2 Corinthians 6:3-13
3 We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, 4 but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5 beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; 6 by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; 7 by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8 through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9 as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; 10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.
11 We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open. 12 You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. 13 In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also. 
Paul’s brilliantly poetic description of his ministry and motives in these ten verses flows out of his plea that the Corinthians be reconciled to God. His plea for reconciliation has often been lifted out of context and applied as a plea for all of us to reconcile ourselves to God by some kind of human self-resolve. Reconciliation is God’s work from start to finish (5:18-20). Paul writes in 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
In those three excruciating hours on Calvary’s cross, God performed a great exchange by counting all our sins against Messiah Jesus and attributing Christ’s righteousness to us. This is the amazing grace that drove all of Paul’s ministry and to which he resolutely clung as members of the Corinthian congregation and the Judaizing false teachers insulted and rejected God’s chosen apostle and God’s words given to Paul to speak. So, Paul pleads with them, “Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. 2 …Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”
Paul knew many in Corinth had been reconciled by God and that his previous letters, being as they were the very Word of God, had brought repentance. But there were still active pockets of resistance in the congregation. By rejecting Paul’s ministry of reconciliation, these poor souls were actually and actively rejecting God. Paul knew why the rebels were rejecting him: their innate give-to-get religion made them believe that no true apostle of God would ever have to suffer the way Paul did. God gave health and wealth to the faithful, not sickness and suffering (1:3-11; 7:4, 5). God’s blessings had to fall within the boundaries of what humans considered to be “good.” In their opinion, Paul’s life of suffering was evidence of God’s disapproval of his “alleged” apostleship.
Now comes Paul’s epic lyric defense of the theology of the cross. His endurance through numerous trials and tribulations is the proof of his apostolic authenticity and the very reason the Corinthian rebels should heed his words. He wrote, “3 We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, 4 but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way….” Literally, Paul writes, “To no one in nothing giving a cause in stumbling lest the ministry be discredited, but in everything commending ourselves we, as ministers of God in great endurance….”
One commentator writes, “Paul is assured that he is a minister of God; it is not something he has to prove. The minister of God commends himself in a range of circumstances, such as those that now follow, which demonstrate the mind of one who is the servant of God and of the people of God.” What follows is a list of examples of what he calls his “great endurance” in the second part of verse 4. Paul’s ministry of endurance is central to his credentials as a believer and as an apostle called by God to speak God’s message of reconciliation.
The keystone quality of true ministry is not having great pastor hair or the right look or voice or outfits or cool illustrations. The overarching quality of biblical ministry is faithful endurance. It’s perfectly natural for every human being to want to avoid conflicts, suffering, and pain. The same is true for we mere mortals called upon to deliver the ministry of reconciliation to the last, the lost, the least, the little, and the dead (which is all of us to varying extents). Ministry giftedness is steadfastness against the call of the world, the flesh, and the devil to just quit, to leave, to sing with the Psalmist:
Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest; 7 yes, I would wander far away; I would lodge in the wilderness.
I am no King David nor Apostle Paul, yet I find the same temptations to flee conflict, to burn my bridges before I burn out. If you stop playing baseball you will never again strike out. Never lead and you will never by criticized. Never preach or teach and nobody will be bored or angry with you. Never confront and flee from even the possibility of conflict. The temptation is universal to the human experience and the more you are called to minister, the larger the target is drawn on your back.
None who has done ministry of any kind in the church has not, at some point, contemplated just quitting and letting the devil pick on someone else for a change. I have a friend in ministry who, like me, has been through the same grinding, oppressive struggles over the last several years. We candidly admit to each other how often the temptation to walk away from ministry assails us. I told him recently that it’s not always love for Christ that makes me keep putting one foot in front of the other, plodding onward. Sometimes, I find myself grinding away just because I know it ticks off the devil for me to keep on proclaiming gospel reconciliation no matter what fiery darts he shoots.
