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2 Corinthians 6

Contending for the FaithContending for the Faith

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Verse 1

We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain.

We then, as workers together with him: The pronoun "we" refers to Paul and other apostles as "ambassadors" of Christ as he presents himself in chapter five, verse 20; these are the ones whose responsibility it is to be workers together with "Him," referring to God. In essence, God’s call to the Apostle Paul, as an ambassador of Christ, is for him to work to reconcile the Corinthians to Him. The specific warnings will be given in detail later in this chapter, beginning in verse 14; however, before giving the warnings, Paul is establishing his authority as a worker with God in verses 3-13.

beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain: If Christians do not remain obedient to Jesus Christ, "the grace of God" is vain in their lives. The word "beseech" (parakaleo) means to "appeal to" (Arndt and Gingrich 622), that is, "to ask earnestly" (Bratcher 63). Paul is referring to the "grace of God" that begins at the Christian’s conversion to Christ. Now he is pleading with these Christians not to let this "grace" (charis), meaning this "gift" (Strong 5485), of God be in "vain" (kenos) or "without result" (Arndt and Gingrich 429) in their lives.

Thus, Paul is encouraging Christians to live their lives in such a way that they do not let God’s grace be wasted because they have not made proper use of it. The "grace of God" is a gift of God; however, all Christians should clearly understand that, after their conversion, it is possible for them to fall short of this grace. If they fail to remain obedient to the gospel of Christ or if they turn from the gospel of Christ to another gospel, the grace they have received is in "vain." In other words, the grace they were freely given by God did not fulfill its intended purpose. Paul’s message is that when a Christian who is saved by grace does not remain faithful to Christ, that grace from God is of no value whatsoever. Paul delivers the same message to the Christians in Galatia when he expresses his astonishment at their failing to remain faithful to the grace given them:

I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed (Galatians 1:6-8).

The Apostle Paul, in the Hebrew letter, makes this fact clear, saying: "Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled" (12:15). God’s grace is not given to a person at one point of his life with the guarantee that it will be there forever. God’s children must be faithful to Him or else the grace, once received, will be vain—it will be useless. Bernard explains clearly that Paul is "express(ing) the favours and privileges offered to the members of the Church of Christ, not to be limited to grace given at any special moment, as e.g. at baptism" (74).

Verse 2

(For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.)

For he saith: The entirety of verse 2 is a parenthetical statement in which Paul references a time in the Old Testament when the Lord spoke to Israel:

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

The purpose of this quotation is to reinforce the Christian’s need to be "accepted" (dektos), meaning to be "favorable" in God sight (Arndt and Gingrich 173), by taking full advantage of God’s grace, mentioned in verse 1.

I have heard thee in a time accepted: The Lord has heard the Corinthians in an opportune time, specifically when they accepted the fact that they need the Lord. It appears Paul is emphasizing the fact that the Christian dispensation is the dispensation of grace spoken of by Isaiah, the prophet. The Lord did not simply hear them in the sense that he listened to them, but He actually responded in a time "accepted" (euprosdektos) for these Christians, that is, in a time "favorable for bringing God’s grace to fruition" (Arndt and Gingrich 324).

and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: The "day of salvation" is the day God "succoured" (boetheo) them, meaning the day He rendered "aid" (Arndt and Gingrich 144) to the Christians; and therefore, they were saved.

behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation): The "accepted time" and the "day of salvation" refer to the same occasion. Paul’s emphasis is that God is willing to save people who come to Him; however, he expresses the urgency of Christians’ accepting and remaining obedient to the gospel. The time of their coming should be now—not later—not when there is a more convenient time—but now, because "now is the accepted time" and "now is the day of salvation." This "salvation" (soteria) means the day God "rescue(s)" (Strong 4991) the people from their sins.

