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2 Corinthians 6 - IVP New Testament Commentaries

Paul's Ministry Credentials

This story points out how crucial it is that our practice match our teaching and preaching. There will always be those who will judge the claims of Christ by we who claim to be his followers. Children are especially able to see through this kind of hypocrisy (often to the embarrassment of their parents). In the life of the person who truly serves God there can be no such discrepancy. As A. J. Gordon once said, "We do not stand in the world bearing witness to Christ, but stand in Christ and so bear witness to the world." Simply put, we do not witness to prove we are God's servants, we witness because we are God's servants.

This is why Paul is able to assert that it is as servants of God we commend ourselves (v. 4). The Greek word diakonos means "servant" or "messenger." The genitive of God is in all probability possessive. Paul and his coworkers are "God's servants" and, as such, take their orders from him. This is why they can commend themselves in every way. In every way is placed first for emphasis. The gospel ministry can admit no exception for the sake of credibility. This is the second of three places in the letter where Paul explicitly recommends himself to the Corinthians (4:2; 6:4; 11:16--12:11). The Corinthians have forced him to it (12:11) with their misplaced confidence in those who flaunt their credentials (5:12). Even so, Paul can bring himself to boast only in what his critics would consider ministerial failures rather than successes (4:8-9; 6:4-5; 11:23-29).

As a small boy walked on a beach one day, he spied a matronly woman sitting under a beach umbrella on the sand. He walked up to her and asked, "Are you a Christian?"

"Yes," she answered.

"Do you read your Bible every day?"

She nodded her head. "Yes."

"Do you pray often?" the boy asked next.

Again she answered, "Yes."

With that he asked his final question: "Will you hold my quarter while I go swimming?"

Trustoorthiness is hard to come by. It is not implicit in the claim to be a Christian. We look for evidences of trustoorthiness just as the small boy on the beach did. Paul lists toenty-eight reasons why the Corinthians should consider his ministry deserving of confidence (vv. 4-10). Some, like troubles, hardships and distresses, are not the kind of things that the Corinthians--or a lot of churches today, for that matter--would naturally appreciate. Yet they are the telltale signs of a successful ministry in God's eyes and for this reason alone should commend themselves to the church. But the Corinthians, like many of us, were so used to judging success by society's standards that it is a hard sell for Paul.

This is the second of three res gestae (cataloging of deeds) or curricula vitae found in 2 Corinthians. Like the list in 4:8-9, it highlights exploits and accomplishments that society would judge to be blameworthy rather than praiseworthy (such as beatings, imprisonments and riots). Unlike the previous résumé, it goes beyond the typical missionary afflictions to include such spiritual attributes as purity, understanding, patience and kindness, along with such divine credentials as the Holy Spirit, genuine love, the word of truth and the power of God (vv. 6-7). The finely shaped and stylistically well-balanced character of this section has led some to suppose that Paul is using a preformed text. Each of the first group of eighteen is introduced by the preposition en (in), the second group of three by the preposition dia (through) and the final group of seven by hos (as).

The first grouping of eighteen can be divided into three subgroups: (1) missionary hardships and sufferings (vv. 4-5), (2) ethical virtues (v. 6) and (3) spiritual weaponry (v. 7). Paul starts with nine kinds of sufferings that he experienced as a gospel minister. Of the nine, only riots does not appear elsewhere in his tribulation lists. In great endurance heads the list. In chapter 1 endurance was the end result of divine encouragement received during trials. Here it denotes how one should go about handling adversity. Used positively, the term means "to stand firm" or "to hold one's ground" in the face of difficulties. This is in contrast to the Stoics, who taught that life's difficulties can and must be overcome.

The first group of difficulties that require a firm stance includes external and internal pressures of one sort or another: troubles, hardships and distresses. The Greek word for troubles (thlipsis) denotes the pressures and anxieties of life that come our way. These can be external ("conflicts without," 7:5) or internal ("fears within," 7:5), though the term is most often used of the harassment that God's people experience at the hands of the world. Ananke (hardships) signifies that which compels, forces or necessitates such adverse circumstances as calamity, torture or bodily pain. To experience distress (stenochoria) is to find oneself in a tight corner or in narrow straits with no apparent way of escape--not unlike an army under attack in a long narrow pass with no space to maneuver or retreat (Barclay 1954:213).

