Father's Day Service (Exploring 2 Corinthians 6:1-13)

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Good morning.  My name is Hennie Prinsloo, and I am a member of the lay preaching team here at North Lonsdale United Church.  I am standing in for pastor Jaylynn Byassee, who is taking a few well-deserved days away. She and Jason celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary last Wednesday.  We congratulate them and wish them blessings for the next twenty years.

Today is June 20th, 2021 and it is Fathers Day.  Fathers come in all shapes, sizes and attitudes.  Some people may have only good experiences and memories of their dads, while others may have unhappy relationships or memories of their dads.  But today we recognize fathers and their role, not only as dads, but as guides and role models.  I encourage those whose fathers are alive to give them a special hug or handshake today – even if it is only as a “cyberhug” due to Covid.

Whatever our earthly fathers may mean to us, we have one Father who is the same yesterday, today and forever, and has only our best interests at heart.  God loves us, warts and all, and that will never change.

I invite you to worship with us, together even though we are apart, here at North Lonsdale United Church.

Today’s Scripture reading is from the Revised Standard Version:

2 Corinthians 6:1-13:

Working together with him, then, we entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, “At the acceptable time I have listened to you,
and helped you on the day of salvation.”

Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

We put no obstacle in any one’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, tumults, labors, watching, hunger; by purity, knowledge, forbearance, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold we live; as punished, and yet not killed; 10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

11 Our mouth is open to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide. 12 You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. 13 In return—I speak as to children—widen your hearts also.

Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian church deals with his defense against false teachers who had infiltrated the Corinthian church.  These people were challenging Paul’s personal integrity and his authority as an apostle.

The Scripture passage we read today constitutes a powerful testimony of Paul’s ministry and includes an invitation to live fully in God’s grace.  We will unpack it a bit and see how his words written more than 2,000 years ago resonate with us as followers of Christ today.

To put the text in context we should go back to verse 20 and 21 of chapter 5.

 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Paul describes himself (and the readers of his letter) as “ambassadors” for Christ.  The word he uses reflects the Roman title of legatus.  A legate of Rome was more than an ambassador, representing the Roman senate – he represented the emperor himself.  His words had the authority of the emperor with no dilution due to influence from the senate.

Paul’s appeal to the Corinthians was to be reconciled to God – so that, in Christ, they can become righteous – that is, in a right relationship with God – and live into the reality of this grace.  Humanly speaking the Corinthians, and we, cannot enter the presence of the Almighty, unless we are justified through Christ.

That is the essence of the profound statements in verses 20 and 21.

  • Be reconciled to God – through Christ.
  • Through Christ, who was made sin for us even though He had no sin, we can stand before God as justified.

In the first verses of chapter 6 Paul speaks of “fellow workers with Him”, meaning Christ, in addressing the Corinthians.  The same passage in the NIV refers to “God’s fellow workers”.  Paul addresses the Corinthians as fellow workers with him, working together in God’s economy.  Eugene Peterson makes the link between Paul and the Corinthians even stronger in The Message: “Companions as we are in this work with you”.

We do not have a mission – God has a mission for the church.  We are co-workers in that mission, with each other, and more importantly, with God.

This sets the scene for the next appeal for the people of Corinth; not to receive God’s grace in vain.  It is unlikely that Paul intends to make out that the Corinthians may have been superficial in their acceptance of the Gospel (like seed that falls on stony ground – Matthew 13:5) but he is warning them not to be swayed from their Divine joy by false teachers who were in their midst working against Paul and his message of grace.  Paul quotes verbatim from Isaiah 49:8 to stress the importance and urgency of accepting the Gospel when he writes: “Now is the time of God’s favour and now is the day of salvation” (NIV).

There is a song by the Kingston Trio, a country and western trio in the 1960’s called The Reverent Mr. Black.  The refrain of the song contains the words: “You gotta walk that lonesome valley.  You gotta walk it by yourself. Nobody else can walk it for you.”

Whenever I hear that song, it reminds me that this principle applies also to our relationship with Jesus.  Once we have heard the Gospel message we stand before a decision – we either accept it or reject it.  It is entirely up to us, through the grace of the Holy Spirit.  Nobody else can make that decision for us.

In the next verses Paul gives a testimony to his ministry, stressing that he could preach the Gospel with a clear conscience.

He describes his experiences as messenger of the Gospel:

First of all, he puts all his experiences under the heading of great endurance, as rendered in the RSV and NIV.  Martin Luther translated the original Greek “hupomone” as “groβe Geduld” or great patience.  William Barclay reckons that the Greek word cannot be accurately translated.  I think the South African slang term “VASBYT” comes close.  It evokes a sense of never giving up whatever the obstacles one encounters.

Paul then lists the trials he had experienced in three sets of three under the heading of “bearing this with great endurance”.

The first couplet deals with trials of a general nature: afflictions, hardships and calamities.

  • Afflictions speaks to pressures of various kinds placed on Paul – physical, mental, emotional or spiritual.
  • Hardships speaks to the “inescapable pains of life” (Barclay). The original Greek literally means “the necessities of life” – but in a negative sense.  Experiences such as sorrow, where no escape is possible, and it must be seen though to the end.
  • Calamities speaks to situations when there seems no way out. The word Paul uses (stenochoria) literally means “being a tight place” – like a narrow defile or tunnel, where there is no chance of turning around or changing direction, only going forward.

