Only for the Truth
2 Corinthians 13:1–14 – 2 Corinthians: A Testimony to Suffering in the Power of God
Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 15, 2019 (am)
Would it be helpful to you this morning if we were to hear from God’s Word a reliable way for His love and peace [to] be with you, in ever-deepening, ever more enriching ways? Would it be helpful to you to be refreshed in your understanding of how that works in your relationship with God—what He does, and what He calls us to do? Paul helps us understand these things as he draws the bottom line on his Corinthian correspondence. His final words express three emphases.
A Final Warning to the Corinthians – 1-4
Paul’s opening words here (1), which are actually just marking his transition toward closing this letter, sound a bit ominous. 1 This is the third time I am coming to you. … Whenever my father informed me that this was the third time he was saying or doing anything, I tended to listen more intently! It was among the gentlest of his implicit warnings that I was very close to being in some kind of trouble! Surely the same was true here in Corinth because this was now the [second] time that Paul has said he’s about to visit a third time! (cf. 12:14) Then he adds: Every charge must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. So, charges are pending against the Corinthians, and Paul is drawing on the long-established, often-quoted OT standard (Deu.19:15) requiring two or three witnesses to justify any charge or conviction.
Probably because of the third visit and the three witnesses stand side-by-side here, some have suggested that Paul’s three visits were the three witnesses (cf. Kruse 209). But that seems unlikely, and maybe even a little unfair. How would his first visit, when he planted the church, be a [witness] against them? I believe the witnesses are fellow Corinthians who’ve observed the rebellion of these others.
In any case, 2 [Paul had] warned those who sinned before and all the others, … now while absent, just as [he] did… on [his] second visit, that if [he comes] again [he] will not spare them. 3 [They’ve been seeking] proof that Christ is speaking in [Paul]? Well, they’re about to see it! He’ll imitate Christ. 4 For [Jesus] was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. As we’ve seen in this closing section of the letter (cc.10-13), [Paul is] also weak in [Christ], but in [his] dealing with [them he] will live with [Christ] by the power of God.
The Corinthians will see the power of God that raised [Christ] from the dead and seated him at [God’s] right hand in the heavenly places! (cf. Eph.1:20) They’ll see it in Paul, weak as they believe him to be! They’ll see it in the discipline he’ll apply for their suborn lack of repentance, whatever form that takes. This is Paul’s final warning before he returns, again reminding us of Jesus Himself—of His salvation that’s available to all who will believe with repentance and faith, but also of His judgment that will fall on all who refuse to believe.
A Final Charge to the Corinthians – 5-10
So, what are they to do? 5 Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ in in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! This is such a brilliantly clear and simple charge from Paul. He’s not calling them to some sort of vague introspection, searching desperately for any sort of undeniable, spiritual fruit in their lives. This is a simple test: he’s calling for repentance in response to his warning! (1-4) Jesus Christ [within them will surely enable their repentance]—unless [of course He’s just not present there]! If He is, they will repent! If He’s not, they’ll remain in their unrepentance!
The only alternative is that Paul himself [fails]… the test (6)—of being an apostle. If they can be right with God and the church without repenting as Paul directs, then he’s not God’s messenger! (6) But Paul is not worried about passing the test, or being perceived as passing the test. He just wants these unrepentant Corinthians to turn away from their sin and their rejection of God that is seen in their rejection of the gospel he preaches, and of his call to repentance: 7 … we pray to God that you may not do wrong…, but that you may do what is right…. 9 …Your restoration is what we pray for.
A Final Encouragement to the Corinthians – 11-14
And that prayer presses us on from Paul’s final charge to his final encouragement. Since your restoration is what we pray for (9), I urge you to aim for restoration (11). Aim for that which we’re seeking God to accomplish in your lives! Aim for what we’re calling you to do, to pursue. Mend your ways (Kruse 215) is one way to translate this charge. Or we could say: work at your restoration or aim for your perfection (Harris 544), adequacy, [sufficiency] (L-N). As we’ve said, Paul is [aiming] for their full repentance; this’s what he means. But he also gives some companion encouragements here. Then he caps that off with a promise: 11 Finally, [brothers and sisters], rejoice. Aim for restoration (there it is), comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; now the promise: and the God of love and peace will be with you.
This adds an insight that’s worth noticing and pondering —an insight that’s not just intended for the Corinthians, but for all of us. After calling them to a unique, family-sort of love for one another that’s expressed as a holy kiss (12), Paul says: 13 All the saints greet you, from all the churches. Then: 14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. There’s a real sense in which Paul broadens this final encouragement to address the [church] as a whole, not just the Corinthians. And what he gives us here completes his call to repentance in a way that’s helpful to our understanding of our growth in Christlikeness, sanctification, the obedience of faith.
He’s already reminded us that if Jesus is truly in [us] (5), then that will show in our repentance and restoration. That’s how we meet the test (5). But now we can see here that this is a genuine call, that we truly do need to hear a call to repentance, that having Christ in [us] doesn’t automatically make them sinless. Even though we’re in Christ, we still do things that require repentance. Confusion on this point was a problem Paul had to address in his first letter to Corinth (cf. 1Co.4:8; 5:1-2). And this sort of call has been a central theme in this letter as well. The majority (2:6) had already responded to it. Now the remainder needed to, or it could turn out to show not that they were believers who needed to turn away from bad thoughts and actions, but that they were unbelievers and Jesus Christ [was not] in [them]! (cf. 5) Same for us!
But, assuming we are indeed believers, then just as Jesus proves His presence in [us] by enabling our repentance, He also magnifies His love and peace in and among us as we do! Put another way, as they began to pursue Christ-like qualities like [rejoicing], comfort, [unity] and peace, intentionally—essentially as we pursue the love and peace of God—then God will bless us with an ever richer and deeper experience of these very qualities. They are our inheritance in the gospel. But we can still resist them in the flesh. So, Paul is telling not just the unrepentant in Corinth, and not just the Corinthian church as a whole, but all of us, that as we give ourselves to the pursuit of these Christlike virtues which God grants us in Christ— [rejoicing]/[active joy], comfort/[merciful compassion], [agreement]/[unity]/[forbearance], [shalom]—God rewards that pursuit! He magnifies those virtues in us, enriches them!
That’s God’s promise to us in Christ. That’s the fruit of the [Spirit’s] presence in our lives. The whole Trinity is involved in keeping this promise! And this is the only explicitly trinitarian closing among all of Paul’s letters. 14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ which grants us every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Eph.1:3), and the love of God that gave us his only begotten Son as our Savior, Lord, and King (Joh.3:16), and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit that’s accomplished in us by His baptizing, indwelling, filling, and sealing us as spiritual family in Christ, be with you all.
So, here’s the recipe for experiencing the love and peace of God that is such a rich blessing in this life. It begins with repentance and faith in Christ. It continues with [rejoicing] in the new life that results. And that carries on into our intentional engagement in the God-honoring actions that accompany [joyful] repentance in faith: [aiming] for maturity, [living] in [peaceful] [agreement] with one another (11). Embrace these gospel qualities, Christlike virtues, fruit of the Spirit, and God’s love and peace will be with you