Season After Pentecost (Proper 7[12]) – The Epistle Passage: The gospel not in vain

As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!” (II Corinthians 6:1 – 2)

I did a double-take in reading the first part of verse one – “not accept the grace of God”! However the “in vain” ending put a whole new meaning to the verse. And I think this admonition is just appropriate now as then. If I can understand and paraphrase the mind of Paul . . . do not halfheartedly follow God or only follow God when it is easy and convenient. If you are going to commit yourself to the Divine, do so with authenticity and devotion.

“We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of 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 are well known; as dying, and see–we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” (Verses 3 – 10)

Paul then goes on to give example after example, and incident after incident of how the road and ministry has been rough for him, but he has stayed the course. The key to reading this without losing one’s patience with Paul or feeling like he is bragging is to understand that “commend” does not mean self-congratulations but have acted in a way that is consistent with devotion to a cause. Now if one is judiciously slow, as I am, in commending Paul’s actions and intent, verses three to ten are read carefully and proof is sought in other writings to see if Paul is genuine. Paul was very outspoken and did not “test the waters” before he spoke up. I suspect at times it was as much his style of presentation of the gospel as it was the content of him message that got him into trouble.

“We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you. There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours. In return–I speak as to children–open wide your hearts also.” (Verses 11 – 13)

Have you known people like Paul, beloved reader? People who speak truth but bluntly and outright? Who dive into a situation without fully exploring what might be involved? Paul at times reminds me of a missionary who strides forth with the gospel and does not first investigate the best way to explain the gospel. Legions of missionaries have done that in the past, and the results were very mixed. There is a time and place for Paul’s type of ministry. But, enough said; and I digress.

Paul makes a good point – do not hear the message of salvation and then not take it to heart and action. While Paul may be “commending” himself a little bit much, he did live out the gospel as it was given to him. And did not hesitate to act on it, at the risk of his own life. May hold to that example. Selah!

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