Maybe the Apostle Paul had feelings like that. He was, after all an ordinary man. But he was given an extraordinary mission for which he was fully equipped by the Holy Spirit. His faithful endurance was the evidence of his calling because only the Spirit of Christ can equip us with such miraculous endurance in the face of constant struggles against the world, the flesh, and the devil.
Paul describes his endurance in a lyrical fashion with the rising intensity of twenty-eight descriptive words (in the Greek). The first eighteen are introduced with the preposition “in.” The next three descriptions begin with “through.” The final seven begin with “as” (“as if”). Verses 4-10, with these 28 descriptions, read like this:
. . . but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in calamities, in beatings, in imprisonments, in riots, in labors, in sleepless nights, in hunger; in purity, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in genuine love; in truthful speech, in the power of God; through the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor; through slander and praise. We are treated as if impostors, and yet are true; as if unknown, and yet well known; as if dying, and behold, we live; as if punished, and yet not killed; as if sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as if poor, yet making many rich; as if having nothing, yet possessing everything.
MULTIPLE AFFLICTIONS (4b-5)
This blizzard of troubles is described in triplets, showing Paul is being attacked from all angles. He begins with a list of generic troubles: afflictions…hardships…calamities. Jesus told his disciples, “In this world, you will have tribulations” (Jn. 16:33). When Paul met Christ, the Spirit informed Paul that he would suffer much for Jesus’ sake (Acts 20:23). Paul told the Ephesian elders, “through many hardships we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). The way of an apostle was through hardships and afflictions. Suffering now. Glory later. That’s the theology of the cross. “Each of these words arises out of the grave difficulties of bringing God’s message to a culture hostile to God and to people alienated from God.”
The second troublesome triplet consists of affliction from others: beatings…imprisonments…riots. In chapter 11, Paul will list the worst of his numerous beatings: “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods” (11:24, 25a). That’s EIGHT severe beatings! Scripture only records a few of the times Paul was taken into custody, only once with any specifics. In Acts 16, Paul and Silas were beaten and put in stocks where they literally brought down the house with their praise songs. Their suffering was the occasion for a jailor and his household being reconciled to God.
“Paul experienced riots in Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, Philippi, Thessalonica, Corinth, Ephesus, and Jerusalem (cf. Acts 13:50; 14:5, 19; 16:22; 18:12; 19:23; 21:27). Paul stands alone in history in his record of long abuse from others. There is no one like him.”
On top of the previous six troubles, Paul adds a triplet of self-inflicted troubles: “labors…sleepless nights…hunger” (v. 5). These are the troubles that came by his choice to sacrifice his well-being to advance God’s message of reconciliation in Christ Jesus. Recall the apostle supported himself by making tents. He ministered full-time and worked full-time making little time for sleep. He traveled light and suffered many journeys without food, not wanting to burden others with his needs.
Paul’s life was a near-constant blizzard of troubles from every side. Paul’s response was to patiently endure them with great persistence for the sake of his new covenant ministry of reconciliation. What a servant of God was Paul! At the center of riots, beaten, bloody, permanently scarred, and sore, mocked by crowds, sweating, exhausted, under-rested and under-fed – but always enduring. The reality of his trust into Christ was exceedingly difficult to ignore.
SPIRIT-GIVEN ENDURANCE (6-7a)
He has just described his life in three triplets of troubles. Now he will explain from where this supernatural endurance comes. Paul writes it comes “6 by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; 7 by truthful speech, and the power of God….” By “purity,” Paul conveys both his sincerity and his lack of financial interest in the Corinthians (unlike the Judaizers; 7:2; 12:16-18). In the middle of this list is the Holy Spirit and the list closes with “the power of God.” These graces are not natural, human virtues but gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Paul does not want to be confused with a Stoic philosopher. His ministry is not an angry, invulnerable, “stuff-it-down-deep-inside,” tight-jawed endeavor. His endurance rests in his purity of motive, in Spirit-taught knowledge of God, “in a Spirit-imbued patience that is not provoked to anger, in a genuine, unhypocritical love, in truthful speech, and in the power of God. Paul’s great endurance thus had a Spirit-endowed sweetness.”
