A Description of Paul’s Life (6:1-13)
1 Here and in 1 Corinthians 3:9, Paul calls himself and his fellow apostles God’s fellow workers. Since Paul is God’s fellow worker, the Corinthians (and we also) need to heed what Paul says.
Paul urges the Corinthians not to receive God’s grace in vain. This can have two meanings. Some Christians think that even after receiving God’s grace it is still possible to lose it again. Those who lose God’s grace would certainly have received it in vain! (see 1 Corinthians 15:2; 1 Timothy 1:18-20; Hebrews 6:4-6; 10:35-39). Jesus Himself taught about the seed that fell on rocky soil and quickly sprouted, but then later died (Mark 4:5-6,16-17).
Other Christians believe that God’s grace—God’s salvation—can never be lost (see General Article: Can We Lose Our Salvation?). They say, however, that a believer’s life can become unfruitful because of sin or because of ignorance of the Bible’s teachings. In such a case also, one could rightly say that the unfruitful believer had received God’s grace in vain (see Mark 4:7,18-19). In 1 Corinthians 3:10-15, Paul teaches that our work will be tested; if our work is no good, it will be destroyed, but we ourselves will be saved (see 2 Corinthians 5:10).
Whichever meaning Paul intended here (and perhaps he intended both), let us not be among those who receive God’s grace in vain.
2 Paul wants to remind the Corinthians how they had first received God’s grace. He quotes here from Isaiah 49:8. In this verse the prophet Isaiah, speaking God’s words, is prophesying about the coming of the Savior Christ. Isaiah describes Christ’s coming as the time of [God’s] favor, the day of SALVATION. Paul says that that day has now arrived. Now the time has come when men and women can receive salvation through faith in Christ. Let no one delay. Do not even wait until tomorrow. Now, today, the opportunity to receive salvation has come; it may not come again tomorrow. Tomorrow may be too late. A heart that is open and tender today may become closed and hard tomorrow. A man who is alive today may be dead tomorrow. Therefore, now is the day of salvation.
3 Paul does not want to put a stumbling block in anyone’s path; that is, he does not want to do or say anything that will block people from coming to Christ. Paul always makes sure that his own life and behavior are in accordance with his teachings; otherwise his ministry would be discredited, and people would stop listening to him. In this, Paul has given us all an example to follow (see 2 Corinthians 1:12).
Why doesn’t the church of Christ grow faster? Because other people look at us and see that our daily behavior does not correspond to the Bible’s teachings. Looking at our lives, they can’t even tell what it means to be a Christian. So, naturally, they ask: “Why should I become a Christian?”
Our bad behavior is a stumbling block to others; our behavior hinders others from coming to Christ. When people hear us talk one way but act another, they are turned away from Christ. Even if our lives are pure, our testimony about Christ is sometimes poorly presented, inaccurate, or even false; this can also be a “stumbling block” to others.
However, it is also true that people are looking for an excuse not to become Christians; they don’t want to submit to the demands of Christ. So they use our bad behavior as an excuse not to believe in Christ. But in God’s sight, our bad behavior will not completely excuse them. Ultimately, they alone are responsible for their lack of faith. They should have looked at Christ Himself. Regardless of the behavior of His followers, Christ is the sinless Son of God, and those who reject Him will be condemned (John 3:18). Thus, in everything we do and say, let us seek to point people to Christ rather than to ourselves. But, at the same time, we must not put them off by our bad behavior.
4-5 Paul says in verse 4: … as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way. That is, Paul shows himself to be a true servant of God in every way. How? By his endurance of many trials—troubles, hardships and distresses—for Christ’s sake. For Christians, such trials develop perseverance (James 1:3). For non-believers, or worldly men, trials lead to bitterness and despair. But for Christians, trials lead to perseverance, character, and hope (Romans 5:3-4). Trials test and strengthen our faith (1 Peter 1:6-7).
Therefore, because Paul has endured such trials and suffering, the Corinthians can be sure that he is indeed a true servant of God (see Acts 14:19; 16:22-23; 18:12; 2 Corinthians 11:23).
6 Here Paul describes some of the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit that are apparent in his life. Paul shows he is a true servant of God because he is in the Holy Spirit, which means that he lives in dependence upon and under the authority of the Holy Spirit. It also means that Paul has received from the Holy Spirit the strength necessary to endure these trials and the gifts necessary to do Christ’s work.
7 In this verse, truthful speech can refer to the Gospel of Christ, or it can refer to Paul’s truthful speech—or both. Paul has always spoken the truth; the Corinthians know that (2 Corinthians 2:17).
Paul has always worked in the power of God, or, in other words, through the power of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 2:3-5).
The weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left refer to parts of the armor of God described by Paul in Ephesians 6:11-18. In the left hand would be the shield of faith (Ephesians 6:16), and in the right hand would be the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17). Paul’s weapons are not like the weapons of the world; they are spiritual weapons (see 2 Corinthians 10:4).
8 It is easy to be a servant of Christ when others give us a good report, that is, when they speak well of us. But when we receive dishonor from others, or if others give us a bad report or call us impostors, then what do we do? Do we continue serving the Lord with great endurance (verse 4) and with patience and kindness? (verse 6).
Jesus said to His disciples: “If they (men of the world) persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (John 15:20). Let us follow the example of Jesus: When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate. … Instead, he entrusted himself to him (God) who judges justly (1 Peter 2:21-23).
9 Paul was known in the churches he had established, and he was known by God. Paul wrote to Timothy: The Lord knows who are his (2 Timothy 2:19). But to unbelievers, Paul was regarded as unknown; they considered him a “nobody.” When he chose to follow Christ, Paul lost his name, his fame, and his honor. Paul gave up everything for Christ’s sake.
Paul says he was dying. Paul was always close to death; outwardly he was wasting away (2 Corinthians 4:16). Daily he faced the risk of dying (see Romans 8:36; 1 Corinthians 15:31; 2 Corinthians 1:8-10; 11:23-26). Through such “dying,” the life of Christ was more clearly manifested in Paul’s life (see 2 Corinthians 4:10-12).
Even though Paul was beaten, he did not lose hope; he had not yet been killed (see Acts 14:19-20; 2 Corinthians 4:8-9).
When Paul mentions being beaten, and not yet killed, perhaps he was thinking of Psalm 118:18, where the Psalmist writes: The Lord has chastened me severely, but he has not given me over to death.
10 In the eyes of the world, Paul appeared sorrowful. Yet, in fact, he was always rejoicing (see Matthew5:11-12; Romans 5:3; Philippians 4:4).
In the eyes of the world, Paul appeared poor; he appeared to possess nothing. Yet, in fact, Paul was immensely rich (see Ephesians 1:7; 2:7; Philippians 3:7-8; 4:19). In Christ, Paul possessed everything (see Romans 8:32). He preached to others the unsearchable riches of Christ (Ephesians 3:8,16). Paul followed the example of Christ: though [Christ] was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9).
We Christians may have no “silver and gold” to give to others, but that which we have we can give in abundance: namely, the unsearchable riches of Christ (see Acts 3:1-8,16).
Let us ask ourselves: How much is our life like Paul’s life? Do we act as though we possessed these spiritual riches? Do we persevere when trials and persecution come? Do we endure in silence when others revile us? Paul has set for us such a high standard, such a high example! But even though Paul’s example is high, through God’s grace and the Holy Spirit’s help we can follow it; we not only can, we must!
11 Paul has spoken freely to the Corinthians; in every matter he has spoken plainly and openly. Paul’s heart is opened wide to the Corinthians; that is, his heart is filled with love for them.
