Assessing the Ministry of Conciliation
The “day of salvation” began with the advent of Jesus Christ, because Yeshua means “salvation.” Every time the Old Testament uses the word yeshua (“salvation”) or one of its forms, it is in some way a prophecy of Christ. This was well known to the writers of the New Testament, including Paul. It was also how the old man, Simeon, knew how to identify the Messiah in Luke 2:25-27.
Simeon was a righteous man who had ears to hear. Simeon means “hearing.” But God told him that He would SEE as well. He apparently understood that the Messiah would be born some year on the feast of Trumpets, and so he knew that His mother would come to the temple for purification on the fortieth day.
He was waiting. And when he heard that Mary’s son was Yeshua, and that He had been born forty days earlier, he said in Luke 2:29, 30,
29 Now Lord, Thou dost let Your bond-servant depart in peace, according to Your word, 30 for my eyes have seen Your salvation” [Yeshua].
Simeon set the pattern for all who live in the day of Yeshua. In fact, he was like a prophetic type of the day of Yeshua itself. We must all hear His voice as he did, and in the end, at Christ’s second advent, if we have heard, we will also SEE Him.
Give No Offense
Paul says in 2 Corinthians 6:3,
3 giving no cause for offense in anything, in order that the ministry be not discredited.
What ministry? It is the ministry of conciliation, of course. It is founded upon “the ministry of the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:8) or “the ministry of righteousness” (2 Cor. 3:9), which Paul said was based on the New Covenant promises of God (2 Cor. 3:6). Because of these promises, whereby God obligated Himself to save the world, we who are among the first to be saved have been called as Christ’s ambassadors to the world, telling them “that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Cor. 5:19).
This is the ministry that we have been given, and it is not an offensive message that says, “turn or burn.” As ambassadors, we are not called to offend those who still think blindly that God is fighting them. It is a message of peace, not a threat of war if they do not submit immediately. Perhaps that is why Paul himself mentions hades (“grave”) only once (1 Cor. 15:55 KJV), and even then, it is to tell us of our victory over death and hades.
The World’s Offense
Paul makes it clear that Christ’s ambassadors are not under no obligation to warn the unbelievers that God will send them to a burning hell if they reject their message. Ambassadors must realize that they continue to fight God, because they have not heard—or do not yet believe—the message of peace and conciliation offered to them. So Paul launches into a lengthy description of the world’s normal response to this message. 2 Cor. 6:4, 5 reads,
4 but in everything commending ourselves as servants of God, in much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses, 5 in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in hunger…
Verses 4 and 5 tells the ambassadors what they might expect to endure during their mission. Paul spoke from personal experience. He continues in 2 Cor. 6:6, showing how Christ’s ambassadors are expected to respond without giving offense toward their opposition.
6 in purity, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in genuine love, 7 in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left…
Paul will tell us later in 2 Cor. 10:4 that “the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful.” These are the “weapons of righteousness” in verse 7 above. Normally, a shield was carried in the left hand, and a sword in the right. Christ’s ambassadors were to carry “the shield of faith” (Eph. 6:16) and “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:17).
Hence, the weapons given to us “for the right hand and the left” are faith and the word (or “the word of truth in the power of God”).
Paul continues in 2 Corinthians 6:8,
8 by glory and dishonor, by evil report and good report; regarded as deceivers and yet true…
In other words, the world’s response is mixed. Those who reject this conciliatory message regard Christ’s ambassadors “as deceivers,” spreading evil reports against them. Others receive the word of truth and give them good reports. 2 Cor. 6:9 says,
9 as unknown yet well-known, as dying, yet behold, we live; as punished [paideuo, “trained as children; disciplined, chastised”] yet not put to death…
The world does not generally accept the credentials of Christ’s ambassadors; hence, they are “unknown” or unrecognized. At the same time, they are “well-known” to Christ Himself. The ambassadors die daily to themselves and to the flesh, yet they live by the same resurrection power that raised Jesus from the dead.
As Christ’s ambassadors (sons) are sent out, God gives them on-the-job training to mature them and mold them into the image of Christ. They are trained, “yet not put to death,” for no good father would chastise his son excessively. Paul’s reference to punishment or discipline was not speaking of the way in which the world responds to the ambassadors, for many of them had indeed been put to death. Instead, Paul was referring to God’s disciplines.
Paul continues in 2 Corinthians 6:10,
10 as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing yet possessing all things.
