities that Paul visited. They were often incited by Jewish antagonists who were envious of Paul's success among the Gentiles, and sometimes because their activities affected trade, especially as connected with idolatrous Temples.
The third group is ‘in labours (hard work and effort), in wakeful nights, in self imposed abstention from food.’ For ‘labours’, that is, ‘hard, physically demanding work’ compare 2 Corinthians 10:15 for labouring in the Gospel, and 1 Corinthians 4:12 for labouring to support himself. He laboured in both ways, both spiritually and physically. ‘Wakeful nights’ may well refer to nights of prayer, but may also include those caused by sleeplessness because of the burden he bore for the people of God (see 2 Corinthians 11:28-29), which would indeed no doubt result in prayer, and those caused by his many travels under all kinds of conditions. ‘Self imposed abstention from food’ might occur because of the demands on his time that left no time to eat, or because of his desire not to make himself a burden on anyone so that he took food when he could, but may also indicate times of fasting so as to be able to concentrate on prayer, although if so it is not stressed.
As Workers Together With God Paul Now Further Cites Their Own Credentials As Those Who Share In The Sufferings of Christ (2 Corinthians 6:3-10 )
The following description of their genuineness and of all that they are going through for Christ continues the thought of 2 Corinthians 6:1, 2 Corinthians 6:2 having been a slight digression to press home the fact of the urgency of his plea. This would see ‘working together with Him’ (‘with Him’ assumed but not stated in 2 Corinthians 6:1) as indicating ‘with Christ’. They are entering into the fellowship of His sufferings (2 Corinthians 1:5; Philippians 3:10). They are workers together with Him in the yoke of Christ (Matthew 11:29-30; Philippians 4:3). This is not only a vindication of his own ministry but is in preparation for a plea to the Corinthians to avoid compromise with the world by yoking themselves with unbelievers.
‘In pureness, in knowledge, in long-suffering, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in love unfeigned, in the word of truth, in the power of God.’
Paul then goes on to describe his own personal and moral attributes. His deep troubles do not embitter him. Rather through Christ they produce within him the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22), purity, understanding, longsuffering and kindness. These all result from the work of the Holy Spirit, and the genuine love He produces within (compare 1 Corinthians 13:4). They present a full-orbed description of the life of a servant of God who should seek to be pure, truly knowledgeable, longsuffering and kind.
Hagnotes (purity) only occurs here but the more common cognate hagnos ranges in meaning from an inward disposition such as purity of heart (2 Corinthians 11:3) to outward behaviour ("innocent," 2 Corinthians 7:11; "chaste," 2 Corinthians 11:2; "without defect," Philippians 4:8; "blameless," 1 Timothy 5:22). Its connection here with longsuffering and kindness suggests that it includes a right and blameless attitude to those with whom he has dealings (compare 2 Corinthians 1:12; 2 Corinthians 4:2; 2 Corinthians 6:3).
‘Knowledge’ (gnosis) comes next , and may refer to "insight" (Phillips), or "understanding" (NIV), or a "grasp of truth" (NEB), a knowledge of genuine spiritual truth and an awareness of people and how to deal with them. It includes the God-given ability to know the right thing to do in a given situation because soaked in the Scriptures. This contrasts with the knowledge of some among the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 11:5; 1 Corinthians 8:1-2) which produced only pride, and was airy fairy and without consideration for others.
This is followed by long-suffering. This word is frequently used in the Old Testament of God's long-suffering attitude toward his people. It represents tender concern and loving patience toward those whose failings would normally provoke anger and annoyance.
‘Kindness (Chrestotes) is the fourth quality. It represents the capacity to show kindness even to the weak and undeserving and to evidence a sympathetic interest in the problems of others. It is goodness in action. All these have their source in love.
The genuineness, thoughtfulness, long-suffering and kindness that Paul exhibited arose from himself enjoying the experience of the compassion that Christ has for His own. It was ‘in the Holy Spirit’, that is, it resulted from His work within, and was the consequence of His producing genuine unfeigned love, of His making sure the word of truth within, which thus possessed Paul’s heart, and of His continual provision of ‘the power of God’. The one who has the right foundations of love, truth and God-power will exhibit the right attitudes and response.