Verse 3

Giving no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed:

Verse 3 through verse 10 form one long sentence in the Greek text to summarize the dignity and glory of ministers of Christ. The purpose of these arguments is to convince the Corinthian Christians they can trust his ministry among them. His desire is for the Corinthians to understand and believe that he would do nothing in his ministry that would intentionally put an "offence" (proskope), that is, an "occasion of sin" (Strong 4349), a stumbling block, or "an occasion for (their) making a misstep" (Arndt and Gingrich 723) before them. Paul wants them to take comfort in him and his message and to be assured that he will never intentionally put difficulties in their way that will hinder their Christian growth. Paul’s determination is to keep his work as an ambassador, a worker for God, above board to the point that it will reassure every Christian that his intent is never to offend anyone. This desire is not because he fears any repercussion from them, but simply that the ministry be not "blamed" (momaomai) or "discredit(ed)" (Strong 3469) in any way. Paul obviously knows that whenever blame is attached to his ministry, it will prevent it from accomplishing its intended purpose of guiding people toward salvation. In Paul’s previous letter, he frequently describes this same desire:

If meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend (1 Corinthians 8:13).

If others be partakers of this power over you, are not we rather? Nevertheless we have not used this power; but suffer all things, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ (1 Corinthians 9:12).

To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some (1 Corinthians 9:22).

Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved (1 Corinthians 10:33).

Characteristics of Paul’s Apostolic Ministry

In the next several verses, Paul gives eloquent, detailed descriptions of his service as a minister of Christ. In his writings he often describes his ministry in similar terms as those in this context. For example, in writing to the Christians in Rome, he says:

What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:31-39).

Paul further proves his apostleship later in this letter:

Are they Hebrews? so am I. Are they Israelites? so am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? so am I. Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches (11:22- 28).

Verse 4

But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses,

But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God: Paul speaks positively of "approving" (sunistao), that is, "commend(ing)" (Strong 4921), himself as a minister of God. He "recommends" (Arndt and Gingrich 798) himself, even though he and other apostles have to endure many persecutions. Beginning in this verse, it seems Paul is giving his resume to prove that all others can trust him and his coworkers as "the ministers of God." As well, the following traits should always be found in lives of ministers of God today.

in much patience: A true minister of God does not work to make a name for himself or to draw attention to himself. Rather, as Paul says, he conducts his work "in much patience" so that he can be of the greatest benefit to others in being obedient to the word.

The word "patience" (hupomone) means "endurance" or "constancy" (Strong 5281); Paul is referring to his "steadfastness" (Arndt and Gingrich 854) in God’s word. For a minister of Christ, as with Paul, patience is required. Jesus warns of this fact when He says, "I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake" (Acts 9:16). Paul refers to this fact when he mentions the personal difficulty given to him to keep him humble:

Lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure (12:7).

The act of patience is further augmented and explained in more detail in the following three descriptions:

in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses: Patience or endurance is required in times of "afflictions" (thlipsis), meaning "anguish, burdened, persecution, trouble" (Strong 2347) or "oppression" (Thayer 291-1-2347). "Affliction" can also refer to times of "distress brought about by outward circumstances" (Arndt and Gingrich 362). Furthermore, patience is required during time of "necessities." The word "necessities" (anagke) means that an act is done "by compulsion" (Arndt and Gingrich 52) or obligation. Then, again, Paul says that ministers must show patience during times of "distresses." The word "distresses" (stenochoria) means extreme pressure. It comes from a compound word originally meaning "narrowness of room" or "jammed in a corner"

(McGarvey 200). It is further defined as "calamity" (Strong 4730) or "anguish" (Arndt and Gingrich 774) caused from being so pressed upon by the multitude that a person (Paul, in this case) cannot move. Paul speaks of such an event in 2 Corinthians 4:8 where he says, "We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed…."

No one could deny that Paul faced much persecution; however, it seems that some of the Corinthian Christians are attempting to discredit him because of the hardships he has experienced. Even though it may appear hardship is a punishment from God, such is not the case. True people of faith have always endured hardships as Paul states in Hebrews 10:36: "Ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise." Patience must prevail even in the face of persecution and death, as Paul emphasizes in the Hebrew letter:

…others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth (11:35-38).

God’s ministers must never give up but instead show great endurance through life’s greatest difficulties. The following hardships in Paul’s life are the result of opposition and persecution from his enemies.

