Second Corinthians 13:1–14 . . .
Final Warnings and Greetings
As we explore the last chapter of Apostle Paul's second epistle to the Corinthians, which begins with a warning, followed with encouragement, and ending with greetings, please take a moment now to appreciate each segment's key words and phrases that we'll cover today. Warning: "testimony," "witnesses," "demanding proof," "God's power," and "we are weak." Encouragement: "Christ Jesus is in you," "you will not do anything wrong," "you will do what is right," "only for the truth," "we are glad you are strong," "you may be fully restored," and "building you up." Greeting: "rejoice," "strive for full restoration," "encourage one another," "live in peace," "God will be with you," "a holy kiss," "greetings," "grace," "love," and "fellowship."
Instead of saying that we've reached "The End" of our study of Paul's two epistles to his church, let's shout out a hearty, collective "Amen, Paul!" We've seen how similar the conditions at Corinth were to ours today. Thankfully, Paul never gave up on Corinth; how patiently he worked with this church. His letters and visits span a period of one to three years. All that time he labored to right their wrongs, to enable his church to be an effective, God-pleasing ministry in that great commercial city.
Up until now, Paul has said about all that he could. Thankfully, most of the church had repented and changed its attitude toward him. But there remained a handful of people there who continued to follow false teachers; others still lived in licentiousness and open immorality. His "warning" is that there will be nothing when he comes except public exposure for them. We see in today's passage that, before he comes, he first announces his upcoming [third] visit (v. 1, shown below). In an orderly way, he'll then deal with the reality of what's going on in the congregation: Any charges must be sustained by the evidence of two or three witnesses.
In vv. 2–4, Paul speaks twice of "God's power," which is what a true servant of Christ relies upon. What he's talking about is not some kind of social pressure brought to bear to bring an evildoer to heal. He's talking about God's ability to act inside people's conscience and heart, changing them by imposing pressure and trouble, possibly disaster, whatever God's judgment may allow. He's probably saying that he'd take the last step mentioned in Matthew 18:15–20 to discipline a church and its members: He'll proclaim the allegation to the whole church, which will seek to try to reach the individual and bring him to repentance. Using the "God's power" phrase, he relies on God being the one who'll bring about a righteous result.
In vv. 5–6, Paul asks the church body to examine and test themselves. He poses the critical question that he hopes will change their attitude (and ours) and bring about true repentance: "Is Christ Jesus in you?" Paul exhorts every individual in that church, and ours, to ask himself: Am I a true Christian or a counterfeit? Have I been born again or am I playing only by my rules? Paul encourages us to routinely examine ourselves to see if any wrong behavior or disobedience might be involved. Remember from our past two studies: The Corinthians had been asking about Paul, Is he really an apostle of Christ? Are the other men who taught us different things righteous? Is Paul a phony apostle? Now Paul responds: The answers to the same questions about your reality and authentication will demonstrate the truth about me. That is, if you find that you're genuine Christians, you'll know that I'm a true apostle.
The tone and purpose of vv. 7–9 changes from "warning" to "encouragement." Paul explains that he isn't looking for an opportunity on his arrival to demonstrate his authority as an apostle by judging them; he takes no delight in flexing his apostolic muscles. He'd be quite happy if they'd judge themselves and stop their evil behavior, leaving nothing for him to do when he came but to rejoice with them. In v. 10, Paul says something very important: That's an often-forgotten principle today. The apostle makes clear that true authority in the church, beginning with the apostles, isn't intended to destroy people or tear them down; it's to build them up. Clearly, that's what a church ought to be like, especially when results depend, he says, on the answer to that all-important question: "Does Jesus Christ live in you or not?" (Before you comfortably answer "Yes, of course" to Paul's question, be sure to first thoroughly examine and test yourself before God.)
In Paul's final "greeting," we find his appeal for mutual support among believing brothers and sisters. Thankfully, his greeting encourages peaceful living. He sees beyond the fragmentation in Corinth to the basic unity of the church, which God created. There must be unity to overthrow divisiveness, quarreling, jealousy, and division in the assembly. Christians belong to one another as members of the family of God; and we ought to act that way, he says.
The apostle urges all Christians: If Jesus Christ is in you, change your ways. You can't live and act the same way everybody does when the Spirit of Jesus Christ lives in you. That's the fundamental reason why Christians are to live differently. You're to be friendly, loving, open, forgiving; not accusatory, narrow, or bitter. You're different because Christ lives inside you.
Notice how Paul closes this epistle with a beautiful benediction (v. 14), the clearest reference to the Trinity found in the New Testament. What a gracious greeting given by a great apostle. Alas, history doesn't tell us what happened to that church, whether it was able to recover through repentance and obedience or not. Apostle Paul did his best, leaving with us a tremendous testimony of what constitutes true Christianity actively at work in a pagan world, then and now. May both epistles mean much to you, reminding and encouraging you to obey Paul's words while recognizing that when Jesus Christ lives in and among his faithful children, we must act differently. May God ever enable us to understand and appreciate this more thoroughly. May he now give you his holy kiss.
- Q. 1 Paul prefers to come to the Corinthians in "the gentleness and meekness of Christ" (10:1), and as a loving parent (12:14–15). How will he come, instead, if repentance hasn't occurred?
- Q. 2 While the Corinthians have been critical of Paul's "credentials" as an apostle all along, what does he tell them to do in v. 5?
- Q. 3 Whether or not they approve of him, what does he pray for them in vv. 10–11?
2 Corinthians 13:1–14
13 This will be my third visit to you. "Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses." 2I already gave you a warning when I was with you the second time. I now repeat it while absent: On my return I will not spare those who sinned earlier or any of the others, 3since you are demanding proof that Christ is speaking through me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. 4For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God's power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God's power we will live with him in our dealing with you.
5Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you — unless, of course, you fail the test? 6And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test. 7Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong — not so that people will see that we have stood the test but so that you will do what is right even though we may seem to have failed. 8For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. 9We are glad whenever we are weak but you are strong; and our prayer is that you may be fully restored. 10This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority — the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down.
11Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.
12Greet one another with a holy kiss. 13All God's people here send their greetings.
14May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.