Lectionary Commentaries for June 24, 2012
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Mark 4:35-41

Meda Stamper

The first half of Mark is a seaside tale. Jesus’ ministry begins as he is walking along the Sea of Galilee.

There are references to Jesus’ walking beside, crossing, or approaching the sea in each of the first eight chapters of this Gospel, and Jesus mentions it in his teaching in 9:42 and 11:23. In 3:9 he has asked the disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the risk that the crowd pressing upon him for healing and exorcism might crush him. Then in 4:1 there is indeed such a very large crowd that he gets into a boat on the sea and teaches from there while the crowd listens from the land.

As our reading begins, we have just heard Jesus’ parables of the kingdom. Now it is evening on that day when Jesus has taught from the boat, and he says to his disciples, “Let us go across to the other side.” As they are crossing to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, they are also crossing other boundaries, into Gentile territory, where they will be met immediately by a man possessed by a legion of demons rushing at them from the tombs. Then the next crossing in 5:21 takes them into encounters with the silent desperation of a hemorrhaging (and, therefore, unclean) woman and the chaotic grief of a household in which a little girl has died.

Jesus crosses many social and spiritual boundaries. He eats with unsuitable people, breaks Sabbath laws, associates with the unclean and heals them at the wrong times, and communicates with unclean spirits. Crossing to the other side with Jesus may be a risky, unpredictable proposition, and in this passage, the wind and the sea create a visual manifestation of the dangers of being in the boat with him.

A great windstorm arises in this nighttime crossing. The panicked cries of the disciples, echoing the urgent pleas of the Psalmist in Psalm 107:28-29 (a reading for this Sunday; see also 44:23), offer a stark contrast to the assured, peaceful sleep of Jesus (see, for example, Psalm 4:8).

“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” The word for perishing, or being destroyed, occurs in the active voice in 8:35: “Those who wish to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake and for the sake of the gospel will save it.” It has already occurred in 3:6, where the Pharisees are conspiring with the Herodians to destroy Jesus. The dangers of perishing are real, but taking up the cross of Jesus turns out to be the safest, most life-affirming option.  It is the option of faith.

Jesus rebukes the wind and tells the sea to simmer down; the first word (“Peace!” in the NRSV) is a verb meaning be silent; the second (“Be still!” in the NRSV) means literally be muzzled. The word for rebuke is used when Jesus rebukes the unclean spirit in 1:25 (also 3:12 and 9:25). And the unclean spirit in 1:25 is also told to be muzzled. In 1:27, the crowd marvels that even the unclean spirits obey this one who teaches with authority, and here the disciples marvel that even the wind and the sea obey their teacher. “What is this?” the crowd asks (1:27). “Who is this?” ask the disciples here who now understand that it is not just a question of some power at work in him but of something about who he actually is.

The resemblance to exorcism underscores the extent of the threat and also suggests that Jesus’ effective rebuke of the wind and the sea is another instance of his power over all evil. His teaching of the kingdom word is authoritative because the kingdom is also most powerfully at hand in him.

“Why are you still afraid?” Jesus asks the disciples. “Have you still no faith?” The word translated afraid here might also be translated cowardly (as in Revelation 21:8). In 4:41, the phrase translated awe in the NRSV literally says that the disciples feared a great fear. That great fear, or awe, is not necessarily the opposite of faith although their cowardice during the storm seems perhaps to be. That fear of 4:41 is what is experienced by the healed woman in 5:33-34 when she comes forward in fearing and trembling to tell Jesus the whole truth and is immediately commended for her great faith. On the other hand, when the people are afraid at the sight of the demoniac made whole in 5:15-17, their fear leads them to beg Jesus to leave their neighborhood. And when the women in 16:6 say nothing to anyone about the empty tomb, it is because they are afraid.

It is not inappropriate to fear the Lord. If we have the slightest idea of his glory, it is appropriate but also, in a sense, irrelevant. What seems to matter is what we do in spite of or because of that awe.

In 6:45-52, a passage with many parallels to this one, the disciples have another chance to experience the power of Jesus over the winds. There, as here, they have left a crowd behind and set out at Jesus’ command for the other side. It is again evening, and where Jesus is asleep in 4:38, in 6:46-47 he is on the shore in prayer. But he sees when his own are struggling and comes to them. Then the wind ceases, and again they do not understand. Finally in 6:53-56, as after this first crossing, what they find on the other side is suffering people rushing at Jesus from all sides and, like the woman in 5:27, reaching out to touch his cloak.

