Paul continues his instructions to the Corinthian church in chapter 6 by reminding them of the need to respond to the grace of God. 2 Corinthians 6:1 makes it clear that the grace of God is intended to result in response, else Paul would not caution the church that they are at risk of receiving grace in vain.
The chapter carries on to discuss the challenges faced by Paul and his fellow ministers and how they have endured the hardships placed on them for the sake of the Gospel. That’s the area we’ll return to in a moment.
Then we have the infamous passage used by multitudes of preachers (including me once or twice) to tell people not marry non-Christians. While that is an extrapolation from 2 Corinthians 6:14-17, there is so much more that this passage is about and we tend to overlook it, for the sake of focusing on just one application. Again, it’s a valid application—but one would also be wise to apply it to strong business relationships and to political alliances.
I’d like us to put the magnifying glass, though, on 2 Corinthians 6:3. This verse heads up Paul’s summary of what he and his companions have gone through in terms of trials and difficulties.
The noteworthy concept here that Paul stresses is choosing not to give an offense to anyone, for the sake of the ministry he is called to. Yet if he is striving to be unoffensive, why the laundry list of things that have gone wrong? Paul raises generic problems, like afflictions and hardships, and then goes on to specific issues: riots, beatings, times of hunger…all of which sound bad.
That list, though, is connected to a list of things that sound like good experiences: purity, knowledge, patience, kindness…the list even goes on to include the Holy Spirit and the power of God!
We should not go so far wrong here as to think Paul makes no distinction between the good things that happened to him and the bad things that happen to him. As is evident in his other writings, he would far prefer to have the power of God and the Holy Spirit than a beating and some imprisonment.
What we should recognize, though, is that Paul would rather take a beating than not have the power of God. He’ll take a sleepless night if it leads to the Holy Spirit, survive being the target of riots if he grows patience through them.
What will we endure for the sake of the ministry?
First, will we be committed to giving no offense to anyone except for the Gospel? By this, will we allow them to run over us if it allows us to show them their need for Jesus? For example: will we argue with a man for not standing for a nation to the point that we cannot tell him of the Cross of Christ? Will we scrub the pork from our neighborhood block party to earn time with that family in hijabs?
Second, will we embrace our difficulties for the sake of our own benefit? How often do we structure our lives, our churches, our speaking so that we avoid imprisonment, riot, labor, and sleepless nights? Yet then we wonder why we lack knowledge, patience, purity, the power of God and the Holy Spirit! We have disdained that which God has ordained for our own sanctification.
Let us pay attention to the one thing that matters: we are surrounded by people in need of the Savior. If He has done for us what we believe He has done for us, then why will we not break a sweat for others?
First, let’s take a gander at vv. 14-16. As mentioned above, these verses are typically used to discuss marriage with unbelievers, and it’s a valid application. But what are the other ways could this apply? After all, is Paul writing to a context where individuals actually chose their spouse? Not often. The more likely application (in context) of this passage to marriage would have been parents arranging marriages for their children.
But isn’t it deeper? Remember that the actual meaning is unchanging and would have been understood by the original audience as well. This applies not only to marriage but any form of “partnership.” It’s business. It’s political. It’s what sides you choose in the next Roman Civil War. The meaning is about choosing God-honoring relationships in general, and the application carries through to today. It is about who you marry and who you work with and who you choose in the Civil War (Team Cap!) and who you vote for.
Second, look at Paul’s Old Testament quotation at the end. It’s a hodgepodge, indicating that Paul either really knew his Tanakh or perhaps had one handy. It is fascinating to see how he stitched passages together, though.