Vanity and Idolatry – 2 Corinthians 6

As the Church in Corinth started growing in numbers, the people started to think that they were impervious to the sins of the world around them. They thought that they were immune to the pagan ways of their city, but slowly that fallacy caught up with them as they fell prey to their own vices. In both recorded letters, Paul did not shy away from calling out the offenders, imploring them to recommit their lives to Christ. Paul warns the backsliders to not treat the Grace of God with vanity.

As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain.

2 Corinthians 6:1 (NIV)

We all have received God’s grace freely. It is the same grace that made Him send His own Son as a ransom for our freedom. It is His grace that gave us the Holy Spirit as a companion while navigating the oceans of this world. There is nothing we can do to deserve the grace of God. But we are rejecting the grace that was so mercifully given to us. However, if the grace of God doesn’t reflect in our actions then it is not fulfilling its purpose.

When a student is given grace marks enough to not hold them back, they should accept it and improve on it. If they think that they deserved what they got they will never fail again, Similarly, the grace of God when not accepted in the right spirit can cause us to have vanity in ourselves. The grace of God should not be taken as an attestation of our righteousness but as an act of mercy shown to sinners like us by our Father. Each day that has been added to our lives is a chance for us to receive salvation, that is the purpose of Grace.

Stumbling Blocks

The Church in Corinth had confidence in their own deeds and thought whatever they did they will never be separated from God. With this prevailing mindset, they started becoming a stumbling block for others who wanted to come near God.

We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited.

2 Corinthians 6:3 (NIV)

Jesus called out the Pharisees on how they overburdened the people by insisting on the observance of countless laws. The people did not have a connection with God but were offering sacrifices and following the laws as mere rituals and traditions. The Pharisees mandated the laws that favoured them while they did not care for the spiritual health of the people under them.

They tie up heavy, burdensome loads and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

Matthew 23:4

The early church in Jerusalem also became a stumbling block for the new believers when they asked them to get circumcised in keeping up with the traditions of the Jews. Today there are many pastors who put the same pressure on their congregations. Rather than preaching the gospel of love, they preach the gospel of laws. This discourages the new believers and often results in them backsliding as they are forced to follow something that they have no idea about. Rather than connecting the people with God, we end up connecting people to the laws by giving them a fallacy of righteousness. Sometimes, even our testimonies and our experiences with God become a stumbling block for others. We should be driven by the Spirit even when sharing our testimonies about the Grace of God.

City on a Hill

In his letters, Paul opened up to his audience in every way. He revealed his plans for his upcoming journeys and possible timelines for a future visit. He apprised his readers of the success that God had given to him and his associates in foreign lands in the form of new souls and the subsequent building of new churches. He also did not hide from them the hardships and torment that he went through during his journeys. Hostile reception from the local governments, backstabbing by false preachers and the forces of nature would often put a wrench in their plans.

He was an open book as he wanted his life to be the city on a hill. He hoped that seeing the provisions of God in his life, his readers might also learn to depend on Christ for everything. He wanted the believers to also open up to him in the same way, as he realised that their hearts were still closed to the warnings from the previous letters. One such warning was regarding living in a pagan society and the pitfalls that come with it. It seems the church had forgotten Paul’s advice on this matter, so he repeated it for their benefit.

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?

2 Corinthians 6:14 (NIV)

The city of Corinth was full of pagan worshippers. Even the food that was sold in the markets was offered before the idols (1 Corinthians 8). Since only part of the animal was used for sacrificial purposes, the remaining portion was sold and consumed by the people. Either this meat was sold for cheap which tempted meat lovers or maybe there was no easy way of buying kosher meat in Corinth during those days. There was no getting around the fact that the city was blended seamlessly to the convenience of the pagan worshippers.

Paul wanted the believers in Corinth to exercise extra caution when dealing with people of the world. But what Paul later realised was that the problem was not with the people outside the church but within. False teachers were being given a foothold in the church and corruption and immorality were running rampant in the lives of the church members. The church had forgotten its commitment to Christ and had started involving in all the pagan activities of the neighbours.

…A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Matthew 5:14 NIV

Even today, we are surrounded by pagan festivals and rituals. Rather than standing out for Christ, we have made it convenient for ourselves to blend in with the unbelievers. As a result, some of our festivals have started to look like pagan worship. The idea is not living a life of solitude or excluding our friends to only believers. Is to be the city on the hill, unwavering in our faith in Christ and through love impacting the life of the people around us in a positive way.

Our Job is to be the light of the world and reflect the light of Jesus through us on everyone we meet. If we limit our fellowships to only believers then we are not fulfilling that purpose. But if are letting the darkness of this world overcome the light that Jesus has lit within us then we are walking on the path leading away from God. There is no middle ground. If we are acclimating to the ways of this world then we are going against the will of God.

“Come out from them
and be separate,
says the Lord.
Touch no unclean thing,
and I will receive you.”

2 Corinthians 6:17 (NIV)

Paul uses the words of Isaiah who was prophesying about the articles of the temple being brought back to Jerusalem during the time of Cyrus the king of Persia. It was a great responsibility and the Isiah was challenging the volunteers and the temple workers to sanctify themselves before embarking on this noble cause.

Similarly, Paul was challenging the folks in Corinth who were carrying within them the grace of God, which was much more valuable than temple furnishings, to sanctify themselves and pay reverence to God who in spite of their vanity, gave them abundant grace.

…let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.

2 Corinthians 7:1 (NIV)

Discussion Questions

  • 6:1 – How can God’s grace be received in vain?
  • 6:3 – What does it mean to put a stumbling block in a believer’s path?
  • 6:14 – Why does Paul not want the Corinthians to be yolked with unbelievers?
  • 6:14 – Can we associate with unbelievers?

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