2 Corinthians 6
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain.

(1) We then, as workers together with him, beseech you . . .—The thought of the marvel of the atoning love fills the heart of St. Paul with an almost passionate desire to see its purpose realised in those whom he has taught; and so, “as a fellow-worker with Him”—the pronoun may be referred grammatically either to God or Christ, but the general tone of the context, and St. Paul’s language elsewhere (1Corinthians 12:6; Ephesians 1:11; Ephesians 1:20; Philippians 2:13), are decisive in favour of the former—he renews his entreaty. The language in which he does so is every way significant. Those to whom he wrote had believed and been baptised, and so they had “received the grace;” but the freedom of the will to choose good or evil remained, and if they chose evil they would frustrate the end which the grace was intended to work out. (Comp. the language of 1Corinthians 9:27; 1Corinthians 15:10.)

(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.)
(2) I have heard thee in a time accepted . . .—Better, perhaps, acceptable. The meaning of the pronoun “He,” as referring to God, is determined by the preceding verse. The tense of the Greek is better expressed by, I heard thee . . . I succoured thee. As with other citations, it is a natural inference that St. Paul had the context, as well as the words actually cited, in his mind, and it is interesting, accordingly, to remember that context. The words (Isaiah 49:8) are among those addressed at first to the servant of Jehovah, as “the light of the Gentiles;” then, apparently, in His name, as the Holy One, and in that of Jehovah, to Israel as a nation. In God’s dealings with His people through Christ the Apostle saw the true fulfilment of Isaiah’s words. Never, in spite of all outward calamities, had there been a time so acceptable, a day so full of deliverance.

Behold, now is the accepted time . . .—The word for “accepted” is much stronger than in the previous clause. Entirely acceptable is, perhaps, its best equivalent. The solemnity of the words was, it may be, intensified in St. Paul’s thoughts by what seemed to him the nearness of the impending judgment. Opportunities, as we should say, were offered which might never again recur. But the prolonged experience of the longsuffering of God has given to the words a yet more profound significance. There is, so to speak, a “now” running through the ages. For each church and nation, for each individual soul, there is a golden present which may never again recur, and in which lie boundless possibilities for the future. The words of the Apostle are, as it were, the transfigured expression of the generalisation of a wide experience which tells us that—

“There is a tide in the affairs of men

Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune:

Omitted, all the voyage of their life

Is bound in shallows and in miseries.”

—Shakespeare, Julius Cœsar, iv. 3.

Giving no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed:
(3) Giving no offence . . .—The participial construction is resumed from 2Corinthians 6:1, 2Corinthians 6:2 being treated as parenthetical. A subtle distinction in the two forms of the Greek negative suggests the thought that he is here giving, as it were, his own estimate of his aim and endeavour in his work. He avoids all occasion of offence, not because he fears censure for himself, but that “the ministry be not blamed.”

But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses,
(4) But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God.—Better, as keeping up the connection with 2Corinthians 3:1; 2Corinthians 5:12, as ministers of God commending ourselves. He harps, as it were, upon that phrase. Yes, he does commend himself; but how? He looks back on his life of labour and sufferings and challenges comparison. Can others, with their letters of commendation, point to anything like this? The word “ministers” in the Greek is in the nominative case, while the English at least suggests that it is in the objective after the verb. What he means is that he, as the minister of God should do, commends himself by acts and not by words. It is obvious that what follows was likely to expose him to a repetition of the cynical sneer, but of this his generous indignation makes him nobly regardless.

In much patience . . .—Better, as elsewhere, endurance. The word has a much stronger meaning than our English “patience.” (See Notes on Luke 8:15; Luke 21:19.) The general term is naturally followed by a specification of details. It is not, perhaps, easy to specify what he refers to under each head. Possibly he used such words, as we habitually use them, without a formal classification. The root-idea of the first word of the triad is that of being pressed upon; of the second, that of a constraint that leaves no choice of action; of the third, that of being so hemmed in that there is no room to move.

In stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings;
(5) In stripes . . .—The list becomes more specific. “Stripes” we have seen at Philippi (Acts 16:23), and 2Corinthians 11:23-24 show that there were other instances. Of “imprisonment?,” that at Philippi is, so far, the only recorded instance (Acts 16:24); but there may well have been others, as in 2Corinthians 11:23. “Tumults” (the same word as in Luke 21:9) at Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13:50), Lystra (Acts 14:5-19), Thessalonica (Acts 17:5), Corinth itself (Acts 18:12), and Ephesus (Acts 19:23-41). “Labours” describe the usual tenor of his life, the daily work of his calling as a tent-maker, as well as that connected with his ministry. “Watchings” and “fastings” are, probably, both of them (comp. 2Corinthians 11:27) to be referred to voluntary acts—nights of vigil and self-imposed abstinence—rather than to privations incidental to his work.

