Summary: Receive not the grace of God in vain.
FOLLOW MY LEADER
In his earlier letter, Paul had spoken of himself and others as ‘God’s fellow-workers’ (1 Corinthians 3:9). The word for “fellow-workers” gives us our English word, ‘synergy’, which speaks of a combined effort, a co-operation with God if you will. It is not that God lacks anything: He could create, train and grow Christians all on His own. But what a privilege for ministers to be involved in the formation of His creation, the nurturing of His ‘babes-in-Christ’ (if they will allow themselves to be nurtured and ‘trained up’ in the ways of the Lord).
In this later letter, Paul again employs the ‘synergy’ word (2 Corinthians 6:1a), indicating that he and others are workers-together, presumably with God, and perhaps even with the Corinthians (and ourselves?) if they (we?) will just get on board with the programme? Paul beseechs us, “that ye receive not the grace of God in vain” (2 Corinthians 6:1b).
Paul quotes Isaiah 49:8 where, in an accepted time, a season of grace, a day of salvation, Jesus is given as a covenant to the people of Israel; and faithful preachers are sent from Israel to restore the earth, so that the meek may inherit it. Whatever God may have done in our past, the word remains: “behold, NOW is the accepted time; behold, NOW is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2).
The Apostle then does something that he has made it clear he does not appreciate in others: not for the first time, he BOASTS. This is with a purpose, as earlier indicated: ‘that ye may have somewhat to answer them which glory in appearance, and not in heart’ (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:12).
When I was in Junior School, we had a game called ‘Follow My Leader’. Somebody was designated Leader, and the rest would all follow him or her, doing as they did. If they jumped, we all jumped; if they hopped we all hopped; if they raised their right hand, we all raised our right hand; and so on.
Back in 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul said, ‘Be ye followers of me, EVEN AS I AM ALSO OF CHRIST’. Not so strange perhaps: earlier he had beseeched the Corinthians ‘Be ye followers of me’ (1 Corinthians 4:16); and urged his churches elsewhere, ‘Brethren, be followers together of me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us’ (Philippians 3:17); and in Hebrews we read, ‘Be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises’ (Hebrews 6:12).
However, following Paul and his companions is not the point, but being ‘Followers of God, as dear children’ (Ephesians 5:1); so that Paul can encourage, ‘Ye became followers of us, AND OF THE LORD, having received the word in much affliction, with joy in the Holy Ghost’ (1 Thessalonians 1:6).
In today’s passage, Paul continues: “We give no offence in anything, that the ministry be not blamed: but in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God…” (2 Corinthians 6:3-4a).
The list that follows is not boasting of gifts, or accomplishments, but is a factual account of what the Apostles went through. Two lists of hardships (2 Corinthians 6:4-5; 2 Corinthians 6:8-10) surround a modest list of virtues in which everything which has violently been taken from them is restored “BY THE POWER OF GOD” (2 Corinthians 6:6-7).
The reading concludes with Paul’s affectionate appeal to the Corinthians: “Our heart is wide open. There is no restriction in our affections… Open your hearts also” (2 Corinthians 6:11-13). This complements the exhortation near the beginning of the chapter, “not to receive the grace of God in vain” (2 Corinthians 6:1).
Let us always be open to that grace, and to the daily manifestation of it in our own lives, and in the lives of others.