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Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians 6

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

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Verses 1-10

B. Exposition of Paul’s view of the ministry 3:1-6:10

The apostle proceeded to explain his view of Christian ministry further so his readers would appreciate and adopt his viewpoint and not lose heart.

4. The life of a minister of Christ 5:11-6:10

The section of this epistle that expounds the glory of the Christian ministry (2 Corinthians 2:14 to 2 Corinthians 6:10) builds to a climax in the following verses (2 Corinthians 5:11 to 2 Corinthians 6:10). Here Paul clarified the driving motive, the divine mission, the dynamic message, and the diverse ministries of the New Covenant. He did so to inspire the Corinthians to recognize his ministry as Spirit-led and to follow his example in their ministries.

Verse 1

Since God appeals to the unsaved through heralds of the gospel (2 Corinthians 5:20), the herald is in that sense a partner with God in His work of bringing people into final reconciliation. Another less likely view is that Paul meant that he labored together with the Corinthians (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:20; 1 Corinthians 3:9). The words "with Him" are not in the Greek text. In this case the objects of their entreaty would be the unsaved. Evangelism is a joint effort of the Lord and His human ambassador. Paul went beyond that specific function of an ambassador and, for God, also appealed to his Christian readers. In addition to responding to the call to be reconciled to God, they also needed to respond to another call. They needed to make sure that they were responding to God’s grace as well.

Paul’s readers had received God’s grace when they had heard the gospel message. Now Paul urged them to respond to it so God’s gracious bestowal would not have been in vain. God gives grace to all people throughout their lives, but He gives more grace at the moment of conversion and from then on. It is not clear which manifestation of grace Paul had in mind, the grace the Corinthians received at conversion or the subsequent grace. I think he probably had both in mind and spoke of their response to divine grace generally since he did not clearly identify the past or the present manifestation. Receiving God’s grace in vain would be not allowing it to have its divinely intended result in their lives. Paul occasionally wrote of receiving God’s grace in vain, by which he meant failing to persevere (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:2; 1 Corinthians 15:10; Galatians 4:11; Philippians 2:16). In the context, conflict between some of the Corinthians and Paul resulting in the discrediting of the gospel ministry seems to be in view (2 Corinthians 6:3). More generally, disunity among believers frustrates God’s desire and His provision of grace (help). Most broadly, any disobedience to God’s will frustrates His grace (cf. 2 Corinthians 7:1; 2 Corinthians 11:4; 2 Corinthians 12:20-21).

"The explanation which in our judgment is most satisfactory, and which seems best to fit the broad context in which this verse is found, is that Paul is here thinking in terms of the judgment-seat of Christ, before which the works of every Christian will be made manifest (2 Corinthians 5:10)." [Note: Hughes, p. 218. Cf. Martin, p. 166.]

Verses 1-10

Paul’s example as an ambassador of Christ 6:1-10

Verse 2

As he begged unbelievers to receive God’s reconciling grace (2 Corinthians 5:20), Paul now urged his readers to respond quickly and positively to God’s grace to them. Paul quoted Isaiah 49:8 to stress the importance of responding immediately. The "acceptable time" will not last forever. In the context of the Isaiah quotation, God addressed His Servant, whom the nations had despised, promising eventual vindication and urging Him to restore His people. The parallel with Paul and the Corinthians’ ministry is obvious. Rather than squabbling among themselves over Paul, the readers needed to get on with the ambassadorial work that God had given them to do.

Verse 3

The Corinthians should not, and Paul tried not, to give any cause for others to stumble because of their ministry. Obviously we cannot prevent all criticism of our ministry, because there may be some who take offense without good reason. Still we should do everything we can to make sure we do not give anyone cause for justifiable criticism.

Verses 4-5

Paul proceeded to describe positively how he had conducted himself to prove that his own reception of God’s grace had not been in vain. He commended and defended his ministry to provide the faithful Corinthians with more ammunition to rebut his critics. Note that he referred to his actions rather than his words. He cited three groups of trials, and there are three kinds of trials in each group. These he prefaced with a claim to patience (steadfast endurance), an extremely important quality in an ambassador of Christ.

