2 Corinthians 6:1-6
Remind of 5:17--coming to Christ is the most important decision we can ever make because it changes our lives in the most fundamental ways. Paul describes two of those changes in the verses that follow:
We are reconciled to God (read 5:18a,19a, 21). Reconciliation is the restoration of the personal relationship by dealing with the root cause of the alienation. No longer do we need to be alienated from God because he has dealt with the barrier that separated him from us (our true moral guilt). Because Jesus Christ was willing to bear our sins, God is prepared to give us right standing with him just as we are. The question now is not “Is God willing to accept me?” but only “Are you willing to be reconciled to God?” (vs 20b). When you come to God through Christ, he will forgive you completely and forge a permanent spiritual union between you and him.
We receive the ministry of reconciliation (read 5:18b,19b,20). We become ambassadors for Christ. Ambassadors have no authority of their own--they speak and act on behalf of their ruler. They negotiate and try to persuade people to accept their ruler’s agenda for their lives (5:11).
This is an amazing statement! God has actually entrusted to us the privilege of introducing other people to Christ and persuading them to voluntarily be reconciled to God. I wouldn’t have done it this way, but God has--so we need to embrace this incredible purpose which makes every other so-called purpose (CAREER; FAMILY; etc.) pale unless they are integrated around this mission.
It is in this light that we need to understand 6:1,2 (read). What does it mean to “receive the grace of God in vain?”
Some say Paul is urging non-Christians not to miss the opportunity to receive Christ. This is certainly a valid point (GOSPEL: how do you know you’ll get this opportunity again?), but that’s not what Paul is saying in this passage.
He is referring to Christians’ role as ambassadors for Christ. He is saying, “Don't pass up the opportunity to play this role. You only have this opportunity for a little while. Only until Christ returns can people come to Christ; only until Christ returns can you be ambassadors for him. So make the most of this opportunity now!”
This is like getting your DRIVER’S LICENSE, but then never actually driving a car. What a waste! You got your license “in vain” (see also Phil. 2:16).
Spiritual growth stops at a very rudimentary level unless we see this as the integrating purpose of our lives, and actively follow God into our role in it (many roles). Some say the goal of the Christian life is cultivating inner life with God--but actually this is the goal, and the inner life develops as we pursue this mission . . .
In 6:3-10, Paul provides a profile of an effective ambassador . . .
Not Needlessly Offensive
Read 6:3. This continues the ambassadorial metaphor. An ambassador must not be needlessly offensive.
Notice the qualifier “needlessly.” Paul doesn’t use it here, but this is definitely what he means. It isn’t possible to never give offense as an ambassador for Christ, because his message offends people who are too proud to admit their need for grace (Lk. 6:26; 1 Cor. 1:23).
That’s why Paul mentions that he endured “beatings and imprisonments” (vs 5), and says he was sometimes treated with “dishonor,” given “evil report,” and regarded as “deceivers” (vs 8).
The message is difficult enough without us giving people additional reason to disregard Christ’s offer. Yet it’s pretty difficult to deny that the biggest barrier to overcome is Christians or those who claim to be Christians! “UGLY AMERICAN”: Ambassador who gave the USA a bad name because of his corrupt lifestyle and cultural insensitivity.
In the moral arena:
CONTEMPORARY: scandals (“NEW ERA;” SWAGGART & BAKKER); superstition (“TORONTO BLESSING”); fundamentalist hate (CHRISTIAN RIGHT)
HISTORICAL: genocidal hate (CRUSADES); violence; etc. There is almost a conspiratorial silence on the part of Christians about this. Many non-Christians know about this--and seem almost beyond reach because of it.
We should not ignore it or defend it. We should denounce it as a counterfeit of Christianity which Jesus predicted (Matt. 24) and called on us to discern by its fruits (Matt. 7). We’re here to defend biblical Christianity, not this!
In the cultural arena:
Read and explain 1 Cor. 9:19-22. Note why Paul was so insistent about this--” . . . that I may save some . . . ” More will come to Christ is we don't erect cultural barriers, and fewer will come to Christ if we do!
All too often, the church has it exactly backwards here: different where we should be the same (DRESS; MUSIC; LANGUAGE; AWARE OF THEIR LITERATURE & ENTERTAINMENT [PAUL ON THIS; JESUS AT BARS]), and the same where we should be different (RELATIVISM; DIVORCE; MATERIALISM)!! Why would people want to take on all kinds of cultural baggage to embrace the same values???