Leaving the crowd behind and following Jesus does not guarantee us, as individuals or as a church, a storm-free life, and we, like the disciples and the Psalmists, may sometimes find ourselves crying out, “Wake up!  Do you not care?” Even when we make it through the storms, following Jesus may well take us straight into encounters with the worst pain and suffering of the world, the places where Jesus’ powerful touch is most needed.

Even for us, who know the end of the story, which the disciples in their storms do not, crossing to the other side at Jesus’ command may try our faith, but it also puts us in a position to experience the stilling of our storms, the restoration of the broken and the marginalized, and the transformation of death to life. 

Perhaps, knowing what we know as post-resurrection followers, we can recognize that even in the midst of the fiercest storms of life, the one who is Lord of all nature and binder of Satan is present, brooding over us and the world, with peace and power and healing in his wings.

First Reading

Commentary on Job 38:1-11

Fred Gaiser

The book of Job, like the lament psalms, serves to keep us honest.

There are biblical texts, taken in isolation from the canon as a whole, that can be used to support or “prove” that God guarantees success to the righteous and destruction to the wicked, even in this life; but taken in isolation from the canon such texts are in fact not biblical at all.

The Bible is not a random collection of religious maxims (take one or two, as needed), but a story with a beginning, a center, and a trajectory, apart from which particular texts cannot be properly understood and do not properly function as authoritative Scripture. And within the Bible’s broad trajectory we find texts like Job, the laments, and, say, the cross (!) that disallow reading biblical faith as a “dress for success” religion.

But doesn’t Job, with its massive compilation of complaints about the injustice of it all, finally get fixed when we come to our text — that is, God’s “answer,” as it is titled by many commentators? True, Job 38-42 might offer an answer (perhaps better, a response), but it is not the answer. Questions will remain!

Linked with Jesus’ stilling of the storm (Mark 4:35-41), the lectionary apparently intends to focus here on verses 8-11 and the rhetorical question, “Who shut in the sea with doors?” — playing against the ubiquitous ancient Near Eastern mythic image of the sea as the symbol of chaos. The symbol still works, of course: Who will not cower at the power of the sea as it devours land, ships, people, and even its own fishy creatures in the hurricanes and tsunamis that seem to lurk every more frequently on our horizons?

Job 38 begins God’s response to Job’s laments and to the overblown certainty of Job’s “friends,” inviting them and the readers of the book into a much more complex, interesting, puzzling, and diverse world than they had hitherto imagined. Job and his friends want to focus their attention on the meaning of individual suffering (certainly understandable for Job!), but God invites Job to see himself and his anxieties within the matrix of a wonderfully made yet finally unfathomable creation (unfathomable to humans, at least).

In other words, Job is not finally a book about divine pastoral care, but about divine perspective and human wonder. Neither Job nor we will find in God’s creation or in God’s words an “answer” to human suffering. Rather, as Dan Simundson writes, “Job is advised to recognize human limits and trust that God will take care of what Job and others cannot know or do.”1

In today’s lectionary, the First Reading, the Psalm, and the Gospel seem to have as their common theme: “Chaos is mine, saith the Lord!” Unlike the world of ancient myth (and the world as we know it?), where the chaos waters rage and threaten the order that makes life possible — threatening, therefore, even the realm of the creation deities — chaos, in our texts, has been or is being tamed by a benign God who, in the end, means all God’s creatures well. In the process, capital-C Chaos becomes merely “chaos” — a real power that retains a place in God’s world, but one now “fenced in,” become part of God’s ordered creation.2

Interestingly, Job 38 does in the ancient world something like what chaos science attempts to do in our own — nothing less than to comprehend chaos and even put it to use.3 Chaos does not thereby lose its elemental force, neither then nor now, but it becomes more or less understandable (if not easily predictable), either through the efforts of mathematical science or the power of a benign deity.

So what will we preach? Our people remain, like Job, in a world that certainly feels like chaos, terrorized passengers in Jesus’ boat, and the preacher can no more give them easy answers than God does to Job. Some might be led to wonder at and even delight in the sheer wildness of God’s creation, but eventually their own suffering or that of their loved ones will bring them down out of the clouds. Some might find a certain measure of comfort in the recognition that neither Newtonian nor Deuteronomistic theories of cause and effect are adequate to explain (and thus to tame or eliminate) human suffering. Unfair suffering is as awe-full and unpredictable as the creation itself, but, as a given part of creation everywhere, it is not an aberration in the world God has made.

