2. Corinthians 6 – Fellow Workers of God
Read or listen the Second Epistle to the Corinthians - chapter 6 online (ESV, Bible Gateway)
The Work of Christ Cannot Be in Vain – 2 Cor 6:1-2
The division of the Bible into chapters and verses has been done much later than the writing of the text itself. St. Paul did not divide this letter into 13 chapters, but it was done later. These verses 1-2 are very closely connected to what Paul spoke in the end of chapter 5. It is necessary to recap 2 Cor 5:18-21. God reconciled with the whole world when Christ was made to be sin and He took all the sins of the world to the cross.
If people do not receive the knowledge of what Christ has done for them, then the atoning sacrifice of Jesus will be in vain on their behalf. It is as if we have a lot of money on our bank account, but we don’t know about it, and therefore, we will not know to use it. Unfortunately, there are also those who hear about the sacrifice of Jesus and reject it. Therefore, Paul warns the Corinthians: You must accept and receive God’s grace, or it will be in vain (verse 1).
We cannot know the length of our lives, not even whether we will live tomorrow. Therefore, it is crucial to receive salvation today (speaking of those who do not know Christ yet) or live according to the salvation we are a part of (speaking of believers). Verse 2 is a reference to Isa 49:8 and it speaks to all, both Christians and non-Christians.
“God’s fellow workers” comes from the Greek word synergountes, which has the prefix of syn, “with, together”. We are therefore workers of God being at work together with God. God works through us; He gives us strength and wisdom for it. We are not alone and dependent only on our own strength.
From this verse we should never derive the herecy of having to do good works for our salvation (e.g., synergism). We work for the salvation of others by God’s word, but we can do nothing to save ourselves.
Bearers of the Cross – 2 Cor 6:3-10
St. Paul described the difficulties of the office of apostleship in 2 Cor 4:7-12. After this passage we still have two others speaking of the same thing: 2 Cor 11:23-33 and 12:10. Why does Paul speak of these difficulties of an apostle a total of four times in the Letter? Apparently, the reason was to attack the wrong teachings of his opponents. They were “prosperity preachers” who stated that Paul’s difficulties were a sign that God had not blessed his ministry. This kind of preaching is awfully too common today as well. Jesus did not promise an easy future. On the opposite, Jesus often spoke about carrying your cross and future difficulties, see f. ex. Matt 10:34-42. Luther held the cross as one sign of the true faith: God’s elect will face many afflictions, sometimes even persecution, because of faith.
Even though Paul wrote in verse 3 that he gives no obstacle or reason to be offended in his ministry, he continues by describing things why people must have been offended by him (verses 4 and 5).
Paul did not say that he shall not offend anyone, but that he does not want to give reasons to be offended. Paul knew very well that some will be offended by the preaching of the gospel, but that should never hinder the preaching (ref. 1 Cor 2:1-5). Paul never intentionally offended anyone, but the gospel might offend if people refuse to listen. But how do we do? Do we offend people intentionally? Do we speak the gospel so clearly that it can be an offence and a stumbling block?
In the end part of verse 3 Paul says he is not afraid of his own reputation but his office as an apostle. Many of us are instead worried about ourselves and not the kingdom of God.
In verses 4 and 5 Paul lists different hardships he has faced because of the gospel. But he then reminds in verses 6 and 7 that he has never fought alone, bot God has been with him.
Verse 7 speaks of “the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left”. The Ancient Roman weapons for the right and the left hand are a sword and a shield. Paul wants to state that God has given a weapon for both defence and offence. From Eph 6:16-17: “In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one…and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God”. (See the whole armor of God in Eph 6:10-17 and 2 Cor 10:4-6).
It might be that in verses 8-10 St. Paul refers to certain accusations against him. If so, then his opponents accused Paul of being dishonored, slandered, and an imposter (ref. Acts 17:6). He was unknown, almost dead, abused, sorrowful, and poor. To these points Paul gives a clear answer from God: “but…” Humanly speaking everything seemed terrible, but when God is at work, weakness can become the strength (2 Cor 12:10).
Verses 8-10 also point out that the gospel divides people: some honored and some dishonored Paul and the gospel he preached (verse 8).
What has the richness Paul spoke of (verse 10)? Spiritual richness is the greatest richness of all since it does not only matter in this life but even after death. We can only bring our faith or disbelief with us as we die! In Christ we have everything; without Christ we have nothing (see f. ex. Luke 12:21; Eph 3:8-9; Phil 4:19; Col 2:1-4).
The transgression of a spiritual leader is greater than of others for two reasons (and therefore especially favorable to Satan):
1. The transgression of a leader easily leads his flock to transgressions as well.
2. The transgressions of leaders are a great joy for the opponents of the church: “That is how Christians are…” (especially the “gutter press” is interested in these stories).
