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Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians 6

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

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Paul here discussed the trials of ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 6:1-10), made a strong emotional appeal to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 6:11-13), and gave instructions against Christians mixing with the pagans (2 Corinthians 6:14-18).

Verse 1

And working together with him we entreat also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain.

The words WITH HIM are italicized in the English Revised Version (1885), indicating that they are not a part of the Greek text; and, as often in such additions, the meaning is obscured rather than clarified. The thought is that Paul himself was working together with both God and the Corinthians, which work was necessary even for an apostle, that he might not have received the grace of God in vain. He entreated them also to observe the same diligent activity on behalf of the gospel that he was demonstrating in his own life.


Grace of God in vain … No apostle could have warned against such a possibility if it never existed; and the words of Olshausen (quoted by Hughes) on this passage are true. He said:

Paul unquestionably considers the possibility of grace received by the individual being again lost … the dangerous error of predestination, which asserts that grace cannot be lost, is unknown to Scripture.(F1)

In fairness to Hughes, it should be noted that he rejected this, declaring that Olshausen’s opinion "can only have been dictated by prejudice … the doctrine of predestination is certainly not unknown in Scripture."(F2) Such a rebuttal to obvious truth, however, is typical; but it is not prejudice to read the Holy Scriptures exactly as they are written; and, while it is true enough that predestination is taught in the Scriptures (as regards the body of Christ, and not as it regards individuals), it is not predestination which is denied, but the ERROR OF IT (as Olshausen said) which interprets the doctrine as teaching that a true Christian CANNOT fall from grace and be eternally lost. The POSSIBILITY is plainly inferred in the strongest possible manner by Paul in this very verse.

Receiving God’s grace in vain was a fate with which the Corinthians were flirting in a most dangerous manner through their close association with the pagan society around them; and McGarvey accurately viewed this verse as "an introduction" to the stern admonitions beginning in 2 Corinthians 6:14; but "Before giving the warning (2 Corinthians 6:14 ff), he paused to establish his character, influence and authority among them."(F3)

As Plumptre said:

The Corinthians had believed and been baptized, and so they "had received the grace"; but the freedom to choose good or evil still remained, and if they chose evil they would frustrate the end for which the grace was given.(F4)

There is nothing unbiblical in the concept of a Christian’s "working" to avoid receiving the grace of God in vain. Did not this same apostle command the Philippians to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12)? Was Paul not himself "working together" with God, with the Corinthians, or with his fellow apostles (as variously interpreted) as stated in this very verse. And in such work is there the slightest hint of the grace of God being denied as the true source of salvation? How preposterous, therefore, is the remark of Tasker to the effect that these Corinthians were already working and even depending on their works for salvation! He said: "Perhaps they still clung to the belief that they could achieve their own salvation; and to harbor any such delusion is to receive the grace of God IN VAIN!"(F5) It is much more likely that the Corinthians were suffering from the delusion that they would be saved "by faith alone" even while linking up in the most shameful manner with pagan associates.

Verse 2

(For he saith, At an acceptable time I hearkened unto thee, and in a day of salvation did I succor thee: behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation).

The passage in Isaiah from which this comes is:

Thus saith the Lord, In an acceptable time have I heard thee, and in a day of salvation have I helped thee: I will preserve thee and give thee for a covenant of the people, to establish the earth (Isaiah 49:8).

This passage was addressed "To the Servant of Jehovah, the type primarily of Christ, and then of all who are `in Christ.’"(F6) Thus it is clear that in his appeal to this scripture, Paul was referring to the gospel age as "the day of salvation" and the "acceptable time." However, Paul at once added some inspired comment of his own making the application personal and immediate.

Now is the acceptable time … now is the day of salvation … The urgency of immediate acceptance of the gospel was also stressed by the author of Hebrews (Hebrews 3:7-8; Hebrews 3:13), and for discussion of this subject, see my Commentary on Hebrews, pp. 74-75.

Now … It should be noted that this tightens the urgency even beyond the passage of Hebrews. There, the message is "TODAY … harden not your hearts"; here it is "NOW is the day of salvation."

