2 Corinthians 6:1-2

2 Corinthians 6:1-2
Not in Vain but NOW!

If you’ve lived even just a few short years, especially in America, you’ve felt the tug to make an immediate decision to make a purchase. You’ve felt the pressure from within to get the latest toy at Wal-Mart (or to ask your parents to get it). You’ve struggled because of all those slammin’ deals that come only once a year (supposedly). You need to acquire it now, right? Or else. Perhaps a job opening has come to your attention, and it won’t be open for long. Better act fast, or else. And it’s that “or else” that frightens the individual. It’s that “or else,” coupled with what’s going on in your heart, that will move you closer or farther from the it, whatever it is. You can picture Paul urging the Corinthians with all urgency: not like a sleaze-ball for a car salesman, of course, but like one who has given the Corinthians his utter devotion and love, like one whose heart is wide open to them (6:11).

Paul uses most of his ink in chapter 5 to praise the God who reconciles the world to himself, and to highlight the beauties and attractiveness of the New Covenant ministry. When he starts chapter 6, he moves for a decision. He makes a hearty appeal, and he does so by grounding the appeal with Scripture. He quotes part of Isaiah 49:8. Isaiah 49 is an incredible Messianic passage, and I commend the entire chapter to you. Dwell in particular on the servant himself being called a covenant to the people (v. 8b). In verses 1-7, the LORD God speaks to his servant Israel, who is Jesus Christ the true and greater Israel. It is in this servant that the Lord will be glorified (v. 3). But in v. 4, the servant says that he has labored in vain, which verse Paul thematically connects in 6:1 when he exhorts the Corinthians not to receive God’s grace in vain. The servant struggles and wonders whether God’s remarkable work of redemption will be received well by those in the nation of Israel. And the Lord tells his servant that he, the servant, will minister not only to Jacob (Judah), but to all nations (49:6). The news of salvation shall be heard by all (Jews and Gentiles), and the ministry of the servant will not be in vain.

When we return to 2 Corinthians 6, we see that Paul self-identifies as a servant of the Servant. He’s already mentioned his own slavery to Christ earlier. Paul self-consciously continues the ministry of Christ as New Covenant minister. Now he wonders whether the Corinthians will receive God’s grace in vain or now, and he urges them—behold!—to receive grace now. Like a good preacher, Paul has called for a decision, an action on the part of the Corinthians. This is no altar call or a version of Finney’s anxious bench. Nevertheless, his desire is not stagnancy but Spirit-wrought activity. He’s appealing to the Corinthians to receive grace. He’s urging them to appropriate for themselves the grace of reconciliation celebrated just verses before. He’s saying, “Do you want in on this ministry? Don’t you desire this grace? Do not stand idly by! Stop twiddling your thumbs. Now is the time to receive this grace!”

That’s not just a call to the Corinthians; it’s a call to all of us as well. Let God’s great gospel not be all for naught in your life! Behold, now is the day of salvation. There’s no better time than the present. We’re guaranteed no future days to consider God’s grace. To receive it in vain is to look the Giver in the face and say, “Nah. Don’t want it. No thanks.” To receive it in vain has disastrous consequences—if not for one’s justification, certainly for one’s sanctification. I’m not saying the Corinthians weren’t saved, as clearly Paul views many of them to be saved and in a process of sanctification. But I suppose some weren’t. There were enough big problems in the church of Corinth that it’s not unlikely to believe that some of the Corinthians were not genuine believers. This grace of reconciliation, then, can be seen in one of two ways (both actually). First, the grace exhorted to be received might be that which is seen in the work of justification on God’s part that bleeds into reconciling two hitherto enemies. That makes sense of the preceding verse, 5:21, in which sinners become the righteousness of God through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. And for those Corinthians, such grace is foundational to the Christian life. But, second, what of those Corinthian Christians and us rightly deemed saints? Must they—must we—still receive God’s grace? Silly question, I know. Paul may be used by God to work in the hearts of the Corinthians who are in their lives at odds with the will of the Lord. Clearly, much theological debris needs clearing. The Corinthians’ very lives need cleaning. Paul is exhorting these saints dear to his heart not to waste their lives playing with mud pies when God’s grace is more favorable than fresh mud.

Why wouldn’t we accept this grace? It’s grace from the irresistible God, after all. He’s even said that in a day of salvation, he has helped us. Why don’t we glom on to this grace so tightly and quickly? The answer is unsurprisingly lachrymose. Sin. Unbelief. Self-trust. Not recognizing that God’s way for us is better than our way for ourselves. What’s the solution? Equally unsurprising, but ironic. Grace. Oh, for grace to trust him more!