It is a highly important teaching of Paul that we should pray for our leaders. Paul asked prayers even for himself (Eph 6:18-20). He also warned that not everyone is suitable to be a leader of the church (1 Tim 5:17-22).
You Reap What You Have Sown – 2 Cor 6:11-13
Although Timothy (2 Cor 1:1) is mentioned as the second sender of the Letter, the pronoun “we” in verse 11 refers only to a manner of speaking. St. Paul does not command but appeals to the Corinthians. You cannot force love. But you can invoke or inspire love, but never demand and command.
It is important to remember the proverb: “You reap what you have sown”. Stirring up trouble and sowing suspicion only produces more suspicion. Acting openly might at first feel vulnerable and dangerous and it is often considered as weakness. But in the true sense “playing” your neighbour by hidden agendas is the true sign of weakness: There is no strength to face things openly.
A Christian must always be open and sincere. God sees everything; Even if we succeed in cheating people, we will never cheat God.
Giving and receiving gifts is understood even by children (verse 13). Unfortunately, even adults are very childish concerning gifts. Thankfully God has given us the greatest gift, Jesus Christ, although He knew very well what kind of “gift” we would give in return.
Avoid Wrong Fellowship – 2 Cor 6:14-18
If verses 6:14-7:1 would be left out, the Letter would continue seamlessly. Because of this idea some scholars have concluded that this part is a later addition to the text. But we must know that writing a letter in that time was very slow. Dictating the message word by word to a scribe takes long: It has been estimated that it took about 100 hours for St. Paul to dictate the Letter to Romans. Tools for writing were not as high quality as today. Therefore, it is no wonder that many of Paul’s Letters have passages that don’t seem to fit a concise pattern of saying things. Slow dictating might easily leave space for additional ideas coming to mind in between the dictating of the previous statement.
In this view we can understand that after dictating verses 11-13 Paul felt it important to clarify his message. He gave some boundaries to what he means by asking the Corinthians to “widen their hearts”. Perhaps his advice in 1 Cor 10:23-33 was misunderstood; His advice was used and a reason to continue the old idol worship alongside Christian faith.
The Old Testament forbids putting an ox and a donkey together as a yoke (Deut 22:10). This would be an unnatural thing to do since the donkey would be hurt because of being the weaker animal. A yoke ties a pair of animals to pull to the same direction, for instance, to plow a field. As much as pairing two different animals is unnatural, so is it impossible for a believer and a pagan to live together as partners.
Here, St. Paul is not saying that Christians should isolate themselves from the world (ref. 1 Cor 5:9-11), but to take care that we will not conform to non-Christian ways of living and turn back to idol worship.
The connection of a believer and unbeliever always includes the idea that the difference between the two will decrease and cease to exist. It is not evident that a Christian would pull the other to be like him, but the Christian might be tempted to conform to be like his pagan friend. “Bad company ruins good morals” (1 Cor 15:33). As humans, we have a natural tendency to reject God.
Because of the reasons above, this passage is often applied to marriage. St. Paul speaks of marriage in 1 Cor 7:1-6 and his teaching there corresponds well to what he says here.
Paul presents five questions of fellowship, which we should respond with: “These two have nothing in common, fellowship is impossible!”
- Righteousness - lawlessness
- Light - darkness
- Christ - Belial
- Believer - unbeliever
- Temple of God - idols
Belial (verse 15) is a word in Hebrew derived from belija’al, which means wicked or worthless. In Judaism it is a name for Satan. This is the only occurrence of the word in the New Testament.
Because the Holy Spirit lives in every Christian, he is a temple of God (1 Cor 3:16; 6:19).
Verses 16-18 combine five parts of the Old Testament into one reference:
1. Leviticus 26:11-12
2. Ezek 37:27
3. Isa 52:11
4. Ezek 20:34, 41
5. 2 Sam 7:14
St. Paul had to refer to the Old Testament by his memory. Often, he also combined different passages into one account. Paul could not carry the scrolls of the entire Old Testament with him, and he could not have afforded such a precious collection of the Scriptures (ref. 2 Tim 4:13). At that time the Bible was not divided into chapters or verses for accurate references so Paul could not give an exact reference in any case.
We must often consider idol worship in different mission fields, although we also have “invisible” idol worship, f. ex. worshiping money or ourselves. The connections to the old religions must be cut and the old rejected. Still, people often delay going for Baptism, because it is not only the gate into Christian faith but also a clear sign of fully rejecting all previous religion (ref. crossing the Red Sea, 1 Cor 10:1-11). We must pray for missionaries for wisdom and endurance in this difficult matter.
2 Cor 7:1 belongs to this passage as well, but we will go through it in the explanation of the next chapter.