LESSON SIX: 2 CORINTHIANS 6:3-7:16
ENCOURAGEMENT REGARDING HARDSHIPS
A number of people were influential in introducing me to the One who paid for my sin. It required personal faith, obedience, love, sensitive boldness, time, energy and more on their parts. It was worth it! Even if I weren’t grateful to them, for the sake of my love for Christ it only makes sense that I would join their ranks in passing on the message to those with whom I have contact.
Because of the urgency of the message and the fact that “now” is the day of salvation, as he transitions from 6:1-2 Paul continues to explain why the Corinthians should pay attention to his appeals. Because we have such a high and holy calling as ambassadors of Christ with His message of reconciliation to God, it makes a difference how we carry it out.
DAY ONE: ENDURANCE IN HARDSHIPS
READ 2 CORINTHIANS 6:3-10
The motive of an ambassador affects the way he or she carries out his or her role. The fear of God and the love of Christ are critical. Christ’s ambassadors are not to be motivated by money1 or praise, but rather by their trust in the One who has commissioned them, their belief in the message and their concern for others who also need to hear it.
- Evaluate yourself. Is your life consistent with your message? Do both your life and your message accurately reflect Christ? Is your lifestyle exemplary yet humble? Are you quick to ask forgiveness and make amends when you have erred?
- What might be a stumbling block that you are putting in the way, even inadvertently, which is preventing people in your culture from receiving your message? Be very practical. Ask someone on your team what they see in your life. You might even consider asking a trusted person from your culture what they see.
- Are you willing to give up your “rights” for the greater goal as expressed in 1 Corinthians 9:12, 19-23?
To be an agent of reconciliation is not a cushy job. It puts a person into a place where they are easily misunderstood and even persecuted because it means going to people who are unreconciled and unrepentant.
It is not afflictions but the proper endurance of them that brings commendation. Endurance does not mean gritting one’s teeth as one submits to suffering. Rather it describes the ability to courageously persevere in the face of afflictions with a patient attitude so that one is transformed by those stresses.
Paul lists three sets of different kinds of hardships. The first includes hardships in one’s internal life: burdens and disappointments which weigh on our spirits, challenges of everyday life, and anxiety that comes when one is in a hard place with seemingly no way out. (Verse 4) The second includes suffering caused by other people, particularly physical torture or abuse, and either their antagonism or sometimes their contemptuous indifference. (Verse 5a) The third includes the exercise of self-discipline and self-denial in order to accomplish one’s calling. (Verse 5b)
- Paul implies that avoidance of suffering is a disqualification from service. (verses 4-5) What do the following verses say about endurance in suffering? (Romans 5:3-4; James 1:2-4)
- What did Jesus say about the cost of discipleship? (Luke 9:23-26; John 12:24-26; 15:18-21)
- What ethical, spiritual and lifestyle qualities were characteristic of Paul as he faced hardships? (6:6-7) What makes these possible?
- Paul explains that he is not unprotected as he fulfills his role. How does righteousness protect a person? What other spiritual weapons does this bring to mind? ((Ephesians 6:13-18)
- Compare the outward appearance with the inward reality of a servant of God. (6:8-10) How are you changing on the inside as you face hardships on the outside?
Let me briefly paraphrase Miss A. Wetherell Johnson’s description of three ways a Christian may face an obstacle to following God’s will which Satan throws in their path: a) the believer may refuse to obey God because of the hurt that will occur and may backslide as a result; b) the believer may choose to compromise in an effort to avoid the pain; or c) the believer may choose to die to self and obey Christ at any cost so that by identifying with Christ’s death in this way, Christ’s resurrection life may also be experienced. Philippians 3:10 also talks about this.2 Which response is typical of you?
Be encouraged (strengthened) by 1 Peter 1:6-7 as you also serve as an ambassador of Christ!
DAY TWO: WISDOM IN PARTNERSHIPS
READ 2 CORINTHIANS 6:11-18
Perhaps your parents were like mine in that when you told your parents you loved them, your parents said, “Then prove it by obeying me.” In a sense, that is what Paul is saying in verse 13 as he transitions into his warning against idolatry.
A. OPEN HEARTS
- Has Paul’s heart attitude toward the Corinthians changed in light of theirs toward him? (6:11-13)
- Remembering the plea of 5:20, can the Corinthians be reconciled to God if they continue to compromise with idolatry?
- Define idolatry. What might idolatry look like in Corinth? What might it look like in your culture?
B. UNEQUAL YOKES
Both believers and non-believers are sinners in need of God’s grace; neither is superior to the other. However we who have chosen to follow Christ are now headed in a different direction.