Verse 3

Giving no occasion of stumbling in anything, that our ministration be not blamed.

Hillyer has a quotation which catches the background of Paul’s thought in this place. "There are people who will be glad of an excuse not to listen to the gospel or to take it seriously, and they will look for such an excuse in the conduct of its ministers."(F7) It was precisely to avoid giving anyone such an excuse that Paul so strenuously defended his own reputation. No minister can be careless of the opinion that others may hold concerning his life and conduct.

Verse 4

But in everything commending ourselves as ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses.

Commending ourselves … refers to the exhibition and demonstration in Paul’s life of the utmost integrity of character which was daily exemplified in all of the patterns of his total behavior.

Ministers of God … Paul included other apostles with himself in this, as "ministers of God"; but he also called himself the "servant of Christ" (Romans 1:1). In this, of course, he could not have meant that he was the servant of two masters, because Jesus had flatly declared that "No man can serve two masters" (Matthew 6:24). The meaning is plain. Paul considered God and Christ as one.

In much patience … Regarding the word thus rendered, Barclay said:

It is an untranslatable word … It describes the ability to bear things in such a triumphant way that it transfigures them and transmutes them. Chrysostom has a great panegyric on this [@hupomone], this triumphant Christian endurance. He calls it the root of all goods, the mother of piety, the fruit that never withers, a fortress that is never taken, a harbor that knows no storms.(F8)

This great word flies like a banner over the whole succeeding list.

All of the following difficult circumstances, called by Chrysostom "a blizzard of troubles,"(F9) and by Broomall "a multicolored rainbow glowing with the graces of Paul’s ministry"(F10) are listed by Paul without regard to any strict outline. It should be remembered that Paul was writing a letter by dictation and that he was not formulating some classical essay. A failure to do this very thing is responsible for most of the wild speculation by scholars regarding this epistle.

In afflictions … Paul was beset by countless hazards and difficulties, all of which, in a sense, were afflictions.

In necessities … could refer to practically anything that Paul was compelled, by necessity, to do in order to further the gospel.

In distresses … These were of every kind: (1) personal rejection by former friends; (2) disease; (3) shipwrecks; (4) plots to murder him; (5) charges laid against him before governors; (6) anxieties for the churches; (7) travel delays, etc., etc.

Verse 5

In stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in watchings, in fastings.

In stripes … "These were of two kinds, from Jewish whips, and Roman rods; but of the five scourgings (by the Jews), not one is mentioned in Acts, and only one of the Roman scourgings."(F11) In this connection, it is mandatory to understand the New Testament as a very fractional record of all that either Jesus Christ or his apostles did. Any total record would have required more than a library (John 20:30; John 21:25). The sacred narrative of all historical and personal data pertaining to that sacred company who brought mankind the gospel is piecemeal, only the tip of the iceberg. Therefore, arguments from the silence of the word of God on any subject are not merely unreliable, but are extremely foolish.

In imprisonments … By this, Paul did not refer to either his imprisonment in Caesarea, or that in Rome, for they were subsequent to this letter. The imprisonment in Philippi had already occurred. "Clement of Rome states that Paul was in prison no fewer than seven times."(F12)

In tumults … All of the early preachers, especially the apostles, often found their services broken up with riots. "Paul was assaulted in Iconium, Lystra, Philippi, Thessalonica, Corinth, Ephesus and Jerusalem."(F13) The New Testament records all of those instances, but no one knows how many were left unrecorded.

In labors … This would include many and diverse activities; but the thought is that Paul pressed the work of preaching the gospel with the utmost vigor and perseverance. He constantly WORKED AT IT.

In watchings … The Greek word here, according to Hughes, shows that we should understand this as "times of sleeplessness";(F14) but certainly not as insomnia. Paul watched all night on the occasion of the shipwreck (Acts 27:29); and this may be taken as an example of things that often occurred in which Paul would have had no opportunity to sleep. His arduous physical labors would have made it certain that he could sleep when he had the chance!