But that explanation — even though perhaps true — will not provide the personal deliverance we, Job, and the lament psalmists need and demand. There is real pain, and we want a real response. For Job, this comes when God at last shows up (“now my eye sees you”; 42:5), offering the comfort of a personal Other with whom to weather the storm. Jesus too “shows up” — by waking up! — and rebukes the storm as only God can do (making the story a powerful Christological confession).

Jesus’ rebuking has an eschatological character, not just pacifying the environment for now, but promising and bringing in a future where neither chaos nor even death can separate us from God’s love. That recognition will take us to another chaos moment, the “showing up” of God in the terror of Jesus’ cross — where Jesus does not explain our suffering, but participates in it, even takes it on himself, and only in that way providing us at last a secure “port in the storm.”

1Daniel Simundson, “Job: Passages: Job 38:1-18,” in Enter the Bible, at http://www.enterthebible.org/oldtestament.aspx?rid=38 (accessed March 8, 2012).
2See Kathryn Schifferdecker, Out of the Whirlwind: Creation Theology in the Book of Job (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008), 142-143.
3See, for example, James Gleick, “Chaos,” at http://www.chaosmatrix.org/library/chaos/science/bstchaos.html (accessed March 8, 2012).

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on 1 Samuel 17:[1a, 4-11, 19-23] 32-49

Samuel Giere

The story of David slaying Goliath, violent though it is, has been used for generations to open the imagination of children to the LORD’s power.

At the heart of the story is the dramatic moment when young David “in the name of the LORD of hosts” defeats gigantic, menacing Goliath, who has “defied” the LORD’s name.1  It is a momentous encounter, and there is wisdom in the catechetical movement toward the imagination.  At the same time, this story is anything but child’s play, especially when reduced to morals and values.2 

Rather, this dramatic moment in David’s story and in the story of Israel’s monarchy is an integral part of the story of the LORD’s defeat of evil on the earth.  Hold on for a moment while we get there.

Textual Horizons

While the young psalmist’s musical gifts have the power to sooth even the evil spirit sent by the LORD upon Saul,3 a sign that the LORD’s blessing can trump the LORD’s curse, it is in the engagement between the armies of the Philistines and the Israelites that we are given an unlikely glimpse of God’s topsy-turvy power that desires order and life rather than destruction and death.  In order to get at this infrequently accented cosmic overtone of this story, we need to look more closely at Goliath, the giant of the Philistines, the ancient equivalent of the weapon of mass destruction. 

By the time of David rolls around, Goliath is one of four remaining descendants of the Nephilim,4 who appear in Genesis 6:1-4: 

When people began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that they were fair; and they took wives for themselves of all that they chose.  Then the LORD said, “My spirit shall not abide in mortals forever, for they are flesh; their days shall be one hundred twenty years.”  The Nephilim were on the earth in those days — and also afterward — when the sons of God went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them.  These were the heroes [LXX translation is “giants”] that were of old, warriors of renown.5

This rather threadbare story is an alternative or complementary story of the fall6 — the advent of sin and death in the world.  When the sons of God (rebellious angels in 1 Enoch), upon seeing the beauty of the daughters of men, take wives for themselves, they rupture the fabric of creation.  While the LORD does limit the lifespan of mortals on this account (Genesis 6:3), Genesis does not resolve the continued presence of the Nephilim, the giants “of old, the warriors of renown.” 

A more fulsome version of the story in the Book of the Watchers, 1 Enoch 1-36,7 helps us imagine the gravity of the situation.  In addition to teaching their wives the dark arts, among which are sorcery and weaponry, the gigantic offspring of these unholy unions fill the earth with violence, blood, oppression, and death.  While rebellion against God is located in the succumbing to the temptation of the fruit in Genesis 2 and the advent of sin is associated with Adam and Eve, in the story of the Nephilim it is the rebellious angels who succumb to temptation and thereby introduce sin and death into the world. 

To up the drama and draw us closer to Goliath, the giants somehow survive the flood (a not-so-subtle contradiction within scripture), for in Numbers 13:33, “There we saw the Nephilim (the Anakites come from the Nephilim); and to ourselves we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.”  The descendants of the Nephilim were known for the gigantic size and their prowess as warriors.8

We now shift ahead in the narrative past the encounter with Goliath to 2 Samuel 21:15-22, wherein there is yet another account of the Philistines warring against Israel.  David is now old and growing weak.  His final combat is with Ishbi-benob, “one of the descendants of the giants.”9  While one of David’s soldiers kills this descendant of the giants, it does not seem accidental that David’s combat begins with Goliath and ends with Ishbi-benod.  Three other descendants of giants later, it is recalled,

These four were descended from the giants in Gath; they fell by the hands of David and his servants.  [And!] David spoke to the LORD the words of this song on the day when the LORD delivered him from the hands of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul.10  And David begins singing, “The LORD is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer…”11  David, the royal agent of God’s sovereignty and prefiguration of the Messiah, defeats the menacing remnants from of old. 

