Commentary on 2 Corinthians 5:20b—6:10
Reconciliation is the central theme in 2 Corinthians 5:20b—6:10.
Paul urges the Corinthians to be reconciled to God, following the way of Christ and his faithfulness. Since they are reconciled to God through Christ, they should remember what Christ has done for them and represent him in their ministry of reconciliation. As ambassadors for Christ, they must know and thank Christ’s life-risking faith as well as God’s grace. They are also expected to go through all hardships (2 Corinthians 6:4-5), cultivating necessary virtues (2 Corinthians 6:6-7), trusting the extraordinary power of God in all circumstances (2 Corinthians 6:8-10).
Be reconciled to God
In 2 Corinthians 5:17-18, Paul states: “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.” The whole point of reconciliation is that one can be reconciled to God through Christ. The phrase “anyone in Christ” in verse 17 is a modal dative case, meaning that one must follow the way of Christ. “In Christ” does not denote mere membership in the church; rather, it is a way of life rooted in Christ.
As long as one stays in Christ, following his footsteps, there is a new creation or a new life, which is given to those who live by the faithfulness of Christ. Reconciliation takes place when one turns to God, changing their mind by the example of Christ’s faithfulness and his grace for the world. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:19: “that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.”
He made him to be sin who knew no sin
In 2 Corinthians 5:21, Paul says: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Jesus challenged the status quo of society and because of that, he was treated like a sinner, ending up on the cross. This image of Jesus being condemned as a sinner is well expressed in Romans 8:3-4: “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Jesus did not commit crimes and he did not know sin. His radical challenge to the power/wisdom of the world and his commitment to God’s righteousness and social justice brought him to death. But through the righteous act of Jesus, God’s wisdom—not the wisdom of the world—and God’s strength—not the strength of the world—are demonstrated.
1 Corinthians 1:23-25 evokes the image of Christ crucified that has to do with challenging the world: “but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” Jesus revealed who God is and did not spare his life for demonstrating God’s justice; he did all this great work for humanity (“for our sake”). Paul’s relentless hope in God is based on Christ’s faith and his grace, as implied in Galatians 2:20: “and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Paul’s hope in God through Christ guarantees him to live with the extraordinary power belonging to God, as he says in 2 Corinthians 4:8-12: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.”
Then, in 2 Corinthians 5:21b, Paul writes, “so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” As seen above, he means those who follow the spirit of Jesus may embody the righteousness of God (that is, God’s righteousness). In other words, the Corinthians should not take God’s grace lightly (2 Corinthians 6:1) and they must live a new life every day.
The acceptable time and the day of salvation
For Paul, the present time is a drastic moment that God is present, the Holy Spirit is with people, and salvation is effective in everyday life. Indeed, “if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” While salvation will be completed on the Parousia, it starts in the here and now. They should not waste time because, until the Parousia, they must proclaim God’s good news to many people through the way of Christ.
As servants of God
As servants of God, working as ambassadors for Christ, the Corinthians must know that they are not immune to all hardships. As Christ went through thorny roads for demonstrating God’s righteousness, they also will face such harsh roads ahead. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 6:4-5: “but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger.”
At the same time, the Corinthians must cultivate virtues, trusting God, as in 2 Corinthians 6:6-7: “by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left.”
Likewise, they should believe in the extraordinary power of God in all circumstances, as 2 Corinthians 6:8-10 (see also 2 Corinthians 4:7-12) says: “in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”