“An Appeal for Reconciliation”
Adult Sunday School Lesson Summary for August 24, 2014
Lesson Text: 2 Corinthians 6:1-13; 7:2-4
Background Scripture: 2 Corinthians 6:1-7:4
Devotional Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:16-21
2 Corinthians 6:1-13 (KJV)
1 We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain.
2 (For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.)
3 Giving no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed:
4 But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses,
5 In stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings;
6 By pureness, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned,
7 By the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left,
8 By honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report: as deceivers, and yet true;
9 As unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed;
10 As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.
11 O ye Corinthians, our mouth is open unto you, our heart is enlarged.
12 Ye are not straitened in us, but ye are straitened in your own bowels.
13 Now for a recompence in the same, (I speak as unto my children,) be ye also enlarged.
2 Corinthians 7:2-4
2 Receive us; we have wronged no man, we have corrupted no man, we have defrauded no man.
3 I speak not this to condemn you: for I have said before, that ye are in our hearts to die and live with you.
4 Great is my boldness of speech toward you, great is my glorying of you: I am filled with comfort, I am exceeding joyful in all our tribulation.
TODAY’S LESSON AIMS
Learning Fact: To describe some of the hardships Paul endured for ministry.
Biblical Principle: To tell how enduring hardship for the gospel enhances one’s credibility in proclaiming the gospel.
Daily Application: To daily be an example to others, forgiving others as Christ forgave you.
In television’s early days, broadcasters quickly discovered that boxing was inexpensive to air and was popular with audiences. So began the "Saturday Night Fights" that were common television fare in the 1950s. Unfortunately, churches have been known for their "Sunday Morning Fights," with rivalry and rancor tarnishing the good news of Jesus. Such fights go all the way back to the first century. Given the availability of the apostles themselves, we may find it surprising that church fights would have happened back then. But they did. Today’s text addresses one such.
Time: A.D. 55
Place: from Macedonia
Paul faced opposition from one or more factions within the Corinthian church. We can sketch some of their characteristics by reading his letters to that church. His opponents claimed superior spiritual status and knowledge (1 Corinthians 8:1, 2). Some taught that immoral behavior was of no consequence (5:1, 2; 6:9-13). Some denied that God raises the dead (15:12).
Furthermore, some opponents minimized or denied Paul’s authority as an apostle (2 Corinthians 6:8; 11:5; 12:11, 12). Some characterized him as powerful in his letters, but unimpressive in person (10:9, 10)—perhaps downright crazy (5:13). Some insisted that Jewish identity was vital to a true relationship with God (11:22).
The combination of doctrinal deviations and power struggles created big problems at Corinth! Paul worked hard to straighten things out. When he wrote 2 Corinthians, it appears that he had largely succeeded. Not all had given up the false teaching, but to those who had, Paul had the message of today’s text.
Receiving God’s Grace: 2 Corinthians 6:1-2
1. Why does Paul urge the Corinthians to not receive God’s grace in vain? (2 Corinthians 6:1-2)
Today’s text comes just after a long segment on the subject of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:11-21). In this light, Paul reminded his readers of the Christians’ standing with God: we belong to Him through His grace, not our goodness. To receive God’s grace and then to be unforgiving is to make His grace vain or empty. His forgiveness compels us to forgive others (Matthew 6:12).
God spoke through Paul to urge individuals such as the Corinthians not to ignore or squander the divine gift of “grace” (2 Cor. 6:1) they had received by faith. Paul’s statement at the end of this verse has sparked some differences of opinion among Bible interpreters. Some think his pointed remark was for those in Corinth who had heard the Gospel but had not been regenerated by it. Because they had refused to believe, they had not been reconciled to God, despite listening to and understanding the apostle’s proclamation. Others maintain that receiving “the grace of God in vain” implied that the behavior of the Corinthians was not measuring up to their Christian profession. Expressed differently, their lifestyles had become a denial if what they professed to believe.
Whatever the case, in verse 2, Paul quoted Isaiah 49:8 to illustrate the urgency of his appeal. In its original context, the verse foretold that at the divinely appointed time, the Lord, through His chosen Servant, would restore the faithful remnant of Israel from exile to their homeland. Ultimately, the promise of liberation from captivity, freedom from sin, and pardon from iniquities is fulfilled in the Savior. Paul stressed to the Corinthians that now was the time for them to respond to the Gospel. Likewise, this was the day of salvation. The apostle wanted his readers to know that if they procrastinated—namely, if they put off their decision to respond appropriately to the Son—they put their souls in mortal jeopardy. For this reason, Paul urged them to embrace and act on the message of reconciliation while they still had the opportunity to do so.
