Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says, “In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 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.
We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open. 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. – 2 Corinthians 6:1-13 ESV
Paul ended the last section of his letter with the appeal, “we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:20-21 ESV). Now Paul says that he and his fellow apostles and missionaries are working alongside the Lord as His ambassadors, appealing to the Corinthians, “not to receive the grace of God in vain” (2 Corinthians 6:1b ESV). Throughout his letter, Paul has addressed the Corinthians as brothers and sisters in Christ, as believers. So why would he mention receiving the grace of God in vain? Is he hinting that they may not be saved? Most likely, Paul is simply saying that the believers in Corinth are not fully taking advantage of the grace bestowed upon them at their salvation. The New Living Translation gives verse 1 the meaning Paul most likely intended: “we beg you not to accept this marvelous gift of God’s kindness and then ignore it.”
God pours out His grace (unmerited favor) in abundance at salvation, but His grace does not stop there. He has placed His Holy Spirit within each and every believer, providing them with His indwelling power, guidance, and divine discernment. He places them within the body of Christ, surrounding them with His people and making them a part of His family. He gives them His written Word, that provides them with insights into His character, access to truth, wisdom for living in this world, and hope regarding the future. All of this is an aspect of His grace. And yet, as believers, we can receive that grace in vain. We can under-appreciate it, under-utilize it, overlook it, and simply ignore it – to our own detriment.
The grace of God was essential to Paul, not only for salvation, but for life. It was a common thing for Paul to express his love for the church by extending his desire that they know the fullness of God’s grace. This often took the place as a salutation of benediction in his letters.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. – 2 Corinthians 13:14 NLT
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 1:3 ESV
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ… – Galatians 1:3 ESV
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. – Ephesians 1:2 ESV
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. – Philippians 1:2 ESV
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. – Philippians 4:23 ESV
To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father. – Colossians 1:2 ESV
The grace of God is not to be seen as a once-in-a-lifetime gift that we receive at salvation, but a resource that lasts a lifetime. God is always extending His grace to His children. In fact, Paul quotes from Isaiah 49, a prophetic passage about the coming Messiah. In it, God promises His anointed one: “In a time of favor I have answered you; in a day of salvation I have helped you; I will keep you and give you as a covenant to the people” (Isaiah 49:8 ESV). God’s grace is always timely and never late. His grace shows up in perfect alignment with His will. Even though Jesus suffered in His earthly ministry and was rejected by His own people, God showed Him favor and extended His grace by raising Jesus back to life after having suffered a gruesome death as payment for the sins of men.
Paul says that same kind of grace is available to the Corinthians and they are not to treat it contemptuously or vainly. He uses himself as an example of what grace looks like in everyday life:
…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. – 2 Corinthians 6:4-7 NLT
Being ambassadors for Christ, sharing the good news of His death and resurrection, was not easy. It required a constant dependence upon the grace (unmerited favor) of God. Paul and his companions regularly suffered for their efforts. They knew first-hand what it was like to face rejection and ridicule. Their ministry of reconciliation wasn’t always met with open arms or receptive hearts. But by the grace of God, they soldiered on. And Paul wants the Corinthians to understand that God has called them to live their lives in the same way: dependent upon God’s grace as the willingly submit to God’s will.
Paul’s desire was for the Corinthians to experience the full extent of God’s grace and to extend that grace to others, including to him. Which led him to say, “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 6:11-13 NLT). Grace is meant to be received and shared. The grace of God is not intended to dead-end on us, but to flow through us to others. We need God’s grace to live the life He has called us to live. But that grace needs to make its way from God through our hearts and into the lives of those with whom we live and interact every day. God’s grace is always timely. And the time to share it is now.