Verse 5

In stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings;

In stripes: Paul says he is a minister of Christ in spite of receiving "stripes" (plege), which is "by implication a wound" (Strong 4127) caused from a "blow (or) stroke" from another object (Arndt and Gingrich 674). These "stripes" are the results of physical beatings, either from mobs or court punishment:

The chief captain commanded him to be brought into the castle, and bade that he should be examined by scourging; that he might know wherefore they cried so against him (Acts 22:24).

Luke records other occasions when Paul has been abused:

When there was an assault made both of the Gentiles, and also of the Jews with their rulers, to use them despitefully, and to stone them, … And there came thither certain Jews from Antioch and Iconium, who persuaded the people, and, having stoned Paul, drew him out of the city, supposing he had been dead (Acts 14:5; Acts 14:19).

in imprisonments: Paul voluntarily is a minister of Christ, even though he often faces "imprisonments" (phulake), meaning he literally is forcefully put into a "cage" (Strong 5438) or prison: "Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft" (2 Corinthians 11:23).

in tumults: Paul would often face uprisings from the mob that would oppose him, causing "tumults" (akatastasia). This word means "confusion" (Strong 181) or "a disturbance" (Arndt and Gingrich 29). Two examples are recorded by Luke in Acts:

The Jews stirred up the devout and honourable women, and the chief men of the city, and raised persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them out of their coasts (13:50).

The multitude rose up together against them: and the magistrates rent off their clothes, and commanded to beat them (16:22).

in labours: Paul mentions another group of difficulties that required his patience: these were caused by the intensity of the work itself and not necessarily from hostile enemies. In other words, being a minister of God created a time of "labours" (kopos), indicating "weariness" (Strong 2873). These labors are not from ordinary work but from being overworked. Paul, writing to the Christians in Thessalonica, speaks of these occasions:

Ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God (1 Thessalonians 2:9).

For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you; Neither did we eat any man’s bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you (2 Thessalonians 3:7-8).

in watchings: Despite being overworked, Paul would still experience "watchings" (agrupnia)—times of "sleeplessness" (Thayer 70)—during which he simply would not be able to get enough rest because of the abundance of work: "Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears" (Acts 20:31).

in fastings: Paul also faces many times of "fastings" (nesteia), meaning "abstinence (from lack of food)" (Strong 3521). These fastings were not voluntary, but times of extreme "hunger brought about by necessity" (Arndt and Gingrich 540), probably caused by his failure to stop his work long enough to eat: "Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwellingplace" (1 Corinthians 4:11). Similarly, Paul says, "I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need" (Philippians 4:12).

Verse 6

By pureness, by knowledge, by long suffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned,

By pureness: Ministers of God must always maintain godly characteristics. Paul describes his life as a Christian minister as an example of "pureness" (hagnotes), meaning "blamelessness" (Strong 54). This trait suggests his "sincerity" (Arndt and Gingrich 12), that is, his "uprightness of life" (Thayer 8). Here, Paul has reference to his intentions and thoughts in general and describes the pureness of his actions. James, the Lord’s brother, writes about the pureness of the apostles’ actions, saying, "The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy" (James 3:17). Likewise, the Apostle John speaks of the same trait: "Every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure" (1 John 3:3).

by knowledge: "Knowledge" (gnosis), meaning "intelligence (or) understanding" (Thayer 119), is another of Paul’s traits; he has a more advanced knowledge of God’s word than some. This trait is specifically "the general knowledge of the Christian religion… (and) the deeper, more perfect and enlarged knowledge of this religion, such as belongs to the more advanced" (Thayer 119). Paul writes of this same type of knowledge to the Christians in Rome: "I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another" (Romans 15:14).

by long suffering: Paul, as a worker with Jesus, is an example for all godly ministers in that he is "longsuffering" (makrothumia), meaning one who shows "patience" (Arndt and Gingrich 489); therefore, he is "slow(ness) in avenging wrong" (Thayer 387).

by kindness: Another of Paul’s traits is "kindness" (chrestotes), referring to his "mild, pleasant, moral goodness (or) integrity" (Thayer 672), that is, his "generosity" (Arndt and Gingrich 894). Paul leaves an example for all today in the treatment of others: we must show kindness toward everyone regardless of circumstances.

