DEVOTIONALS from Second Corinthians
OUR TRIUMPH IN UNION WITH CHRIST
A Review of Ministry in Corinth and a Passionate Appeal
2 Corinthians 6: 11-16
Gordon E. Johnson
Rio Grande Bible Institute
Our challenge is to feel the flow of Paul's passionate heart for his Corinthians converts.
He begins his letter with a doxology of praise as he shares his deepest suffering and his "sentence of death" in Asia that redounded to their consolation (chapter 1); there was, indeed, sharp criticism of him by some, but it in no way changed his ever deepening love of them (chapter 2); his apostolic message shines brightly: the glorious freedom of the Spirit's ministry compared to the Old Testament law (chapter 3); the buoyancy of Christ as a treasure in earthen vessels and its eternal value (chapter 4); a majestic in depth understanding of the Atonement, the Message of the Cross (chapter 5); the description of the manner of doing ministry in terms of virtues and trials (chapter 6:1-10).
Such a quick survey does no justice to the depth of Paul's grasp of the Message of the Cross, But in the face of a certain historical reality, Paul is about to appeal lovingly to his beloved converts. His overt love for them exceeds that of other church relationships. That difficult reality, however, will add greater depth to our appreciation of 2 Corinthians and Paul's unique pastoral heart. For anyone involved in ministry, Paul is a yardstick by which to compare our availability to God and his church.
Corinth, Paul's Most Beloved but Deeply Troubled Church Acts 18
On Paul's second missionary journey Corinth became the focal point of ministry for 18 months. In fact, in a vision God had said: "Do not be afraid to speak, and do not keep silent; for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city" (Acts. 18:9,10). Out of that fruitful ministry grew warm ties with the Corinthians brethren. Paul's love challenges anyone who may face similar times of difficulty. Paul lived out the Message of the Cross.
The First Epistle to the Corinthians is a series of Paul's answers to their sincere questions. The questions reveal a truly conflicted church, but Paul with grace and tact responds to his own children in the faith. In the church were deep divisions (chapter 1), carnality (chapter 3), factions who questioned Paul's integrity (chapter 4), a grievous immoral sin (chapter 5), litigations and immorality in the city famous worldwide for its loose living (chapter 6), marriage confusion (chapter 7), problems with idolatry, scruples, worldliness (chapters 8-10), cultural excesses in church functions (chapter 11), confusion and disorder in worship and gifts (chapters 12-14) and questions about the resurrection (chapter 15).
One might ask: How can one church have so many problems? But this church was a beachhead in virgin territory in the ancient world's most sinful city. Paul had invested 18 months of his life there in the will of God; Paul would ultimately "travail until Christ was formed" in them. Now we can better appreciate his manner of living as just described: "in much patience, giving no offense in anything, that our ministry may not be blamed" (2 Corinthians 6: 3, 4).
Paul's Heartfelt Appeal 2 Corinthians 6: 11
With the historical survey we can begin to gauge Paul's passionate appeal. "O Corinthians!" We have spoken openly to you, our heart is wide open" (6:11). Later he will express his measure of love to them in startling terms: "And I will gladly spend and be spent for your souls; although the more abundantly I love you, the less I am loved." (2 Corinthians 12:15). Here is a true glimpse of the Paul's heart. He did not minister in terms of their service to him but rather his service to them, even when they judged him harshly and falsely. That is the true test of Calvary Love.
Paul showed his love for others also. He did say to the Galatians: "O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth" (Galatians 3:1). To his Galatians converts he said: "My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you. I would like to be present with you and to change my tone; for have doubts about you" (Galatians 4:19, 20). His pastoral heart saw a distinct possibility of apostasy; they were beginning to follow another gospel which was anathema. But as always, Paul was faithful to guard the spiritual well being of his own.
To the church in Philippi that alone ministered to his financial needs, he appeals affectionately: "Therefore, my beloved and longed-for brethren, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, beloved" (Philippians 4:1). In times of urgent need and in moments of gratitude, Paul expresses his deepest love for his converts.
Only those who know the deep disappointments that may occur in ministry can truly appreciate Paul's selfless heart. I have tasted, on occasion, that loss of friendship. But our disappointment is nothing compared to our Lord's: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing" (Luke 13:34).
The Appeal that Confronts the Problem 2 Corinthians 6: 12, 13
The time has come when Paul must confront with the truth a segment of the church. He has always been aware that were those who openly questioned his integrity, inferring his being fickle (1:17), in fact, a usurper, not a true apostle. He has lived with that knowledge throughout these chapters 1-6.
He has chosen rather to let his apostolic message speak for itself. His message, his motivation and his manner of living stand squarely on the Message of the Cross. The presentation of the Message is more important to him than his personal defense. But now he must deal with their error. [This will be the theme of a later of the letter - 2 Corinthians 10-12]
In times of tension it is not easy to know how to proceed. Only the Message of the Cross deeply worked into our soul can cancel out our "hurt", supposed "offense" and enable us to seek the recovery of the one in error's way. This is not the time for the self righteous exercising of personal authority, much less self defense.
Still, however, truth must take its full course of conviction, brokenness, repentance and obedience. This is no time to let sentiment rule or kingdom building appear. Paul will insist on the role of truth from a mosaic of Old Testament passages in his demand for no compromise whatsoever with ungodliness.
"You are not restricted (straitened in) by us, but you are restricted (straitened in) by your own affections. Now in return for the same, (I speak as to children), you also be open" (12, 13). After expressing truly his love for them and his deep desire to see their return to a full embracing of the grace of God, he says clearly that their problem is their narrowness, their unwillingness to accept his message. He now will give them his message in no uncertain terms. It will be couched, not in personal terms, but rather in the authority of the Old Testament.
God Has Spoken in the Law and Prophets 2 Corinthians 6: 14-18
In quite a different mood (6:11), Paul addresses their sin and lays the demands of the inspired Scriptures before them. Paul's love continues but it is "tough love". All too often we have judged love to make few if any demands. But our Lord put is squarely before his disciples. "He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me . . . He who does not love Me does not keep My words" (John 14: 21, 23).
Paul's presentation is a mosaic of texts woven together from the law and the prophets. Our Lord himself taught the two on the road to Emmaus in that same fashion (Luke 26: 27). The Old Testament was indeed the only Scriptures the apostles had. Their use of the law and prophets is an eloquent testimony to the organic unity of the two testaments. Israel and the Church have had different functions in their day, but when God speaks, he speaks with equal authority. "God, who at various times and in different ways spoke in time past to the father by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us my His Son . . ." (Hebreos 1: 1-4."
Now the commands of Scripture and logic: "Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God" (6:14-16). Could anything be plainer that these five rhetorical questions?
In undisputable terms Paul shows how diametrically opposed are God's ways and the world's ways. There can be no compromise, no temporizing, no accommodation to the differences. As far as the North Pole is from the South Pole, so far apart are the spiritual and the sinful.
In these days of Postmodernism its proponents seek to remove all moral barriers from conduct and relationships. This present generation of believers must return to the stark reality that you cannot feed on the "husks" of the world and expect spiritual discernment and growth.
Our next lesson will apply these truths to our age.
Yours in the Message of the Cross,
Gordon E. Johnson
Rio Grande Bible Institute
Edinburg, TX 78539