In fastings … has no reference to formal or religious fasts of any kind, but to periods of hunger brought on by times when he had insufficient money, or when incessant labor delayed the opportunity to eat.

Verse 6

In pureness, in knowledge, in longsuffering, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in love unfeigned.

Paul’s total lack of any classical classification of the things he was mentioning is revealed here by his inclusion of the Holy Spirit in a list of the Spirit’s gifts. This has so frustrated some commentators that they have rendered it "a spirit that is holy."(F15)

In pureness … The primary meaning of this would be "chastity," especially in a place like Corinth; but the sincerity and integrity of the total life are also included by it.

In this verse Paul has moved from a catalogue of difficulties to a record of the inward qualities of his own life which had enabled him to attain the victory through so many hardships.

In knowledge … This is a tribute to the word of God, in Paul’s case largely the Old Testament scriptures, which had provided the power to understand and overcome all hardships. Many of the greatest problems of the Old Testament would probably never have been explained without the matchless learning and perceptive powers of this great apostle. Justification by faith, the spiritual body of Christ, the significance of "in Christ," the mystery of the hardening of Israel — and many other subjects are singularly illuminated by the mind of Paul.

In longsuffering … Even yet, after so many centuries, the amazing forbearance and tenderness of Paul’s dealings with "babes in Christ" like those in Corinth are evident for all to see. No matter what was wrong, or how often difficulties came, Paul always had time to try to put it all back together again.

In kindness … in the Holy Spirit … in love unfeigned … Both kindness and love are among the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22); but Paul was merely mentioning everything that had helped him through the storms.

Verse 7

In the word of truth, in the power of God; by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left.

The word of truth … Although some have seen this as a mere affirmation of Paul that he always spoke the truth, it is more likely that it means "the gospel" (Colossians 1:5), the divine body of truth which Paul customarily preached.

In the power of God … God had worked with Paul, as in the case of all the other apostles, enabling him to perform signs and wonders and mighty deeds, thus "confirming the word" (Mark 16:20). This, of course, was one of the secret springs of his power and endurance.

By the armor of righteousness … Paul loved this figure and developed it fully in Ephesians 6:13-17. Every item in the whole panoply answers finally for identification as "the word of God." This mention of the right hand and left hand refers to offensive weapons (like the sword in the right hand), and defensive weapons (like the shield borne by the left hand), as more fully evident in Ephesians.

Verse 8

By glory and dishonor, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true.

The uninhibited nature of Paul’s letter shines here. In the case of "glory and dishonor," it is the good which is mentioned first; but in the next pairing, it is the evil which is first mentioned. All of these expressions have the weight of declaring Paul’s fidelity to the faith and constant prosecution of his labors as an apostle regardless of all circumstances.

Verse 9

As unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold we live; as chastened, and not killed.

To Paul’s enemies, especially among the hierarchy in Jerusalem, he had become a "nobody"; he was dead, the custom of having a funeral for defectors from Judaism having in all probability been observed in regard to Paul; and no less than five times they had beaten him unmercifully. But, actually, far from being a nobody, Paul became the most famous man of all ages, other than the Christ himself. And as for his being dead, the funeral for Paul (if they had one) was premature. At Lystra they stoned him and dragged him out of the city; but he rose up to claim Timothy from that environment and to make his letters to him a part of the word of God for twenty centuries!

Verse 10

As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.

Sorrowful … rejoicing … This dual quality of the Christian life pertains to all believers, and not merely to Paul. In a world of sin, mortality, and many frustrations, "sorrow" is inevitable; but the distinguishing characteristic of faith in Christ is joy. Paul exemplified this as did no other. In his Philippian letter, for example, written from a dungeon in Rome, the words, "Rejoice, and again I say, Rejoice" are almost a litany throughout it. How marvelous are the joys in Christ! The knowledge of the Savior’s love, the consciousness of sins forgiven, the confident hope of everlasting life, and the present possession of the blessed Holy Spirit within — such things surcharge the soul with joy unspeakable. "Solid joys and lasting pleasures only Zion’s children know."