The second couplet addresses trials of a more personal nature: beatings, imprisonments and tumults.  Tumults is also rendered as riots or civil disturbances.  The book of Acts provides the detailed narrative of all these experiences.

  • Beatings – Paul was no stranger to physical abuse.
  • Imprisonments – Paul spent time in various prisons, finally in Rome.
  • Riots – Paul was more than once the object of civil disturbances.

Finally, the third couplet lists trials Paul voluntarily endured for the sake of the Gospel and for the sake of others: labours (hard work), watching (sleepless nights) and hunger.

  • Hard work: The many activities and constant striving in his ministry as well as the manual labour by which he maintained himself from time to time. Paul was a tentmaker.
  • Sleepless nights: refers to both nights spent sleepless and in prayer because of his concern for the churches and nights without sleep due to travel, or other external factors.
  • Hunger: It is unlikely that Paul is referring to voluntary fasting as a spiritual practice – more likely the reference is to go without food due to poverty.

Then Paul changes tack – he lists the spiritual graces by which God had enabled him to continue his ministry notwithstanding exposure to all the negative experiences he has mentioned.

  • Purity – the Greek term was used to describe “careful avoidance of all sins against God; the service of the honour of God” (Barclay).
  • Knowledge – not knowledge of the subtleties of fine theologian discourse, but knowledge of God’s grace as displayed in life.
  • Forbearance – when used in the New Testament this word often refers to “patience with other people”. Even those who are wrong or wrong-headed, annoying or cruel.  (A friend of mine has postulated that, when Paul refers to the thorn in his flesh he was referring to an extremely annoying person or persons.  In modern language we might refer to someone who is a pain...)
  • Kindness – goodness in action. Showing kindness to all – not only the ones deserving of kindness.  A reflection of God allowing His rain to fall on the godly and the ungodly.
  • Genuine love – agape – unconditional love that always seeks the benefit of the other.
  • Truthful speech – or the word of truth. Paul had been given the Gospel message in Divine revelation and he preached it unstintingly.

By the power of God – finally – like an exclamation mark, Paul puts it all in God’s hand through the power of the Holy Spirit.  The refence to the weapons of righteousness echoes Paul’s description of the full armour of God in Ephesians 6:10-20.  The left hand would have wielded the shield – protection against the attacks of the evil one, while the right hand is the sword hand – a weapon of attack.

Paul completes this passage with a series of contrasts.  He served, he says in honour and dishonour.  The word used for dishonour was used in Greek for the loss of rights as a citizen.  In effect, Paul says, he may have lost the rights and privileges that the world could confer, but he is honoured because he is a citizen of heaven.

Ill-repute among humans is contrasted with good repute with God.  Paul is accused of being a deceiver, but his message is true. Unknown – those who opposed him claimed he was of no account, but he knew that he was well-known by those who had accepted his Gospel message. This echoes what Paul had written in his first letter to the Corinthians about the message of salvation being foolishness to those who perish but not to those who are saved (1 Cor 1:18).  If the message is considered as foolishness, then messenger would be considered to be of no account as well.  Death was Paul’s constant companion in his work, but he was very much alive. Not only in the physical sense, but also in the spiritual sense.

Beaten but not killed:  in his various encounters with opposition Paul had been severely beaten - once even left for dead after being stoned in Lystra (Acts 14:19).  But contrary to those who would like to see him dead, he was not killed.

The last three contrasts are important to grasp.  Paul writes that he was considered sorrowful – that is without joy or happiness, but in the meantime, he was always rejoicing.  He encouraged his readers to practice the same – in the letter to the Philippians he was exceptionally insistent in Phil 4:4 when he wrote “rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice!”.

Paul was seen as materially poor, but he made others rich in the Gospel.  He had no assets, but he considered himself as possessing everything that was of value – eternal joy rather than fleeting wealth.

Finally, Paul exhorts the Corinthians to open their hearts and live life to the fulness of grace.  Eugene Peterson puts it well in The Message:

1-13 Dear, dear Corinthians, I can’t tell you how much I long for you to enter this wide-open, spacious life. We didn’t fence you in. The smallness you feel comes from within you. Your lives aren’t small, but you’re living them in a small way. I’m speaking as plainly as I can and with great affection. Open up your lives. Live openly and expansively!

Imagine with me, if you would, that the words of this passage are directed to you personally wherever you may be logged onto this service.

There are three main points I think Paul is trying to get through to you and to me – points for contemplation:

  • Paul is inviting you and me to be fellow workers with him and with God to reach an ailing and lost mankind. This does not mean that we need to go out and preach on every street corner – it means that we need to live our lives in Christ in such a way that Christ is honoured, and mankind will see that today is really the day of God’s favour and the right day to consider the Gospel message of Christ’s salvation.
  • Paul, through his own testimony, encourages us to make sure that there is nothing in our behaviour or lifestyle that may hinder the central message of grace. Those who might look at us should see nothing that would put God or the church in a negative light.  This is Christianity’s greatest honour and challenge – to make sure that no word or action could bring disrepute to God and the church universal.  Unfortunately, over the ages Christianity’s greatest downfall has been when men and women, who supposedly act in the name of God and the church, dishonour the very Gospel message they are supposed to live out.
  • Paul invites us to live our lives in the fullness of Jesus’ grace through the love of God and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Live openly and expansively for God, as Eugene Petersen puts it!

In summary – go and live into the reality of who God made you to be and wants you to be.

May God bless His Word.