"Writers often used affliction lists to emphasize their integrity (although, unlike Paul, Stoics also used them to underline their impassivity); sufferings were tests of character (Seneca Dial. 1.4.5). The rhetorical emphasis in such lists is not so much on the individual components (inviting a modern lexical focus) but the total effect." [Note: Keener, p. 188.]

Trials of a general nature

"Afflictions" or "troubles" are oppressive experiences that put various kinds of pressure on one.

"Hardships" are difficulties that one cannot diminish.

"Distresses" are calamitous situations from which one cannot escape. The Greek word pictures a person trapped in a confining place.

Sufferings inflicted by other people

"Stripes" or "beatings" are punishments delivered with a whip or lash (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:24-25).

"Imprisonments" in Paul’s day involved confinement and discomfort (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:23).

"Tumults" are "riots" (cf. Acts 13:50; Acts 14:15; Acts 16:19; Acts 19:29; Acts 21:30).

Hardships inflicted on self for the furtherance of the gospel

"Labors" or "hard work" encompasses all the strenuous activities of life including manual labor.

"Watchings" are "sleepless nights."

"Fastings" or "hunger" refers to missed meals.

Verses 6-7

Paul now named various graces (positive character qualities) that God had produced within him mainly in and through these trials. He moved from external circumstances to internal qualities.

"Pureness" is single-mindedness as well as moral uprightness.

"Knowledge" or "understanding" includes understanding of the Christian faith, insight, and sensitivity to God’s will (cf. 1 Peter 3:7).

"Patience" is longsuffering with difficult people without retaliation.

"Kindness" reflects a generous and sympathetic disposition that manifests itself in good actions (cf. Luke 6:35).

Perhaps Paul used "the Holy Spirit" here in the same sense that he did in Galatians 5:16. We should walk in the Spirit just as we walk in purity, knowledge, etc. The Spirit as a gift rather than as a person may be in view.

"Genuine love" is the honest desire to do what is best for those in view.

"The word of truth" probably refers to "truthful speech" or perhaps the message of truth (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:19).

"The power of God" was the power that God manifested when His ambassadors followed Him faithfully and proclaimed His Word.

Verse 7

Paul next described some of the conditions under which he ministered and some of the methods he used.

"Weapons" may refer to the sword of the Spirit (the Word of God) and the shield of faith (cf. Romans 6:13; Ephesians 6:11-17; 1 Thessalonians 5:8). The right hand normally attacked with a sword and the left defended with a shield. However these are "weapons of righteousness," the spiritual weapons that God supplies. Another possibility, not necessary mutually exclusive, is that "weapons of righteousness" may refer to the weapons that come from doing right: personal integrity. Righteousness often refers to right conduct in the New Testament. The right and left hands may then be a figurative expression (merism) for all acts.

". . . one so equipped is prepared to meet attack from any quarter . . ." [Note: Hughes, p. 231.]

Verses 8-10

These contrasts probably give us some indication of the charges that Paul’s critics were leveling at him (cf. Romans 3:8; 1 Corinthians 4:13). Human responses to Paul’s preaching evidently varied greatly (2 Corinthians 6:8), but God’s estimate was positive regardless of the opinions of people. These contrasts may be between human responses or between the human and the divine responses. Regardless of people’s estimates of him, the great apostle continued to fight the good fight of faith (2 Corinthians 6:8). Moreover regardless of how he appeared to be doing, in reality God was preserving and blessing him (2 Corinthians 6:9-10).

1. An appeal for large-heartedness and consistency 6:11-7:4

"Centuries of speechmaking had taught ancients the value of an emotional appeal (pathos) at the climax of arguments; Paul likewise clinches his appeal to be reconciled in 2 Corinthians 6:11 to 2 Corinthians 7:4, emphasizing both affection (2 Corinthians 6:11-13; 2 Corinthians 7:2-4) and indignation (2 Corinthians 6:14 to 2 Corinthians 7:1). Letters were not speeches, but their very informality invited even more natural expressions of emotion (Seneca Lucil. 75.1-3; Demetrius On Style 4.227)." [Note: Ibid., pp. 190-91.]

