Second Corinthians 6:3–13 . . .
Our Endurance of Hardships
Seeing that Apostle Paul traveled about the Roman Empire, we learn from Scripture that he was frequently accused of being crazy. People heard him testify about his remarkable experience on the Damascus Road. They saw his dedication and commitment to life, which took him away from highly desired comforts and pleasures. Yet, despite the fact that a good many people saw Paul as being crazy, the apostle didn't seem to mind this. Let's see how the apostle describes his own dedicated life. (Please read vv. 3–10 now, shown below, before continuing this summary.)
Paul begins in v. 3 by showing how uncrazy yet careful he is before men. That's what the ministry of reconciliation, which God has given to you, will require. Then, in vv. 4–7, the apostle shows us how his ministry is approved by God. Finally, in vv. 8–10, in this great series of paradoxes, he reveals how his life confuses the world, just as your life today ought to confound and confuse the world in which you live, so that people are unable to explain your personality and actions by the normal measurements of life.
Let's address v. 3, wherein Paul shows how careful his ministry is before men. It's very important that we have an awareness of what we look like to others, that we're careful not to allow anything in our lives to turn off someone from becoming a Christian. Paul lived continually with that objective in mind, saying, ". . . so that our ministry will not be discredited" or found faulty. But people did find fault with him! As we learn in this section, he was accused of being a deceiver, a phony, a false apostle, one filled with ambition, pride, and sarcasm. But he points out that not one accusation stuck! He knew in his heart that they were false accusations, that he'd "put no obstacle [stumbling block]" in anyone's approach to accepting Christ. This is a tremendously noteworthy attribute for Paul.
As this great apostle traveled about, the first thing he carefully verified was that he left no offense in his life that would cause one to stumble. Paul lived in this continual awareness, being very careful to see that no fault was found in his ministry.
We ought next to realize Paul's sense of approval before God, as highlighted in v. 4a. Endurance is the key there. God, looking upon Paul's life, is pleased and glorified by the fact that no matter what happens to Paul, he sticks with it; he endures as he "stays under the pressure." That's the mark of a true Christian.
Paul goes on to list certain pressures in groups of threes, which fall into three categories.
» First, there were tough circumstances: troubles, hardships, and distresses.
» Second, he speaks of calamities: beatings, imprisonments, and riots
» Third, there were imprisonments: hard work, sleepless nights, and hunger
The above-referenced pressures were things that he chose for himself. His work of preaching and of making tents at night meant long nights of sleeplessness and many missed meals, because he was trying to keep active while paying his expenses. He didn't have to do those things but he chose to because it was part of his deep and strong commitment to spread the "good news" to those around him. So in these three categories — tough circumstances, tough opposition, and tough commitments — he faced continual pressure. Yet he never quit. This is what made him "approved" by God.
Not only did he face these conditions, but, in the midst of them he displayed a certain character. There are two divisions here, each containing four parts. The first four are consistent qualities of the apostle's life: purity, knowledge, forbearance, and kindness (i.e., thoughtfulness, courtesy, warmth in our words and our tone of voice, no coldness, and no sharp, cutting sarcasm). The four qualities characterized the apostle's powerful manifestations in his life.
Regarding the next four qualities, Paul goes deeper, showing the resources he relied on. First in the list is the Holy Spirit. When you became a Christian, God gave you the Holy Spirit to live in you perpetually. He'll never leave you or forsake you; he's your constant companion through life; your helper, strengthener, comforter, guide. That's why Paul looked to the Holy Spirit, and that's why Paul puts him first. Linked to that is genuine, sincere love. The Living Spirit was the disciples' companion through their troubles and trials. He's our constant loving companion, too. The third resource, "truthful speech," likely refers directly to "the word of truth," i.e., the Scriptures, the knowledge of how God sees life. Finally, the power of God, who would make even the simplest of things have an impact far beyond what could ordinarily be expected (i.e., an impact with the power to change people).
The next area of Paul's approval before God is the conflict that he wages. Paul writes here (and in chapter 10) of weapons of righteousness, saying they're not ordinary, human tools and programs. Like Paul, we must confront many of the today's social injustices: racial strife, drug traffic, erosion of morals, breakdown of the home and family, rise in crime, danger from international warfare, and so on, by using weapons of righteousness. He was aware that he was in a formidable spiritual combat; he didn't employ ordinary pressure tactics, legislative corrections, etc. Instead, he used prayer, faith, love, and righteous behavior as weapons to attack the problems around him. He did that whether he was popular or unpopular.
Paul next presents a wonderful series of five self-evident contrasts: (1) We are "regarded as impostors"; (2) some were calling him a false apostle — "known, yet regarded as unknown" — because he wasn't one of the twelve; (3) he is unknown, and yet known in heaven, known throughout the universe (v. 9b); (4) he keeps returning, keeps reappearing on the scene, despite all the dangers and trials he'd faced (v. 9c); and (5) as a loving father, God chastened the apostle, as he chastens us (v. 10).
We saw in last week's study Paul describing the nature of this ministry in the closing verses of chapter 5. Now he confronts an obstacle that will invariably defeat him, the Corinthians, and all believers: "restricted or withheld affection" (vv. 11–13). Paul loved the people in Corinth, and he manifested that love in various ways toward them. When he says, "We have spoken freely to you, . . . and opened wide our hearts to you," he's communicating with them with brotherly love. He told them what was going on in his own life; he shared his feelings, struggles, failures, pressures, problems, and concerns with them, which is a mark of love.
Though he knew their struggles, weaknesses, heartaches, failures, and resistance, still he loved them. Unfortunately, they weren't loving him back; they failed to understand the reciprocal nature of love, which is a two-way street. They were closed and unresponsive, resulting in "withheld affection." That's why Paul pleads with them, saying in effect: Oh! Corinthians, widen your hearts unto us. You aren't restricted by us, you're restricted by yourselves, in your own affections. If you really want to experience the richness of love, then love back when you're loved.
There's nothing crazy about Paul who encouraged the Corinthians to "love when loved." Confronting the obstacle of "withheld affection," which will invariably defeat the Corinthians and us, his three closing verses lovingly beseech us to carefully obey God's reconciliation offer.
- Q. 1 When you face continual pressure(s), e.g., tough circumstances, tough opposition, and tough commitments, what keeps you from throwing in the towel?
- Q. 2 What is Paul asking the Corinthians (and us) to do in vv. 11–13 (see 3:2–3; 4:15)?
- Q. 3 By what standards do you gauge success? How do your own standards compare with vv. 4–10?
2 Corinthians 6:3–13
New International Version (NIV)
[You can view it in a different version by clicking here; you can also listen to chapter 6.]
3We put no stumbling block in anyone's path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. 4Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; 5in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; 6in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; 7in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; 8through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; 9known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; 10sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
11We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. 12We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. 13As a fair exchange — I speak as to my children — open wide your hearts also.