Maintaining a Credible Ministry: 2 Corinthians 6:3-10
2. Why did Paul feel it was necessary to be careful in how he conducted his life and ministry? (2 Corinthians 6:3)
Paul determined that being an ambassador of reconciliation was central to his calling as an apostle. Consequently, he did not want anything in his life to discredit his ministry. The Greek noun translated “stumbling block” (2 Cor. 6:3) can figuratively refer to an obstacle that morally trips up people, an attitude or action that creates offense, or a circumstance that gives others a rationale for sinning. (See 1 Cor. 8:9) Paul said that he worked hard to avoid giving any opportunity for others to use some aspect of his life as an excuse for refusing the Gospel. Paul realized that regardless of his godly lifestyle, some would make accusations against him. Nonetheless, he wanted those charges to be completely groundless. That is why he depended on the Lord to be as virtuous and commendable as possible.
One of the greatest obstacles to the progress of the Gospel is the bad example of people who profess to be Christians. Unsaved people like to use the inconsistencies of the saints—especially preachers—as an excuse for rejecting Jesus Christ. Again, Paul was careful not to do anything that would put a stumbling block in the way of either sinners or saints (see Rom. 14). He did not want the ministry to be blamed in any way because of his life.
3. What kinds of hardships did Paul endure? (2 Corinthians 6:4-10)
Because the Gospel was at stake, Paul declared himself and his associates to be genuine and trustworthy “ministers of God” (2 Cor. 6:4). The apostle’s long list of credentials and hardships appearing in verses 4-10 could be taken to indicate that he was greatly alarmed by the risk to the Gospel inherent in the accusations made against him.
Paul then listed a few of the trials he endured because of the opposition of people: stripes (beatings), imprisonments, and tumults (riots). These he experienced because he was faithfully serving the Lord. He then named some of the sacrifices he made voluntarily for the sake of the ministry: labors (work resulting in weariness), watchings (sleepless nights), fastings (willingly going without food). Of course, Paul had not announced these things publicly. The only reason he mentioned them in this letter was to assure the Corinthians of his love for them.
He further reminded them of the tools he had used in his ministry (2 Cor. 6:6-7). Pureness means “chastity” (see 2 Cor. 11:2). Paul kept himself morally clean. Long-suffering refers to patience with difficult people, while patience (2 Cor. 6:4) refers to endurance in difficult circumstances. Paul depended on the power of the Spirit so that he might manifest the fruit of the Spirit, such as kindness and sincere love. He used the Word of God to convey spiritual knowledge, and he wore the armor of God (see Eph. 6:10) to protect him from satanic attacks.
Finally, he reminded them of the testimony that he bore (2 Cor. 6:8-10). Paul listed a series of paradoxes, because he knew that not everybody really understood him and his ministry. Paul’s enemies gave an evil report of him as a man who was a dishonorable deceiver. But God gave a good report of Paul as a man who was honorable and true. Paul was well known and yet, at the same time, unknown.
Paul also had sorrow in his ministry (v. 10), largely due to the struggles that his churches face. Why endure such heartache? For the joy that accompanies it! Seeing people come to faith and mature in faith, seeing people who have been enemies become brothers and sisters—these are sources of incomparable joy. What a price Paul paid to be faithful in his ministry! And yet did the Corinthians really appreciated all he did for them?
Making a Plea for Affection: 2 Corinthians 6:11-13
4. Was Paul wrong in appealing for the Corinthian’s appreciation (2 Corinthians 6:11-13)?
Not at all. Too many churches are prone to take for granted the sacrificial ministry of pastors, missionaries, and faithful church officers. Paul was not begging for praise, but he was reminding his friends in Corinth that his ministry to them had cost him dearly.
In spite of all the problems and heartaches the church had caused him, Paul still loved the believers at Corinth very much. He had spoken honestly and lovingly to them; now he tenderly asked them to open their hearts to him. He felt like a father whose children were robbing him of the love that he deserved (see 1 Cor. 4:15).
Why were they withholding their love? Because they had divided hearts. While Paul’s love for the Corinthians remained undiminished, they had allowed the accusations and slander of the false teachers to erode their feelings for him (2 Corinthians 6:12). The gossip had effectively squeezed the apostle out of his readers’ hearts. Understandably, Paul desired the Corinthians to return the affection he continued to show them. He used a Greek noun (recompense) that referred to a fair exchange (v. 13) of two things equal in value. The Lord had used Paul to bring his readers to faith in Christ. And because the apostle was their spiritual father, he genuinely hoped they would warmly receive and reciprocate his love. Just as it is natural for parents to want to be loved by their children, so Paul wanted to be loved by his spiritual offspring. In a sense, then, the Corinthians were acting unnaturally by withholding their affection from the apostle.