The next group are difficulties inflicted by others: beatings, imprisonments and riots. Plhgai (beatings) are physical blows that occur as a result of mob action or court punishment. Paul recounts having been lashed five times by Jewish authorities and whipped three times with Roman rods (11:24-25). As for imprisonments, Luke records only the imprisonment in Philippi prior to the writing of 2 Corinthians (Acts 16:16-40). Paul says in 11:23 that he had been jailed more times than his opponents, but we do not know when and where the other imprisonments took place. Riots happened in almost every city Paul visited. With few exceptions these were incited by Jewish antagonists who were envious of Paul's success among the Gentiles.

The final three difficulties are self-imposed: hard work, sleepless nights and hunger. Kopos (hard work) literally means a "striking" or "beating." It came to be used of labor that is physically exhausting--the kind that causes one to collapse at night from sheer exhaustion. Paul uses the term to describe both his trade as a worker of goats-hair cloth (1 Cor 4:12; 1 Thess 2:9; 2 Thess 3:8) and his missionary labors (2 Cor 10:15)--although the too are connected, since he plied a trade so as not to be a financial burden on his churches (2 Thess 3:8). Agrypnia denotes sleeplessness or wakefulness. For Paul, this was voluntarily imposed. If 11:28-29 is any indication, it was the result of prayerful concern for his churches. It can also be an indication that his tentmaking and missionary labors (preaching, discipling, prayer, correspondence) carried him well into the wee hours of the night. The last hardship is hunger. Nesteia, as opposed to limos which is involuntary hunger, refers to self-imposed abstinence. Fasting was a common practice among pious Jews and was often done as a means of focusing one's energies on the task of intercession. There may also have been times when Paul went hungry to avoid being a burden on anyone (2 Cor 11:7-10).

At verse 6 Paul goes beyond what Chrysostom called "a blizzard of troubles" to include four moral attributes deemed essential for those who claim to be God's servants: purity, understanding, patience and kindness. None is unique to the gospel ministry. Two, in fact, appear among the fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22 and in the same order (patience and kindness; compare 1 Cor 13:4).

Hagnotes (only here in the Greek Bible) and the more common cognate hagnos range in meaning from an inward disposition ("pure of heart," 11:3) to outoard behavior ("innocent," 7:11; "chaste," 11:2; "without defect," Phil 4:8; "blameless," 1 Tim 5:22). Since hagnotes is linked with relational qualities like patience and kindness, it may well bear the sense of moral blamelessness in dealing with others--a point that Paul is concerned to underscore throughout the letter (1:12; 4:2; 6:3).

Although knowledge (gnosis), second in Paul's list, can refer to a "grasp of truth" (NEB), it is "insight" (Phillips) or understanding (NIV) that best fits the context. Anyone can acquire head knowledge--that is, the mental accumulation and integration of facts. The Corinthians thought they possessed it (1 Cor 8:1-2), and Paul's opponents laid claim to it (2 Cor 11:5). Heart knowledge, on the other hand, is much harder to come by. It is the God-given ability to know the right thing to do in a given situation--what we call "wisdom" or "insight" (see 1 Cor 12:8).

The Greek word for patience, third in Paul's list, means "long-tempered" (makro + thymia); this word is frequently used in the Old Testament of God's long-suffering attitude toward his people. In extrabiblical literature it denotes a human attitude of passive resignation or forced acceptance, but in the Greek Bible it is a positive attribute (Gal 5:22). More than simple endurance or forbearance, it expresses loving patience toward those whose failings would normally provoke irritation (Horst 1967:374-85).

Chrestotes, the fourth and final moral quality, is the capacity to show kindness even to the undeserving and to evidence a sympathetic interest in the problems of others.

Blamelessness, insightfulness, patience and kindness constitute Paul's moral imperative for the gospel preacher. The regularity with which the last too crop up in his ethical instruction (as in 1 Cor 13:4; Gal 5:22; Col 3:12) suggests a common growing edge in the churches that he pastored. It was not for want of a model in Paul, though. It may well have been that these churches were looking to the wrong model. There is every indication that they were listening to the wrong message (2 Cor 11:4; Gal 1:6; Col 2:18-23). But then, quite often wrong theology leads to wrong behavior (see 1 Tim 4:15-16).