Humans can display the fleshly resolve go through life with a self-righteous, invulnerable, resentful attitude that focuses us upon the idol of relative morality (If you can keep your head when those about you are losing their’ s and blaming it on you) – a kind of “I’ll show you!” resentful survivor spirit in which we worship our own grit and determination. That is the way of bitterness and joylessness. But it was NOT Paul’s attitude. His was a life of hope into Christ, not a worship of his own fleshly resolve. His was sweet endurance flowing from the Spirit-given love for Christ and for the last, the lost, the least, the little, and the dead.
ENDURANCE IN RIGHTEOUSNESS (7b-8a)
Next comes a paired list of attributes headed by the preposition “through” (“by means of” or “with”): “through the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8 through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise.” The weapons Paul carries in both hands are righteousness. Some scholars suggest Paul is commending his righteous conduct and others suggest Paul is speaking of his judicially-declared righteousness that comes only from trusting into the person and work of Christ. As one commentator explains:
Ministry with the weapons (hoplōn) of righteousness for the right hand and for the left has been variously interpreted: a ministry that is (a) ready for an attack from any quarter, (b) armed with weapons of offence (a sword for the right hand) and defence [sic] (a shield for the left), (c) carried out both in prosperity (the right hand) and adversity (the left hand). This sort of military metaphor is used in other passages in Paul’s writings, and a consideration of these throws light on its use here. …What we see here is the offensive weapon of gospel presentation and argumentation (cf. e.g., Acts 19:8–10) whereby the power of God is released to bring about the overthrow of false arguments and folly and bring people to the obedience of faith.
Paul puts no obstacles of human effort or “covenant faithfulness” in the way of his listeners. He regards both Christ and other people “according to the Spirit” rather than according to their ethnic heritage or social status. He proclaimed in 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Nothing is a greater stumbling stone to reconciliation with God than the narcigesis of false teaching that makes my ego the subject and God the object.
Great endurance is founded upon the reality of the gospel message that God reconciles mankind by imputing our sins to Christ and Christ’s righteousness to us. God himself had declared Paul to be the righteousness of God! That cosmic fact sustained the apostle “8 through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise.” “Honor and dishonor” refer to personal treatment of Paul; “slander and praise” concerns what is said about him — especially behind his back. Paul has heard God’s declaration of his righteousness and no mere human words can discourage his ministry and mission.
Righteousness is at the heart of the gospel message of God’s reconciliation. It was the joy set before Christ as he endured the cross. It is the fuel for the ministry of endurance that exults Messiah Jesus. Righteousness in the right hand and the left (for full armaments of offense and defense) is a prime means of putting one foot in front of the other in the face of wave after wave of assaults by the world, the flesh, and the devil.
SHIELD OF RIGHTEOUSNESS (8b-10)
Paul concludes with a mounting song of triumphant endurance that rides on the down-up rhythm of fleshly observations verses spiritual realities. The first, fleshly half of each of the seven pairs, read together, is like a dirge: “as imposters . . . as unknown . . . as dying . . . as punished . . . as sorrowful . . . as poor . . . as having nothing.” But the second half is a dance. Each of the seven pairs of endurance ends in triumph.
“8b We are treated as if impostors, and yet are true.” The allegation is that Paul is a deceiver, one who assumes a false identity to con people. Paul’s calling came directly from the Lord Jesus Christ in a glorious vision. He was caught up into heaven and saw things about which he was forbidden to talk. Paul knows he’s the real deal (2:17; 3:4; 4:2).
“…9 as if unknown, and yet well known.” These are passive participles indicating that he had been and was the object of scrutiny leading either to lack of recognition or to recognition. In the first instance, Paul was unrecognized by some (or many) in his apostolic vocation. “We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things” (1 Corinthians 4:13). As to being well known, he is pointing to God as the one by whom he was recognized as an apostle. Because he is known by God, he can cope with being unknown by people.