Even as Jesus was said to be “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3), so also are the sons of God, who are called to participate in “the fellowship of His sufferings” (Phil. 3:10). Yet there is also much cause for rejoicing.
Though not many sons of God are rich, Paul says, they make many others rich in spirit and in the knowledge of the word. Even if they have nothing, yet they possess all things, because they are co-inheritors with Christ, who has been given the entire earth.
Paul’s Heart of Love
While Paul was speaking primarily about the way the world treated Christ’s ambassadors, he also had in mind the manner of treatment that he himself was receiving at the hands of a few in the church of Corinth. So Paul hoped that these believers would not want to identify with the world, but put on the love of Christ. 2 Cor. 6:11-13 says,
11 Our mouth has spoken freely to you, O Corinthians, our heart is opened wide. 12 You are not restrained by us, but you are restrained [stenochoreo, “to crowd, cramp, confine, restrict”] in your own affections. 13 Now in a like exchange—I speak as to children—open wide to us also.
Paul tells the Corinthians that his heart was open to them—that is, he had great love, affection, and concern for the church. But ill feelings toward Paul had caused some in the church to restrict their love and affection for the apostle. Hence, using the local idiom, they had closed their hearts to him.
Paul’s thesis was: change your attitude toward me; open your heart to me. Paul was out there working as an ambassador for Christ. He was enduring much opposition from the world, even to the point of assassination attempts on his life. The church should have been a place of refuge, but instead, he was being opposed there as well. How discouraging!
No Fellowship with the World
Having made the point that believers ought to open their hearts to each other, Paul then draws a contrast to their relationship with the world. 2 Cor. 6:14 says,
14 Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness [anomia], or what fellowship has light with darkness?
The believers are thus on the side of “righteousness,” and the world is on the side of “lawlessness.” In other words, the world rejects the law of God as their standard of righteousness. Paul then equates righteousness with light and lawlessness with darkness.
Paul continues in 2 Corinthians 6:15,
15 Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?
Belial was a Hebrew term meaning “unprofitable, worthless.” The corrupt sons of Eli were called “sons of Belial” (1 Sam. 2:12, KJV). Samuel knew them well, seeing them daily in the house of Eli. Paul draws a contrast between Christ and Belial and between believers and unbelievers. Perhaps this is best illustrated by the contrast between Samuel and the sons of Eli.
2 Corinthians 6:16, 17 says,
16 Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, 17 “I will dwell in them, and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”
The temples throughout the cities serve the world, but believers themselves are temples of God. Paul says the same in 1 Cor. 3:16 and in other places. This had been prophesied often in the Old Testament, even before Solomon’s temple had been built.
Paul quotes Lev. 26:12, which gives the blessing for obedience to the law of God. The world is lawless, but the believers, upon whose hearts the law of God is written, enjoy the promise of God that “I will dwell in them.” In other words, such people are temples of God.
Paul concludes in 2 Corinthians 6:17, 18,
17 Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,” says the Lord. “And do not touch what is unclean; and I will welcome you. 18 And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” says the Lord Almighty.
Since there is no spiritual fellowship between believers and unbelievers, the two groups are separate. They worship different gods in different temples. They function on different standards of righteousness. Idolatrous temples are “unclean,” and believers are not to touch such things.
Paul’s first quotation is a combination of Jer. 51:45 and Isaiah 52:11. Jeremiah 51:45 says,
45 Come forth from her midst, My people, and each of you save yourselves from the fierce anger of the Lord.
It was a call to leave Babylon in the context of the prophecy of Babylon’s collapse. Isaiah 52:11 says,
11 Depart, depart, go out from there, touch nothing unclean; go out of the midst of her, purify yourselves, you who carry the vessels of the Lord.
This was a prophetic call to leave “Egypt,” which was a metaphor for bondage and captivity. Both Babylon and Egypt represent the world, its system of laws, morality, and way of life. Babylon and Egypt each had its own way of enslaving people. Egypt kept the Israelites too busy to study the ways of God; Babylon taught the Israelite children the ways of Babylon in order to turn them into cultural Babylonians.
Paul’s final quotation in verse 18 is from 2 Sam. 7:14,
14 I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men, 15 but My lovingkindness will not depart from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you.
This was the word of the Lord given by Nathan the prophet to David’s son, Solomon and to the house of David in general. Paul applies it to the believers in Christ, the Son of David, because those who believe in Him are members of His body. God is their father, and they are His sons.