There are some things that are fundamentally incompatible and were never meant to be brought together. Paul talks of the impossibility for a committed follower of Christ to be yoked with a non-follower without negative consequences. The command of verse 14 is frequently applied to marriage between a believer and a non-believer. This is true, but in context this command has a broader application.
- Read Exodus 34:12-16 for the reason God gave Israel to not be unequally yoked. Rather than being a restrictive law, how did it actually protect them?
- It’s easy to see how this command would apply to participating in pagan practices or marriages. Can you think of other alliances or partnerships which might be implied? What might a Christian in Corinth have to give up in order to be true to his or her Savior?
- How does this principle apply in the culture in which you live? What implications are there for business, for social life, and even sometimes for family relations?
- After the command of 6:14, Paul asks five questions to clarify the reasons for not “yoking” with unbelievers. What are the obvious answers?
- Does this prohibit all association with unbelievers? (1 Corinthians 5:9-10; 10:27)
C. TEMPLE OF GOD
Paul’s “clincher” in his argument against idolatry is this statement, “For we are the temple of the living God.” In some places, the “temple of God” refers to the individual believer. Here it refers to the community of believers, the church.
Paul uses a series of Old Testament references as “proof texts” for this statement. The Corinthians need strict boundaries to protect them from idolatry and its effects. We fool ourselves if we think we are immune to idolatry’s effects and can flirt with sin without being burned!
- From these texts, can we truly worship God if we choose to be participants in any form of idolatry? Can we enjoy intimacy with Him if we compromise our beliefs by our lifestyle choices?
- In Genesis we receive glimpses of God walking with his people. The intimacy of that relationship was broken through sin. What precious promises does God give in 6:16-18? What are the conditions required to enjoy these promises?
How does this apply to you? Are you careful to understand the implications of lifestyle choices in the eyes of your culture before you make those choices? Is your lifestyle exemplary before those you are serving or might it cause confusion or stumbling?
DAY THREE: RESPONSE OF REVERENCE
READ 2 CORINTHIANS 7:1
That the sovereign God, the Creator of the Universe who is holy, righteous and just should desire a relationship with us who are sinners is amazing! That He should take the initiative to make it possible is overwhelmingly good news! That not only did He offer salvation, but also an intimate relationship with Himself is an expression of His love that is beyond our understanding! The logical response to such promises as we read in 6:16-18 is that of 7:1.
In chapter one Paul said that God’s promises found their “yes” in Christ. But these promises also came with a warning. Conditions must be fulfilled for these promises to be true for us.
The Corinthians’ continuing problem with idolatry, in spite of the fact that they had chosen to follow Christ, may have been related in part to false apostles who had come into the church. To receive the fullness of these promises of 6:16-18, some things had to change.
- What two conditions are given as commands in 6:17?
- What might this have required in practical terms for the Corinthians?
- Remembering that idolatry can take various forms, how might you apply this to yourself in your culture, job, or family?
- What similar promise and response does 1 John 3:2-3 give?
God forgave us at the cross, but His intention was to save us not only from the penalty for sin, but also from the presence and power of sin in our lives now. Out of reverence for God, we must cooperate with Him in this process. Paul urges us to purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit.
- Name some things that contaminate us physically which you need to deal with. Which one do you believe God would have you address today? Journal that issue and a plan for how you will do so. Consider having an accountability partner.
- Name some things which contaminate us spiritually which you need to deal with. Which one do you believe God would have you deal with today? Journal that as well as your plan for dealing with it.
- Sometimes there are seemingly minor things in your life or mine which are not wrong in themselves and may even be good. They may be things your friends are able to enjoy without problems, but in your life they are enemies of the best, and are subtly keeping you from enjoying sweet intimacy with our Lord. It may be that this is no longer a matter of self-control for you, but that now those things need to be ruthlessly removed from your life in order to have victory in that area. Is the Lord revealing anything to you which you need to crucify and bury once and for all?
To perfect something means to bring it to completion, to its desired goal. When we became believers, we became holy in the sense that we were set apart for God. Now we are to perfect this holiness by increasingly living it out in our experience.
- What does Ephesians 4:22-24 instruct us to do?
- Idolatry corrupts the total person, body and spirit. We have been set apart and called to be holy ones/saints. Therefore, can we continue to be aligned with just any person or organization? Can we compromise our beliefs, morals and values? What do 1 Corinthians 10:14, Galatians 5:25, and James 4:7 direct us to do?
If we love a sin in our lives so much that we don’t or won’t deal with it, then we cannot say we love God with all our heart. In 7:1 Paul tells us what our response needs to be.
