2 Corinthians 6: Accredited in Christ

Celtic Cross
Celtic Cross

We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry… (2 Corinthians 6:3 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Having a bit of Irish in me, seminary introduced me for the first time to the story of Saint Patrick.  Up to that point, I associated Saint Patrick primarily with green beer.  In fact, Saint Patrick is credited by some with saving the Christian faith.  However, Saint Patrick did not start out as a saint.  Born into an aristocratic British family in the late fourth century AD, at the age of 16 he was kidnapped by Celtic pirates and sold into slavery.  For six years he worked herding cattle living as a slave in the Irish wilderness.  There he learned humility being forced to depend on God; learned to speak the Celtic language; and learned to love the Celtic people.  Patrick began to pray for the Irish to reconcile with God.  In response to a dream, he escaped his master and returned to England where he studied to become a priest.  He was later commissioned as bishop and returned to Ireland as an evangelist.  Patrick and his colleagues were so successful in starting churches in Ireland that they later turned their attention to the continent of Europe and began the process of revitalizing the church there [1].  Patrick’s walk with the Lord, like that of Joseph, began in adversity and a life of hardship [2].

The Apostle begins his discourse in chapter 6 with Biblical citation from the Prophet Isaiah:

Thus says the LORD: “In a time of favor I have answered you; in a day of salvation I have helped you; I will keep you and give you as a covenant to the people, to establish the land, to apportion the desolate heritages, saying to the prisoners, ‘Come out,’ to those who are in darkness, ‘Appear.’ (Isaiah 49:8-9 ESV)

The phrase “time of favor” translates the Greek word, kairos (καιρός), which means decision time or time of crisis [3].  In order to bring the unsaved to the point of the day of salvation, Paul is willing to undergo all manners of hardships—great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger—and personal disciplines—by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love (vv 4-6) to accredit himself with the unsaved.

Why? Paul’s appeal is to the Christians of the Corinthian church.

Keeping Paul’s audience in mind, he then goes on to admonish these Christians to separate themselves from the idolaters who remain among them.  Paul is not asking them to separate themselves from all unbelievers (that would make evangelism rather difficult), but rather:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6: 9-10 ESV) [4]

Idolatry was a particular problem for the Corinth church because the religions of the day practiced temple prostitution and embraced syncretism—recognizing and practicing multiple religions.  This placed them in direct violation of the Second Commandment—do not practice idolatry (Exodus 20:4).  Paul asks:  What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people (v 16).  Idolatry and syncretism are important problems today, in part, because modern and postmodern religious movements masquerade as lifestyles, entertainment, political movements, and fads whose religious elements are subtle—they function as religions kind of like an SUV functions as a car even though its legal (or regulatory) treatment is different.

Paul is therefore placing his lifestyle of obedience and hardship in contrast with the lifestyle of opulence and sin practiced by his opponents in the Corinthian church.  Consequently, when I wear a Celtic cross, I am reminded not only of the Presbyterian Church but also the humility of Saint Patrick that helped bring it into being.

[1] George G. Hunter III. 2000. The Celtic Way of Evangelism:  How Christianity can Reach the West…Again. Nashville:  Abingdon Press.  Pages13-25.  Also see:  Philip Freeman.  2004.  Saint Patrict of Ireland:  A Biography.  New York:  Simon & Schuster (PhilipFreemanBooks.com).

[2] Joseph was sold by his brothers into slavery in Egypt (Genesis 39).

[3] καιρός (BDAG, 3857) a point of time or period of time, time, period, frequently with implication of being especially fit for something and without emphasis on precise chronology.

[4] David E. Garland. 1999.  The New American Commentary:  2 Corinthians.  Nashville:  B&H Publishing. Pages 330-340.

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