by the Holy Ghost: By the words, "Holy Ghost" (hagios pneuma), Paul does not appear to be speaking of the miraculous works of the Holy Spirit. It appears more likely that he is speaking about the characteristics the Holy Spirit produces in a Christian’s heart and life through the revealed word of God.

by love unfeigned: The words "love unfeigned" (agape anupokrito) mean love that is "genuine, sincere, lit. without hypocrisy" (Arndt and Gingrich 76) or as Thayer says love that is "undisguised" (52). We prove our patience by showing genuine love during times of hardship—even during times of disagreement or serious division.

Verse 7

By the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left,

By the word of truth: Here, Paul emphasizes that he, as a minister of God, has the "truth" (aletheia) or the "word of truth," meaning "truthful speech" (Arndt and Gingrich 35). It is "the truth as taught in the Christian religion, respecting God and the execution of his purposes through Christ, and respecting the duties of man" (Thayer 26). In the lives of all Christians, we must imitate Paul in our strictness and loyalty to the truth of God’s word.

by the power of God: Paul has the "power (dunamis) of God," meaning he has "the divine power considered as acting upon the minds of men" (Thayer 159). In his reference to the "power of God," Paul is emphasizing that he never relies on his own power—only on God’s power, that is, the gospel.

by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left: The trait of "righteousness" (dikaiosune) means that Paul has "integrity, virtue, purity of life, uprightness, correctness in thinking, feeling, and acting" (Thayer 149). Not only does he say that he has the trait of "righteousness" but that he has the "armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left." The word "armour" (hoplon) refers to a "weapon" for offense and defense in the Christian life. It is used metaphorically signifying that he has a spiritual weapon ("the word of truth") "carried in the right hand and used for attack, as the sword, the spear, (and) those carried in the left hand, for the purpose of defence, as the shield" (Thayer 128). This contrast indicates that Paul defends the gospel with truthfulness: he strikes with perfect fairness for all because the righteousness of faith makes a person victorious in defense against all powers who oppose Jesus and His message.

Being a true servant of God is not always easy nor straightforward; therefore, Paul describes the paradoxes of the Christian life by emphasizing that we must demonstrate the Christian life in all kinds of situations.

Verse 8

By honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report: as deceivers, and yet true;

By honour and dishonor: "Honour" (doxa) means "good opinion" (Thayer 155). "Dishonor" (atimia) means "disgrace" (Thayer 83) or "shame" (Arndt and Gingrich 119). One of the major false accusations made against Paul was that he was a man of dishonor because he was untrustworthy, a deceiver, and even a false apostle. He responds to these slanderous remarks with calmness to prove these accusations are false. Honorable actions commend a Christian as being true servants of God.

by evil report and good report: The words "evil report" (dusphemia) mean "slander" (Arndt and Gingrich 209), that is, "defamation…the action of one who uses opprobrious language" (Thayer 161). "Good report" (euphemia) means "the utterance of good…words (or) praise" (Thayer 263). Both good and evil reports were made against Paul throughout his ministry; however, he never retaliates evil for evil. A true minister is one who remains true to God, even when facing false reports. Jesus says:

Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you (Matthew 5:11-12).

as deceivers, and yet true: The word "deceivers" (planos) refers to an "impostor" (Arndt and Gingrich 672). It is used here as John uses it in 2 John 1:7: "For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist." When Paul’s enemies call him a deceiver, they are proving their own ignorance of the truth.

The word "true" (alethes) refers to "loving the truth" (Thayer 27) or one who is "honest" (Arndt and Gingrich 36). Paul is true to the message of Jesus Christ.

Verse 9

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

As unknown, and yet well known: Paul is, in fact, unknown and obscure to the world only because of his devotion to God. Because of this devotion, however, he has become well known as a servant and apostle to Jesus Christ.

as dying, and, behold, we live: This expression presents the same message Paul gives in 1 Corinthians 15:31 when he says, "I die daily" referring to "the ’jeopardy’ mentioned in verse 30 and having reference to the constant dangers found in his life.

as chastened, and not killed: "Chastened" (paideuo) means "to chasten by the infliction of evils and calamities" (Thayer 473). Paul is often unjustly beaten, but God protects him from death.

