After traveling to Corinth and spending over a year helping churches come together, Paul has to continue his travels away from this community, but he stays in correspondence with them as he goes. In the meantime, though, people started to question Paul. He has to start justifying his words.
People in Corinth start to question Paul because they look at his life, and it is not appealing. Other leaders have traveled through Corinth, making empty promises and offering easy answers, which are appealing, and now the people are questioning Paul.
In response, Paul simply says, "we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain" (2 Cor 6.1). Paul might say that the grace of God is a gift to you, but it does not promote self-interest. It does not lead to a trouble-free faith. Looking at Paul's life, including imprisonment and rejection, the people may have asked, "How can faith lead to such trouble?," but Paul says that it is exactly through great endurance, affliction, hardship, and calamity that he has demonstrated purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness, love, and truthful speech, as evidence of faith. Paul is trying to say that grace unfolds into diligence, whereas, vanity leads to self-interest.
A friend for whom I have great respect gave me a thin, little book right before I went to seminary by Helmut Thielicke entitled A Little Exercise for Young Theologians. It was a warning about vanity and faith, echoing Paul's instructions about keeping vanity away from grace. Thielicke warned, "knowledge is power." As we gain clearer answers and helpful knowledge, he says, "it is almost a devilish thing that even in the case of the theologian the joy of possession can kill love." Vanity can corrupt the heart of faith.
It may sound strange to say, but faith should always leave room for God. Vanity should never get close to grace because it shuts the door to humility and ultimately to love. Faith is not dependent upon explanations, but rather on trust.
Whenever vanity encroaches upon grace, the measure of our faith is skewed because it is measured solely by explanations suited for us. The true measurement of our faith is born out of honest struggle. As Paul said, it is only through great endurance and hardship that grace unfolds into diligence and wisdom, where faith is built upon trust and not just explanation.
The truest measurement of faith is not the answers or the solutions, but rather the distance between people, for this bears the marks of grace and love. This distance is not measured by inches or by feet; it is measured by compassion, hope, and prayer.
Paul pointed to these things as his true credentials, where he said, "our heart is wide open to you" (2 Cor 6.11). It is hard to keep our hearts wide open, where grace unfolds into diligence.
The grace of God is intimately concerned with our lives, but it is corrupted by vanity. Grace, though, is strengthened by genuine humility, honest trust, and simple hope. Faith is measured by the distance between people, by what we insert into that space. The space between people can resemble the measurement of the faithful love of God.