What's a Christian to do? (2 Cor. 6:6-7)
What’s a Christian to do? In a world of increasing contempt for the gospel and, more often than not, overt and unapologetic opposition, how is a follower of Jesus to respond? In the face of legislation that undermines our moral convictions, a secular atheism that marginalizes our presence, and a radical Islamic fundamentalism that seeks our utter eradication, is the Christian a helpless pawn in the chess game of global maneuvering? Do we fight back, and if so, how? With what weapons? With what expectations?
It would be easy for the Church to feel overwhelmed and undermanned. Abortion is law. Disdain for our cherished beliefs is commonplace. Moral decay is embraced as progress.
Just today I read of a para-church ministry that was banned from a university campus for its opposition to homosexuality, a professor who was denied tenure because of his research on Intelligent Design, and a group of Christians who were denied a zoning permit to plant a church in a residential neighborhood. And all the while Satan seems to be gaining ground. So, what’s a Christian to do?
The opposition may have assumed a different form in the first century, when Paul was asking the same question, but the response of the Christian is the same in any and every age. When assaulted, afflicted, beaten or imprisoned, when pressured, persecuted, weakened or weary, here’s how we fight:
“by purity, [by] knowledge, [by] patience, [by] kindness, [by] the Holy Spirit, [by] genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left” (2 Cor. 6:6-7).
“Oh, come on Sam. Get real. We’re talking about a battle of monumental proportions. Our enemies are clever and well-equipped. They will stop at nothing to destroy the body of Christ. They are relentless and ruthless. They will use any tactic, legal or not, to win. They have unlimited financial resources, unchecked political power, and numbers that dwarf us. And here you are recommending that we fight back with pious, pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by spiritual platitudes! Give me a break! Do you really believe that the things Paul mentions here are of any value in a war that threatens to consume and destroy us?”
I’m not suggesting that we withdraw from the political process or roll over and play dead. God has graciously given us laws and a variety of secular institutions and opportunities which enhance our lives and provide for the protection of the church. But our ultimate confidence and trust must be in something greater still.
In the list of nine, we begin with “purity” of motivation and behavior. Paul has already referred to his renunciation of dishonesty and his refusal to stoop to underhanded and crafty tactics (cf. 2 Cor. 4:2). Simple purity has a power to effect change and to commend the gospel far beyond any political shenanigans.
The “knowledge” or “understanding” in view probably refers not simply to theological insight but to the practical discernment in Paul as he dealt with his enemies in Corinth.
Instead of retaliation and revenge, “patience” is the order of the day when facing the indignities and insults of others. Whereas “endurance” (v. 4) is courage and perseverance while suffering unjustified adversity, “patience” or “longsuffering” is “the forbearance which endures injuries and evil deeds without being provoked to anger (Jas. 1:19) or vengeance (Rom. 12:19)” (Harris, 474).
Simple “kindness” accomplishes far more than we can imagine. Ann and I were recently in the town home of a dear friend whose new neighbor had embarked on a drunken, obscene, and violent tirade. Well past midnight, he banged on the walls and shouted vile threats. The next day, our friend took a plate of cookies next door, declaring her intentions to be a good neighbor and available to help if ever there were a need. The sinful rage of the night before has yet to reappear.
The reference to the “Holy Spirit” strikes some as odd, appearing as it does in the middle of a list of Christian virtues. Some say it is the human spirit in view, but every other time Paul uses the adjective “holy” with the noun “spirit” it refers to the Holy Spirit. Perhaps the difficulty is minimized if we understand Paul to be referring to the gifts of the Holy Spirit, his manifestation via charismata. Or perhaps he included this reference to the Spirit on realizing that the purity, understanding, patience and kindness he mentioned are themselves the fruit of the Spirit (cf. Gal. 5:22-23).
The phrase “in genuine love” calls for some explanation. The Greek term hupocrites, from which we derive our word “hypocrite”, was used in reference to a person who played a part on the stage, an actor, someone who took on a role different from what they are in reality. Thus when this word is negated (anupokrito), as it is here in 2 Cor. 6:6, the word carried the force of “not good at acting on a stage” and thus “free from pretense” or “without hypocrisy” and thus sincere or genuine. Love that is feigned or that masks selfish desires only destroys. Love that is authentic commends the gospel and changes others.
In light of Paul’s earlier reference to “the open statement of the truth” (2 Cor. 4:2) as something that characterizes his ministry, the phrase “by truthful speech” (lit., “by the word of truth”) here in v. 6 most likely has in view his declaring of the truth of the gospel. Certainly his relationships with others were characterized by truthfulness and honesty, but his focus here is on the power of the preached and proclaimed truth of a dying and rising Savior.
Needless to say, “the power of God” alone explains how all of the preceding and following are even possible. Without the energizing presence of God, nothing we say or do will have effect.
Yes, we are in a battle. No, our weapons are not physical, mechanical, political, or computerized. Rather, we fight “with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left” (v. 7). A soldier in Paul’s day would typically wield a sword in his right hand, designed for attack, and a shield in the left for defense. As such, he was fully prepared to rebuff an assault from any direction.
Life changing, world winning power is not ultimately found in the speed of a computer chip or the most sophisticated satellite technology, far less in the military strategies of global super-powers. True power, the power that brings life to dead souls and hope to despairing hearts, the sort of power that renews and uplifts and sustains, the power that commends and adorns the gospel, is found in the simple but supernatural weapons of a pure heart, a clear head, forbearance, kindness, the manifestation of the Spirit, a love untouched by hypocrisy, truthfulness in speech, and the power of God energizing the weapons of our warfare for the sake of his kingdom.
It may not be “cool” or “sexy” or the sort of life that captures the attention of the media or power-brokers in our world, but it’s what God has given us. It worked for Paul, and I trust it will work for us.