Verse 10

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

As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing: The word "sorrowful" (lupe), translated "heaviness" in chapter two, verse 1 and "grieved" in the same chapter, verse 4 means "to affect with sadness" (Thayer 383) or to "be distressed" (Arndt and Gingrich 483). Therefore, this rejoicing is not intended to indicate that Paul is always rejoicing and never sorrowful. He often feels sorrowful because people reject Jesus, but joy fills his heart when they repent and turn back to the Lord.

as poor, yet making many rich: Paul, just like Jesus, is poor physically, but rich spiritually. Speaking of Jesus in chapter eight, verse 9, Paul says, "Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich." Paul would have all Christians to be rich only in this sense: "That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate" (1 Timothy 6:18).

as having nothing, and yet possessing all things: This contrast deals with their personal poverty versus their great possession of spiritual blessings that they have in Christ Jesus. The possessions to which Paul refers are the same as those he mentions earlier in this letter:

Let no man glory in men. For all things are yours; Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; And ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s (1 Corinthians 3:21-23).

Verse 11

O ye Corinthians, our mouth is open unto you, our heart is enlarged.

The word "open" (anoigo), as used here, means "to furnish opportunity to do something" (Thayer 48); therefore, the "mouth is open" means "our mouth is open toward you, i.e., I have spoken freely and openly" (Arndt and Gingrich 70).

By the heart’s being "enlarged" (platuno), Paul means the "heart is open wide" (Arndt and Gingrich 673). Paul loves the Corinthians, and he expresses it by saying his heart expands itself to welcome and embrace them in love.

Verse 12

Ye are not straitened in us, but ye are straitened in your own bowels.

Ye are not straitened in us: Paul continues talking about his love for the Corinthians compared to their love for him. He wants them to increase their love for him. The word "straitened" (stenochoreo) means to "compress, cramp, reduce" (Thayer 587), and refers to something being crushed. Here, Paul is talking about his heart—his love for them—not being reduced. Therefore, Paul is saying that he loves them as much as a person could love another. His heart, that is, his love for them, is not compressed or reduced in any way; instead, he loves them greatly. Paul’s heart being "not straitened" is reemphasizing the same message as in verse 11 where he has just stated that his "heart is wide open," but the same cannot be said of the Corinthians’ love for him.

But ye are straitened in your own bowels: The Corinthians’ failing to defend Paul proves they do not love him as they should.

Their affection toward him is obviously different from his love for them; therefore, he says, "ye are straitened in your own bowels." In this context, the word "bowels" (splagchnon) refers to the "heart" (Thayer 585) or "in your own hearts" (BAG 770). Paul states that the Corinthians are "reduced (in their) own hearts" (Arndt and Gingrich 770); that is, their love for him has been suppressed by their own attitudes. The New King James version phrases this verse well: "You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted by your own affections." Therefore, in verse 13, Paul instructs the Corinthians to "enlarge" their love.

Verse 13

Now for a recompence in the same, (I speak as unto my children,) be ye also enlarged.

By the word "recompence" (antimisthia), Paul means "a reward given in compensation, (or) requital" (Thayer 50); that is, he is encouraging all the Corinthians to "widen (their) hearts in the same way in exchange" (Arndt and Gingrich 74). In other words, he is encouraging them, as one would encourage his own children, to treat him as he treats them and to open their hearts to him and be "workers together with" Christ as he is (see verse 1).

"Unequally Yoked Together"

Because of misunderstandings and misapplications of Paul’s teaching in 2 Corinthians chapter six through chapter seven, verse 1, these words have long been a source of controversy. The controversy has led various writers to the wrong conclusion. Some, for example, conclude that Paul is not even the author of these verses. Others claim the words are penned by Paul, but that they are out of place in 2 Corinthians chapter six and that they should have been inserted in 1 Corinthians chapter five. Still others claim that these few verses are actually either part of another letter or a short separate letter altogether.