Preaching Horizons

Putting the story of David and Goliath in its larger context can help rescue this story from generational flattening and provide opportunity for the preacher to delve into the story with a wider view of God’s salvation of the cosmos.  Not to downplay the many layers of the story of David’s encounter with Goliath, especially the wild dynamics of God’s blessing of David and cursing of Saul,12 which play themselves out both in and around 1 Samuel 17, locating this story in the LORD’s ultimate victory over the powers of sin and death is helpful. 

Such a textual and theological horizon that situates this young shepherd boy’s victory over the champion of the Philistines within God’s battle with and ultimate victory over the powers that destroy life allows the Christian preacher to consider this victory within the Christological scope of God’s victory over sin and death.  With David as a figure of the Messiah, the preacher can see in some sense with Augustine’s eyes, gruesome though the image may be, where David offing of Goliath’s head figures Christ’s defeat of the Devil. “Then, having smitten and overthrown [Goliath], [David] took the enemy’s sword, and with it cut off his head.  This our David also did, He overthrew the devil with his own weapons: and when his great ones, whom he had in his power, by means of whom he slew other souls, believe, they turn their tongues against the devil, and so Goliath’s head is cut off with his own sword.”13 

As I mentioned above, this is no child’s play.

11 Samuel 17:45
2Though no aficionado of “Davey and Goliath,” the reinvigorated animated series about of “morals and faith-based values” (cf. http://www.daveyandgoliath.org/ ) sponsored by my own denomination, the story of David’s defeat of Goliath ought not to be reduced to value lessons, important though they are.
31 Samuel 16:15-23
4While there are some textual speed bumps in this journey between Genesis and 1 Samuel, we’re going to barrel over them.  Buckle-up!
6Genesis 2:4b-24
7Especially 1 Enoch 6-11.  As with the chicken and the egg, it is difficult to know the complicated relationship of the accounts in Genesis and 1 Enoch.  See also, Jubilees 5.
8While not invincible, these descendants of the Nephilim are formidable enemies, cf. Deuteronomy 1:28, 2:10-11, 9:2, Joshua 11:21-22, 14:12-15.
92 Samuel 21:16
102 Samuel 21:22-22.1.  The NRSV does not translate the waw at the beginning of 22:1.
11David’s song in 2 Samuel 22:2-51 appears nearly verbatim as Psalm 18.  While not the appointed Psalm for this particular Sunday, Psalm 18 would be an appropriate substitution, especially if preaching on 1 Samuel 17.  Another interesting possibility would be Psalm 144, which is inscribed in the LXX, “For David, against Goliath,” and begins, “Blessed by the LORD, my rock…”
121 Samuel 16:13-14
13Augustine, “Expositions on the Psalms” [Psalm 144], NPNF1 8.655


Commentary on Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32

Nancy deClaissé-Walford

Psalm 107 opens with the words:

O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever.
Let the redeemed of the LORD say so,
those he redeemed from trouble
And gathered in from the lands,
from the east and from the west,
From the north and from the south (or, sea). (Psalm 107:1-3)

It seems undoubtedly to have been placed at the beginning of Book Five as an answer to the closing words of Book Four:

Save us, O LORD our God,
and gather us from among the nations,
that we may give thanks to your holy name
and glory in your praise.   (Psalm 106:47)

Psalm 107, a community hymn of praise, was most likely a liturgy of thanks offered by worshipers at a festival at the temple in Jerusalem. Four groups of people appear in its verses, together representing, perhaps, the four points of the compass and the “redeemed of the LORD” mentioned in verse 2. 

Verses 4-9 tell of a group of wanderers, lost in the desert, who finally arrive at their destination. East of Palestine lays a vast desert which separates it from the eastern side of the Fertile Crescent, Mesopotamia. Few travelers in the ancient Near East dared any attempt to traverse this terrain. 

Verses 10-16 tell the story of prisoners who are set free. The West is the place where the sun sets, the deathly place of darkness in which the sun dies every night as it makes its journey over the earthly realm. Like the ones wandering lost in the wilderness, the ones dwelling in darkness cry out to God, and God leads them out of darkness and the shadow of death and tears to pieces their bonds. 

