Friday, July 31 –
It is the end of the workweek. As we continue our reading thru the New Testament in a year, today we will read 2 Corinthians 6:1 – 7:1. Read the scriptures first and then come back and we’ll work through the text together.
One of the realities of pastoral ministry is that the person who enters into it is often unprepared for the myriads of demands and expectations. Since I am near the end of my career, I understand what is often expected. A research poll of 1500 Pastors from a cross-section of denominations found that 84% say they are on call 24/7. 80% expect and have dealt with emotionally draining conflict. 54% find the role of the pastor to be overwhelming. 53% are often concerned with their family’s financial security. 48% confess that the demands of ministry are often more than they can handle. I was 21 years old when I gave my life to God to train for ministry. I became a Senior Pastor for the first time when I was 28. Of my closest friends (six) who trained with me, I am the only one who had a career as a pastor. In the U.S., 250 pastors leave the ministry every month. Early on, the Pastor who mentored me as a young Associate Pastor, asked me: “Do you want to do ministry for the rest of your life? Are you trying this out? Or is this a call you are committed to doing?” I was as honest as I could be. I wanted to do it for life, but I could not know what it would be like to do it as a career.
If you’re wondering – “what does this have to do with 2nd Corinthians”? It has a lot to do with it. The text we read today paints a fair and balanced picture of a life of ministry. Paul had already given a defense of his call (1:1 – 3:18), and he had described the ministry as Spirit-led and Gospel-centered (4:1 - 5:21). Now, beginning in chapter 6, he gives a candid description of various aspects of ministry. Amid the ups and downs, Paul chooses a faith that is optimistic, but realistic about the stress. The ministry that Paul is committed to doing will stand in contrast to the charlatans who have no call from God. At the heart of God’s call stands two essential elements. The first is Grace from God to lead – “Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says, ‘In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.’ Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (6:1-2).
Grace is indispensable in both life and service. Grace is a selfless humility that God alone is the one who makes things works. Grace is also essential in working with people and communicating the heart of the Gospel. Works, duty, flesh are all destined to drain the soul of the love of God, and the grace to live that out. The quote in verse 2 is from the Servant songs of the prophet Isaiah. While directly speaking of a promised Messiah, Paul also saw the motivation for proper ministry to flow from the singular focus of being a Servant to the Gospel.
The second essential element follows in 6:3-4. The great need for ministry is integrity along with credibility – “We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way...” (6:3-4). Ministry is an Ambassador’s call (5:20). The goal is to serve those he represents. The ESV translates the word “obstacle,” while the NIV translates it “stumbling block,” but in either case, the need is not to discredit the Gospel. Those two essential elements – to be a servant of Jesus Christ for the sake of the Gospel, and to do the work of the ministry as an example so as to not discredit the message by the lifestyle – those define the big picture of a ministry call.
Now Paul paints with darker hues to describe what it has meant for him to do this work God called him to. I need not add to what he describes, it speaks for itself – “... as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience, and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything” (6:4-10).
The list is exhausting: inner pressures, outward hardships and all done with one thing in mind – “in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God.” Lose sight of those things, and one will not last. One can get lost in the internal struggles and outward pressures. The stress is enormous at times. I can understand Paul’s appeal to the church in Corinth – “We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. As a fair exchange—I speak as to my children—open wide your hearts also” (6:11-13). Paul is still dealing with some who do not appreciate his directness in dealing with church problems.
From 2:14 – 6:10, Paul’s been dealing with the issues of how the ministry is to be shaped by a theology of the New Covenant in Jesus Christ. Now, at 6:11, he returns to the subject he began with – restoration and reconciliation within the church. When Paul says, “we opened wide our hearts to you,” he wants them to know the only motivation for his words was to be obedient to Christ and to minister to them as a servant. The church had been cold towards him – “you are withholding your (affections) from us.” Why were they withholding their love for him? Because they were divided in their heart between Paul and the false teachers.
Paul never beat around the bush. So, he makes it clear – you have to choose. The choice, according to Paul, is a choice between God’s Gospel and the idolatry of the false gospel that’s been sold to them.
“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial (Satan)? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” Therefore, “Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.” And, “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty” (6:14-18). It is forceful, direct, honest, and confronting. You cannot have it both ways – one foot in the Gospel of Grace and the other in a gospel of works – they do not co-exist. Yet it was not just the false gospel preachers he was concerned with, but also the influence the Greek culture had on their moral choices. He had previously written to them on moral issues of sexuality and market-place idolatry, and so he commands them to decide who is going to be Lord of their lives.
The key issue lies in the Old Testament quote Paul used from several passages of Scripture from Leviticus, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel – “What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people” (6:16). Paul is not suggesting that they should withdraw from the world and live away from others. Instead, he is drawing a contrast between their call to be God’s people and the practices of the Greek/Roman culture that is decidedly ungodly.
In a practical way, what does this mean for us today? Should we be involved in business ventures with someone who is an unbeliever? Should a believer marry an unbeliever? How do we love our neighbors, which we are commanded to do, if they do not love God? It takes wisdom and grace to walk the line of relationships that are not based on the same vision and values.
Partnerships – no matter what the level is – are dangerous if there is no spiritual partnership. I’ve seen it so many times, and seldom does it work out for the good because both individuals have their values and vision for what the partnership should do. We know God has created us with the desire to have relationships, yet every parent knows that sometimes their job is to protect their kids from the wrong kind of relationships. There is no relationship more important than our personal relationship with God – “Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God” (7:1). It is God alone who can fill up our lives with the intimacy of good relationships, and any desire to eliminate him from that decision is sure to fail.