‘In the Holy Spirit.’ It is often asked why ‘the Holy Spirit’ should appear in a list of attributes, and some have therefore sought to see it as an attribute (e.g. ‘holy spirit’), but the reason is not hard to find. He wanted first to draw attention to the outward aspects of behaviour and attitude, for they are the manifestation of ‘patient endurance’ as he emphasised at the beginning, but he also wanted them to be aware of the source of it all. To have listed all the others without their source would indeed have seemed like boasting. Furthermore ‘in the Holy Spirit’ can be seen as including all the other virtues which he has not had space to include (Galatians 5:22), and is especially connected with the idea of unfeigned love which follows (1 Corinthians 13:0; Galatians 5:22).
He follows the mention of the Holy Spirit with the marks of genuine ministry, which are themselves the work of the Spirit. Fullness of unfeigned love (1 Corinthians 13:0; Romans 15:30; Galatians 5:22; Colossians 1:8; 2 Timothy 1:7), being immersed in the truth (John 14:17; John 15:26; Ephesians 5:9) and in its proclamation (compare 2 Corinthians 5:14-21), and the experience of God’s infinite power (compare 1 Corinthians 1:18 where word and power are connected; and 1 Corinthians 2:4 where Spirit and power are connected, contrast 1 Corinthians 4:19). Without these our ministry is indeed vain. Perhaps they should be listed in every pulpit. It is these which result in the gold, silver and precious stones of 1 Corinthians 3:12-15.
‘By the armour (‘weapons’) of righteousness on the right hand and on the left.’
This next series commences with ‘by’ or ‘through’, and is a series of contrasts pointing to his positive approach to life. The weapons or armour of righteousness are on both right and left hand, the one possibly having in mind sword or spear, the other shield or knife, all used both for attacking and defensive purposes. Or it may refer to armour which protects on all sides. For the essential idea is that the warrior is fully protected and is equipped for both attack and defence. To consider the fuller ideas lying behind this we can turn to Ephesians 6:10-18. They are ‘put on’ by establishment in, and use of, the truth of the word of God.
‘The armour/weapons of righteousness.’ Compare the ‘breastplate of righteousness’ (Ephesians 6:14). The idea is taken from Isaiah 59:17. There the idea is of vindication and deliverance. It describes the triumph of God in ‘righteousness’, whereby He righteously delivers and brings righteousness to men and men to righteousness. Thus through God it is righteousness which triumphs, and Paul also goes forward in Him, armoured in His active and redeeming righteousness, (as do we - Ephesians 6:14), to bring men to reconciliation and salvation (the righteousness of God - 2 Corinthians 5:21). The Corinthians can therefore be sure that he uses only righteous methods.
But righteousness also protects. Thus we are protected from all assaults of the enemy because we are immersed in the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21), and accounted as righteous in God’s sight, and because we live righteous lives, a righteousness which, being lived out, confuses our opponents (1 Peter 3:16). Thus we must see ‘righteousness’ here as God’s righteousness in all its many facets as it works in and through our lives.
‘By glory 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.’
The life of the godly man is a life of contrasts. On the one hand glory, glory in God’s working, glory in His goodness, glory in His truth, and on the other dishonour, the mockery and contempt of the world, the being treated as dirt for His sake (1 Corinthians 4:13). And it must be expected, for those whom God honours, the world will despise. And he goes on to show that it is a life where the eyes must be set firmly on what is not seen, a life which does not seek or glory in the world, but is lived in the heavenlies (compare 2 Corinthians 3:18; Colossians 3:1; 1 John 2:15). He will then shortly bring out that this is in direct contrast with that of many of the Corinthians.
‘By evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true.’ On the one hand the godly man will be attacked and spoken against and treated as a deceiver. Every possible weapon will be used to destroy his reputation. And on the other there are those who will speak well of him (then let him especially beware of himself), and see him as a man of truth. Both attitudes towards Paul were found among the Corinthians.
This again all arises because some look at what is seen, and some at what is unseen (2 Corinthians 4:18). We may see here reflected the afflictions and encouragement of 2 Corinthians 1:4-9. For those who would serve Christ experience both, the one to refine and purify, the other to maintain and strengthen.
‘As unknown, and yet well known.’ The man of God may be irrelevant to the world, and to those who see themselves as superior, being seen as a nobody, an ‘unknown’, and yet may have good standing among, and be honoured by, God’s people. (Some of the Corinthians may have been saying how insignificant Paul was in men’s eyes and their own).
