Series on II Corinthians I Paul's Dedication to Ministry, F Sacrificial, 1 Servants of God, Text: 6:1-13. Title: Open Hearts.

Introduction

As Paul continues to talk about his ministry he is endeavoring not only to convince the Corinthian Christians of the authenticity of his calling and apostleship, which many disputed, but in recognizing that their disputes are counterproductive.  Paul calls them to spend their energy in laboring for the gospel, not in arguing between themselves. This section is an appeal from beginning to end, and at the end Paul is saying we have opened our hearts to you, open yours to us. His goal is not simply to have a good relationship with the Corinthians, but rather what he wants is their fellowship in the gospel.  Paul doesn't want just friends, he wants fellow workers.  Most of us, when our position or authority is challenged, become so totally focused on defending ourselves that we forget the overall program.  The apostle Paul doesn't do that.  He defends his authority, but he never loses sight of the overall purpose which is to have everybody serving the Lord.  So let us open our hearts.

I The Exhortation v.1-3

First we have an exhortation in verses 1 and 2,  As God’s fellow workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain.   For he says, “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation. Paul has just told them  in 5:10 about the judgment seat of Christ. When the Lord Jesus returns we must appear before Him. Some Christians, because they have not built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ, will suffer loss. They themselves will be saved but only as one escaping through the flames  according to I Corinthians 3: 13-15. This is what Paul means when he says do not receive the grace of God in vain. That is, don't be wasteful and unproductive. He says quoting Isaiah, God promised He would hear and help you. and Paul says that God has done it. Now what are we going to do?  V.3 sums it up, We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. We do nothing to discredit our Lord or His gospel, but on the contrary we commend ourselves as servants of God. How do we do that? Paul's example is spelled out in detail here and we need to ponder it.

II The Example v.4-10

How does the Apostle exemplify the right attitude to the grace of God?  In a long list of terms which describe his ministry as holy, sincere and consistent, there are three areas which he explores. The first is perseverance in suffering.

A  Perseverance

In verses 4 and 5, Paul talks about troubles, hardships, distresses, beatings, imprisonments and riots. Rather, 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. All these things he patiently bore because of his commitment to Christ.  He also inflicted some things on himself such as hard work, sleepless nights, and hunger.  This patient endurance is an outstanding characteristic of Paul.  Jesus said, In the world you shall have affliction, but be of good cheer, i have overcome the world. Paul and Barnabas admonished their converts in Acts 14:22 that through many afflictions we must enter the kingdom of God. Paul testified to the Ephesian elders at Miletus in Acts 20:23 that he was uncertain about his future except for one thing that, The Holy Spirit testified to him in every city that bonds and afflictions awaited him. This is a far cry from a gospel of health and prosperity which promotes the American ideal of success. If we would not receive the grace of God in vain, we must ask ourselves the question, have i counted the cost of following Jesus?

B Purity

The second attitude Paul lists here is purity in verse 6, 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. In this series of descriptive terms he refers to the purity of his ministry, his dedication, his single-mindedness. He speaks of understanding, patience, and kindness in the Holy Spirit, and in sincere love, in truthful speech and in the power of God.  He speaks then of both the motive of his ministry and the message. There is nothing in either his motive or his message to be a stumbling block to others.  He preached the grace of God and he exemplified it in his behavior. Paul was not self-seeking nor hypocritical.  He had only one goal which was the welfare of the Corinthians, and he was no false apostle. Galatians 1:6-10 is a good summary of his attitude, I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.


C Peacefulness

The third section of Paul's list in verses 8-10 is quite different,  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. It is paradoxical.  It is a series of contrasting conditions in which one might expect to be totally discouraged but instead we find Paul rejoicing. The important thing is the key to this attitude of peace in the midst of turmoil.  I believe that is found in  verse 7 where Paul speaks of the weapons of righteousness on the right hand and on the left. The right hand ordinarily, with apologies to left-handers,  is the hand in which the offensive weapon is held. The left hand holds the shield for defense. If we apply this metaphor to the series of contrasts it helps us understand Paul's attitude.  On the one hand Paul preached the gospel which is a gospel of the free gift of righteousness through Jesus Christ.  It is good news not bad news.  If the gospel demanded a standard we could not meet that would be bad news.  But the gospel offers the free gift of righteousness to all who trust in Christ according to II Corinthians 5:21, God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. That same righteousness becomes a defensive weapon for the believer.  It is a shield.  If God be for us who can be against us. Who can bring any charge against God's elect.  It is God who justifies, who can condemn? This is the weapon of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, and it is what enables Paul to accept the paradoxes of his life. The man is at peace, having nothing but possessing everything. So I submit to you that the way to receive the grace of God is by a life of peace, purity and perseverance, and this is what Paul wants for the Corinthians and for us all.

III Encouragement

The apostle therefore says our hearts are open, open yours. Verses 11-13, 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. The problem here was really that the Corinthians had divided hearts. Their hearts were not open to Paul because they were not open to Jesus. This is one of the most difficult things in the Christian life.  We always want to hold back. We know that we are rich in Christ, but becoming poor for Christ is hard.  We know that we are rejoicing in Christ but becoming sorrowful is hard. We know that we are known in Christ but becoming unknown is hard. We know that we possess everything in Christ but possessing nothing for Christ, this is hard. But this is what the Apostle is asking for when he asks us to open our hearts.