Verses 17-22 tell of “sick” persons who are healed. The word translated “sick” actually means “foolish ones.” The people of the ancient Near East associated sickness with foolishness or sin and understood it as God’s punishment for sin (see Psalms 32:1-5 and 38:3, 5). In the books of the prophets, the North, the third direction mentioned in 107:3, was often depicted as the direction from which the punishment of God came to the ancient Israelites. 

The fourth and last vignette of Psalm 107, verses 23-32, tells the story of a group of sailors who are saved from shipwreck. It begins, in verse 23, “Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the mighty waters” and continues, in verse 26, “they mounted up to the heaven, they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their calamity.”

The compass point connected with the fourth vignette is rendered in the majority of modern English translations as “the south” (verse 3). The Hebrew text of verse 3, though, clearly has “from the north and from the sea. The difference between the Hebrew text and the English translations seems to be a felt need to have the psalmist refer to the four compass directions.  In addition, the word for “south,” (that literally means “right” — “south” when one faces the sunrise) is an easy emendation from the Hebrew word for “sea.” 

The sea represented another real threat to those who lived in the ancient Near East. Merchant ships sailing out of the Phoenician ports across the Mediterranean Sea often encountered difficulties in its unpredictable waters (recall the treacherous journeys of Paul in the book of Acts and the story of Jonah). Verses 25-29 depict God as the ruler of the sea, able to command its waters to do his bidding (see also Psalms 29:34; 65:7; 89:9-10; 95:5). A storm on the waters (verses 25-27) leads the sailors to cry out to God (verse 28). God then calms the waters and give the sailors rest “in the haven of their pleasure” (verse 30). 

Each of the four vignettes of Psalm 107 follows a precise format:

a description of the distress (verses 4-5, 10-12, 17-18, 23-27)
a prayer to the Lord (verses 6, 13, 19, 28)
details of the delivery (verses 7, 14, 19-20, 29)
an expression of thanks (verses 8-9, 15-16, 21-22, 30-32)

In each vignette, the “prayer to the Lord” and the “expression of thanks” are identical:

Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress (verses 6, 13, 19, 28)
Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love,
for his wonderful works to humankind (verses 8, 15, 21, 31)

The repetition of words in the vignettes provides further evidence that the psalm may have been used in a liturgical setting, as a liturgy of thanks, in which groups of worshipers recited the words of Psalm 107 antiphonally with presiding priests.

Are the four vignettes actual accounts of deliverance by the Lord sung in celebration at a festival? Or is the psalm purely a literary composition, with the four groups representing, in the words of James L. Mays, “all those who have experienced the redemption of the Lord”? Whatever the original Sitz im Leben of Psalm 107, its placement in the Psalter by the shaping community renders it as a hymn celebrating deliverance. 

We may never find ourselves literally wandering in a desert wasteland, forced to dwell in a place of deep darkness, sick to the point of death, or caught in a tumultuous storm at sea, but as James Mays points out, each of us have or will face those times when we need desperately the redeeming hand of God. Psalm 107 provides a model for how to handle those times — recognize the situation you are in; cry out to God and tell God what you need; accept the deliverance that God brings; and then give thanks to God.

Second Reading

Commentary on 2 Corinthians 6:1-13

Carla Works

Paul longs for the Corinthians’ faith not to be meaningless: “We entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain” (6:1b).

For the believers to pose any challenge to the apostle’s teaching, though, is enough to make Paul wonder whether their faith is indeed empty.

Accepting God’s Grace in Vain

The phrase “in vain” is a phrase that Paul has employed elsewhere, particularly in connection with his own ministry (e.g., eis kenon Galatians 2:2; 1 Thessalonians 2:1; 3:5).  The term kenos means “empty.”  In 1 Thessalonians Paul writes that his own ministry has not been “in vain.”  What are the markers to determine whether his ministry is fruitful?  A brief case study of two churches illuminates Paul’s concerns in 2 Corinthians 6.

In 1 Thessalonians, Paul correlates the potential success of his ministry — a ministry that has faced persecution and hardship — to signs of the church’s faithfulness.  In 1 Thessalonians 3:5, the apostle writes that he sent Timothy “that I might know your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and that our labor would be in vain.”  Timothy’s good news of the Thessalonians’ faithfulness affirms for Paul that his work had not been “in vain.”

