Notes on 2 Corinthians 6:4-7

2 Corinthians 6:4‑7  •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 11
IT is a right and needed thing to begin with giving no offense in anything which might occasion blame to the ministry. How often there is unguardedness of which the enemy takes advantage, not merely against the servant, but the objects of his work and above all the Master whom He serves! The apostle however would go much farther:—
“But in everything as ministers of God commending ourselves, in much patience, in affliction, in necessities, in straits, in stripes, in prisons, in tumults, in labors, in watchings, in fastings, in pureness, in knowledge, in long-suffering, in kindness, in [the] Holy Ghost, in love unfeigned, in [the] word of truth, in [the] power of God.” (Vers. 4-7)
Earlier in the Epistle (chap. 3) we have seen the character of the ministry. In contrast with the ministry of death and condemnation, as set out in the law graven on stone, it is of the Spirit and of righteousness, the Spirit given and righteousness revealed to the believer in virtue of Christ's redemption. Later (chap. 5) we saw its source in the God who reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ and gave to suited instruments, called and qualified by sovereign grace, the ministry of the reconciliation: how that it was God in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, not reckoning to them their offenses, and having put in us the word of the reconciliation. And as all the thoughts and feelings of men fall immeasurably short of the simple but deep truth of God here made known, so does the apostolic statement of the spirit and manner of its exercise rise above all the practices and theories of Christendom, never so alien, never so low, as when it indulges in the haughtiest pride. And no wonder, for it is then most remote from Christ; and Christ here as everywhere alone gives us the truth. Under law priesthood was the characteristic, the intervention of a representative class charged with maintaining before God the interests of His people who could not draw near into His holy presence for their own wants or His blessing. Under the gospel ministry it is no less characteristic, as being the instrument of God's active love, both in reconciling His enemies as it goes out to the whole creation under heaven, and in building up the faithful who in one Spirit were baptized into one body and were all given to drink into one Spirit. Christ is the fullest expression of this love in its activity both to the world and to the saints; and those who desire the will and the glory of God have Him before their eyes as the test of all.
So we know it was with the apostle; and such is the revelation here of the spirit in which God would have His ministry exercised. He never meant it only for the pulpit, as men say, nor for set occasions, nor in a little or a larger sphere of one's own, nor as a matter of vested rights or of personal authority. Conversion did not of itself correct the tendency even in the apostles toward a direction the most opposed to Christ. “There was also a strife among them which should be accounted the greatest. And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so; but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief as he that doth serve. For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? But I am among you as he that serveth.” (Luke 22) So here the first quality set before us is “in everything as ministers of God commending ourselves;” if not as His ministers, what are we? Worse than useless. And that as a fixed purpose of the soul, not now and then, nor in specified duties only, but in everything as God's ministers commending ourselves.
It may be noticed that in this version “as God's ministers” is placed before the participle, whereas in Greek it follows. The reason is that our idiom does not admit of the order which is correct in the original because of its definite case-ending. The Authorized Version really expresses ὡς θεοῦ διακόνους which is the reading of the Clermont manuscript, and the more extraordinary, because the corresponding Latin is “sicut Di [ Del] ministri.” The Vulgate falls into the error of translating ὡς θ. διάκονοι “sicut Dei ministros.” If the same order were sought in English as in Greek, it would necessitate, I think, the addition of “should;” for there is a difference of sense attaching to the difference of construction, and the apostolic phrase expresses precisely what the context requires. Were it the accusative, διακόνους, the meaning would be commending ourselves1 as competent to be God's ministers, whereas with the nominative διάκοναι, as it is, the force is that in everything we in the capacity of His ministers commend ourselves, &c.
What then is the prime quality which is looked for? “In much patience” or “endurance.” So the apostle in chapter xii. 12, where he sets “all endurance,” or patience, before signs and wonders and works of power as apostolic vouchers. God Himself is called the God of patience no less than of comfort or encouragement, and this with a view to grant the saints to be like-minded one toward another, according to Christ Jesus; nor is there a happier proof of moral power in His servants than such constancy in the face of suffering, opposition, trial and temptation. When impatient, one is overcome of evil instead of overcoming it with good in the lowliest form.
Then follows a threefold cord of the several ways in which endurance is put to the proof: “in afflictions, in necessities, in straits.” “Afflictions” or tribulations (θλίψεις) are cases of pressure which every saint has in the world. We are set for this, and must through many tribulations enter into the kingdom of God. Necessities (ἀνάγκαι) express distresses which take the shape of need or constraint, and so, as the early Greek writers noticed, indicate an advance in suffering; as straits (στενοχώριαι) point to such troubles as shut a man up without space to move or turn.2
Next come specific inflictions, “in stripes, in prisons, in tumults.” As to the first of these three, the apostle further gives us the fact that from the Jews he five times had received forty stripes save one, and been scourged thrice. As to “prisons,” we know of but one, recorded minutely in Acts 16, doubtless for its momentous connection with the first planting of the gospel in Philippi; but 2 Cor. 11:2323Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. (2 Corinthians 11:23) speaks of the apostle's being “in prisons more frequent,” so that we know such shame to have been abundantly his lot. There remains “in tumults” (ἀκαταστασίαις), which some apply to the forced changes of the apostle's unsettled life, comparing 1 Cor. 4:1111Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwellingplace; (1 Corinthians 4:11) with Isa. 54:11, 7011O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colors, and lay thy foundations with sapphires. (Isaiah 54:11). And so not moderns only, but apparently Chrysostom. Nevertheless New Testament usage does not support such a meaning, but either a “riot” in the world or “confusion” among saints; and here the context confirms the former: a shocking trial to one of well-ordered habits. But we see in the Acts how often it befell the apostle in his preachings; and doubtless very much more frequently than that history records.
Then we pass on from inflicted to voluntary trials, “in labors, in watchings, in fastings,” which are not the least witness to sustained devotedness. The language so clearly intimates one's own agency here that it might have seemed needless to say a word more. But scripture fares as no other book; and this at the hands of friends as well as foes. Dr. Bloomfield will have it that this application to voluntary sufferings is not only unfounded, but devised to afford countenance to monkish austerities; that κ may very well refer to his corporal labors at his trade, dγρ to the abridgment of rest to make up by over-hours at night for evangelizing by day; and v. to the scanty fare that must follow such a trade. But 2 Cor. 11 is the true parallel, and not merely 1 Cor. 4; and in the former we have “fasting” distinguished expressly from “hunger and thirst,” clearly as voluntary from involuntary suffering. No! the apostle's “labors, watchings, fastings,” had to do with the gospel and the church, as well as individual souls, and were quite above the circumstances of trade good or bad.
But now we turn from circumstances and sufferings to quite another class, to qualities which God looks for in His service: “in pureness, in knowledge, in long-suffering, in kindness, in love unfeigned, in [the] Holy Ghost, in [the] word of truth, in [the] power of God.” There is thus not only perseverance in the face of antagonism and enmity, but the exercise of all that is holy and wise, long-suffering and gracious, and all this, not in mere amiability but in love unfeigned, yea, in the Holy Spirit, and hence in the word of truth and in God's power, not mere human wisdom and ability, that its excellency might be of Him, and not from the man though by him.