The spiritual arsenal of the gospel minister is presented in the next group of four. Each is distinguished by a modifier that emphasizes what is uppermost in Paul's mind: in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in divine power (NIV the power of God). It is an arsenal that in Paul's estimate his opponents on at least too counts lacked (11:4, "a different Spirit [see the commentary] . . . a different gospel").

En pneumati hagio could denote the ethical quality of the human spirit ("with a holy spirit") or the divine Spirit ("by the Holy Spirit"). When the word pneuma (spirit) stands alone, it is sometimes difficult to determine which sense Paul has in mind. But when modified by the adjective hagios (holy), it invariably refers to the divine Spirit (e.g., Rom 5:5; 9:1; 14:17; 15:13, 16; 1 Cor 12:3; 1 Thess 1:5-6; Titus 3:5). Why would Paul include the Spirit in his ministerial arsenal? The combination of purity (hagnotes) and the power of the Holy (hagios) Spirit, to be sure, makes for an unbeatable credential. Still, Paul may have something more in mind. The grouping of Spirit, love, speech and power suggests the outoard, validating signs that frequently accompanied the preaching of the gospel in the first century. Although Paul does not brag about them as his rival missionaries do, he does remind the Corinthians that the things that mark an apostle--"signs, wonders and miracles"--had been done among them (12:12). With the addition of the adjectives holy, sincere and truthful, Paul takes the offensive in pointing to the kind of inward, authenticating signs that should equally accompany gospel proclamation. The Spirit's inclusion in the missionary's weaponry underscores his role in confirming the message and convicting the listener.

The second weapon in Paul's missionary arsenal is sincere love. A love that is sincere is one without hypocrisy and free from artificiality. Love and Spirit is a familiar combination with Paul. Hope does not disappoint us, because "God has poured out his love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit" (Rom 5:5). Paul even solicits the Roman church's prayers "by the love that the Spirit inspires" (Rom 15:30 NEB).

Truthful speech, the third missionary weapon, is actually "the word of truth" (logo aletheias). This is an important distinction because Paul elsewhere equates the word of truth with the gospel message (Eph 1:13; Col 1:5). A better translation might be "the true message." His rivals, on the other hand, preach a distorted version of the gospel (4:2; compare "another gospel," 11:4) for the sake of financial gain (2:17) and to gain acceptance (3:1-2). Paul's last weapon is the power of God. The genitive is most likely descriptive: "divine power." Divine power undoubtedly includes both enablement to preach the gospel and confirmation of the message proclaimed (1 Cor 2:4; 1 Thess 1:5). In all cases Paul connects this power with the working of the Spirit.

The armory of the Holy Spirit--sincere love, the true message and divine power--is deployed with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left (v. 7). Paul is fond of military language, whether to describe Christian self-control (1 Thess 5:8), the resources available to resist the devil's schemes (Eph 6:11-18) or, as here, the spiritual array at one's disposal in preaching the gospel. The relationship betoeen the too nouns weapons and righteousness is unclear. Are these weapons used to fight for righteousness, weapons that righteousness provides (Furnish 1984:346), righteousness used as a weapon (that is, a life of integrity; Phillips, TEV) or weapons that are righteous in character (Bultmann 1985:172-73)? The last option seems the preferable one. Paul's weapons were ones of notable integrity and not like those of his rivals, who utilized domination, exploitation and humiliation (11:20).

Roman soldiers carried a sword or spear in the right hand for attack and a shield in the left for defense. In this way they were well equipped to meet the challenges of battle. Paul too was well equipped for battle, a battle that he defines as demolishing arguments, pulling down every proud obstacle that is raised against knowing God and taking captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (10:4-5).

