What does 2 Corinthians 6:9-10 mean?
“through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.” (2 Corinthians 6:8–10, ESV)
To understand these verses, we miss look at the context. I would put the immediate context begin with 2 Corinthians 6:3. There Paul begins to speak about how he and the other apostles put no obstacle in the place of anyone who wants to know Jesus and learn his ways.
Paul is willing to suffer any offense to avoid placing an obstacle before others. He presents himself as one who wishes to facilitate coming to Christ instead of being in the way. What Paul suffers comes next.
Paul and his associates, along with other apostles, are servants of God (2 Corinthians 6:4). He describes what apostles and servants of God go through, what they face in service to God. They demonstrate great endurance in the face of afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, and hunger (2 Corinthians 6:4-5).
I don’t know anyone who would sign up for this job. These are the things the apostles and servants of God face as they serve him. They demonstrate great endurance, the ability to bear up under the pressure of each of these situations. And Paul has encountered all of them.
He and his ministry companions have endured afflictions, which we would call tribulations, sicknesses, and trials. The hardships he suffered as an apostle were tremendous, and we can read about them especially in 2 Corinthians. Paul becomes very personal about his hardships he has faced as he served Christ. He sees them as proof of his apostleship and the reason God has given him authority.
Calamities are distresses, difficulties, and anguish. As he has preached the gospel Paul has certainly dealt with beatings and imprisonments. He considers himself many times in chains for the gospel of Christ. He has put his body on the line, skin in the game as a missionary and evangelist for the gospel.
Paul has experienced riots in Ephesus and Jerusalem. He has been at the heart of them. The labors he refers to our labors of love as he has not only preached the gospel but founded churches and set up leadership. The labors refer to his apostolic works.
Like anyone who has worked tirelessly for Christ, Paul suffered sleepless nights, sometimes in preaching the gospel, sometimes in traveling, and in the other situations he has mentioned already. He has gone hungry for the sake of the gospel. But many Christians have also taken care of Paul’s needs.
How has Paul managed to survive all of these trials? He has demonstrated purity, an unwavering allegiance to God, not mixing with the world and its values (2 Corinthians 6:6-7). God has given him words of knowledge and supernatural knowledge to be prepared for what he endured.
God has given him patience, long-suffering as he faced these afflictions. And he has demonstrated kindness to everyone. Without the Holy Spirit, he would not have the character to endure these hardships. And to everyone, even his enemies, he has demonstrated a genuine love of Christ, and unconditional love they were not used to seeing in others.
Paul spoke truthful speech about the gospel to unbelievers, and addressed believers with sincerity in his truthful speech. It does not help our witness to lie as we are God’s representatives and share the gospel of life with others.
He also lived and ministered by God’s power. God’s hand was upon him as he served Christ and his gospel. God’s power through him happened through weapons of righteousness. The right and left hands might signify Paul’s complete commitment to serve God in these ways. But the weapons of righteousness were living the righteous life and perhaps referred to spiritual weapons Paul describes throughout his letters.
People treated Paul and his missionary companion some with honor, and some with dishonor toward them (2 Corinthians 6:8). They experienced slander from some unbelievers and praise from others. Some unbelievers may have praised him because of his lifestyle and truthfulness. When you live the kind of Christian life Paul describes in his letters, you will get both reactions from unbelievers.
Paul describes how he and his missionary friends were treated by the world. They treated them as impostors even though they were true to Christ and his mission for them. Unbelievers saw them as unknown even though by others they were well known (2 Corinthians 6:9). Many missionaries had letters of commendation they presented to churches that verified who they were and gave their background.
So many times throughout his missionary journeys, Paul was in danger of dying and that was still alive. He will also describe in 2 Corinthians other bodies were dying but they were presenting life as God’s servants through the message of the gospel.
They were punished throughout Paul’s ministry by those in charge, and yet they were not killed. This may refer to his imprisonments and beatings, being in chains for the gospel of Christ. There are many sorrows along the way, and yet there was great joy because of the work they did for Christ (2 Corinthians 6:10).
Despite the sorrows of this life, Paul and his missionary friends could rejoice in God’s works, in the birthing of Christians and the kindness of believers in Jesus. Paul was by no means rich, often living off of his own funds created by his business as a leather tanner. But at the same time he made so many rich through his gospel ministry. The greatest riches are to know Christ and serve him as Paul did.
Paul and his missionary companions presented themselves as having nothing in this world. And yet, as Christians they inherited heaven with Christ and a place in his kingdom. They inherited the whole world, the new heavens and the new earth.
These were priceless compared to the things of this world. Paul elsewhere describes how he is willing to give up everything he has gained for the sake of knowing Christ. So all of these are descriptions of Paul and his ministry as an apostle. And everything they suffered was worth it for the sake of their gain.