William Barclay's Daily Study Bible

A Blizzard Of Troubles (2 Corinthians 6:3-10)

6:3-10 We do our work, trying to put an obstacle in no man's way, for we do not wish the ministry to become a laughing stock for critics. But in everything we try to keep on commending ourselves as ministers of God must do--in much endurance, amidst the things which press sore upon us, in the inescapable pains of life, in anxieties, amidst stripes, in prisons, in tumults, in toils, in sleepless nights, in fastings, in purity, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in love unfeigned, in the declaration of the truth, in the power of God, with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left, in honour and in dishonour, in ill report and in good report; as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and lo! we live; as chastened, but not killed; as grieved, but always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing all things.

In all the chances and changes of life Paul had only one concern--to show himself a sincere and profitable minister of Jesus Christ. Even as he made that claim, his mind's eye went back across what Chrysostom called "the blizzard of troubles" through which he had come and through which he was still struggling. Every word in this tremendous catalogue, which someone has called "the hymn of the herald of salvation," has its background in Paul's adventurous life.

He begins with one triumphant word of the Christian life--endurance (hupomone, Greek #5281 ). It is untranslatable. It does not describe the frame of mind which can sit down with folded hands and bowed head and let a torrent of troubles sweep over it in passive resignation. It describes the ability to bear things in such a triumphant way that it transfigures them. Chrysostom has a great panegyric on this hupomone ( Greek #5281 ). He calls it "the root of all goods, the mother of piety, the fruit that never withers, a fortress that is never taken, a harbour that knows no storms" and "the queen of virtues, the foundation of right actions, peace in war, calm in tempest, security in plots." It is the courageous and triumphant ability to pass the breaking-point and not to break and always to greet the unseen with a cheer. It is the alchemy which transmutes tribulation into strength and glory.

Paul goes on to speak of three groups, each of three things, in which this victorious endurance is practised.

(i) There are the internal conflicts of the Christian life.

(a) The things which press sore upon us. The word he uses is thlipsis ( Greek #2347 ) which originally expressed sheer, physical pressure on a man. There are things which weigh down a man's spirit like the sorrows which are a burden on his heart and the disappointments which are like to crush the life out of him. The triumphant endurance can cope with them all.

(b) The inescapable pains of life. The Greek word (anagke, Greek #318 ) literally means the necessities of life. Certain burdens a man may escape, but others are inescapable. There are certain things which a man must bear. The greatest of these are sorrow, for only the life which has never known love will never know that, and death which is the lot of every man. The triumphant endurance enables a man to face all that is involved in being a man.

(c) Anxieties. The word Paul uses (stenochoria, Greek #4730 ) literally means a too narrow place. It might be used of an army caught in a narrow, rocky defile with space neither to manoeuvre nor to escape. It might be used of a ship caught in a storm with no room either to ride it or to run before it. There are moments when a man seems to be in a situation in which the walls of life are closing round him. Even then the triumphant endurance makes him able to breathe the spaciousness of heaven.

(ii) There are the external tribulations of life.

(a) Stripes. For Paul the Christian life meant not only spiritual suffering, but also physical suffering. It is the simple fact that if there had not been those who were ready and able to bear the torture of the fire and the wild beasts we would not be Christian today. There are still some for whom it is physical agony to be a Christian; and it is always true that "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church."

(b) Prisons. Clement of Rome tells us that Paul was in prison no fewer than seven times. From Acts we know that before he wrote to the Corinthians he was in prison in Philippi, and afterwards in Jerusalem, in Caesarea and in Rome. The pageant of Christians who were imprisoned stretches from the first to the twentieth century. There have always been those who would abandon their liberty sooner than abandon their faith.

(c) Tumults. Over and over again we have the picture of the Christian facing, not the sternness of the law, but the violence of the mob. John Wesley tells us of what happened to him in Wednesbury when the mob came "pouring down like a flood." "To attempt speaking was vain; for the noise on every side was like the roaring of the sea. So they dragged me along till we came to the town; when, seeing the door of a large house open, I attempted to go in; but a man, catching me by the hair, pulled me back into the middle of the crowd. They made no more stop till they had carried me through the main street, from one end of the town to the other." George Foxe tells us of what happened to him at Tickhill. "I found the priest and most of the chief of the parish together in the chancel. So I went up to them and began to speak, but immediately they fell upon me; the clerk took up the Bible as I was speaking, and struck me on the face with it, so that it gushed out with blood, and I bled exceedingly in the steeple-house. Then the people cried, 'Let us have him out of the Church'; and when they had got me out they beat me exceedingly, and threw me down, and over a hedge; and afterwards they dragged me through a house into the street, stoning an beating me as they drew me along, so that I was besmeared all over with blood and dirt.... Yet when I was got upon my legs again I declared to them the word of life and shewed them the fruits of their teachers, how they dishonoured Christianity." The mob has often been the enemy of Christianity; but nowadays it is not the violence but the mockery or the amused contempt of the crowd against which the Christian must stand fast.