If you are an ambassador for Christ, you do not have the freedom to form a Christian sub-culture!!
Read 6:5. Here is yet another reference to Paul’s extraordinary capacity to endure adversity.
What--are we supposed to go out and look for suffering? The issue is not seeking suffering, but being committed to Christ enough that we are willing to suffer rather than be disloyal to him Our willingness to suffer for something is an index of our commitment to it.
People suffer great adversity in our culture for their careers. They go into debt and deprive themselves of sleep in order to get through medical school. People endure significant pain regularly to compete athletically (OLYMPICS), or just to stay in shape and look good.
If these are worthy of suffering to attain, how much more is Jesus Christ and the truth of Christianity? What does it mean if Christians aren’t willing to suffer for Jesus Christ? That he is more of a convenience than the truth.
DOUGLAS HYDE: “Such sacrifices, whether at the level of leaders or of rank and file, are impressive . . . (People) of every continent have responded to this example of idealism expressing itself in terms of sacrifice . . . Indeed, the more materialistic our society becomes, the more the dedicated man stands out by way of contrast. The dedicated man makes his own appeal by virtue of the fact that he is dedicated.”
Unfortunately, Hyde’s comment is about Communism rather than Christianity! As an ex-communist convert to Christianity, the thesis of his book is that Christians must match communists’ commitment if they expect to persuade more people.
One person who was considering Christ about a Christian worker: “I don’t know yet whether Christianity is true--I haven’t yet found anything that is untrue. But I know one thing--he is completely convinced that it is true!!” This doesn’t prove Christianity is true, but it should be there if it is true.
Positive Spiritual Qualities
Being an effective ambassador involves more than people not finding discrediting things about you, and more even than being sacrificially committed. It also involves positive spiritual qualities. God wants us to expose by positive contrast the emptiness of life in the world so that people are attracted to the lifestyle available to them through Christ. In vs 6, Paul summarizes some qualities that should distinguish us as people of a good God.
“Purity” is used here probably to refer to sexual purity.
This means that we have accepted from the heart God’s high view of human sexuality and are reserving it for marriage. We have turned away from using others for sexual pleasure (including our Christian dating partners!!), even when the opportunity presents itself.
It also involves building healthy, loving marriages and families so that the world can see why God’s plan for sexuality is right and good and beautiful.
“Knowledge” refers to an in-depth understanding of the Christian world-view.
American Christianity is woefully inadequate on this point! It is appalling to see how ignorant the average Christian is, despite the unparalleled opportunity to understand our faith (BOOKS; TAPES; BIBLES; CONFERENCES). Christians are going head-long into unbiblical mysticism and psycho-babble when they should be getting into the Word!
Not that we have to be geniuses (like Paul)--but for Christ’s sake, we need to study the Bible and other related critical issues so we can intelligently represent him (2 Tim. 2:15).
“Patience” and “kindness” both refer to cultivating a high view of other people and treating them with respect. These are key elements of the “genuine love” Paul mentions at the end of the verse.
Firm on truth? Yes--and willing to defend it and suffer for it. But being nasty, fierce, viewing people as the enemy? No! Why do so many non-Christians expect to be judged by Christians? Because so many do judge them!
We need to relate to non-Christians with patience and kindness, even though they may say and do many things that are offensive to God and us. Rom. 2:5 says this expresses God’s attitude toward them, and is much more likely to move them to repentance than anger and rejection.
We need to relate to one another with patience and kindness, because this provides an arresting alternative to the alienation of the world and authenticates the gospel (Jn. 13:34,35). When coupled with knowledge, this is very powerful (COMMENT ABOUT CCM PEOPLE: “THEY ARE THE MOST LOVING & SHARP GROUP OF PEOPLE I HAVE EVER MET--AND THIS HAS MADE ME TAKE Christianity MORE SERIOUSLY.”).
“The Holy Spirit” - We depend on the power of God to take our words and lifestyle, and drive it home to people to convict them of their need for Christ (not necessarily to my face, but alone to themselves and to God). We don’t have to “force the ball.” We speak up and challenge people, but we do so consciously trusting God to work through us and impact people.
If I didn’t believe in the power of the Holy Spirit, I wouldn’t be an ambassador.
The most practical way to learn these positive qualities, and the most powerful way to express them is through involvement in Christian community >> INTRODUCE TESTIMONY.
 Douglas Hyde, Dedication and Leadership (University of Notre Dame Press, 1983), p. 20.