I. The New Covenant Ministry: the Quality of Paul's Service - 6:1-13
A. Paul commands - 6:1-2
Paul describes himself as a "co-worker," but with whom or with what? Options: (1) with God (based on 5:18,21); (2) with Christ (based on 5:20), (3) with the Corinthians, or (4) with other teachers, perhaps his companions at the time. Surely (1) is correct. What an awesome privilege to be included by God to work together with God for the purposes of God!
What does he mean by receiving the grace of God "in vain"? See also Gal. 2:2; Phil. 2:16; 1 Thess. 3:5 (cf. 1 Cor. 15:2). Some suggested answers:
1. Perhaps he is urging them not to forfeit the grace of salvation which they had earlier received. In other words, it is an exhortation to persevere, to avoid apostasy. On this view, Paul would be implying that a born-again believer can lose or forfeit his/her salvation.
2. Some suggest the exhortation in vv. 1-2 is not directed to those Corinthians who are already born-again, but to those in Corinth who had repeatedly heard the gospel but had made no decision. Paul was not so naive to think that everyone in the professing church was necessarily truly converted. Therefore, his command not to receive the grace of God in vain is equivalent to an exhortation to all men not to reject the gospel of Jesus Christ. But is "to receive in vain" really the same as "reject"?
3. God's grace may be received in vain when it is received superficially or externally, as in the parable of the soils (Luke 8:4-15; Matt. 13:18-23). There the seed (gospel) falls upon rocky ground or among thorns, to be snatched away or choked by the temptations of this world.
4. Perhaps receiving the grace of God in vain pertains not so much to salvation per se, or its forfeiture, but to the loss of potential blessings related to spiritual growth, knowledge, and joy that they would suffer by rejecting Paul as their apostle.
5. Hughes suggests that "for them to receive the grace of God in vain meant that their practice did not measure up to their profession as Christians, that their lives were so inconsistent as to constitute a denial of the logical implications of the gospel, namely, and in particular, that Christ died for them so that they might no longer live to themselves but to His glory" (218-19). In other words, the passionate conviction which accompanied their salvation had not as yet performed its transforming work in their lives. It is to that progressive transformation of their daily experience that Paul is urging and exhorting them.
6. Judith Gundry-Volf suggests that to receive the grace of God in vain may be referring to their opposition to the apostle himself. The context surrounding this statement is Paul's description of his ministry on their behalf and his attempt to restore good relations with the Corinthians (5:13-14; 5:18-6:1; see especially his impassioned appeal in 6:11-13). In Paul's opinion, to reject him is to reject the gospel of salvation of which he is a minister. If the Corinthians receive the grace of God in vain, it is not because of ethical/moral failure/rebellion, but rather rejection of the gospel as a consequence of rejection of the apostle and the apostolic message. Gundry-Volf then argues that Paul's appeal is simply "for the sake of argument only" (280). I.e., he does not believe they will reject or deny him, but if they were to do so it would be tantamount to receiving the grace of God, which was his message to them, in vain.
B. Paul commends - 6:3-10
1. his example - vv. 3-4a
Paul's pre-eminent concern is with the "ministry", not his own reputation or position or influence. The only "self-commendation" he cares for is as a "servant/minister" of God.
The word translated "discredited" (NASB) is a verb related to the noun, momus, a name given to the Greek god of ridicule or mockery. Paul wants nothing in his life to be used by others as an excuse for mocking the gospel. If offense is to be taken at the gospel, let it be because of the gospel, not the one who proclaims it. See 1 Cor. 1:17-19.
2. his experience - vv. 4b-10
a. external suffering - vv. 4b-5
Lit., endurance. The failure to be patient and endure in the midst of trials is due to (1) self-centeredness, (2) ignorance of God's providence, or (3) a failure to grasp the goal of suffering. Nothing ought more readily to distinguish the Christian from the non-Christian than how they respond to adversity.
c. distresses (the word lit. means "in constraints" or in a confined place from which there can be no escape; it points to Paul's feeling of being trapped by circumstances beyond his control)
a. beatings (cf. 11:23-25)
b. imprisonments (11:23)
c. tumults (uprisings against Paul in the cities where he preached)
a. labors (probably a reference to his work as a tent-maker)
b. sleeplessness (not insomnia, but voluntarily going without sleep to serve and minister to others)
c. hunger (not formal religious fasts, but voluntarily going without food to be able to work continuously and not to be a burden to others; also perhaps a reference to his lack of food due to the hardships of travel or lack of money)
b. internal strengthening - vv. 6-7
1) in purity (of motivation; perhaps an allusion to his financial integrity)
2) in knowledge (of God and the gospel; it is difficult to minister in ignorance)
3) in patience (longsuffering; unlike v. 4, here it is particularly in the face of indignities imposed by other people; but Paul does not merely mean "tolerance")
4) in kindness ("whereas 'patience' is reactive, 'kindness' is proactive and positive", Barnett, 328).
5) in the Holy Spirit
6) in genuine love
7) in the word of truth (either the message of truth he proclaimed or the sincerity and truthfulness of his own words in relationship with others)
8) in the power of God (which alone explains how all of the preceding and following is even possible; see 1 Cor. 2:3-5)
9) by the weapons of righteousness (able to attack [with a sword in the right hand] or defend [with the shield in the left] from any direction; fully prepared; )
c. paradoxical consequences -vv. 8-10
1) by glory and dishonor ("glory" = good opinions of us; "dishonor" = bad opinions; cf. John 5:44; 12:43)
2) by evil report and good report (gossip and slander; see 1 Pt. 2:23)
3) as deceivers, yet true (this is perception vs. reality)
4) as unknown, yet well-known (unknown by the world but intimately known by God; see Phil. 3:8-10; 2 Tim. 2:19; Jn. 10:14; or perhaps "unrecognized" as an apostle by some by "recognized" as such by God)
5) as dying, yet behold we live (see 1:8; 4:11ff.)
6) as punished, yet not put to death (Ps. 118:17-18; it is God's "discipline" in view)
7) as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing
8) as poor, yet making many rich (poor, that is, in the eyes of the world; or perhaps literally poor and spiritually rich, as the case with Jesus in 2 Cor. 8:9)
9) as having nothing, yet possessing all things (see 1 Cor. 3:21ff.; Rom. 8:32)
C. Paul conciliates - 6:11-13
No one can read these verses and hear the impassioned plea of the apostle and question his pastoral zeal. We must forever put aside as a myth that lacks the slightest biblical support the suggestion that one must either be a theologian whose passion is truth or a pastor whose passion is people. Paul would never have entertained the possibility of a mature Christian (especially a leader) being anything less than both.