“9b…as if dying and, look, we live….” Paul Barnet explains, “Paul is picking up the themes of death and life that are so important within this letter. The references to death appeared early in the letter and repeatedly come to the surface (1:8–9; 4:7–5:10; 11:23–26). Matching these, however, is the triumph of resurrection and life (1:10; 4:10, 11, 14; 5:1–9), as indicated by the joyful and triumphant “behold” (5:17; 6:2 [twice]).” The pattern of Paul’s experiences reflects the life and death of Christ.
“9c…as if punished, and yet not killed….” His “punished” (παιδεύω, corrected, trained) corresponds with “dying,” and “not put to death” with “we live.” Paul’s afflictions are part of his spiritual education, his upbringing. But thanks to the divine mercy (4:1), he has been spared death to grow up in ministry (1:9; 4:11; 11:23–33). He testified to God’s empowerment in the midst of the weakness of suffering (12:9).
The next fleshly versus spiritual contrast is in verse 10, “10 as if sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” The word “sorrowful” or “grieving” appears 18 times in this letter. His detractors claim Paul is a “sad sack.” He can’t be an apostle and have so much grief in his life. Never mind the fact that his grief comes directly from these detractors and false teachers (2:4; 11:28–29). Sorrow was the human observation; joy came from divine revelation.
“10b as if poor, yet making many rich.” The poverty is literal, and the riches are spiritual, as they are in the case of the incarnate Christ upon whom Paul patterns his life (cf. 8:9). “As Christ lowered himself (to raise others), so did Paul (11:7; cf. Phil 2:6–8). As Christ impoverished himself to make others rich (8:9), so did his servant. This Paul did through his free gift to them of his ministry (11:7), by which at no charge to them he brought the treasure of the grace of God, which, ironically, the Corinthians were in danger of repudiating (6:1).”
The seventh antithesis is, “10c as if having nothing, yet possessing everything.” Earlier he had told the Corinthians, “For all things are yours . . . all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1 Corinthians 3:21b, 22). He knew he was the heir of all things. Paul was true, well-known, alive, and not dead, always rejoicing, making many rich, possessing everything. He endured triumphantly. That is why his endurance was great!
Paul was the real meal deal! His endurance through an unending blizzard of trials, tribulations, and afflictions was his most convincing credential. It was his letter of recommendation. Now, Paul concludes this portion of his letter with an appeal to the Corinthians: “11 We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open. 12 You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. 13 In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also.”
He even abandons his “apostolic ‘we’” and dares to use a personal pronoun (I speak). Paul doesn’t address them because his feelings have been hurt. He is not trying to repair his damaged ego by creating more horizontal approval for himself. He’s not in the self-esteem business (and if you are in the self-esteem business, don’t go into ministry!). Paul has opened up his life, his heart to his congregation.
Paul has laid out even more evidence of his Spirit-driven character and gifts. Again, he calls for their honest verdict. His ministry of endurance demonstrated that he lived out the life of Christ in him. How do you convey Christ to a lost and dying world? How do you demonstrate Christ to your children, your grandchildren, your co-workers, and your neighbors? You show them that your trust into the perfectly-lived life and sacrificial, blood-shedding death of the risen, ascended, and glorified Lord Jesus Christ. You endure in the blizzards.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. 
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 2 Co 6:3–13.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 2 Co 6:1–2.
 Barnett, 325.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ps 55:6–7.
 Hughes, R. Kent. 2 Corinthians. Crossway. Kindle Edition.
 Barnett, 327.
 Hughes, op. cit.
 Hughes, op. cit.
 Colin G. Kruse, 2 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 8, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 130–131.
 Barnett, 332.
 Barnett, 333–334.
 Hughes, op. cit.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Heb 12:1–2.