A Theological Liturgical And Sacramental Interpretation Of Second Corinthians Chapter Six
Interpretation of Chapter 6:1 through 7:1
Among the credentials that St. Paul forwards to win back these erring Christians to himself, the apostle of the one holy catholic apostolic faith, are the many things that he suffered on behalf of the gospel, and the godly hope that he maintains through it all.
While his opponents may boast of the antiquity of their Jewish tradition, or depend upon appealing oratory, Paul is not lured. He side-steps them and offers his sufferings as his bona fides – the things he personally endured in order to proclaim the true gospel of God’s grace to them.
Salvation is won at the cost of suffering, namely the sufferings and death of Christ our Lord which secure salvation for the world. But there are the many derivative, but not redemptive, sufferings as well. On this point, redemptive suffering, there is serious theological disagreement between Lutherans on the one hand, and seemingly all other theologies: those who believe that their sufferings merit the forgiveness of sins. Lutherans must disagree. As St. Peter writes: For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. (1 Peter 2:21) This means that our Lord’s sufferings are unique. They were not for his benefit, but for ours. And by them he, and he alone, gained our redemption. As Scripture says, “By his stripes (not our own) we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5) But still, Christians suffer many things.
Consider the stiff resistance the church meets for preaching the “foolish” message; and the distress that every Christian must undergo personally. The pain of self-denial. The temporal consequences of our sins (in which God always fortifies us, and often mercifully relieves us). Astonishment at our recalcitrant flesh. (Romans 7:19). And our break with culture which always results in further trouble, yet. Indeed, the holy Christian faith is the ultimate counter-cultural movement. We endure all these neither for merit, nor as punishment, because Christ absorbed all punishment due for sin, and gained all merit for us on the cross. But Christians understand the distresses of life and death as discipline and instruction from a loving Father. In all this St. Paul leads by example.
But of most interest for the liturgical and sacramental interpreter of Sacred Scripture is 6:2 along with 6:14 through 7:1.
V. 2 What is the "favorable time" and "day of salvation" in which the Lord's ear and the Lord’s mercy are extended to men? Is it a vague epoch in time? Or is it a particular day? Sunday? Whether vague or specific makes no difference, however, because God distributes life and salvation to his people in real time, on Sunday, as his people enter into Holy Communion with him. There is nothing indefinite about it. We must learn this!
Moreover we must remember that St. Paul's epistle / sermon is being read aloud (and expounded upon) on the first day of the week (1 Cor. 16:2), in the assembly of the baptized, gathered for holy worship. It is the Lord’s Day. That is, Christ’s Day. The Day that Jesus himself intervenes into the affairs of men, bringing judgment and salvation with him. And so we must become cognizant of the fact that every Sunday, every Eucharist, is an installment of the parousia / end of time. Thus sacramental and liturgical antennae should be pinging when reading this verse.
As further evidence of this interpretation is the fact that the verbiage and admonitions in these verses are implicitly and explicitly Eucharistic.
Who are the “unbelievers” Paul refers to? Most likely those who practice the religious rites of the surrounding pagan culture – of which, until recently, the Corinthians had been partakers.
It is impossible to “partake” of two altars. It is impossible to worship both God and Mammon. The church's altar is righteousness and light, all others lawlessness and darkness.
As stated above the verbiage herein is explicitly Eucharistic. The ESV's "partnership" is vague. However the Greek vocable "metochei" / partake is and has been one of the church's mainstream Eucharistic words from the beginning. It is often used synonymously or in conjunction with "koinonia” / communion. What the non-sacramental ESV translates as "fellowship."
Today Christians use the term fellowship loosely to mean any churchly social gathering, especially where food is involved. But its proper theological meaning is Holy Communion. Partnership, likewise, can mean any joint venture ecclesiastical or secular. But the Sacramental interpreter must see more here.
Here we have yet another case of liturgy and sacraments embedded into the New Testament but never noticed by anyone.
But it is time to take notice so that we can hear the “whole counsel of God,” and hear it rightly. And so that we can refute the Fundamentalists among us who assert that the New Testament gives no worship directions, and therefore any worship form is acceptable. It is not.
Likewise, what “harmony” has Christ with Belial, or what “share” do believers / “pistoi” have with the unbelievers / “apistoi”? That is: the baptized with the unbaptized.