Generally, these views mistakenly assert the teaching here is out of context with the previous and the following verses; however, there is no reason to think "unequally yoked together with unbelievers" does not continue the teaching in the previous verses. For example, in these verses, Paul clearly speaks of believers and unbelievers. The same is also true of the previous verses. For example, in verse 6, Paul describes believers in such terms as "pureness," "knowledge," "longsuffering," "kindness," "Holy Ghost," and "love unfeigned." In verse 7, he continues describing Christians as followers of "the word of truth," led by "the power of God," and "by the armour of righteousness." In verse 8, they are spoken of as people of "honor," who give "good reports," etc. On the other hand, unbelievers are referred to in verse 8 as people of "dishonor" and of "evil report(s)." Because of these contrasting descriptions between the believer and unbeliever, Paul warns they are not to be "unequally yoked together with unbelievers."

Let it be understood that regardless of these controversial conclusions and regardless of which view is correct, it does not modify the teaching. Whether these verses were written by Paul or another inspired writer, or if they continue the teaching from the previous verses, or if they were intended to teach the message from another context, the teaching is still just as true and important for every Christian today to obey.

Verse 14

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?

The intent of Paul’s message from verses 14-17 is to issue warnings about the temptations and dangers of being led into sin by people who are not Christians. This warning is illustrated by a description of two animals not of the same kind (such as an ox and an ass); they are expected to work together, even though they do not normally work well together because of differences in size and strength. In fact, the Law of Moses prohibited such: "Thou shalt not plow with an ox and an ass together" (Deuteronomy 22:10).

Paul uses this metaphor to illustrate the danger of a Christian potentially developing such a close relationship with an unbeliever that he or she is led away from the Lord.

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: The words "unequally yoked together" come from the Greek word (heterozugeo), meaning "mismated" (Arndt and Gingrich 315) or "to associate discordantly" (Strong 33). Christians are not "to have fellowship with one who is not an equal" (Thayer 254), meaning "unbelievers" (apistos)those who are without the true "Christian faith," specifically "a heathen" (Strong 14). Strong explains "unbelievers" are those who are "untrustworthy… faithless, (or an) infidel" (14)—people whose actions are the opposite of those of a child of God.

Robertson explains that Paul’s message is in the present imperative, meaning he is directing his instructions specifically to Christians who are already yoked with unbelievers. Paul commands: "literally, ’Stop becoming…unequally yoked with unconverted heathen (unbelievers).’ " If they are already united together, they must discontinue this bond if it is hindering them from remaining faithful to Jesus.

Paul does not specifically state what type of yoke or bondage he has in mind. The warning of this illustration, however, speaks of believers’ being so united with unbelievers (that is, Christians being inappropriately associated with unbelievers) that they are drawn into a heathen lifestyle themselves. The point is, Paul is urgently warning Christians of the danger of losing their salvation because of their close association with unbelievers. This command is the same that Paul gives to the Ephesians:

For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. Be not ye therefore partakers with them (Ephesians 5:5-7).

The metaphor suggests a situation in which a Christian and an unbeliever ignore the fact that they will not be able to work well together; they continue with their union with the expectation of working side by side with no harm coming to the Christian. To please themselves, they ignore all of the warnings given.

It should be understood that in this context, Paul is not forbidding Christians to avoid all association and all working relationships with those who are not Christians. He has thoroughly explained to the Corinthians in a previous letter that such an act is impractical, even to the point of being impossible:

I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world" (1 Corinthians 5:9-10).

Those who have been redeemed by Jesus’ blood have a responsibility to lead the lost to Christ; therefore, as John Calvin correctly states:

We are not to quit life with the view of departing from all uncleanness, but must simply avoid all participation. The sum is this: If with a true affection of the heart, we aim at the benefit of redemption, we must beware of defiling ourselves by any contamination from its pollutions (262).

Paul’s instruction in these two verses is not limited to the specified sins; he simply names several common examples of people in the world with whom Christians might have to associate: "fornicators," "covetous," "extortioners," or "idolaters."