‘As dying, and behold, we live.’ He may here be referring to being physically and mentally disorienated and ill-treated and often left for dead, a stark contrast to the eternal life within him, but more likely the thought is of his dying to the world, its approval, aims and attractions, with the contrasting blessing referring to the enjoyment of eternal life and the joy of living for Christ and His aims, thus having true life which is life indeed (compare 2 Corinthians 5:14). (The literal dying in fact goes together with the spiritual dying. He faces such suffering precisely because he has died to the world),
‘As chastened, and not killed.’ He may be being chastened by tribulation, which he knows will produce godly effects within (Romans 5:2-5), but he is confident that the chastening is to do him good. He has not been killed as a result of God’s judgment on him (compare 1 Corinthians 11:30-32). Thus he knows that his chastening will be for his ultimate benefit, and is not finally judgmental. God’s intentions are good in all that happens to him, and there will be a limit on what His own must endure. Compare here Psalms 118:17-18 which he might well have had in mind.
(Note. If this is to be seen as a contrast like the other pairings, he is contrasting chastening, which was an act of God’s love, as against being killed as an act of deserved judgment. He is not saying that those who were martyred were to be seen as having been judged. In their case the death itself would be seen as a triumph and a gateway to glory, not a judgment).
‘As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.’ He may be sorrowful over his afflictions, and over his sins, and over the sufferings of his own people (Romans 9:2-3), and over the lack of spirituality and growth in the churches, and yet he is constantly filled with rejoicing over all God is doing for him and through him, and for the churches, and because of evidences of the many who do prosper spiritually, and because his mind is set on things above, and especially because it is set on Christ Himself.
‘As poor, yet making many rich.’ He may have little of this world’s goods, or consider himself as poor in spiritual virtues (even as ‘the chief of sinners’), but what does that matter if he is making many ‘rich’ by his ministry of the word of God, and by the goodness and generosity of his life and self-giving. That is what counts with him. He is preparing others to enjoy spiritual riches.
‘As having nothing, and yet possessing all things.’ He may in fact be bereft of everything, with no possessions in this world, and yet he knows that in Christ he possesses all things (1 Corinthians 3:22), and will possess them (Hebrews 11:6; Hebrews 11:10; Hebrews 11:26; Matthew 19:29). He lives in enjoyment of God’s inheritance which He has given to His own (Colossians 1:12; Ephesians 1:14; Ephesians 2:7). And that is what determines the course of his life.
So does Paul make clear the ups and downs of his life as he seeks faithfully to carry out his ministry, and on what his mind is finally set. This is what makes up his life. And they have only to consider for themselves whether a man who lives like this is genuine, or is mainly out to deceive, or is simply play-acting. All this is a reminder for us that for us too the Christian life can be a life of contrasts. It will not be all plain sailing. All those who would serve Christ must endure the downside as well as enjoy the fullness of blessing, and it is by how we respond that men will judge us.
But his final stress on having the mind set on things above now leads on to a warning to the Corinthian that they too ensure that they live in the same way. This is the kind of earthly things that he is taken up with, but he fears that they are too taken up with earthly things of another kind and will miss out on God’s best, or even miss out altogether (2 Corinthians 6:1).
‘Our mouth is open to you, O Corinthians, our heart is enlarged.’
He begins his plea by stressing his total honesty and strong affection for them. Naming them by name, always a sign of his strong feelings (compare Galatians 3:1), he stresses that his mouth is open to them, and his heart is enlarged. In what he says he is hiding nothing from them, and is speaking freely because of his love for them, and for their good, because his genuine longing and desire is only for their good.
Having Confirmed His Own Credentials And His Own Way of Living He Pleads For A Them To Turn From All That Might Hinder Them and For Their Equal Full and Exclusive Response to God and to Christ (2 Corinthians 6:11 to 2 Corinthians 7:1 ).
Having spoken earlier of ‘receiving not the grace of God in vain’, and having then justified his own ministry, and shown how he certainly has not received the grace of God in vain, Paul now returns to his concern for the lack of full response in the Corinthian church. The continual compromise of the church with idolatry and the ways of the world clearly concerns Paul. While he and his fellow-workers are, in their way of life, being constantly weaned from the world, he feels that the Corinthians are associating themselves too closely with the world and are dallying with things that might drag them down. They are associating too closely with what can only harm them. Their lives are going in the very opposite direction to the one he has just described. They may have become reconciled to God, but their ways cannot be reconciled with God.