12 Paul writes to the Corinthians: We are not withholding our affection from you; we are not restricting our affection for you. But, says Paul to the Corinthians, you are withholding [your affection] from us; it is your affections that are restricted. Paul’s love for the Corinthians is “wide”; but their love for him is “narrow.”
13 Just as a father would ask a favor from his children, so Paul asks the Corinthians to open wide [their] hearts to him—to enlarge their love for him.
Do Not Be Yoked With Unbelievers (6:14-18)
14 Do not be yoked together with unbelievers—with wickedness, with darkness. What does Paul mean here? His meaning is this: Christians must not live and work in partnership with those who deny Christ.
For example, a believer must not marry an unbeliever (see 1 Corinthians 7:39). But if one becomes a Christian after being already married, the believing partner should not leave his or her spouse (1 Corinthians 7:12-13).
Paul has written that it is all right for Christians to eat with unbelievers (1 Corinthians 10:27). Furthermore, it is necessary to have some association with sinful and evil people (1 Corinthians 5:9-10). But we must take no part in their sin and evil. Especially we must not take part in the worship of idols.
It is impossible for light to have “fellowship” with darkness. God is light; in him there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5-7). We must live as children of light (Ephesians 5:8). Jesus Christ is the light of men (John 1:4-5); He is the light of the world (John 8:12). Believers in Christ have been called out of darkness into his wonderful light (1 Peter 2:9). To reject Christ is to walk in darkness (see John 3:19-20).
15 What harmony is there between Christ and Belial?18 What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? The believer’s life is lived for Christ; the unbeliever’s life is lived for self. The believer’s treasure is in heaven; the unbeliever’s treasure is on earth. The believer seeks the praise of God; the unbeliever seeks the praise of men. How, then, can the believer and unbeliever work together?
16 We believers are God’s holy temple (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19; 1 Peter 2:5). The word “holy” means to be separated from evil and sin. There must be no evil, unholiness, or idol worship in us, in our “temple” (see 1 Corinthians 10:20-21). Our temple (body) must remain holy, because God is living there.
Paul here quotes from Jeremiah 32:38 and Ezekiel 37:27. Where God’s people are, there will God also be. Therefore, God’s people (the church) must be holy, because God can tolerate no unholiness.
17 Therefore come out from them and be separate (Isaiah 52:11). From whom must we come out and be separate? From unbelievers, from evil doers, from those who walk in darkness. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness (Ephesians 5:11). … you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat (1 Corinthians 5:11). One sin can make a person’s entire life impure; one unrepentant sinner can make the entire church impure (see 1 Corinthians 5:6-7).
Even though all of this is true, we must be careful how we act upon it. Because these verses do not tell us to separate from a brother simply because we have a disagreement with him over some matter. No, we must not separate in this way. One of Satan’s chief methods for dividing the church is to lead Christians to judge each other, to condemn each other, and to accuse each other of being false Christians.
Many churches have been split apart because of this. And those people who split the church in this way often quote this very verse to justify their actions: … come out from them and be separate. But along with this verse, those people should remember another verse, the command of Jesus: “Do not judge” (Matthew 7:1).
In Christ’s church both purity and unity are essential. We need the very clear guidance of the Holy Spirit to know when to separate from a brother, or to come out from a church. If for any selfish, impure, or false reason we condemn a brother or a church, we are committing a far greater sin against the body of Christ than the sin we are accusing our brother of. In these matters let us be humble; and let us also remember that as we judge others, so God will judge us (Matthew 7:2).
Therefore, we must understand the basic teaching of this verse to be this: It is not man we must separate from, but man’s sin. On the one hand, there must be no sin in the church; on the other hand, there must be no disunity or conflict. We must try to persuade the sinner and the false teacher to repent; only if they refuse to repent are we to discipline them or separate from them. And whatever we do, we must do it in love and humility and under the direction of the Holy Spirit.
18 Paul here quotes from 2 Samuel 7:14. If we remain pure, God will be a Father to us, and we will be His children.