The danger is not necessarily in Christians’ being casual acquaintances with them, but in becoming "unequally yoked"— forming close associations that could be spiritually harmful to Christians. Paul says such yokes are unequal. Believers’ close association with others who have these ungodly traits could lead them away from Jesus. Therefore, it is not reasonable to assume that Paul restricts his teaching here to the subject of marriage. The command refers to any yoke from which a Christian can be separated. Paul is instructing Christians never, under any circumstances, to be so united with an unbeliever that they become partakers in their sinful behavior.

The difference between marriage and other types of unions is that the Christian would still be bound by Paul’s previous teaching:

Unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife (1 Corinthians 7:10-11).

If the Christian mate can no longer remain faithful to God in a marriage union with the unbelieving mate, the Christian is expected to obey Paul’s instructions: "Come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you" (2 Corinthians 6:17); however, after dissolving this union, the Christian must remain "unmarried, or be reconciled" to the unbeliever.

The point is that while it is not advisable for a Christian to marry one who is not a Christian, the sin itself, referred to in this context, is not a mixed marriage; but the sin occurs when the continuation of this union causes the Christian to violate God’s commands. In this or any other union where a Christian cannot remain true to God’s word, he or she must separate himself or herself from the unbeliever. Such unions could include jobs, colleges, unscriptural forms of worship, and any other activities forbidden in scripture.

Five Rhetorical Questions

for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness?: Having just told Christians not to be "unequally yoked together with unbelievers," Paul now gives the logical reasons that such unions can cost them their souls. He asks five rhetorical questions:

1. "for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness?"

2. "and what communion hath light with darkness?"

3. "And what concord hath Christ with Belial?"

4. "or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?"

5. "And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?" Each question demands the answer of "none."

This first question is to cause the believer to consider the idea of fellowship. Believers should not be yoked with unbelievers because there is no "fellowship" between "righteousness" (believers) and "unrighteous" ("lawlessness" NKJV). The word "fellowship" (metoche), as used here, means "participation… (suggesting the question) what have righteousness and lawlessness in common?" (Arndt and Gingrich 516). Believers must abstain from sin because, "Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness" (1 John 3:4, NKJV).

Paul’s point is that believers must live a life of "righteousness." For a believer to choose to unite with the lawless is to ignore the purpose of Jesus’ death. Paul tells Titus, speaking of Jesus: "who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed…" (Titus 2:14 NKJV). Since Jesus died to redeem people from lawlessness, they should never intentionally yoke themselves to it.

Thus, the answer to this first rhetorical question is that there is no fellowship between righteousness and unrighteousness because Jesus died to redeem the righteous from unrighteous deeds. Jesus gives a warning to those who would ignore Him: "I will declare to them, ’I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness (unrighteousness)!’ " (Matthew 7:23 NKJV). This first question emphasizes that "righteousness and lawlessness stand therefore in completely radical opposition to each other as two contradictor states" (Hughes 247).

and what communion hath light with darkness: This rhetorical question is different from the previous one, but the meaning is the same. Christians are not to be united with unbelievers. The word "communion" (koinonia) here means "intimacy" (Thayer 352). The message is that the righteous (Christians) have no more in common with the unrighteous (unbelievers) as "darkness has with light" (Arndt and Gingrich 440). Nothing is more fundamentally incompatible than light and darkness.

In the scriptures Satan and sin are pictured as "darkness" while Jesus and righteousness are pictured as light. When speaking of Satan to the Christians in Colosse, Paul says, "He (Jesus) has delivered us from the power of darkness (sin)…" (Colossians 1:13 NKJV). Contrary to darkness representing sin, light represents Jesus, who declares, "I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life" (John 8:12 (NKJV). It is not practical to expect light and darkness to go together. Again, Jesus teaches this same message when He, at Paul’s conversion, commands him to teach the Gentiles: "To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me" (Acts 26:18). The point is Jesus, as the light of the world, was sent to deliver man from the darkness of sin; therefore, no man should attempt to reunite light and darkness.

Verse 15

And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?

And what concord hath Christ with Belial: Another question given to discourage a Christian’s associations with unbelievers contrasts Christ with Belial. The word "Belial" is a Greek word meaning "worthlessness" (Arndt and Gingrich 138) or "wickedness" (Robinson 125). It is used as a synonym for Satan.