Poor … many rich … Clarke commented on this thus:

The gospel faithfully preached betters the condition of the poor. It makes them sober, frugal, dependable and diligent. They therefore both have and gain by religion, and this must lead to increase of property. They are thus made rich in comparison with their state of drunkenness, wastefulness and laziness before they became Christians? (Condensed and paraphrased.)<16>

This must be reckoned among the most astounding comments ever made on a passage of scripture; and, despite the fact that it focuses on a secular meaning that Paul never intended, it is nothing but blunt, unequivocal truth; and the lives of countless thousands of people have dramatically demonstrated it.

It must be admitted, however, that Paul was not speaking of material riches at all, but of the unsearchable riches in Christ Jesus.

Verses 11-13

Our mouth is opened unto you, O Corinthians, our heart is enlarged. Ye are not straitened in us, but ye are straitened in your own affections. Now for a recompense in like kind (I speak as unto my own children), be ye also enlarged.

Our mouth is opened unto you … means "I have spoken fully and frankly to you."

Our heart is enlarged … means "We have great affection for you."

Ye are not straitened in us … means "My affection for you is not diminished."

Ye are straitened in your affections … means "You do not love us fully as you should."

Now for a recompense in like kind … means "I ask you to love me fully, as I love you."

Be ye enlarged … means "Let your affections for me abound."

This shows how a literal translation sometimes fails to carry the true meaning to people whose manner of speech is so different from that which prevailed in the first century. Therefore, despite our deep mistrust of all paraphrases, we shall attempt one for these three verses:

Paraphrase: We have spoken fully and frankly to you, O Corinthians, and our heart goes out to you and takes you in. Our love for you is not diminished, but rather increased; but you do not love me as you should (otherwise, you would do a better job of defending me against my enemies). Now, why do you not repay me with the kind of love I have lavished upon you? I am speaking to you as my own children. Let your love for me, therefore, be multiplied, even as mine is for you.(F16)

It is the plaintive note in the meaning here which probably colored to some extent what Paul was about to say; and the realization, as he spoke these words, that the false teachers at Corinth had succeeded in stealing the affections of the Corinthians away from Paul (at least to some extent) — that sudden realization triggered the devastating attack he now delivered against those sons of the devil in Corinth.

Verse 14

Be not unequally yoked with unbelievers: for what fellowship have righteousness and iniquity? Or what communion hath light with darkness?

This apostolic order has at least two anchors in what Paul had just written: (1) He had just warned them against receiving the grace of God "in vain" (2 Corinthians 6:1); and (2) he had just touched upon a truth which undoubtedly had superlative impact upon his emotions, that being the loss of love for Paul on the part of the Corinthians. It was the encroachment of paganism against the holy faith which was the ground of the warning in 2 Corinthians 6:1 and the cause of the defection mentioned in 2 Corinthians 6:11-13; and it was directly in response to both of these that the scathing attack on paganism was delivered. Scholars who see some unreasonable break here and start prattling about "interpolations" have just failed to read the sacred text.


Unequally yoked with unbelievers … This meant that no Christian had any business making alliances of any kind with pagans; and yes, that certainly includes marriage. Why should any Christian wife accept a pagan for a husband? This writer has known many who did it to their sorrow; but it was never anything but a sin. Paul was not here discussing the situation where one of a pagan couple had obeyed the gospel and the other had not; he had already dealt with that. Here he was laying down a rule that forbade such alliances in the first place. Furthermore, there is nothing here that limits the application to marriage. Any close alliance with a pagan partner in business, recreation, marriage, or any other kind of union can mean nothing but disaster for the Christian.

Illustration: Two men went in business together; one had the money, and the other had the experience. After about a year, the one who had the experience had the money, and the one who had had the money had the experience!

With a little distortion, the above is a good example of every partnership with a pagan. And, as for the question of whether or not there are any pagans today, the answer must be that there are many whose morals and ideals are as pagan as those of the days of Aphrodite Pandemos.

What fellowship … what communion …? Christianity and paganism are antithetical, as diverse as righteousness and wickedness, or light and darkness.

