2 Corinthians 6

As we open chapter 6, we find Paul making a personal application and an appeal to the Corinthians concerning these things. Paul and his companions were fellow-workers in connection with the ministry (the words, "with Him," are to be omitted); and they had faithfully brought the word whether of new covenant grace or of reconciliation, to the Corinthians. Now their beseeching was that the grace of the Gospel should not be received in vain by them. Grace is received in vain if it does not work out to its legitimate end and effect. In the epistle to Titus we are told how grace teaches us to live in a sober, righteous and godly way, and the Corinthians were very defective in these things; so the exhortation was needed by them, as also it is needed by us.

Verse 2 is parenthetical and in brackets. The first part of it is a quotation from Isaiah 49: 8. The words quoted are addressed prophetically to the Messiah, who was to be rejected, and yet become a light to the Gentiles and salvation to the end of the earth. In spite of His rejection He should be heard and helped of Jehovah; and the hour when He should be heard and helped would be the time accepted and the day of salvation. The latter part of the verse points out that we are living in that very hour. He has been heard in resurrection, and with His resurrection the day of salvation has begun. It will continue until the day of Judgment supervenes. That of course is the reason why grace has visited us at all. We are not to receive it in vain.

Having exhorted us thus, the Apostle does not for the moment carry his beseechings further (he does this, we believe, from verse 11 onwards) but again turns aside to speak of the features that had characterized himself and his companions. He had said a good deal as to these in chapter 4, and one may be tempted to wonder why he should be led to recur to the matter here. We cannot but think that the reason is that the character, the behaviour, the whole spirit of those who are God's ministers is of the utmost importance. It has an effect upon their ministry which is simply incalculable by us. Reading the Acts of the Apostles, we see what exceptional power marked the ministry of Paul. It was of a type that either brought very great blessing or stirred up the fiercest opposition: it could not be ignored. The power of God was with him; that was the explanation. But why was the power of God with him in this exceptional degree? because he was characterized by the features mentioned in verses 3 to 10 of our chapter.

First there was the studied avoidance of all that would give offence, for he knew well that any blemish discernible in the servant would be put down as a black mark against his service. The great adversary is continually striking blows against the work of God, first by enticing the workmen into offences, and then by giving the offences wide publicity so as to discredit his work. Sometimes, sad to say, Christians play into his hands by acting as his publicity agents. They noise abroad their brother's failure to the blame of the ministry of the Gospel.

It is not enough however to avoid offence. There must be the commendation which flows from good. This was found very abundantly with the Apostle, for he was marked by much patience, or endurance, and that in the presence of a whole host of adverse and trying circumstances, which he summarizes under nine heads. Most of these nine things are clearly specified in the history of the Acts-such as afflictions, stripes, prisons, tumults, labours. The rest were not absent, as we can see reading between the lines. Through all these things he went with endurance, pursuing the ministry of grace.

And then he himself was marked by grace, in keeping with the grace he proclaimed. Verses 6 and 7 speak of this. Again we find the matter summarized under nine heads, beginning with pureness and ending with the armour of righteousness on the right hand and the left. Purity and righteousness stand like sentinels, right and left, before and behind; and protected thus, knowledge, longsuffering, love, truth, are found in the energy of the Spirit, and in the power of God. What a beautiful blending of spiritual graces is found here. The servant of God who is armed with righteousness, and yet is full of longsuffering and kindness and love unfeigned, must be like a polished sword in the hand of the Holy Ghost.

We have in these verses then, first, the negative virtue seen in the absence of offence. Then, the commendation springing from endurance under all kinds of opposing forces. Third, the positive virtues connected with both righteousness and love. And now lastly, the paradoxical state of affairs that resulted from the contradiction found between his state as to outward appearance and his state in inward reality. Once more we find nine heads under which the paradox is set forth.

If one looked merely on the surface appearance of things from a worldly standpoint, that which would have met the eye would have been dishonour. Here was a man who had thrown away all his brilliant prospects. Evil reports continually circulated about him. He appeared to be a deceiver, unknown and unrecognized by the men of religious repute. His life appeared to be a living death. Even God seemed to chasten him. Sorrow continually surged around him. He was poor, and possessed practically nothing. What a story!

There was another side to the story however. There was honour, and a good report from God. Sometimes there may have been a good report from his converts; but that was a small matter compared with his joining the company of those others who obtained "a good report through faith," as Hebrews 11, tells us. He was a true man, and well known on high. He was entering into that which is really life. He was inwardly always rejoicing. He was so serving as to enrich a great multitude. He was like a man rolling in spiritual riches, for he possessed all things. Again we say, What a story! Only this time there is another tone in our voice.

This amazing servant of God was the leader of that little band of men who were spoken of as, "These that have turned the world upside down," (Acts 17: 6)-and no wonder! The ingredients of spiritual power are found in the verses we have just considered. Let us inwardly digest them very well, and may they be a blessing to us in this day of abounding evil in the world, and small faith and devotedness amongst the people of God.

Twice already had the Apostle spoken of the ministry of exhortation which was his, "beseeching" men (2 Cor. 5: 20, 2 Cor. 6: 1). These exhortations were of a more general nature; but in verse 11 he comes to one of a very personal sort, addressing the Corinthians in direct fashion. It is evident that at this point he found his mouth opened and his heart free to bring them plainly face to face with the error which lay at the root of so much that was wrong in their midst. They had not realized that if they remained yoked with unbelievers they would of necessity be dragged into much of their evil ways.