In his case the world has forced itself on his attention by its antagonism or contempt. It has shown itself for what it is, and he has found solace in spiritual things, and looked to the things that are unseen. But in contrast their hearts are set elsewhere. They are looking to what is seen, and finding solace and fulfilment in that. They are finding the world pleasant and attractive, and he fears that they might find it too attractive, in a way that is marring their spiritual lives. He therefore calls on them rather to follow his example and to be enlarged in their Christian lives, keeping from the yokes of the world, from intimate association with what can only harm them, (including the marrying of an unbeliever and connection with idolatrous cultic associations), and setting their minds on the living God. They should aim to be fellow-workers with God, not fellow-associates in things that will drag them down,
‘You are not straitened in us, but you are straitened in your own affections. Now for a recompense in like kind (I speak as to my children), be you also enlarged.’
He stresses to them that it is not his affections and loving concern for them that are narrowed and hemmed in. He has not allowed himself to be affected by their failure of loyalty towards him. He still loves them like a father. There is nothing that is limiting his affection. But rather it is their affections for him that are restricted. They are too constrained by the things around them, and are withholding their full affection from him and from Christ. So he now pleads for reciprocation and enlargement of their affections in response to his own, because he looks on them as his dear children.
And with a view to that enlargement he will now go on to deal with the things that they have been setting their affections on which have caused the present situation, and calls on them to recognise that their hearts are wrongly taken up with false attractions, and that they must therefore separate themselves from them before they destroy them.
‘ Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers, for what fellowship have righteousness and iniquity? or what communion has light with darkness? And what concord has Christ with Belial? or what portion has a believer with an unbeliever?’
The problem is that they are having too close a relationship with secular things and those who are not believers. Instead of being properly yoked together as fellow-workers together with God they are unequally yoked together with what is incompatible with their faith. This comes out in the way that they are willing to tie their lives in with the ways of unbelievers in a binding way, in marriage to unbelivers and too close association with idolaters, without thought for the long term consequences. This helps to explain their lack of affection for Paul and for Christ. Their unequal yokes are preventing the enlargement of their affections towards what is right.
For the Christian there is always a fine line between keeping in touch with the world and its ways, and being sucked in by it. Keeping in touch is fine (1 Corinthians 5:10), but becoming obligated to it and having too close an association with it is folly. Thus he warns them about tying themselves in with unbelievers, whether by marriage, binding partnerships, or any kind of commitment that might restrict them in their Christian lives and witness. This includes putting themselves in a position where the course of their life can be determined by others who have secular rather than heavenly aims. In view of the strength of the comparisons that follow (iniquity, darkness, Belial, idols) we must probably see this as very much having in mind certain idolatrous associations, whether the participating in sacral meals in heathen temples, being members of trade guilds where acknowledgement of idols was necessary, or membership in some other such organisation, and even sexual misbehaviour through Temple liaisons. (It is tempting to think that there may have been an association or guild which connected itself with Belial or a god who could be paralleled with Belial).
‘Unequally yoked.’ Let them consider that it is important that when two animals are yoked together they be compatible. If they are not the result will do grave harm to the task in hand. For example an ox and a donkey will not make good yoke-fellows (Deuteronomy 22:10), and will wreck any attempts to achieve anything through such a compromise. In the same way Christians must not yoke themselves with those with whom they do not fit spiritually, those who have different aims, or who wish to go in a different direction, or whose methods might result in compromise. For under a yoke, either both are aiming for the same thing, or compromise is inevitable, and if they are yoked to unbelievers that is the road to disaster.
We can compare, for example, how he had reprimanded them for allowing their legal disputes with one another to be arbitrated by the secular courts ("in front of unbelievers," (1 Corinthians 6:1-6). How he had admonished them for joining with pagans in their cultic meals with the resulting compromise of loyalties (1 Corinthians 10:6-22). How he had had to rebuke them for approving of sexual unions with prostitutes, possibly cultic prostitutes (1 Corinthians 6:12-20). These and other such activities are in mind here.
He then applies this more specifically to their situation as Christians (and more specifically to ours). ‘For what fellowship have righteousness and iniquity? or what communion has light with darkness? And what concord has Christ with Belial? or what portion has a believer with an unbeliever’
‘For what fellowship have righteousness and iniquity?’ How can those who seek to walk in righteousness with God, and have ‘become the righteousness of God’ (2 Corinthians 5:21), live lives in common with, or associate closely with, those whose hearts are set on iniquity, on inward thoughts of evil? Righteousness and sin do not go together. One or the other will soon have to give way, for they are totally incompatible. There can be no compromise with sin. Yet those who are yoked to sinners will find themselves constantly having to do exactly that.