Verses 11-13

The appeal stated 6:11-13

On the basis of his preceding openness with the Corinthians, Paul exhorted them, on the ground of fair play, to respond toward him as he had behaved toward them. His open speech (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:12; 2 Corinthians 4:2) reflected his open heart. They had shown reserve, not because Paul had put them under bondage but because they doubted his integrity. He urged them to become unrestrained in their affection toward him as he had demonstrated that he was unrestrained in his affection toward them.

Rarely did Paul address his readers by name in the body of his epistles. He did so only when he felt very emotionally involved in what he was saying (cf. Galatians 3:1; Philippians 4:15). Here it was his extreme candor in sharing the painful experiences of his ministry with his dear friends that moved him (2 Corinthians 6:4-10). Many students of this book have felt that Paul’s openness with the Corinthians that comes through so strongly here is a distinctive mark of this epistle. One therefore entitled his good commentary A Heart Opened Wide. [Note: Homer A. Kent Jr.]

Paul appealed strongly for his readers to reciprocate his openness and love completely. However, he knew that he could not demand this but only request it, as a parent requests the love of his or her children.

Verses 11-16

C. Appeal for restoration of the Corinthians’ confidence in Paul 6:11-7:16

The apostle now turned to a direct appeal for the Corinthians to reconcile with him in their hearts.

"The call for reconciliation with Paul, therefore, stands in parallel with the call for reconciliation with God [2 Corinthians 5:20]. While it would be too much to say that these two forms of reconciliation are equally important, for Paul they are directly linked with one another." [Note: Beverly R. Gaventa, "Apostle and Church in 2 Corinthians," in Pauline Theology. Vol. II: 1 & 2 Corinthians, pp. 193-94. This essay points out the strong connection that bound Paul as an apostle to the Corinthian church, his children in the faith.]

". . . in Roman politics and ancient Mediterranean culture in general, friendship included accepting the friend’s friends as one’s friends and his enemies as one’s enemies (e.g., Iamblichus Pyth. Life 35.248-49). How then can the Corinthians be reconciled with God if they mistrust his agent (cf. 2 Corinthians 6:14-16; Matthew 10:40; Exodus 16:8)?" [Note: Keener, p. 186.]

Paul made this appeal to stimulate the Corinthians to accept him and his ministry so they would continue to experience all the blessings that God wanted them to have.

The counter-balancing caution 6:14-7:1

The Corinthians had a tendency to respond to Paul’s teachings by first resisting them and then going overboard in applying them inappropriately. They had done this in dealing with the incestuous man, for example (1 Corinthians 5). Consequently Paul immediately explained what he did not mean by his appeal so his readers would not become dangerously openhearted to all people as well as to himself. This section of text summarizes 1 Corinthians 10:1-22 where Paul had previously warned the Corinthians about idolatry.

"Paul is quite capable of digressing, and it may be argued that while he is pleading for mutual openheartedness he reflects that the reason for the restraint which he deprecates on his readers’ part is their uneasy awareness that they have not made the complete break with idolatrous associations which he had earlier urged upon them (1 C. 10.14ff.); hence this exhortation." [Note: Bruce, p. 214. See also Carson and Moo, pp. 438-40.]

Verses 14-16

Some of the Corinthians were not openhearted toward Paul because they were doing things that they knew he disapproved. This evidently included maintaining inappropriate relationships with unbelievers. Other interpretations of the identity of the unbelievers identify them as untrustworthy persons in contrast to Paul, Gentile Christians who did not observe the Mosaic Law, the immoral within the church, and the false apostles. [Note: See William J. Webb, "Who Are the Unbelievers (apistoi) in 2 Corinthians 6:14?" Bibliotheca Sacra 149:593 (January-March 1992):27-44.]

Paul was not saying that Christians should break off all association with unbelievers (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:9-10; 1 Corinthians 10:27). He had previously encouraged the saved partner in a mixed marriage to maintain the marriage relationship as long as possible (1 Corinthians 7:12-16). He had also urged his fellow Christians as ambassadors of Christ to evangelize the lost (2 Corinthians 5:20). Rather Paul commanded that Christians form no binding interpersonal relationships with non-Christians that resulted in their spiritual defilement. This is an extension to human beings of the principle underlying the prohibition against breeding or yoking an ox and a donkey together in Leviticus 19:19 and Deuteronomy 22:10. Such alliances can prevent the Christian from living a consistently obedient Christian life. The fulfillment of God’s will must be primary for a believer. Obviously some relationships with pagans do not pose a threat to our faithfulness to God. Where they do the Christian must maintain his or her relationship with Christ even it if means forfeiting relationship with unbelievers. There is a conceptual parallel here with what Jesus (Matthew 22:21; Mark 12:17; Luke 20:25), Paul (Romans 13:1-7; Titus 3:1-2), and Peter (1 Peter 2:13-17) taught about the believer’s relationships with God and the state. We should obey both authorities unless they conflict, in which case we must obey God.

