We live in such a way that no one will stumble because of us, and no one will find fault with our ministry. In everything we do, we show that we are true ministers of God. We patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind. We have been beaten, been put in prison, faced angry mobs, worked to exhaustion, endured sleepless nights, and gone without food. We prove ourselves by our purity, our understanding, our patience, our kindness, by the Holy Spirit within us, and by our sincere love. We faithfully preach the truth. God’s power is working in us. We use the weapons of righteousness in the right hand for attack and the left hand for defense. We serve God whether people honor us or despise us, whether they slander us or praise us. We are honest, but they call us impostors. We are ignored, even though we are well known. We live close to death, but we are still alive. We have been beaten, but we have not been killed. Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything.
Oh, dear Corinthian friends! We have spoken honestly with you, and our hearts are open to you. There is no lack of love on our part, but you have withheld your love from us. I am asking you to respond as if you were my own children. Open your hearts to us! (2 Corinthians 6:3-13, NLT)
In this passage, Paul continues his defense of his apostleship by citing his vulnerability to hardship and his character driven approach to ministry.
The challenges he endured are outlined in verses four and five can be divided into three categories of three. First there are the general challenges of troubles, hardships, and calamities. The word for troubles speaks of a sense of pressure, whether mental, physical or spiritual, that he felt. It is the same word used for crushing grapes or olives. Next is hardships, which are situations that cannot be mitigated. Calamities focus on situations that leave no room to move. This would be similar to our cliches of feeling painted in a corner or boxed in.
The second set of challenges are those that are inflicted by others, such as being beaten, put in prison, or facing angry mobs.
Finally, he spoke of challenges that appear self inflicted: working to exhaustion, sleepless nights, and hunger, which could also be interpreted as fasting. I don’t think Paul is complaining about how hard his ministry was. Rather, he’s giving a glimpse behind the curtain to show the true realities of ministry.
Paul then described the kind of character that gives him the ability to handle the stress and pressure of his work. Purity, understanding, patience, kindness, honesty, anonymity, sacrifice, joy, and generosity. These character traits, bolstered by the Holy Spirit, the power of God, and the “weapons of righteousness,” perhaps a reference to the Scriptures, provide him with the internal fortitude to withstand the external challenges he routinely faced.
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of Paul’s ministry to the Corinthian church is that his love for them was unreciprocated. People will endure much on behalf of people who love them in return. Mutuality is one of the most important dynamics we can have in human relationships. In this instance, however, regardless of the depth and breadth of his love for them, he was not loved in return.
Perhaps our greatest demonstration of Christlikeness is not our work ethic or sacrificial service. Perhaps its not our spiritual character. Perhaps the greatest demonstration of Christlikeness we can possess is our willingness to lovingly serve those who do not love us in return.
Jesus said, “If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them! And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much! And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return” (Luke 6:32-34, NLT).