By pureness, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned,
(6) By pureness . . .—The word may possibly mean “purity of motive” in its widest sense, but the use of the corresponding adjective in 2Corinthians 11:2; 1Timothy 5:22; Titus 2:3; 1Peter 3:2, and, indeed, its general sense elsewhere, is decisive in favour of “purity from sensual sin”—personal chastity. In the general state of morals throughout the empire, and especially in writing to such a city as Corinth, it was natural to dwell on this aspect of the Christian character. (Comp. 1Corinthians 7:7.) The “knowledge” is obviously not that of earthly things, but of the mysteries of God (Ephesians 3:4). In “kindness” we trace the consciousness of an effort to reproduce the graciousness which he looked on as a characteristic attribute of God and Christ (Ephesians 2:7; Titus 3:4). In the “Holy Ghost” we may see a reference both to spiritual gifts, such as those of tongues and prophecy (1Corinthians 14:18-19), and to the impulses and promptings in which he traced the general guidance of the Spirit (Acts 16:6-7). “Love unfeigned” (i.e., without hypocrisy) presents the same combination as in Romans 12:9 (“without dissimulation” in the English version).

By the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left,
(7) By the word of truth.—Both words are, in the Greek, without the article, and this throws a slight shade of doubt upon their meaning. With the article, the same combination occurs in Ephesians 1:13; 2Timothy 2:15; and there can be no doubt that there the sense is objective—“the word which conveys the truth of God to men.” Here a subjective meaning, “a word of truthfulness,” or “truthful word,” as distinct from insincerity of speech, is grammatically possible; but in James 1:18, where precisely the same combination occurs, we have ample warrant for retaining the objective meaning even here.

By the power of God.—Here, again, the words hover between a general and a specific sense. As distinguished from the “Holy Ghost” in 2Corinthians 6:6, and looking to the general use of the Greek word for “power,” it seems natural to refer the word here chiefly, though, perhaps, not exclusively, to the supernatural power given by God for working miracles. (Comp. especially 2Corinthians 12:12; 1Corinthians 2:5; 1Corinthians 12:10; 1Corinthians 12:28-29.)

By the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left.—The thought is found in a more expanded form in Ephesians 6:11-17; 1Thessalonians 5:8. Its recurrence in 2Corinthians 10:4 shows how familiar it was to St. Paul’s mind. Here it is presented in a more condensed form, but its meaning is sufficiently obvious. The weapon of the right hand is “the sword of the Spirit,” aggressive in the conflict with evil (Ephesians 6:17). The armour for the left hand is defensive, the “shield of faith,” which is our defence against the fiery darts of the wicked (Ephesians 6:16). This gives, it is believed, a better meaning than the interpretation which translates the Greek word by “instruments,” as in Romans 6:13, and taking these as meaning opportunities for action, sees in the two adjectives the meaning which sometimes attaches to them in Greek authors, and was derived from the usages of Greek divination, as “favourable” and “unfavourable.” It has been urged that the absence of the Greek article before “weapons on the left” is against the distinction which has been drawn above, and therefore that the words refer to the breast-plate which encompasses both sides of the body; but this, though a tenable view grammatically, is somewhat over-subtle. A man dictating a letter under the influence of strong emotion is not always mindful of minute grammatical distinctions, such as that on which this last interpretation rests.

By honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report: as deceivers, and yet true;
(8) By honour and dishonour.—The enumeration of the elements in and by which his ministry is carried on begins to take a more personal character. We trace once more in the words that follow the sensitiveness of a recent experience. He has to do his work, at one time, as through a glory which he has not sought; at another time under an ignominy which he has not deserved. Men at one time speak well of him, and at another he falls upon evil and bitter tongues. The very word “deceiver,” most galling of all words to one who is conscious of his truthfulness, is recklessly flung at him. Through all these he goes on his work, believing that in them also he may find a way of commending himself as a minister of God.

As unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed;
(9) As unknown, and yet well known.—In the absence of fuller information as to what disparaging language had been used in reference to St. Paul, it is not easy to appreciate the precise force of the words thus used. Possibly, he had been spoken of as a man of “unknown” or obscure antecedents, and his answer to that taunt is, as in 2Corinthians 1:13-14, that where he was known at all he was recognised as being what indeed he was. He could show even to them, to some of them at least, whether it were not so. In “dying, and, behold, we live” we may trace a reference partly to the “sentence of death” which had, as it were, been passed upon him (2Corinthians 1:9), partly to the malignant exultation with which that fact had been received, or was likely, he thought, to be received by those who hated him. We can picture them as saying, “His course will soon be over; he will not trouble us long;” and his answer to that imagined sneer is that he is still in full energy. What has befallen him has been a chastening and a discipline, but he is not yet, as they fondly thought, “killed” and delivered over unto death.

As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.
(10) As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing.—Are we still in the region of the taunts and sneers of which we have found such distinct traces in the previous verses? Did men say of him, as others had said of the saints of God before him, that he was “smitten of God, and afflicted”? Was it with him, as with David, that when he wept, that “was turned to his reproof”? that when he “made sackcloth his garment” he “became a proverb unto them”? (Psalm 69:10-11.) This seems, on the whole, the most probable explanation of the words. His Jewish rivals, or the jesters of Corinth, taunted him with his want of cheerfulness, “He was always in trouble.” This, at least, enables us to understand the bitterness of spirit in which St. Paul spoke, and to enter into the full force of his answer: “Yea, but with our sorrow there is also the ever-flowing well-spring of joy—a joy not of the world, but of the Holy Ghost.”

As poor, yet making many rich.—Better, as a beggar. It is not hard to imagine that the outward circumstances of St. Paul’s life, his daily toil as a tent-maker, his accepting gifts from the Church of Philippi (2Corinthians 11:8-9; Philippians 4:15), would furnish occasion for some taunting jest. We seem to hear men speaking of him as a “beggar,” a “mendicant.” “Yes,” he answers, “but I am able to make many rich.” It is a possible, though perhaps not altogether an adequate, explanation of the words to see in them a reference to the fact that out of his “poverty” he was able to supply the necessities of others (Acts 20:35). We must, at all events, think of his words as including something more than this, and reminding the Corinthians that he had made many rich with the unsearchable riches of Christ.

As having nothing, and yet possessing all things.—The series of paradoxes culminates in this. In language which has found echoes in the thoughts of sages, saints, mystics, he utters the truth that in the absolute surrender of the thought of calling anything its own the soul becomes the heir of the universe. All things are his, as with the certainty of an assured inheritance. The beatitude of the meek, of those who claim nothing, is that they “shall inherit the earth,” and so all things are theirs—the forces of nature, and the changes and chances of life—for all are working together for their good. (See Note on Matthew 5:5.)

O ye Corinthians, our mouth is open unto you, our heart is enlarged.
(11) O ye Corinthians.—There was manifestly a pause here as the letter was dictated. The rush of thoughts had reached its highest point. He rests, and feels almost as if some apology were needed for so vehement an outpouring of emotion. And now he writes as if personally pleading with them. Nowhere else in the whole range of his Epistles do we find any parallel to this form of speech—this “O ye Corinthians.” He has to tell them that he speaks out of the fulness of his heart, that if his mouth has been opened with an unusual freedom it is because his heart has felt a more than common expansion.

Ye are not straitened in us, but ye are straitened in your own bowels.
(12) Ye are not straitened in us.—The word presents a natural contrast to the expansion, the dilatation, of heart of the previous verse. There was no narrowness in him. In that large heart of his there was room for them and for a thousand others. It had, as it were, an infinite elasticity in its sympathies. The narrowness was found in their own “bowels”—i.e., in their own affections. They would not make room for him in those hearts that were so straitened by passions, and prejudices, and antipathies.

Now for a recompence in the same, (I speak as unto my children,) be ye also enlarged.
(13) Now for a recompence in the same.—Better, perhaps, as a return, as expressing the idea of reciprocity. Children should requite the care and love of parents. (Comp. 2Corinthians 12:14.) They, the Corinthians, are his spiritual children. (Comp. 1Corinthians 4:15.) What does he demand of them, but that they should love him in return for his love? What they needed in their spiritual life was breadth and expansiveness of affection.

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?
(14) Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers.—We seem at first to enter, by an abrupt transition, upon a new line of exhortation. The under-current of thought is, however, not difficult to trace. There was a false latitude as well as a true. The baser party at Corinth might think it a matter of indifference whether they married a heathen or a Christian, whether they chose their intimate friends among the worshippers of Aphrodite or of Christ. Against that “enlargement” the Apostle feels bound to protest. The Greek word for “unequally yoked together” is not found elsewhere, and was probably coined by St. Paul to give expression to his thoughts. Its meaning is, however, determined by the use of the cognate noun in Leviticus 19:19 (“Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind”). Cattle were unequally yoked together when ox and ass were drawing the same plough (Deuteronomy 22:10). Men and women are so when they have no common bond of faith in God. Another explanation refers the image to the yoke of a balance, or pair of scales, and so sees in the precept a warning against partiality in judgment; but this rests on very slender ground, or rather, no ground at all.