‘What communion has light with darkness?’ Again light and darkness are totally incompatible. Introduce light and away goes darkness. Thus both will have to live in semi-darkness. Neither will be comfortable. This is true whether it be the light of Christ in contrast to the darkness of unbelief and sin (John 3:19-21), or the light of righteous living (Matthew 5:16) in contrast with the darkness of selfishness and self-seeking (Matthew 6:22-23). For we who are Christians have been made partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light, and have been delivered from the power of darkness (Colossian 2 Corinthians 1:12-13). How then can we return to the dark? Consider also Romans 13:12 where the armour of light is in contrast to the works of darkness, stressing their incompatibility; 1 Thessalonians 5:5; Ephesians 5:8; Ephesians 5:11-14; Colossians .
‘And what concord has Christ with Belial?’ Here is the greatest contrast of all. Christ and Belial are totally incompatible. Belial is probably another name for Satan and in the Old Testament (where it is not a synonym for Satan) represents the ideas of worthlessness, rebellion, evil and lawlessness. See especially 1 Samuel 2:12, where the ‘sons of Belial’ contrast with the idea of knowing ‘the Lord’ by showing their disobedience to Him.
But the most significant reference is in 2 Chronicles 13:7, where the ‘sons of Belial’ having rebelled against the house of David, and therefore against God’s anointed (christos), chose to look to the golden calves, thus being divisive, and bringing about the great divide between Israel and Judah. This example alone might be seen as justifying the comparison, and explain Paul’s use of it here, for it fits exactly. The ‘sons of Belial’ reject the anointed one of God, and destroyed the unity of God’s people by consorting with idolatry. In contrast those who are Christ’s rejoice in God’s Anointed, and in Him are thus again one united people. So they must choose which they will follow, Christ or Belial.
But in intertestamental literature, especially at Qumran, Belial had become a personal enemy of God, prince of demons and possibly a synonym for Satan, which would give deeper significance to the above references. And it may well be that such an idea was known in Corinth, possibly through Judaisers, otherwise why use it in this letter? (Paul may even have been termed by them a ‘son of Belial’, drawing out his sarcastic comment that Satan has fashioned himself into an angel of light - 2 Corinthians 11:14).
‘And what agreement has a temple of God with idols? For we are a temple of the living God, even as God said, “I will dwell in them, and walk in them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” ’
We note the progression that has been leading up to this, righteousness and iniquity; light and darkness; Christ and Belial; and now the living temple of God and idols. God’s people have been made righteous (2 Corinthians 5:21); have received light (2 Corinthians 4:4-6); are in Christ, in God’s Anointed (2 Corinthians 1:5; 2 Corinthians 2:14-15; 2 Corinthians 5:17) and have thus become the temple of the living God (1 Corinthians 3:9; 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 1 Corinthians 6:19). This is in contrast with those who live in iniquity; walk in darkness; are ‘sons of Belial’; and are caught up with false gods.
Idols were ever to be wholly excluded from the temple of God in Jerusalem, and Israel’s sin through the centuries lay partly in their introduction of idols into His Temple. It was their failure to put these away that was continually levelled against them, and exclusion of idols from the temple had become paramount in the eyes of all Jews after the Exile, as accentuated by what had happened under Antiochus Epiphanes when a pig had been offered in the Temple to Zeus. Thus the Temple of God and idols were seen to be totally incompatible, and no one would be more aware of that than Paul.
Yet that the Corinthians were dallying with idolatry has come out in 1 Corinthians 8:0; 1 Corinthians 10:7; 1 Corinthians 10:20-22; 1 Corinthians 10:24-31. Is this not partly an explanation of their attitude towards him? They do not like his strictures on their way of life. They want to dally with idolatry, claiming that they scorn it. Now Paul seeks to bring home the lesson more firmly. Enough is enough. Let them now recognise, as those who are Christ’s, the incompatibility of all that is to do with idols.
Let them consider the words of God. Has not God said, “I will dwell in them, and walk in them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” Thus they themselves are the temple of the living God, even as God said, and must therefore have no connection with idolatry. There is no place in the Temple of God for idols. These words are a paraphrase of Leviticus 26:11-12, which reads, ‘And I will set my dwellingplace among you, --- and I will walk among you, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people.’