(iii) There is the effort of the Christian life.

(a) Toils. The word Paul uses (kopos, Greek #2873 ) is in the New Testament almost a technical term for the Christian life. It describes toil to the point of sheer exhaustion, the kind of toil which takes everything of body, mind and spirit that a man has to give. The Christian is the workman of God.

(b) Sleepless nights. Some would be spent in prayer, some in a situation of peril or discomfort where sleep was impossible. At all times Paul was ready to be the unsleeping sentinel of Christ.

(c) Fastings. No doubt what Paul means here is not deliberately chosen fastings, but times when he went hungry for the work's sake. We may well contrast with his spirit the spirit of the man who would not miss a meal to attend the worship of the house of God.

Now Paul turns away from the trials and the tribulations, which endurance enabled him to conquer, to his own God-given equipment for the Christian life. Once again he retains the same arrangement of three groups of three items.

(i) There are the God-given qualities of mind. (a) Purity. The word Paul uses (hagnotes, Greek #54 ) was defined by the Greeks as "the careful avoidance of all sins which are against the gods; the service of the honour of God as nature demands", as "prudence at its highest tension" and as "freedom from every stain of flesh and spirit." It is in fact the quality which enables a man to enter into the very presence of God.

(b) Knowledge. This kind of knowledge has been defined as "knowledge of the things that must be done." It was the knowledge which issued not in the theologian's fine-spun subtleties but in the actions of the Christian man.

(c) Patience. Usually in the New Testament this word (makrothumia, Greek #3115 ) denotes patience with people, the ability to bear with them even when they are wrong, even when they are cruel and insulting. It is a great word. In First Maccabees it is said ( 1 Maccabees 8:4 ) that the Romans conquered the world by "their policy and their patience" and there the word expresses that Roman unconquerableness which would never make peace under defeat. Patience is the quality of a man who may lose a battle but who will never admit defeat in a campaign.

(ii) There are the God-given qualities of heart. (a) Kindness. Kindness (chrestotes, Greek #5544 ) is one of the great New Testament words. It is the very opposite of severity. One great commentator describes it as "the sympathetic kindliness or sweetness of temper which puts others at their ease and shrinks from giving pain." The great example is in Genesis 26:17-22 which tells how Isaac would not fight or strive. It is the quality which thinks far more of others than of itself.

(b) The Holy Spirit. Paul knew well that no useful word could be spoken nor any good deed done without the help of the Holy Spirit. But the phrase may well mean not the Holy Spirit, but a spirit of holiness. It may mean that Paul's dominating motive was one which was holy, one which was directed solely towards the honour and service of God.

(c) Unfeigned love. The word Paul uses is agape Greek #26 ), which is a characteristic New Testament word. It means unconquerable benevolence. It means that spirit which, no matter what anyone else does to it, will never seek anything but the other person's highest good, will never dream of revenge, but will meet all injuries and rebuffs with undefeatable good will.

(iii) There is the God-given equipment for the work of preaching the gospel.

(a) The declaration of the truth. Paul knew that Jesus had not only given him a gospel to proclaim but the strength and the ability to proclaim it. To God he owed both the word and the door of utterance that had been opened for it.

(b) The power of God. To Paul this was everything. It was the only power he had. It was said of Henry the Fifth after the battle of Agincourt, "Neither would he suffer any ditties to be made and sung by the minstrels of his glorious victory, for that he would wholly have the praise and thanks altogether given to God." Paul would never have said in pride, "I did this," but always in humility, "God enabled me to do it."

(c) The weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left. This means the weapons for defence and for attack. The sword or the spear was carried in the right hand and the shield on the left arm; and Paul is saying that God has given him the power to attack his task and to defend himself from his temptations.

Paul completes this lyrical passage with a series of contrasts. He begins with in honour and in dishonour. The word he uses for dishonour is normally used in Greek for loss of rights as a citizen (atimia, Greek #819 ). Paul says, "I may have lost all the rights and privileges which the world can confer but I am still a citizen of the Kingdom of God." In ill-repute and in good-repute. There are those who criticize his every action and who hate his very name, but his fame with God is sure. Deceivers and yet true. The Greek word (planos, Greek #4108 ) literally means a wandering quack and impostor. That is what others call him but he knows that his message is God's truth. Unknown yet well known. The Jews who slandered him said he was a no-account nobody whom no one had ever heard of, yet to those to whom he had brought Christ he was known with gratitude. Dying, and lo! we live. Danger was his companion and the prospect of death his comrade, and yet by the grace of God he was triumphantly alive with a life that death could never kill. Chastened, but not killed. Things happened to him that might have chastened any man's spirit but they could not kill the spirit of Paul. Grieved, but always rejoicing. Things happened that might have broken any man's heart but they could not destroy Paul's joy. Poor, yet making many rich. He might seem to be penniless but he brought with him that which would enrich the souls of men. Having nothing, yet possessing all things. He might seem to have nothing, but, having Christ, he had everything that mattered in this world and the next.

- William Barclay's Daily Study Bible