As noted in the previous study on Sexagesima, Paul speaks against the “super apostles” who were plaguing the Corinthian congregation. These false teachers were making themselves out to be something great on their own merits and were disparaging Paul as being nothing in comparison. The reading beginning in 2 Corinthians 11 for Sexagesima is more or less Paul’s final assault on these men. The reading for the First Sunday in Lent, 2 Corinthians 6:1-10, gives us one of Paul’s major appeals to the Corinthians themselves. These false teachers wanted only what they could gain from the Corinthians; Paul, on the other hand, suffered much for the sake of the Corinthians.
“Working together with Him,” which is to say, with Christ, “we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain” (2 Corinthians 6:1). The false apostles were leading them astray, and as Peter says, “it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them” (2 Peter 2:21). The one who turns his back on Christ after coming to know Him stands under a far greater judgment than the one who never knew Him at all. Capernaum will be brought down lower than Sodom and Gomorrah, because it refused to receive the mighty works of Christ (Matthew 11:23). Therefore, for the Corinthians to depart from Paul and the Gospel is not a matter of preference or just choosing a more likable teacher, but a matter of life and death.
Paul also emphasizes the urgency of his message. Those who think that there is always time for the grace of God will be caught by surprise, whether by the Lord returning or by their own death and being called to account. “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” (Luke 12:20). ““Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near” (Isaiah 55:6). Now is the favorable time; now is the day of salvation!
With this in mind, Paul expresses very clearly everything which he has suffered for the sake of the Corinthians. The false apostles, who did not love the sheep but only want to profit from them, did not suffer in the same way. A false teacher is not willing to suffer, because a false teacher is not in Christ who suffered on our behalf. “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger” (Matthew 23:4). “You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep” (Ezekiel 34:3). “These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever” (Jude 12-13).
Paul’s suffering, on the other hand, demonstrates the genuineness of his affection for the Corinthians. What false teacher would suffer everything that Paul suffered only for the sake of his own belly? Yet Paul endured everything for the sake of the Corinthians, because of his love as their spiritual father. If he lost much for the sake of Christ, his loss was their gain. In the ease of the false teachers, unwilling to suffer, the Church was being torn apart; in the suffering of Paul, the Church was built up to eternity.
The lectionary reading should be extended to include 2 Corinthians 6:11-13, because these verse clarify Paul’s point in this passage nicely. “Our mouth is open to you, Corinthians, our heart is wide open.” Paul has held nothing back from them. The issue is not because of a stumbling block on his end, for nothing in his ministry offended in that way. The issue is the Corinthians being hardened against him by the alluring voice of false teachers. “You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also.” He calls for them to turn from the works of darkness and return to the light of the Gospel, confident that, as their spiritual father, they will listen to him.