Paul did not bluntly bring them to book on this point directly he opened his first epistle. Whence came the tendency to split into parties and schools of opinion? Whence the immorality, the love of litigation, the carelessness about idolatry, the disorder in their meetings, the speculative errors as to the resurrection? From the flesh doubtless; but also as imported from the world around them, for Corinth was full of things of that kind. We may learn a valuable lesson from Paul's wise action. In his first epistle he contented himself with meeting the errors which lay on the surface, waiting until that letter had had its effect before he exposed the underlying causes. Now however, a suitable spiritual atmosphere had been produced. He had been able to direct their thoughts to the ministry of reconciliation. God and the world are in the sharpest possible antagonism, and therefore reconciliation with the One must involve separation from the other. Hence the opportune moment to speak plainly on this point had arrived.

The Apostle Paul was the man of large heart. The Corinthians were saints of narrow affections. "Straightened," means narrowed, and "bowels," signifies affections. Quite remarkable-do you think not? The average man of the world would assess matters just the other way round, and not a few Christians would agree with him. They would dub the separate Christian as, the "narrow-minded man," and praise the easygoing one of worldly type, as the large-hearted man. But, as a matter of fact it is the separate believer who finds his centre in Christ, and so enters into the largeness of His interests. The worldly believer is limited by this little world and narrowed down to selfish interests. Paul exhorted the Corinthians to be enlarged by separation from the world.

Verse 14 contains an allusion to Deuteronomy 22: 10. The word literally is "diversely yoked" though of course if two, of diverse nature and form, such as the ox and the ass, were put together the resultant yoke would prove to be unequal. Any yoking together of the believer and the unbeliever must be unequal because they are diverse in their very nature and character-the one, born of God, a child of light; the other still in the Adamic nature, a child of darkness. The yoking together of two, so wholly diverse, must prove disastrous.

It is a question, be it noted, of a yoke. The believer is left in the world, and comes into contact with all sorts, as is indicated in 1 Corinthians 5: 9, 10. While mixing thus with all sorts he is to be careful to avoid being yoked with any. The most intimate and permanent yoke that the world knows is that of marriage. A believer may yoke himself with an unbeliever by a business partnership. Before he is through with it he may suffer much spiritual loss and the Lord's Name be dishonoured; since he has to share in the responsibility of evil things wrought by the unconverted partner. But at least he can get out of it in process of time, even if at financial loss to himself. But marriage he cannot get out of save by death-his own or his partner's. And there are many other yokes besides those in marriage and in business, though not so strong and enduring. We are to shun all of them.

Consider what the believer stands for-righteousness, light, Christ, the temple of God. The unbeliever stands for unrighteousness (or lawlessness), darkness, Belial, idols. Now what possible yoke, or fellowship, or agreement, can there be between the two? None whatever. Then why take up a position which involves an attempt to bring together things which are as the poles asunder? The unbeliever cannot possibly fit in with the things which are the very life of the believer. He has not got the life which would enable him to do so. The believer can entangle and damage himself with the things of unrighteousness which occupy the unbeliever, for though born of God he still has the flesh within him. Yoke the two together, and what must be the upshot?

No deep understanding is needed to answer that question. The one can only travel in one direction: the other can travel in either direction. The way of the unbeliever prevails, though the believer may be dragged very unwillingly, and hence act as a kind of brake on the wheels.

The exhortation then is that we come out from among the unbelievers and be separate, not even touching what is unclean. The believer cannot be too careful to avoid every kind of connection and complicity with what is evil; and that because of what he is in his individual character as a child of light, and also what he is collectively with other believers as the temple of the living God. Being the living God, He not only dwells in the midst of His people but He walks in their midst, observing all their ways. And holiness becomes his house for ever.

Some of us may say to ourselves, "Yes, but if I obey this injunction and consequently break these or those links, I shall suffer a great deal of loss and be in a very difficult position." That is very possible. But such a contingency is foreseen. The world may cast you out, but God will receive you, and be a Father to you. The last verse of our chapter does not refer to proper Christian relationship which is established in Christ, which is expounded by the Apostle in Galatians 3: 26 to 4: 7; but rather to that practical "fathering" of the believer which he needs when suffering from the world. If we may so put it, with all reverence, God Himself will play the part of Father to him. Hence we are said to be His sons and daughters. When it is a question of proper Christian relationship we all, whether male or female, are His sons.

And notice this; the One who is pledged to play the Father's part is the Lord, Almighty. Here then we have brought together His three great Names-Father, Jehovah, Almighty. He is Jehovah, the unchanging One, faithful to His word. He wields all power. And the value of both Names He brings into His fatherly care. We need not be afraid to cut all links with the world, cost what it may.

An interesting and encouraging contrast between this verse and Ephesians 6: 12 may be pointed out. There are "the rulers of the darkness of this world," or, more literally, "the world-rulers of this darkness"-Satanic authorities and powers, no doubt, who dominate this world of darkness. We might well fear them were it not that we are under the protection of the Lord Almighty. The word translated, Almighty, is literally the All-ruler. The world-rulers may be great, but they are as nothing in the presence of the All-ruler; just as this world, though great to us, is very small when compared with all things-the mighty universe of God.