And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?
(15) What concord hath Christ with Belial?—The passage is remarkable as being the only occurrence of the name in the New Testament, all the more so because it does not appear in the Greek version of the Old. The Hebrew word signifies “vileness, worthlessness;” and the “sons of Belial” (as in Deuteronomy 13:13; 1Samuel 2:12; 1Samuel 25:17) were therefore the worthless and the vile. The English version, following the Vulgate, translates the phrase as though Belial were a proper name, and this has led to the current belief, as shown in Milton’s poems, that it was the name of a demon or fallen angel, the representative of impurity—

“Belial came last, than whom a spirit more lewd,

Fell not from heaven, or more gross to love

Vice for itself.”—Paradise Lost, i. 490.

“Belial, the dissolutest spirit that fell,

The sensualest, and, after Asmodai,

The fleshliest incubus.”—Paradise Regained, ii. 204.

St. Paul’s use of the word would seem to imply that some such belief was floating among the Jews in his time. A strange legend, which possibly had a Jewish origin (it is referred to certain necromantici), is found in an obscure and forgotten book (Wierus: Pseudo-Monarchia Dæmonum), to the effect that Solomon was led by a certain woman to bow before the image of Belial, who is represented as worshipped by the Babylonians. Of that worship there is no trace in history; and Milton seems to have recognised this—

“To him no temple stood

Nor altar smoked.”

But if the name had gathered these associations round it, we can understand St. Paul’s using it as representing, or, as it were, personifying, the whole system of impure cultus that prevailed in the worship of Aphrodite at Corinth.

With an infidel.—So many later associations have gathered round the word, that it may be well to remind the reader that it does not mean, as commonly with us, one who has rejected the faith, but simply one who has not as yet received it.

And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
(16) And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?—Here we see clearly the drift of the Apostle’s thoughts. His mind travels back to the controversy about things sacrificed to idols. Was there not a risk that what he had said about “width” and “expansion” of feeling would be perverted by those who claimed the right to sit at an idol’s feast even in the precincts of the idol’s temple (1Corinthians 8:10)? Against that perversion he thinks it necessary to enter his protest. And the ground of that protest is that they, collectively and individually (1Corinthians 3:16; 1Corinthians 6:19), are the temples of God, and that there can be no “agreement” between that temple and one dedicated to an idol. The word translated “agreement” expresses, like the English, a compact or treaty of alliance. In modern phrase, a concordat between the two antagonistic systems was an impossibility.

I will dwell in them, and walk in them.—The citation which follows is, like many others in St. Paul’s writings, a composite one: Leviticus 26:12 giving, “I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be my people;” and Exodus 29:45, “I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will be their God.” The implied premise is that wherever God dwells there is His temple. The word indicates the “sanctuary,” or holiest part of the temple. (See Note on John 2:19.)

Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you,
(17) Wherefore come out from among them.—Another composite quotation follows, beginning with Isaiah 52:11. In their primary historical sense, the words were addressed as to the priests and Levites who were to return from Babylon. They were not to bring back with them any symbol of that “unclean” ritual which they had witnessed there. The local and historical meaning has for the Apostle passed away, and the “unclean thing” is identified with the whole system of heathenism. The close connection of this verse with the great prophecy of the atoning work makes it probable that, in writing of that work, St. Paul had remembered, or, perhaps, actually turned to Isaiah 53, as it stood in the LXX. version, and so was led on to the verse which almost immediately preceded it. “I will receive you” comes, in lieu of the ending of Isaiah, from the Greek of Ezekiel 11:17; Jeremiah 24:5.

And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.
(18) And will be a Father unto you . . .—Again we have, as it were, a mosaic of citations: “I will be a Father. . . .” from 2Samuel 7:14; “Sons and daughters” from Isaiah 43:6; “Saith the Lord Almighty” from the Greek of 2Samuel 7:8. It may be noted as not without interest that the Greek word rendered “Almighty” here, and “Omnipotent” in Revelation 19:6, is commonly used in the LXX. as an equivalent for the Hebrew “Lord of Hosts” or “Lord of Sabaoth.”

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

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