"Urban Roman colonies understood quite well the custom that one could not be friends with a friend’s or patron’s enemies." [Note: Keener, p. 193.]

Paul set forth the folly of such behavior by pointing out five contrasts. Each one expects a negative answer. All of them point out the incompatibility and incongruity of Christian discipleship and heathenism. Paul supported the last of these with quotations from the Old Testament (2 Corinthians 6:16-18).

Christians should follow God’s will that results in righteous behavior, but pagans have no regard for God’s laws. Christians are children of the light, but unbelievers are children of darkness (cf. Colossians 1:13). Beliel (2 Corinthians 6:15) is the personification of evil (cf. Deuteronomy 13:13; 2 Samuel 22:5-6), and he is the antithesis of Christ. Beliel was a recognized name for Satan in Paul’s day. [Note: Hughes, p. 248.] It may have come from combining the Hebrew word for "worthlessness" with the name of the pagan god Baal. [Note: Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 8.318. Cf. Keener, p. 194.] Believers have little in common with unbelievers when it comes to things that are peculiar to unbelievers. Obviously we share many things, such as food, clothing, houses, sun, air, and rain. Christians who are temples of the living God are quite different from the heathen who worship idols in temples made with hands. [Note: See William J. Webb, "What Is the Unequal Yoke (hetepozygountes) in 2 Corinthians 6:14?" Bibliotheca Sacra 149:594 (April-June 1992):162-79.]

Verse 16

The main reason for Paul’s prohibition is that Christians belong to Christ. We already have a binding relationship with Him, and we must not be unfaithful to Him by going after another.

Paul quoted several Old Testament passages to support his contention. The first is a gracious promise that God gave the Israelites in the wilderness with the consequence that they were to be holy (Leviticus 26:11-12; cf. Exodus 25:8; Exodus 29:45). Paul had taught the Corinthians that they were the temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 1 Corinthians 6:19). Therefore it was only appropriate that they be set apart to God too since He inhabited them.

The second quotation is from Exodus 6:7 and Leviticus 26:12 (cf. Jeremiah 32:38; Ezekiel 37:27). The essential relationship between God and the people that He has chosen for special blessing requires that those so blessed remain faithful to Him.

"In our present passage Paul’s language indicates the corporate figure, but the responsibility of the individual to keep himself pure is both implicit and later emphasized (2 Corinthians 7:1)." [Note: Hughes, p. 252.]

Verse 17

Third, Paul quoted from Isaiah 52:11 where God called His people to separate (depart) from Babylon and its idolatry. He applied this to the Corinthian situation in which unbelievers practiced idolatry. The contexts both in Isaiah and here have nothing to do with separation because of doctrinal differences between Christians. Both passages are speaking about pagan idolatry. The promise of fellowship with Himself for separation (Ezekiel 20:34; Ezekiel 20:41) should motivate us to be obedient.

"There was a grave danger that, through carelessness and compromise, the Corinthian believers would be carried away, as it were, into a Babylonian captivity of the soul." [Note: Ibid., p. 256.]

Verse 18

This final mosaic of quotations (2 Samuel 7:14; 2 Samuel 7:27; Isaiah 43:6) advances the revelation concerning the Christian’s relationship to God. He is not only our God (2 Corinthians 6:16) who is holy (2 Corinthians 6:17), but He is our Father. God has a right to demand loyal allegiance from His children. Since He is the Almighty, we must remember that to disregard His word means to incur divine discipline. Paul compared the church here first to a temple (2 Corinthians 6:17) and then to a family (2 Corinthians 6:18).

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 6". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/2-corinthians-6.html. 2012.
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