DAY FOUR: COMFORT AFTER CORRECTION
READ 2 CORINTHIANS 7:2-7
Verse 2 is the point where Paul returns to his previous thought of 6:13. He implores the Corinthians not only to respond to his love, but also to his apostolic authority.
As we read this appeal from Paul, we see into his heart. From an objective viewpoint, this church was the one least worthy of his affection, but the one into which he poured the most love. Like a good parent, he would not sacrifice his integrity, but within that limit he would do anything to bring them to healthy maturity, regardless of the personal cost. He would even die for them. Would they open their hearts to him and his message?
It was probably the divisive leaders referenced in 1 Corinthians that created this problem between Paul and the Corinthians. Coming into Corinth later as rivals of Paul, they called into question Paul’s character, his apostolic authority and undermined his message of the true gospel. The Corinthians should have known better. After all, Paul had lived and worked with them for one and one-half years.
- Read 7:2-4.
- What three defenses does Paul give?
- What characteristics inspire love and loyalty in us toward our leaders? Which of those traits do you think Paul had? Which do you have?
- If love and loyalty were withheld from you by those under your authority, could you respond like Paul?
Encouraged by Titus’ report that they had repented of the sins he had addressed, Paul welled up with pride in them. The risk he took in writing the severe letter was worth it.
When we have a problem like the Corinthians and Paul did, it has to be addressed. Ideally it can be dealt with quickly and personally, but there are times when a letter or email are good vehicles for us to express our concerns in an accurate, logical, less emotional, non-manipulative way that might be more easily accepted. Paul used both methods (not the internet however!) but worried that he had been too harsh.
- Read 7:5-9.
- It seems that our most severe problems come in bunches. That was Paul’s experience in 7:5. How did God comfort him?
- Once a relationship has been damaged, it is difficult to rebuild. Paul’s relationship with the Corinthians gave him the right to honestly lay out the problems he saw in them. What was the goal of the letter and was it achieved? (7:7-9)
- There are times when a serious problem needs to be corrected. Are you willing to risk rejection in order to correct a serious problem in someone under your authority? If so, are you careful to pray first and to follow Biblical guidelines in doing so? (Matthew 7:3-5; 2 Timothy 3:16; 4:2) As with Paul, sometimes correction is best done in person; other times a written letter is more effective.
- There may also be times when you or I need correction. Are you humble enough to receive it, examine its truth before the Lord, and then respond as the Lord directs you?
DAY FIVE: GODLY REPENTANCE
READ 2 CORINTHIANS 7:8-16
Repentance is a change of mind with a resulting change in actions. Godly repentance is a change of mind and heart resulting in a change in actions in line with God’s will.
There is good pain and bad pain. Good pain warns us there is a problem so that we can deal with it. That is the type of pain Paul caused with his letter.
- Read 7:8-16.
- We tend to be content when there is sorrow for sin. However what does verse 10 say are two kinds of sorrow? What opposite results do they produce?
- What evidence was there that the “severe letter” was effective and that the Corinthians’ sorrow was truly godly repentance? (7:11)
- Interestingly, Paul was not primarily concerned with the guilty or injured parties but with the church’s response! Their sin was less about what the guilty did that was wrong, but rather what the church neglected to do which was right.
- An additional benefit to the Corinthians was the restoration of their faith in Paul and his apostolic authority. What was the benefit to Titus?
- Why could Paul now boast about the Corinthians with confidence?
- Am I quick to deal carefully and honestly with problems in my church?
- When someone points out my problem to me, how do I respond?
- Is my service motivated by fear of the Lord and love for Him or by something else?
- Am I worshiping God with my whole heart, or is there something else that takes priority over him in my heart and mind?
- Am I in a right relationship with my team members and with the group I serve? If not, what will I do to resolve any problems? When will I do so?
Scripture tells us that those who are Christ’s ambassadors will face hardships of varying kinds. We don’t seek them, but they will happen. To represent Christ well, we must be people of integrity showing the character of Christ in our lives and words regardless of our situations. This will be easier if we are supported by mutually loving relationships within the church, if we are careful to be “yoked” only with other believers in our close relationships, if we repent of any sin in our lives, and if we live with reverence for God at our core.
1. This does not mean a pastor or worker should not receive an appropriate salary, but rather that money is not the motivation for service. (1 Corinthians 9:7-12)
2. Johnson, A. Wetherell, Created for Commitment. (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1982), pp 51-52. (Miss Johnson, who was the founder of BSF International, experienced the reality of this in her own life.)
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