Verse 15

And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what portion hath a believer with an unbeliever?

The two questions here and the other two in the preceding verse are so stated as to require the negative answer. They are all four, in fact, intended as affirmations that Christ has no concord with Belial … etc.

Belial … This is a synonym for "Satan."

Verse 16

And what agreement hath 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.

As Plumptre said: "We see clearly the drift of the apostle’s thought. His mind travels back to the controversy about things sacrificed to idols.(F17) Paul no doubt remembered those broadminded "Christians" who could sit down in an idol’s temple; but the bitter fruit of it was the rejection of himself by those who should have loved him. He had never intended any license whatever in regard to idols; but he had done his best in that first letter to keep from saying anything that might be construed as a denial of Christian liberty; but no such necessity is upon him now. Their liberty had become license, their love hatred, or at best lukewarmness; and their Christianity had degenerated until they stood in danger of having received the grace of God in vain.

We are a temple of the living God … This is the basis of Paul’s demand that no compromise whatever be made with paganism. He had developed that metaphor extensively in the first letter; but he reinforced it here with the quotation from Exodus 29:45, deriving from it the principle that "wherever God dwells is the true temple of God." As Tasker expressed it, "There is still a temple of God, but it consists of the whole company of Christian believers."(F18) For further discussion of the church as God’s true temple, see my Commentary on Acts, pp. 142-144. Not only did Paul view the church as God’s true temple as contrasted with the idol temples of Corinth, but it was also God’s true temple with respect to the great temple of the Jews in Jerusalem.

Verses 17-18

Come ye out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, And touch no unclean thing; And I will receive you. And will be to you a Father, And ye shall be to me sons and daughters, saith the Almighty.

Many have spoken of the fact that Paul here combined the thought of several Old Testament passages, even adding some words of his own (i.e. daughters); but it seems best to view this passage not as a blundering effort of the apostle to quote the Old Testament, but as his own inspired words, which quite naturally, of course, used some of the terminology of previous holy writings.

Come ye out … touch no unclean thing … Isaiah 52:11 has this:

Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence, touch no unclean thing; go ye out of the midst of her; be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the Lord.

However, as cited above, Paul was not "quoting Scripture" here; he was WRITING SCRIPTURE. The difference is apparent in the formula by which he introduced this paragraph. He did not say, "Thus it is written," but "Thus saith the Lord" the magnificent formula used a thousand times by the holy prophets of the Old Testament, and here used by the blessed Paul, and for exactly the same purpose! It is from this evident truth that we feel compelled to reject as irreverent and inaccurate such a comment as the following:

Paul quoted from memory, and so long as he got the substance right he did not worry about the actual wording. It was not the letter of the Scripture but the message of the scripture which mattered to Paul(F19)

The denial of any validity to such a view is implicit in the fact that nobody ever got the message of the scripture without getting it from the words of scripture. As further proof that Paul was writing, and not merely quoting God’s word, the mention of "daughters" must be considered conclusive. That did not come out of any of the passages suggested by Paul’s words here, but it was a brand new revelation by the Spirit of God through the apostle Paul. Concerning this inclusion of the word "daughters," David Lipscomb said:

It is characteristic of Christianity that it was the first system that ever recognized the dignity of women and raised them generally to the same moral and spiritual level with men. This was very suitable at Corinth, where above all other places in the world, women were lured to their ruin by organized immoralities under the cloak of religion.(F20)

Regarding the application of this paragraph, which is actually concluded in 2 Corinthians 7:1, it must be said that the same principles are binding today. It is true that paganism has lost its old forms; but no person in his right mind can be unaware of the neo-paganism which today threatens to engulf the world. All of the old essentials of paganism are still operative. The deification of humanity, the gross emphasis upon the secular, the material, the sensual and devilish are still struggling to dominate the minds of mankind. The so-called sex liberation, the abandonment of ancient moral values, and the encroaching dishonesty, selfishness and libertinism even in the highest echelons of government — all of these and many other things proclaim in tones of thunder that paganism is still around.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 6". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/2-corinthians-6.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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