At this point in his résumé, Paul turns to too opposite estimates of his ministry--too contrasting letters of reference, as it were. One letter reflects public opinion, the other, divine appraisal. According to public opinion he is a disgrace (dishonor), a bad character (bad report), an impostor and unknown (v. 8). The first too nouns are similar in meaning. Atimia in extrabiblical Greek signifies a state of social disgrace resulting from the loss of one's rights as a citizen. In the estimate of his social peers, Paul was someone to be shunned (compare Cotton Patch Version, "spit on"). The closely related term dysphemia, found nowhere else in the New Testament, denotes an "ill word" spoken against someone so that they gain a bad reputation in the public eye. Both are potential hazards in the ministry. The one can discourage (4:1); the other can cause one to lose perspective (4:8). Paul is also perceived to be an impostor (planos), who misleads and causes others to wander. In addition, he is an unknown (agnooumenos), someone lacking stature who can be dismissed as unworthy of recognition.

But then Paul cared very little about how his social peers judged him--or even how the Corinthians evaluated him (1 Cor 4:3). The opinion that mattered to him was God's. And in God's opinion he is esteemed (glory), of good repute (good report), genuine and known. Doxa bears the Hellenistic sense of a favorable opinion or estimate (NRSV honor, not NIV glory). The closely related term euphemia means a "good word" spoken on someone's behalf (that is, a good report). The Greek word alhthes can mean "honest" (TEV, NEB, REB) or "genuine" (KJV, Phillips, RSV, NRSV, JB, NIV). The latter provides a better point of contrast to impostor. Although judged to be an imposter by some, Paul in reality is genuine (or, as we say, "the genuine article"). The word known (epiginoskomenos) means to be "recognized" for what one is. Even though society considered Paul a nobody, there is the divine recognition that as an ambassador and coworker he is a somebody.

Paul concludes with a list of five paradoxes that typify the gospel ministry. Dying, and yet we live on does not quite catch the sense of the first. "Dying, yet look! We live" is more the idea. The public perception is that Paul and his coworkers are in the process of dying (present tense)--and to all outoard appearances they are. Paul himself said earlier that he always carries around the dying of Jesus (4:10). Idou denotes surprise: "Look!" Contrary to popular expectation and all outoard appearances, they live on (present tense).

Second, they are beaten, and yet not killed. The Greek word for beaten (paideuomenos) actually means "chastened" and is commonly used of divine discipline. To the outsider Paul's suffering might well have seemed a sign of divine displeasure.

Third, they are sorrowful, yet always rejoicing. The cause of Paul's sorrow is not immediately obvious. It is unlikely to be sorrow over the fact that the ministry is wearing him down (4:16), since the end result is an eternal weight of glory (4:17). It could be sorrow over those who had sinned earlier and had not yet repented (12:21). But the present tense suggests something ongoing. Alternatively, the paradox may reflect an eschatological perspective. Paul's reaction to the prevailing influences of sin and death in this age is sorrow, while his response to the process of inwardly being renewed day by day is to always rejoice (compare Phil 4:4-7; 1 Thess 5:16).

The final too paradoxes express roughly the same thought. Paul is poor, yet making many rich and in the state of having nothing, and yet possessing everything. While some have thought that Paul is referring to spiritual poverty, the overall context of ministerial hardship and suffering suggests a lack of material goods (compare 11:27, "I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food"). But how can one possess nothing and everything at the same time? Paul could mean that although he was not well off in terms of material goods, because "the earth is the Lord's, and everything in it" (1 Cor 10:26) he too, in principle if not in fact, possesses everything. Or he may be contrasting possessing nothing in the way of material goods with possessing everything in terms of spiritual goods. He would not be alone in this belief. Philo expressed a similar thought: "The good person, though he possesses nothing in the proper sense, not even himself, partakes of the precious things of God so far as he is capable" (On the Life of Moses 1.157).

How Paul went about making many rich is also not at once apparent. He may be alluding to how he went without church support for the sake of collecting funds for destitute Judean churches. Or the contrast may have to do with physical deprivation for himself and spiritual blessing for others. His willingness to forgo personal comforts and even basic necessities undoubtedly would have freed up time for ministry and resulted in greater spiritual benefits for his churches.

All in all, Paul says that he knows what it is to be in need as well as what it is to have plenty, yet he can be content whatever the circumstances (Phil 4:12).

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