(4) Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses;
(5) in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger
(8)...through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors;
(9) known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed;
(10) sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
2 Corinthians 6:4–5, 8–10, NIV
Dear Father in heaven, you are always near to us on earth, and we thank you for all the love you put into our lives so that we can be joyful, even in all kinds of temptations and struggles. How much you have given us and how often you have rescued us from distress! Again and again you have let the light of life shine out. You give us light not only for the moment but also for the future, enabling us to draw strength and assurance from the present, the past, and the future, to the glory of your name. Amen.
The context of the words of 2 Corinthians 6:4–5, 8–10, NIV
Second Corinthians 6:1–13 contains Paul commendation of himself and his co-workers to the Corinthians. He offers evidence that they have not been false apostles. They have faithfully represented Christ through every kind of suffering and God's power has been obvious in and through them. He declares that they have been faultless and urges the Corinthians not to miss the day of God's salvation through faith in Christ. He states warmly that his heart remains wide open to the church in Corinth and asks them to open their hearts to him again.
This passage appeals to the Corinthians not to miss the day of salvation. Paul insists that he and those who work with him have done nothing to keep anyone from believing in Christ. He points to the evidence that he has been a true apostle and representative of Christ and asks the Corinthians to open their hearts to him again. He commands them not to harness themselves to unbelievers since Christ can have nothing to do with Satan or darkness. God lives in them through the Holy Spirit, so they must separate from everything that is opposed to God.
Meaning of the words
"Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses"
Paul is demonstrating to the Corinthians that his gospel-preaching ministry has always been commendable. He hopes they will be convinced that he and his co-workers have always acted in integrity and in sincerity as they have represented Christ. He also wants to give those in Corinth who know him a way to defend him and his co-workers against the attacks of others.
First, Paul and his co-workers are servants of God. They do not serve themselves. The reason they operate with integrity in all things is because their first allegiance and responsibility are to God, not those they serve on His behalf.
Paul begins to list evidences of their integrity. The implied question is, "Why would we go through all of this if our motives weren't pure?" Paul states that he and his team have showed great endurance, meaning they have not given up or turned back in the face of suffering. That suffering has included afflictions, hardships, and calamities. These words express, generally, that Paul's ministry has required him to endure great difficulties. He is more specific about those difficulties in the following verses
"in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger"
This verse begins building a list of evidence that Paul and his co-workers have operated with great integrity, sincerity, and purity of motive in preaching the gospel of Jesus. The implied question for the items listed in this verse is, "Why would we have gone through all of this if we had a self-serving motive for our ministry?"
Early believers, especially leaders like the apostles, endured beatings by outraged Jewish religious leaders for preaching that salvation could only be found in Christ alone and not in following the law. They spent time in Roman prisons. They were attacked by rioting mobs. They labored to the point of exhaustion both in the ministry and in the secular work they had to do to support themselves. They experienced sleepless nights and great hunger, either because of poverty or in fasting.
The list continues in the following verse with positive things Paul and his co-workers have engaged in during their time in ministry
"through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors"
This passage provides a long list of evidence for the integrity of Paul's ministry. He has listed terrible things endured by himself and his co-workers for Christ's sake. He has listed positive qualities they have shown and evidence of God's power through them.
Now he returns to describing how they have been treated in their ministry. He wants his readers to see that they have kept going even through these things. They have experienced both honor and dishonor in representing Christ. They have been both slandered and praised. Whatever Paul's detractors in Corinth were saying about him had likely been said before. Paul did not live for the praise of other people, but he wanted his readers to know that he received it for his work in the ministry, along with insults and lies.
In fact, Paul adds that they had been treated as impostors. It's possible that this is what was happening in Corinth, with some suggesting Paul and his team were false apostles. Paul addressed those accusations specifically in 2 Corinthians 3:1–3, asking the Corinthians to look at their own conversions to faith in Christ to remember that his work as an apostle among them was "true"
"known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed"
Paul continues to list all he and his co-workers for the gospel of Jesus have endured in order to carry out their mission. He has also itemized their positive responses to suffering, along with evidence of God's power in and through them. He is commending himself in this way to counter the accusations of some in Corinth who were apparently accusing him of falsehood.
Now he adds that he and his co-workers have been treated as if they were unknown. Paul likely did not mean that people were not aware of him. Certainly those he had ministered to and those who opposed him knew who Paul was. He likely means that he has not been rightly acknowledged as Christ's representative and apostle. He counters that by insisting that he and his co-workers are well known. This was true of all who had believed his message and put their trust in Christ. Paul and his fellow workers were also, of course, known by God. That mattered most of all to him (2 Timothy 2:19).
Paul adds that he and his co-workers for Christ have been treated as if they are dying, though they live, and punished or beaten, though they are not killed. Paul regularly lived on the edge of death. He began this letter by describing a recent event that brought them very close to death (2 Corinthians 1:8–9). Paul also will go on to describe being beaten for proclaiming Christ (2 Corinthians 6:5; 11:23–25). Still, he has endured to this point. He offers this, as well, as evidence that God is with him in his ministry
"sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything"
The verses in this section list reasons the Corinthians can offer others to show that Paul's ministry as an apostle has been true. He and his co-workers for Christ have always acted with integrity, even in the face of suffering great attacks and hardship. They are committed to declaring the good news about Jesus to the world.
Now he adds that they have been treated as if they are sorrowful, poor, and have nothing. In truth, Paul insists that they are always rejoicing, that they have made many rich, and that they possess everything. These words do not deny the reality of earthly circumstances. He has indeed experienced great sorrow in his work for Christ on several occasions (2 Corinthians 2:1–3; Romans 9:2; Philippians 2:27). He has certainly lived in poverty as a travelling missionary (1 Corinthians 4:11). Still, Paul describes how viewing his life and work from spiritual perspective points to greater truth.
Paul and his co-workers continually chose to rejoice even in the moments of their greatest suffering. Acts 16:23–25 describes a moment when he and Silas were singing hymns to God late at night after being thoroughly beaten and thrown into jail with their feet locked into stocks. Paul taught that all believers should see their lives from an eternal perspective and continue to rejoice (Philippians 4:4).
In addition, the gospel that Paul preached gave those who believed in Christ access to the "unsearchable riches of Christ" (Ephesians 3:8). In this way, he and his team made many believers enormously and eternally wealthy. Finally, as is the case for all Christians, Paul understood that all things were theirs in Christ Jesus. He said exactly this to the Corinthians in his earlier letter to them (1 Corinthians 3:21–23).
Paul's ability to see his life as an eternal experience turned all his losses into enormous advantages. The suffering was momentary. The victory would be forever.