“We appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain” (2 Corinthians 6:1). “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). Paul uses Isaiah 49:8 to validate the point he is making about what we must do. But what does Paul mean to not receive the grace of God in vain? What is he calling these Christians to do? We have noted many times in our study that Paul uses himself and his apostolic companions as examples for how these Christians in Corinth are to live. The apostle Paul opened his letter declaring that the comfort he receives from God is so that he can comfort them. We are comforted by God so we can comfort others. Paul described himself as being led in a triumphal procession, spreading the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ everywhere he goes. He has the treasure of the ministry of this glorious gospel yet he is merely a clay jar as he is being given over to death so the life of Jesus may be seen. Whoever is in Christ is a new creation. Over and over again Paul is describing who he is in Christ so these Christians can see who they are in Christ.
One of the key points that Paul makes in many of his letters, as well as in this letter, is that salvation is not about you being saved. Too often we have a very self-centered view of salvation so that we sit back and think that we are saved and that was the entire purpose of God. Paul has been picturing for us that it is not only what you were saved from but what you were saved to. There is a purpose for your salvation. You were saved to be something. You were saved to do something. We are called to be servants of God (cf. 1 Peter 2:16).
What Servants of God Look Like (6:3-10)
Paul says that our goal is to not put any obstacle in anyone’s way in coming to the gospel so that no fault would be found with the ministry they are working. We have to live and speak in such a way to that people will not disregard the gospel message. Rather, “as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way.” Look back at 2 Corinthians 5:12 where Paul says that they are not commending themselves to these Christians but so that they could have confidence in the ministry they are engaged in. The point is that this is the appropriate display of a servant of God. This is what a servant of God should look like, which Paul says he and his companions are exemplifying.
Through endurance (4-5)
We commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger. (2 Corinthians 6:4–5 ESV)
Do you hear what Paul said? This is how servants of God commend themselves to the world. It is not by making a name for themselves. It is not by drawing attention to themselves. It is not by being flashing or elevating self. We commend ourselves by great endurance. We need to have a mentality as servant of God for having great endurance. Listen to what Paul endured for Jesus: afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, and hunger (6:4-5). The response of a servant of God in such circumstances is great endurance.
Being a Christian will not be easy. The Corinthian Christians are discrediting Paul and his companions because they are suffering and experiencing hardship. We have not simply be saved from sin but we have been saved to be servants of God who possess great endurance. Please think about how this is a consistent trait of God’s people. What is God saying about all those people of faith in Hebrews 11 but that they endured!
Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. (Hebrews 11:35–38 ESV)
Why does God give that picture in Hebrews 11? Listen to how that paragraph is introduced:
For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. (Hebrews 10:36 ESV)
Receiving the grace of God in vain would mean that we would not have endurance but shrink back and are destroyed in the time of difficulty (cf. Hebrews 10:37-39). The grace of God gives us greater endurance because we know what we have. We have been reconciled to God. Our sins are not counted against us. God made Christ the sin sacrifice for us so that we can be pronounced righteous by God. I cannot give up now! We reveal ourselves to be servants of God when we show great endurance through the greatest of life’s difficulties.
Godly Character (6-7)
The second way the servant of God is commended to the world is by maintaining godly character.
By purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; (2 Corinthians 6:6–7 ESV)
Our great endurance is seen by maintaining these attributes during difficulties. This is how we are the light of the world and the salt of the earth. We show purity during times when it is not advantageous to us to be pure. A lack of purity is a defining mark in our culture right now. Behave with purity when others are being crass, rude, filthy, or evil. We show a knowledge of God and his word. People know that you know God. People know that you know his word. You display a knowledge and understanding of God and his will in your words and in your actions. We show patience in an impatient world and kindness in an unkind world. In a world there is hatred and intolerance of others, we show patience and kindness. Even when our buttons are pushed and even under great stress, the servant of God shows patience and kindness. The servant of God is commended in the Holy Spirit. The NRSV reads, “in holiness of spirit.” Either way, it speaks to life that lives in conformity to God’s revealed will through the Holy Spirit. We show genuine love and truthful speech in hardship and difficulty. We show that our lives rest on the power of God, and not on ourselves. We continue to handle ourselves and display ourselves as Christians, no matter how difficult the situation is. It is so sad to see how often this is a failure among Christians. When there is a disagreement or even a serious division among people, we must display these Christian characteristics. We do not use our tongues as weapons. We do not use our hands as weapons. We do not use physical things as weapons. No, our weapons are weapons of righteousness. We do not handle problems and trials in worldly ways. We have the sword of the Spirit and the shield of faith in our hands (Ephesians 6:16-17) and we use these as our instruments of righteousness. This reminds us of what Paul said earlier, that “we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen” (4:18).
Paradoxes of the Christian Life (8-10)
Through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything. (2 Corinthians 6:8–10 ESV)
Then Paul describes the paradoxes of the Christian life. Being servants of God is not straightforward nor easy. We endure and show Christian integrity through honor and dishonor and when we are slandered or when we are praised. The servant of God does not receive all honor and praise. People are going to slander us and count us as dishonorable. Paul certainly experienced this even from those who claimed to be Christians. We will be treated as imposters. Paul was treated as a false apostle. We will be treated as fake Christians even though we know that we are behaving faithfully. We can be unknown and nothing but we are known by God and that is all that matters to God’s servant. We may be punished and dying for the cause of Christ but we know we live in Christ. God’s servant is not making decisions from this life but from the eternal life to come. Even in our pain and sorrows we have joy and rejoice in Christ for the salvation and reconciliation we enjoy. We can have nothing but we are making people rich by sharing the gospel with others.
Please look at the final paradox: “as having nothing, yet possessing everything.” This is how the servant of God looks at life. We are rich in Christ. We possess everything we need because we have given our lives fully to Jesus. We can lose all there is in this life and even have our lives taken from us. Yet we rejoice because we know that we possess everything. This is the concept Paul was teaching earlier to these Christians.
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. (2 Corinthians 4:16–17 ESV)
Paul wrote to the Philippians that we have counted everything as loss for the surpassing value of knowing Christ (Philippians 3:8). What we are doing as servants of God is seeing the unseen. We are looking at the eternal reward and not what is happening to us in this life.
As servants of God we are showing that knowing Christ and being known by Christ is better than all earthly wealth, prosperity, and comfort. Christ is more desired than anything else in this life. We display joy in Christ in the face of suffering and loss. We display great endurance and great faithfulness in life. We live under the hope of the Sermon on the Mount.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:11–12 ESV)
We have been saved to something. We have been saved with a purpose: to be servants of God, displaying the wonders of God to the world. We show Christ and commend ourselves, not through selfish means or drawing attention to ourselves, but by faithful endurance and integrity of life. The world needs to see our joy in Christ even in the face of suffering and pain. The world needs to see our hope as we faithfully live for God. We need wide open hearts as we express our joy to the world (6:11-13). Do not receive the grace of God in vain by giving up under affliction, turning back to a life of sin, or being shaken when the Christian life moves like a roller coaster with its ups and downs. Hold fast to the Lord. We will end by considering Paul’s words to the Romans as words of hope in Christ.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31–39 ESV)