The verb translated live with (enoikeo) means to "inhabit" or "be at home," and the idea is active rather than passive. It is a stronger word than to ‘tabernacle’ among them. So God is dwelling among them permanently and is at home with them as their Lord. His kingship has been established. The next clause actually means to "walk in and around" (en [in] + peri [around] + pateo [walk]). God does not merely exercise his rights as Lord but moves with authority as their Lord from one section to another.
The third clause, ‘I will be their God and they will be my people’, is a recurring promise of Yahweh to Israel in the Old Testament. The first occurrence is in Leviticus 26:12, but it also appears in Jeremiah 31:33; Jeremiah 32:38 (connected with the new covenant) and Ezekiel 37:27 (connected with the everlasting covenant); see also Ezekiel 11:20; Ezekiel 36:28. It is a confirmation that the covenant has been ratified. There is now a movement of emphasis from the dwellingplace to the covenant, and the language is that of a great lord to a vassal. We may note in this connection how, in the immediately preceding verse, the LXX has "I will put my covenant among you" (compare the Masoretic Text, "I will put my dwelling place among you"). Under the terms of the treaty that bound king and vassal together, the king agreed to deliver and protect the vassal, and the vassal promised sole allegiance and obedience. That is why the worship of God and fraternising with idolatry was fundamentally incompatible as Paul has just brought out. They cannot have communion with Christ and communion with devils (1 Corinthians 10:16-21). They cannot have Christ and Belial (the worthless one). They must choose. The connection with the covenant ties back with 2 Corinthians 3:6-14
‘Wherefore “Come you out from among them, and be you separate,” says the Lord, “And touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you, and will be to you a Father, And you shall be to me sons and daughters,” says the Lord Almighty.’
So in response to His sovereignty and the ratification of the covenant they must come out from the world and be separate, avoiding contact with all that is unclean, that is, in this context, all that is connected with idolatry and the sins connected with it. This may refer to food known to have been offered to idols, or to the temple catamites and prostitutes, or to sexual misbehaviour, or all of these. Jesus, however, went further. He defined unclean in the New Testament sense in these terms, ‘fornication, thefts, murders, adulteries, coveting, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, ranting and raving, pride, foolishness’ (Mark 7:22). All such uncleanness must be avoided.
Paul’s words are possibly based on Isaiah 52:11, where the command to ‘come out from there, touch no unclean thing’ is given but it is not intended to be a direct quotation. It is the idea rather than the actual literal Scripture which he saw as important. God’s people must come out to Him from the world and separate themselves to Him leaving behind all that is unclean. Since He takes up His home among us, they in turn (as we are) are called to separate themselves from everything that is incompatible with his holiness. The verbs are aorist imperatives (exelthate, aphoristhete) indicating that immediate and decisive once-for-all separation is called for.
‘Says the Lord.’ This is not in the text of Isaiah but is Paul’s addition to stress from Whom the command comes.
The pledge is then given that if His people will obey Him, then God will receive them and be a father to them, and they, in turn, will be to Him sons and daughters (2 Corinthians 6:17-18).
I will receive you is possibly drawn from Ezekiel 20:34 LXX ("I will receive you from the countries where you had been scattered," ). The second part is taken from 2 Samuel 7:14, "I will be his father, and he will be my son." Paul sees God's promise to David, that he will be a father to Solomon, and that Solomon will be a son to him, fulfilled again in God's relationships with His people. But the singular son is here changed to the plural sons, and the phrase ‘and daughters’ is added, possibly under the influence of Isaiah 43:6, "Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth". There is to be a family relationship and family affection between God and his people.
This whole string of Old Testament part references concludes with the phrase ‘says the Lord Almighty’. The phrase is a familiar one in the LXX (but unique in Paul). The term pantokrator, which translates the Hebrew seba’ot, is commonly rendered "almighty" but actually means "master of all things" or "ruler of all". With this phrase Paul emphasises the awesome truth that it is the One who rules over all Who chooses to dwell among us and be our Father.
This use of pantokrater suggests that there is a good possibility that this string of loosely bound together extracts from Scripture may have been found by Paul in a record of such quotations, and that he quotes them as he found them, for the references to the Lord sound as though they are part of a quotation. He could not carry his Bible around with him. Such lists are known, for example, from Qumran. But if this be so he puts his stamp of approval on it.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 6". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29