In chapter 5, Paul talked about the free gift of reconciliation with God made possible by the sacrifice of Jesus. Now in this chapter he urges the Corinthian church to live differently because of this undeserved favor (grace) from God.
The Greek word for "vain" in verse 1 implies a lack of purpose as well as the presence of evil. After receiving God's gift of reconciliation, we should live purposeful lives that prioritize what God wants.
Paul quotes a passage about the Messiah from Isaiah 49:8 and applies it to his time, though it is just as applicable today. Like so many modern people, the Jews of Paul's time were hoping to "get right with God". Paul's urgent statement here is that we don't have to wait or hope any longer. Reconciliation is available as a free gift this very moment.
Next, Paul outlines how he works to keep a good reputation for his ministry. (The "ministry of reconciliation" from chapter 5.) Since all believers share this ministry, Paul's example is worth learning from and can help us to be more effective.
The word "commend" in verse 4 might be better translated as "show" or "prove". The message we share is validated or "commended" to others by the lives we live. Paul endured physical and emotional pain and turmoil. (v.5) His attitude was sincere (the meaning of "purity" in verse 6), sympathetic and patient toward those he interacted with. (v.6) His will was united with God's (the Holy Spirit) and motivated by genuine love for others. (v.6) He communicated truth well and was made effective by God. Rather than a combative personality, Paul's "weapons" were righteousness. In other words, Paul's "battle tactic" when confronting difficult people and situations was to conform his actions to the standards set by God. (v.7) The kind of service that God makes effective is marked by sincerity in relationships, obedience to God and communication of truth.
In the course of sharing the truth and investing in others, Paul had been spoken well of. He had also been slandered. He'd been called a liar despite speaking the truth. (v.8) He was unrecognized at times and recognized at others. Paul had been at death's door, but still alive and able to serve God. (v.9) Paul experienced great sadness but still always had reason to celebrate. He didn't have many material things, but he knew he was helping to make others rich in the most important way possible, while recognizing the same kind of enormous wealth that he had.
When you experience pain or difficulty, even though you are obeying God and trying to share truth and love with others, remember that the difficulty you experience isn't because you are doing the wrong thing. It may be that God is validating your efforts! The race we're running as Christians is sometimes difficult. It comes with great fulfillment, even now! But it also comes with various degrees of pain. But we can have a very real hope for the incredible future waiting for us if we remember the truth and have the "eternal perspective" that Paul demonstrates in these verses.
Relationships: When to be united and when to be divided
Coffee House Question-
What is something you are encouraged by or take hope from in these verses?