While harmony / "symphonisis" is not a technical term for the Eucharist it is highly descriptive of it by its meaning: with one voice. God's people "glorify him with one voice" (Romans 15:6) - the voice of divine liturgy! The words of absolution and institution; the common prayers, creeds and hymns of the church etc. In short every word spoken in the church on Sunday.
Nor is meris / portion a mainline Eucharistic term in Scripture or liturgy like metochei / partake; and like koinonia / communion. But it has Eucharistic overtones because the church is Christ's body / soma, and consists of just such merai / members per 1 Corinthians 12:27.
Again, what "agreement" or "union" has God's temple with idols. The answer is "none." But we should be careful not to take "temple" in the abstract here – but to think in terms of the Christian worship space. What were Christian worship spaces in St. Paul’s day? Most likely house churches, converted synagogues, or spaces rented for the purpose. But nor should we preclude the possibility of dedicated worship spaces even in the 1st century AD.
As regards house churches, typically a well to do member with a large house would offer a portion of it to be used for holy worship. Yet we should expect that it was entered with the greatest possible reverence. Holy ground! (Exodus 3:5). (Recently I visited the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Cleveland where members worship unshod.)
Whatever the case may have been then, today Christians need to learn again to treat God’s House with the highest possible reverence. It is not the place for casual conversation, meetings or entertainment Christian or otherwise. Nor should people enter his gates with beverage or cell phone in hand as is so common today. This is God's house! It is the place where he Communes with his people. He is the host and he provides all the nourishment and communication required.
It is for this reason that the Redeemed have always given their best and highest efforts to creating reverent temples for worship. The thought of deliberately conducting holy worship outside the sanctuary for the ostensible purpose of making people feel more relaxed, or less threatened, is terribly misguided. It painfully displays theological immaturity in those who are to be noted for their wisdom.
Such stress on holy space, however, does not change the fact that the baptized, engaged in Divine Service, are the temple of the living God. This is so because we are the body / soma of Christ who is the Temple of God. As God dwells in Christ, so we dwell in him, and he in us, and so we are the temple of God.
That this section of St. Paul is Eucharistic is further made clear by the phrase "touch no unclean thing, then I will welcome you." To be cleansed from sin is required of those who wish to Commune with the Holy. It is why no one is to be admitted to the Eucharist unless he first should confess his sins, and believe the absolution.
The Lord's admonition in Mt. 7:16 "Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you." has always been understood by the church as a Eucharistic caution." The pigs and dogs are those who are unbaptized; and may not come to the altar. But the same designation can be applied to any Christian who has departed from the way of life, and will not repent, confess his sins, and seek absolution. Such person has no place at the family table until he should repent.
“Since we have these promises, beloved, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.”
Lastly 7:1 shows Paul’s subject here to be the church's Eucharist. "Beloved" in the New Testament is not a term of endearment, but a patently Eucharistic expression Why? Because love is part and parcel of the Eucharist. Love for God. Love for one another. Love for the body and blood of Christ. Love for the Lord’s appearing. (2 Tim. 4:8) We learn this lesson in St. John chapters 13 though 17 (inclusive) which (along with chapter 6) are St. John’s Eucharistic chapters. And in his 3 epistles as well.
Further we have the word "promises." Holy Communion is nothing if not all the promises of God brought together into one place, and delivered to God's people in this Blessed Sacrament. What promises? Forgiveness of sins, life, salvation, union with God, a share in divine life, consolation, courage, peace, joy, gladness and aplomb in life and in death. “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Phil. 1:21).
Every promise God has ever made resides here, for this is Jesus, his flesh and his blood. Not theoretically, or just in our pious imaginations, but really and truly, actually and factually. Whoever eats this bread and drinks this cup takes the Lord of glory into himself. Those who are dead swallow life, which is turn swallows up the death within us. (1 Corinthians 15:54)
As if to provide a bookend for 6:2 Paul here closes the subject (for the moment) teaching the communicants in Corinth (and all Christians ) that the Eucharist is the "Perfecting Of Holiness,” that irradiates every last sin cell that resides within. (Rom. 7:20). In the memorable words of St. Ignatius of Antioch Holy Communion is, “the medicine of immortality.”