Based on 1 Thessalonians, the faithfulness of the church to live out the gospel is a sign of the fruitfulness of Paul’s ministry.  Paul claims that his ministry — with all its hardships — is not empty or pointless because the Thessalonians have accepted the gospel as the word of God (1 Thessalonians 2:13) and have imitated Paul even by their willingness to suffer on account of their faith (1 Thessalonians 2:14; 3:1-8).

The Thessalonian church serves as an interesting contrast to the church at Corinth.  In contrast to the good news of the Thessalonians’ loyalty, Paul begs the Corinthians “not to accept the grace of God in vain.”  Paul is certain that his ministry at Corinth has illustrated the gospel that he has preached.  He confidently says in 1 Corinthians 15:10 that God’s grace toward him has not been in vain because Paul has allowed God’s grace to work through him to fuel his ministry.  The Corinthians, however, have not provided the same signs of faithfulness as Paul or as the believers at Thessalonica.  Instead, there is evidence of tension in Paul’s relationship with the Corinthians.

Until this point in 2 Corinthians 6, there is plenty of evidence that the relationship between Paul and this beloved community has been strained.  The opening of this letter (2 Corinthians 2:15-16) indicates a change in travel plans from what was expressed in 1 Corinthians 16:5-9.  Furthermore, the apostle has made a painful visit (2:1-4) and written a tearful letter (2 Corinthians 7:8).

It is also evident that Paul does not separate his own apostolic role from the message that he preaches.  In 2 Corinthians 6, Paul commends himself and his co-workers as servants of God.  The tone here is not as sharp as the tone of 2 Corinthians 10:1-13:14, where Paul is defending his apostleship against the so-called “super-apostles” (11:5).  Indeed, the change of tone suggests that something happened between the writing of 2 Corinthians 6:1-13 and chapters 10-13 to cause the tension to escalate.  In 2 Corinthians 6, though, Paul urges the believers to open their hearts to one another and to Paul as a sign of their faith.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time that Paul has expressed concern about the potential emptiness of the Corinthians’ faith.  In his previous correspondence, Paul says that his preaching and their faith are “empty” if Christ has not been raised (1 Corinthians 15:14).  If there is no resurrection, as Paul accuses some in the church of proclaiming (1 Corinthians 15:12), then their faith is meaningless.

What would it mean for the Corinthians to accept God’s grace in vain?  Should they carry on without loving one another and without trusting Paul and his gospel, then in Paul’s reasoning they are not demonstrating the power of God’s transforming grace.  Should they continue to live in tension with one another and with their beloved leader, then they are not bearing witness to new creation wrought by God’s Spirit.  Should they continue on their current path, they will have shown by their lack of love that they have accepted God’s grace in vain.

Now is the Day of Salvation

Now is the time for the Corinthians to show by their actions that they have not accepted the grace of God in vain.  Paul emphasizes that the day of salvation is now.   To enforce this urgency, Paul employs a quote from Isaiah 49 that he interprets as finding fulfillment in the present time.  Today is the day for the Corinthians to demonstrate their faithfulness by opening their hearts to Paul and to one another (6:13; 7:2).  The Corinthians, after all, are God’s new creation (5:17).  Their actions should reflect God’s gracious acts in their lives.

Open Wide Your Hearts

In 2 Corinthians 6:11-13, Paul urges the church to open their hearts.  Based on evidence in Paul’s correspondence, the whole Corinthian church has not always been supportive of Paul nor has this church been able to get along well with one another.  According to 1 Corinthians, these believers have been divided over a number of issues — beliefs in the resurrection, lawsuits, arguments over the supremacy of spiritual gifts, divisions over leadership, disagreements over worship, etc…. Paul reminds the church of the gospel in which they believed and urges the Corinthians to use that gospel to set the pattern for their behavior.

Hardships, Heartbreak, and Ministry

Paul’s catalog of hardships demonstrates the trustworthiness of his character, the zeal of his apostolic mission, and the sincerity of his love for the Corinthian church.  He has taken great risks to tell the Corinthians of God’s grace and love.  Yet, Paul never doubts that the gospel is worth it.  Even while he accuses the Corinthians of being restricted in their affections toward him (6:12), he still loves them.

Like the Corinthians, churches today struggle to know how to live faithfully.  Sometimes that struggle produces strain in the very relationships that are meant to help church members live faithfully.  In 2 Corinthians 6, though, Paul puts those relationships in the proper perspective.  For Paul, failing to love one another is a sign of accepting the grace of God “in vain.”  Now is the day of salvation.  Now is the time to exhibit faithfulness, not simply through words, but through action.  Now is the time to live as witnesses of God’s new creation.