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An appeal for reconciliation (August 24, 2014)

Scripture Passage and Lesson Focus: 2 Corinthians 6:1-13; 7:1-4

In Second Corinthians the apostle Paul characterizes his mission as a ministry of reconciliation. Humanity has been reconciled to God through the redemptive work of Christ and Paul has been given a ministry of reconciliation as an ambassador for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:18-20). Paul’s preaching of reconciliation through Christ resulted in a new community of believers in Corinth, for whom Paul has very deep feelings.

However, after his relationship with the Corinthian congregation had been seriously eroded by his opponents, Paul passionately struggled to bring about reconciliation between himself and the Corinthian community. This formidable task required all of Paul’s considerable rhetorical skill and theological wisdom. To bring about reconciliation was the intent of Paul’s correspondence with the Corinthian congregation that we know in Second Corinthians.

2 Corinthians 6:1-2 — Salvation is now!
Having reminded the Corinthians that he had brought the saving message of reconciliation to them, Paul urges them to keep their commitment strong. To abandon their relatively new faith would be tantamount to having believed in vain. The rather creative translation of 6:1 in the NRSV, “As we work together with him,” supplies the words “with him” meaning “with God” that are not found in the Greek. The NIV translation similarly has “As God’s fellow workers … .” Paul has previously alluded to his sense of partnership with the Corinthians — even the estranged Corinthians. In 1:7 they share his suffering, in 1: 24 they are his co-workers; and in 2:10 they jointly forgive. Therefore a better translation of 6:1 would be “Since we are co-workers … .” Paul is making it very clear that he is eager for their relationship to be restored.

With a fervent appeal to Isaiah 48:9, Paul tells them that now is their time of salvation. Now is their moment of opportunity.

2 Corinthians 6:3-10— An apostle’s suffering
Paul returns to the defensive by saying that he has not been a stumbling block to anyone and his ministry should not be criticized. Evidently there were some who did not agree with his perception. So Paul proceeds with a rhetorical flourish to list the suffering he had endured as God’s servant on their behalf. And an impressive list it is! A careful review of Paul’s sufferings makes one marvel at the dedication and commitment that kept Paul faithful to his call.

The NRSV translation of 6:4, “ … we have commended ourselves in every way” could be misleading, since in contemporary usage the verb “to commend” usually connotes praise or recognition. That is not what Paul intends. The Greek verb he uses here has a rich double meaning: “to bring together in a trusting relationship” and “to provide evidence of a personal characteristic through action.” Paul wants the recitation of his sufferings to accomplish both aspects of this verb’s meaning. He wants to assert his own trustworthiness and he wants to restore his relationship with the Corinthians.

In addition to the specific types of hardship he had endured (6:4-5), Paul lists the virtues he has practiced throughout his ministry (6: 6-7) and concludes with a series of antithetical contrasts in which external appearances did not correspond with inward reality. If Paul’s words were set to music the minor chords would begin building gradually at verse 4 and change to major chords at verse 6 with a powerful climactic crescendo at verse 10.

2 Corinthians 6:11-13; 7:1-4—Joy despite troubles
Paul’s eagerness to be reconciled with the Corinthian congregation is evident as he opens his heart to them and pleads with them to open their hearts to him. Speaking as their spiritual father, Paul addresses them as children. Again he pleads for a place in their hearts in 7:2. Some interpreters consider 6:14-7:1 to be an inserted fragment of a different letter, while others see it as Paul’s very strong appeal to the Corinthians to reject his critics and to affirm their loyalty to him. Certainly 7:2 resumes Paul’s appeal for reconciliation in 6:13.

Paul passionately asserts that his heartfelt love for the Corinthians is so strong that they will live or die together. He assures them that he takes great pride in them and has publicly boasted about them. Despite his many afflictions, Paul says, he finds comfort and joy in his relationship with the Corinthians.

For discussion

  • Why is reconciliation such a difficult thing to accomplish?
  • How would you describe Paul’s strategy to restore his relationship with the Corinthians?

JAMES A. BRASHLER is professor emeritus of Bible at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia.