Thursday, June 14, 2018


Paul was tough. The list of sufferings in 2 Corinthians 6:4-10 boggles the mind. Chrysostom called Paul's CV a "blizzard of troubles" (Martin, 2 Corinthians, p.172). Most of us want our CVs to be more self-promoting, not Paul. He repeated a similar list of his qualifications for ministry in 2 Corinthians 11:21-27 (cf. 4:7-11) to show that true ministry is demonstrated by sacrifice.

The Greek text of 2 Corinthians 6:4-10 shows great emotion. Paul was so passionate about his list of struggles that he used grammar loosely to share his heart (Moule, Idiom Book, p.196) as if his words flowed faster than his scribe could pen. Sacrifice marks our service in the cause of Christ. We are foot soldiers in the army of His kingdom.

Battle scars are the marks of ministry. Paul shares with pride his wounds representing the stigmata which prove him to be the slave of Christ (Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, p.462). He boasts about his hardships (2 Corinthians 11:30), something we rarely do today. But Paul is not boasting to promote himself. He takes pains to avoid self-promotion. His CV is for ministry promotion. He does it to defend the ministry.

We moderns find this boasting offensive, but in a culture built around honor and shame, this was an acceptable model for ministry defense. Paul knew the rules of rhetoric for what was considered "inoffensive self-praise," and he used those rhetorical tools well (Witherington, The Paul Quest, p.300). The list is similar to a list in Tacitus. The Stoics and the Cynics used lists like this to demonstrate character, so it was a well-established method for personal defense (Witherington, Conflict & Community in Corinth, p.399). Paul is defending his apostolic ministry with this resume of hardships.

The rhetorical structure of the passage breaks down into three general themes. 1) Hardships in service prove his endurance (4b-5). 2) Virtues of character prove his integrity (6-7a). Tools from God prove his wisdom (7b-10), First, Paul uses nine phrases grouped in threes and introduced by "in much endurance" (ἐν ὑπομονῇ πολλῇ). Each phrase begins with the same preposition "in" (ἐν) to show that our endurance in ministry is demonstrated in hardships. Next, Paul uses eight phrases which are also introduced by the preposition "in" (ἐν) in verses 6-7a. The virtues demonstrate that Paul handled the hardships of ministry with integrity. Paul is demonstrating his ethos with this list. The greatest test of our integrity is how we handle adversity. Finally, Paul uses phrases to show that God has equipped him with the tools to live wisely. There are three phrases introduced by the preposition "through" (διὰ) and seven phrases introduced by the comparative "as" (ὡς).

Paul is raising the bar for evaluating ministry. Our qualifications for ministry revolve around the model of the cross. The Corinthians were enamored with the world's wisdom of success and power and forgetting Christ's wisdom of the cross and suffering. The wise life with Christ is the life of suffering not success (Witherington, Conflict & Community in Corinth, pp.398-401).

We live in a day when self-promotion, marketing, and savvy media methods grow many ministries. Paul would not say that we are wrong to use accepted cultural methods (modern media) because he used the accepted rhetorical practices of his day. However, Paul lays out a refreshing model for ministry promotion emphasizing sacrifice and suffering. Sacrificial service leaves scars which are the monuments of ministry worth remembering.

Thursday, May 31, 2018


Perched precariously on our shaky pedestals, we preachers can feel vulnerable to the changing tides of popularity. The lure of pragmatism - using rhetorical methods to generate crowds - is powerful especially when critics blame our lack of success on methodological failure. Paul dealt with the rhetorical sophists of his day in 2 Corinthians. His letter is an example of "forensic rhetoric" (Witherington, Conflict & Community, p.333ff). Forensic rhetoric was the use of rhetoric to defend the communicator. Paul develops his proposition (propositio in forensic rhetoric) in 2 Corinthians 2:17. "For we are not like many, peddling the Word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God." Here is the proposition Paul is defending in his letter (Witherington, p.371).

There were three categories of classical rhetoric, logos, ethos, and pathos. Ethos referred to the character of the preacher. Paul defends his character as a preacher in 2 Corinthians 6. The structure of 2 Corinthians 6:1-4 helps us understand his defense. The main verb is "we urge" or "we appeal" (παρακαλοῦμεν, v.1). It is followed by two parallel participles explaining the preaching appeal: "giving" (διδόντες, v.3) no cause for offense and "commending" (συνίσταντες, v.4) ourselves as "servants of God." Both are present tense participles indicating continuous action.

Paul asks a question immediately following his proposition 2 Corinthians 2:17. "Are we beginning to commend ourselves again?" (3:1) The verb "to commend" (συνίστημι) comes from two words meaning "to put or place" (ἵστημι) and "with someone" (σύν). The classical sense of the verb grew out of the meaning to "stand together" leading to the idea of commendation (TDNT, 7:896-898). Paul says that we who are appealing are commending ourselves to you. The nominative case connects the participle to the subject of the main verb.

How does Paul commend himself to the Corinthians? He defends his ethos, his character. In classical rhetoric, the most powerfully persuasive arguments came from personal integrity - ethos! So we, like Paul, commend ourselves as "servants of God." The word "servants" (διάκονοι) is a nominative plural to agree with the subject "we." Paul is saying, "as servants of God, we commend ourselves" (Robertson, Grammar, p.454). It is who we are not what we do. We are not recommending ourselves to be servants as if interviewing for the role. We preachers are already servants which is the basis for our recommendation of ourselves to others. Our primary ethical qualification for ministry is servanthood.

Paul has been deeply hurt and discouraged by the criticisms of the Corinthians. He is seeking reconciliation with them. They have criticized him for his failure to be successful as a Greek rhetor (speaker), and he is defending his character as an apostle from those who claim he is a failure.  We, too, face our critics whenever we are not as successful as other preachers by the standards of pragmatism. How do we defend ourselves from those attacks? We defend ourselves by arguing that we are not peddlers of the Word of God selling our wares to consumers. We are servants of God. Our ethos is our defense. Servanthood is the way we recommend ourselves. It is the foundation of our commendation. Servanthood is our ethos - our character - in ministry.

Thursday, May 17, 2018


How often do we "bag it" and move on in our relationships with other Christians? Disagreements, irritations, and hurt feelings develop. We distance ourselves from one another, dismissing the relationships as peripheral to ministry. Not Paul! He writes, "working together we also urge you ... giving no cause for offense at all that the ministry might not be blemished" (2 Cor. 6:1&3). The first rule of ministry, like medicine, is to do no harm.

Paul spoke his letters like a pastor preaching to his people. One feature of oral communication is anacoluthon, a dramatic break in the sentence structure so that the final thought does not follow grammatically from the previous thought (Robertson, Grammar, p.435). Anacoluthon shows the depth of emotion that Paul feels as he breaks into his own sentence with a new thought in verse three. The phrase "giving" (διδόντες) no offense skips over verse 2 and qualifies or explains "we urge you" (παρακαλοῦμεν) in verse 1 (Meyer, 2 Corinthians, p. 546). What follows (vs. 4-10) is a long list of emotional experiences that Paul uses to appeal to the affections of the Corinthians before he concludes his appeal with his "heart opened wide" to them (vs. 11).

Paul starts his anacoluthon with an emphatic double negative (μηδεμίαν ἐν μηδενὶ) meaning "no offense at all" (R&R Linguistic Key, p.471). The participle "giving" (διδόντες) is in the present tense indicating ongoing, continuous action. Giving no offense at all is not a one-time act but a habit of life. In ministry, we are constantly seeking to give no offense to others - to do no harm in the church. The word "offense" (προσκοπήν) is only used here in the New Testament and means "an occasion for making a misstep" (BAGD, p.716). It is related to the more common word (πρόσκομμα) meaning an obstacle or hindrance, referring to the stumbling itself.

Paul wants to give no reason for anyone to stumble so that "the ministry might not be discredited" (μωμηθῇ). The verb means to find fault with or to blame. The noun form (μῶμος) means a defect or a blemish and Peter uses it as a description of false teachers in 2 Peter 2:13 (BAGD, p.531). The noun is frequently used in the book of Leviticus to describe defects or blemishes in the sacrifices or the priests (Hatch & Redpath, Concordance to the Septuagint, 2:93). No priest, for example, could come near to the altar to offer a sacrifice if he had a blemish (Lev. 21:21). Our ministries today are not discredited by physical blemishes but by spiritual blemishes. If we cause offense to others, we blemish our ministries. At the very least, we should do no harm to the church always seeking her interest instead of our self-interests in all our decisions.

Paul is beginning his final emotional appeal to the Corinthians to be reconciled to him (Witherington, Conflict & Community, p.398). He is writing to believers who have become estranged from him. He pleads with them to open their hearts - their affections - to him as he has to them (6:11-13). Paul is wearing his heart on his sleeve as he extends his hand to them in reconciliation. He does not want to be the cause of anything that blemishes his relationship with them in the ministry of Jesus Christ.

Relationships matter in ministry!

Thursday, April 12, 2018


What does it mean to receive the grace of God in vain? Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 6:1, "And working together we also are appealing to you not in vain to receive the grace of God." The words conclude Paul's explanation of God's reconciling work in Christ and the reconciling ministry we have toward others (2 Cor. 5:16-21). Therefore, Paul warns us not to receive God's grace in vain.

The infinitive "to receive" (δέξασθαι) means to receive a gift from someone or to receive someone into your home (BAGD, p.177). Paul uses the word in 2 Corinthians 7:15 to describe the reception the Corinthian church gave to Titus, his messenger. The negative particle (μὴ) goes with the infinitive rather than the verb "appeal" (παρακαλοῦμεν) because οὐκ is used with indicatives while μὴ is used with the other moods (BAGD, p.590). The sense is "we appeal to you not to receive" as opposed to "we do not appeal to you to receive." The phrase translated "in vain" (εἰς κενὸν) means without result, without reaching its goal. God's grace is empty and achieves no purpose (BAGD, p.427) if it is received in vain.

Is it even possible to receive the grace of God in a way that proves to be ineffective? Philip Hughes raises that question and then summarizes the four ways that this phrase is interpreted (Hughes, 2 Corinthians, pp.217-219). 1) Paul is talking about receiving God's grace in a purely external and superficial manner. Such a person is a professing Christian but not a true believer. However, the context makes it unlikely that Paul is talking about false professions of faith. 2) Paul is talking about a person who accepts God's grace only to reject it later. Such a person loses his salvation, thus receiving the grace in vain. This view flies in the face of Paul's statements elsewhere regarding salvation (e.g., Phil. 1:6) 3) Paul's appeal is not directed toward the Corinthians but to the world in general to whom God offers His reconciliation. Paul appeals to the world not to reject this great salvation. In this view, people do not receive the grace in vain. They never receive it all. 4) Paul is talking about Christians when they stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10)

The best interpretation is the fourth view. To receive the grace of God in vain is to live in ways that are inconsistent with grace. Our practice does not match our doctrine. Here we go back to the meaning of the word "vain" (κενὸν) above. The grace of God does not produce the intended results in our lives. Our actions constitute a denial of the truth. When we stand before Christ's judgment seat (the evaluation of believers not unbelievers), our actions will prove to be empty of eternal value. The purifying fire of God's judgment will consume the wood, hay, and stubble in our lives although we will be saved "as through fire" (1 Cor. 3:10-15).

Paul writes these words in the context of a great parenthesis in his letter (2 Cor. 2:14 - 7:4) dealing with sin and conflict in the body. He exhorts them to forgive the sinful offender before the parenthesis and then commends them for that forgiveness after the parenthesis (2 Cor. 2:7, cf. 2 Cor. 7:12). The conflict includes Paul who has felt alienated from the people in Corinth (2:2:13, cf. 7:5-16). Reconciliation is meant to transform our relationships. If we are reconciled to God by His grace, then we should be reconciled to one another as well. If we are not reconciled with one another, then we have received God's grace in vain. In this case, His reconciling grace serves no purpose in our lives (Martin, 2 Corinthians, p.166).

Horizontal reconciliation proves we have not received vertical reconciliation in vain!

Wednesday, March 28, 2018


The clearest and most important verse in the Bible regarding justification is 2 Corinthians 5:21. God made peace with us by removing the enmity between us, but someone must pay to reconcile enemies. Forensic payment for sin is justification. Paul writes, "Be reconciled to God. The one who knew no sin, He made to be sin on our behalf, in order that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."

Verse 21 is an example of asyndeton, a sentence that is grammatically unconnected to what comes before or after (MHT, Grammar, 3:340). Paul's transition from the topic of reconciliation to justification is abrupt without any connecting particles. The verse stands alone grammatically but is essential to the overall argument Paul advances. To be reconciled requires us to be justified.

God made (ἐποίησεν) the sinless Christ to be sin for us. Christ is sin. He is neither sinner nor sin offering. Christ is sin (ἁμαρτία) not a sinner (ἁμαρτωλός). This point is important theologically for if Christ became a sinner, He could not die for our sins. God made him sin itself, the object of God's forensic anger so that our sin could be judged and removed. Reconciliation depends on the removal of that which caused God anger by the satisfying of His judicial wrath. Furthermore, Christ is not merely a sin offering like the scapegoat under the Mosaic law. We discern this truth because of the double use of the noun "sin" which requires us to take both uses of sin in the same way. While it is possible to understand "he made Him sin" as "He made him a sin offering," it is not possible to take "the one who knew no sin" as "the one who knew no sin offering." Therefore both uses of the word must mean sin, not sin offering (Hughes, 2 Corinthians, pp. 213-215).

The two clauses are parallel, Paul draws a sharp contrast between sin (ἁμαρτίαν) and righteousness (δικαιοσύνη) and between made (ἐποίησεν) and might become (γενώμεθα). Christ was made sin. We are not made righteous. Our righteousness is a gift of God in Christ. It is the righteousness of God (θεοῦ) which must be understood as a subjective genitive meaning that the righteousness comes from God. It is also only a righteousness found in Him (ἐν αὐτῷ). The antecedent must be Christ (Χριστοῦ) in verse 20. God gives us His righteousness because of our union with Christ.

Since righteousness is a gift from God (Rom. 5:17), it cannot mean good works. Good works cannot be given to us. The righteousness Paul is talking about must refer to a right relationship with God. God confers a standing of righteousness on us in Christ. God provides the right standing Christ bought for us. The gift is judicial righteousness on the basis of His payment for sin. In this sense, our sin is imputed to Christ, and His right standing with God is imputed to us (Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, pp.281-282). God both requires of us and provides to us His righteousness. The verb "might become" (γενώμεθα) infers a growing life of actual righteousness (good works) as the result of this conferral of judicial righteousness (Eph. 2:10) although Paul's emphasis is forensic in this passage.

Reconciliation depends on justification and justification depends on atonement. Justification is judicial forgiveness. Christ paid the price for God to forgive. Because God forgives, we can be reconciled to God and offer reconciliation to others. The price tag of peace is payment for sins.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018


Our mission is the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18). God reconciled us to Himself in Christ, "therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God" (2 Cor. 5:20).

The word translated "ambassadors" (πρεσβεύομεν) is a verb, not a noun. Originally, the verb meant to be the oldest or to assume first place in rank. By the time of Paul, the verb came to mean the actions of an ambassador who represents another person in negotiations (NIDNTT, 1:193). The word was used to refer to the Emperor's legate, one who carries out the official duties of an envoy or emissary. Those duties could include petition and intercession on behalf of the king (M&M, Vocabulary of the Greek NT, p.534). Paul uses the same verb to describe his mission in Ephesians 6:20 where he writes, "I am an ambassador in chains" (πρεσβεύω ἐν ἁλύσει). Chains may become the badge of our position because we represent a king, not of this world.

We act as representatives not just on behalf of Christ but in place of Christ (ὑπὲρ Χριστοῦ). The prepositional phrase is placed first in the sentence for emphasis. It is true that the preposition ὑπὲρ does not necessarily infer a substitutionary meaning like the preposition ἀντὶ. However, ὑπὲρ is often used in a vicarious way meaning "instead of" or "in place of" someone else, and the context here supports such a substitutionary meaning (Hughes, 2 Corinthians, p.209, fn 48, see p.193, fn 24). We are ambassadors in place of Jesus Christ which is why when we speak we are speaking "as though God were making an appeal through us." The particle ὡς followed by the genitive absolute τοῦ θεοῦ makes the genitive the subject of the participle παρακαλοῦντος (R&R, Linguistic Key, p.470). The better translation would read: "We are ambassadors in place of Christ, with the conviction that God is appealing through us." When we as His ambassadors talk peace, God talks through us. God is present in our words (Martin, 2 Corinthians, p.156).

Our mission is to call all people to "be reconciled to God" (καταλλάγητε τῷ θεῷ). Paul does not say that we call people to believe they are reconciled. We plead with people to be reconciled (Witherington, Conflict & Community, p.397, fn 16). People are to put away the enmity in their hearts toward God (repentance) by accepting God's peace achieved for them in Christ (faith). God appeals (παρακαλοῦντος) to people through us. The verb means to implore, entreat or request people to be reconciled (BAGD, p.617).

The appeal to be vertically reconciled to God leads naturally into the appeal to be horizontally reconciled to each other. Paul is not only thinking of the outside world in this appeal. He is thinking about the Corinthians themselves as the following verses make clear. He is concerned that the professing Christians in Corinth might have received the grace of God in vain according to the next verse (2 Cor. 6:1) so he urges or appeals (παρακαλοῦμεν) to them to be reconciled.  Later he will beg them to "make room for him in their hearts" (2 Cor. 7:2-4). Paul sees the dynamic connection between vertical and horizontal reconciliation.

We are ambassadors for peace in a hostile world. No peace with God means no peace with others. No peace with others is a sign we have no peace with God. God talks peace when we talk peace! Lord, help me to be a peacemaker for you.

Friday, March 2, 2018


Reconciliation is a two-way street. God must reconcile us to Himself, and we must be reconciled to Him. There is enmity between God and man which goes both directions. Our rebellion against God must be reconciled, and God's anger toward us must be reconciled. Paul writes that "God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ" (2 Cor. 5:19) and then concludes with an appeal to "be reconciled to God" (2 Cor. 5:20). The compound verb translated "reconcile" (καταλλάσσων)  is perfective meaning to effect a complete change back from enmity to peace (MHT, Grammar, 3:298). Reconciliation is not complete until both sides are reconciled.

Paul is the only one who uses the verb καταλλάσσω for the relationship between God and man. The active voice is only used of God, and the passive voice is only used for humans (TDNT, 1:255). We do not achieve reconciliation with God. Reconciliation with God is never something we can accomplish. To imply otherwise is to deny the gospel - the good news of what God has done for us (Denney, 2 Corinthians, 211-215 cited by Martin, 2 Corinthians, 154).

In Christ, God was reconciling the world "to Himself" (ἑαυτῷ). God pacified Himself in Christ. The sacrifice of the Son appeased the anger of the Father. Paul writes, "while we were enemies we were reconciled (κατηλλάγημεν) to God through the death of His Son" (Rom. 5:10). God made peace with Himself for us so that no impediment stood between Him and us any longer. He reconciled (active voice); we were reconciled (passive voice)! He did it for us! This is the essence of the good news.

When Paul writes that God "was reconciling the world to Himself" (2 Cor. 5:19), he was not suggesting universalism. The present tense of the verb (καταλλάσσων) indicates continuous, ongoing reconciliation. The "world" (κόσμον) refers to a class of people. The absence of an article gives the noun a collective sense. He is referring to mankind as a whole. God is "not imputing to them" (αὐτοῖς) "their" (αὐτῶν) "sins." The plural pronouns refer back to a collective singular (Blass/Debrunner, Grammar, 147). The individual members of the collective world are being reconciled to God down through history.

Paul does not mean that all humans, believing and unbelieving, are forgiven, but God, in Christ, forgives the sins of those who are part of the collective world (Hodge, 2 Corinthians, 145). Imputation was sufficient for the whole world but efficient only in Christ. The cross was sufficient to remove the judicial anger on God's side, but it does not remove the rebellion on our side of reconciliation. Humans must receive the reconciliation to be reconciled. We must accept what God has done for us before reconciliation is complete for both sides.

How else can we understand Paul's appeal to "be reconciled to God" (2 Cor. 5:21)? The verb is in the passive voice. We appeal to humans to be reconciled (καταλλάγητε) to God. Humans don't reconcile themselves to God. Humans accept the reconciliation God has made for them by turning away from their rebellion to enjoy peace with God. God commissions us to urge people to receive the reconciliation provided by God. The Gospel is good news because we declare what God has done not what we must do to be reconciled to God!