The Apostle’s Request: 2 Corinthians 7:2-4
After Paul’s short digression, in which he urged believers not to be yoked together with unbelievers (see 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1), he restated his request for the love of the believers in Corinth. His entreaty for them to open up their hearts to him (7:2) picks up the thought he had left off in 6:13. Though the apostle’s heart was full of love for his readers, he sensed that something was restraining their feelings for him (see 6:12).
5. How can we tell Paul’s appeal and commitment to the Corinthians was passionate? (2 Corinthians 7:2-4)
Evidently, the false teachers had charged Paul with undermining the faith of the Corinthian Christians. He discerned that the attacks against him were the cause of the believers’ constraint. So, once again he emphasized that his motives were pure and that the attacks on him were slanderous. He denied having wronged anyone, damaged their faith, or exploited then (2 Cor. 7:2). The apostle did not want his readers to think that he was putting the blame on them for the charges the false teachers brought against him. Paul was seeking to clear himself of any wrongdoing in the eyes of the Corinthians, not accuse them of misconduct. Consequently, he reassured his readers that his love for them remained strong. It could not be destroyed by the changing situations in this life or even by death (v. 3).
Despite the hesitancy of the Corinthians toward Paul, he remained confident of them (v. 4). Titus’ report had reassured him that they were progressing in the Christian faith (see v. 7). Indeed, Paul took pride in the Corinthians for all their good qualities. He was filled with joy despite the afflictions he continued to endure (v. 4). Paul’s determination to be reconciled has only one source: commitment to Christ. So he can endure any hardship and undertake any task to see God’s work through to its fulfillment.
What Do You Think?
How have you seen God empower people to fulfill the call for reconciliation? What did you learn from this?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Within families | Within the church | Between friends| In society in general
Do Christians need to repent? Jesus said that we do (Luke 17:3-4), and Paul agreed with Him (2 Cor. 12:21). Four of the seven churches of Asia Minor, listed in Revelation 2-3, were commanded to repent. To repent simply means “to turn away from sin” (to change one’s mind), and disobedient Christians need to repent, not in order to be saved, but in order to restore their close fellowship with God.
POINTS TO PONDER
1. If you are truly God’s worker you must forgive others. (2 Corinthians 6:1)
2. The time to accept salvation is today. (2 Corinthians 6:2)
3. Believers must not cause others to stumble. (2 Corinthians 6:3)
4. You will face hardships on your Christian journey. Yet when you trust in Him you will experience His peace and joy. (2 Corinthians 6:4-10)
5. By relying on our own strength, most of us are incapable of being reconciled to those who have wronged us or our loved ones. (2 Corinthians 6:11-13)
6. Jesus, however, has called us not to succumb to hate and anger. And He has provided us with the power to sincerely and actively harbor no grudge against our accusers (haters). (2 Corinthians 7:2-4)
When Enemies Become Family
Some churches may be known for their fights (compare 2 Corinthians 12:20), but the true story of the church is forgiveness. In Christ, enemies become family. If Christ’s love lives in us, then we can do no less than love all those for whom Christ died. To refuse to be reconciled is to blaspheme the cross of Christ. To pursue reconciliation is to glorify it.
Heavenly Father, Your Son died for us, unworthy sinners. Strengthen us to demonstrate Your mercy as we work to reconcile. In Jesus’ name, amen.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER
Work for reconciliation—God did!
ANTICIPATING THE NEXT LESSON
Next week’s lesson is “Sacrificial, Joyful Giving,” in which we will learn how to give willingly and generously to the work of God. Study 2 Corinthians 8:1-14.
LESSON SUMMARIZED BY
Horace A. Hayes
Jesus Is All Ministries
Life Application Bible—New Revised Standard Version. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.
Scofield, C.I., ed. The New Scofield Study Bible—King James Version. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Summary and commentary derived from Standard Lesson Commentary Copyright 2014 by permission of Standard Publishing.
The KJV Parallel Bible Commentary, by Nelson Books.
The Pulpit Commentary, Spence-Jones, H. D. M. (Hrsg.), Bellingham, WA : Logos Research Systems, Inc.
Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, Cook