The expression "Belial" is explained more clearly in 1 Samuel 2:12: "Now the sons of Eli were sons of Belial; they knew not the LORD." Being the "sons of Belial" indicates they were disobedient to God. The New King James Version translates it better by using the word "corrupt" instead of "Belial," saying, "Now the sons of Eli were corrupt; they did not know the LORD."

or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel: Here, Paul teaches that Christians being united with unbelievers makes no more sense than the righteousness of Christ being united with the corruption of Satan. Christians must recognize that the unbeliever’s life focuses on what makes him happy, but the believer’s life concentrates on what makes Jesus happy.

When, however, Paul says that a Christian has no participation with an unbeliever, he does not mean as to food, clothing, estates, the sun, the air, … but as to those things that are peculiar to unbelievers, from which the Lord has separated us (Calvin 259).

Verse 16

And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols: This fifth contrasting question deals with undeniable things: "the temple" and "idols," items greatly detested among the Jews. Bringing an idol into the temple of God was considered blasphemy because of its opposite nature. Likewise, Paul reminds the church at Thessalonica to remember "how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God" (1 Thessalonians 1:9). The point is these Christians could not serve idols and God at the same time because they were opposites; there was no "agreement" (sugkatathesis), meaning there was no accord between the two.

Paul instructs the Gentiles to abstain from idols: "We write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols…" (Acts 15:20). As well, they are to abstain from all things influenced by idols or false worshipers. This example means, therefore, that believers are to abstain from unbelievers because an unbeliever’s influence may cause a believer to disobey God.

for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people: The expression "the temple of the living God" refers to the church, the fellowship of believers, which is the dwelling place of God. Paul addresses those who have obeyed the gospel and have the assurance that God dwells in them. To these faithful believers in Christ, Paul brings the most encouraging message that God could provide to mankind: God promises to be a Divine Father near at hand for those who remain devoted to Him, and He declares that these same people belong to Him. God made an identical promise to the children of Israel in the Old Testament: "And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be my people" (Leviticus 26:12). Those who obey the gospel in the Christian Age have the same wonderful assurance.

This reassurance comes at the end of the five rhetorical questions Paul has raised and provides an appropriate conclusion to them. In these questions, he has contrasted the believer and the unbeliever or the "temple" (church) and "idols" (false worship). Obviously, there is nothing in common between the two; therefore, Paul’s message is that the believer must avoid any association with the unbeliever that would tend to lead the believer away from God and His instructions. He makes that point clear in the next verse.

Verse 17

Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.

Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord: The Lord’s command to "come out from among them, and be ye separate" is taken from an Old Testament quotation from Isaiah when he recorded: "Depart! Depart! Go out from there, Touch no unclean thing; Go out from the midst of her, Be clean, You who bear the vessels of the LORD" (52:11 NKJV). In this passage, God is commanding His people who are exiled in Babylon to leave that pagan country and return to their homeland.

Obviously, God is commanding a total departure; likewise, Paul’s message is that the only way to avoid an unequal yoke, as the Lord commands, is "to come out from among them, and be ye separate." The words "come out" (exerchomai) mean "depart" or "escape" (Strong 29), and the word "separate" (aphorizo) means to "sever" (Strong 18). These two terms emphasize a total and permanent disruption between the believer’s and unbeliever’s yoke that is causing the believer to disobey God.

and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you: The word "touch" (haptomai) does not suggest a simple closeness, but instead the command is to not "attach oneself to" (Strong 15). The word "unclean" (akathartos) means "impure" (Strong 9); therefore, the command is to not be yoked with any form of impurity. Obedience to this command of the Lord carries God’s promise: "I will receive you," meaning God will accept back those who break the unequal yoke and return to Him.

Verse 18

And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.

Paul explains exactly what is meant in the previous verse when the Lord promises to "receive" those who "come out from among" the unequal yokes. He further repeats the promise that God "will be a Father" to them, and they "shall be (God’s) sons and daughters." The Lord Almighty made this declaration.

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 6". "Contending for the Faith". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/2-corinthians-6.html. 1993-2022.
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