Paul the Apostle’s first trip to Corinth led to an eighteen-month visit that established God’s church in that area (see Acts 18:1-11). Paul’s second trip to Corinth was likely associated with the “painful visit” that he referenced earlier in 2 Corinthians 2:1. Now Paul was preparing to make a third trip to the city of Corinth- and the opening verse of the final chapter of this epistle tells us that his next visit would not bode well for those who were continuing in sin within the church…
“This will be the third time I am coming to you. ‘By the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established’” (2 Corinthians 13:1).
Much as he has done throughout the Corinthian epistles, Paul turned to a passage from the Old Testament Scriptures to illustrate an important spiritual point. That quote is found within the book of Deuteronomy, the fifth book of the Old Testament Law: “A single witness may not testify against another person for any trespass or sin that he commits. A matter may be legally established only on the testimony of two or three witnesses” (Deuteronomy 19:15 NET).
In addition to Paul’s reference here in 2 Corinthians 13:1, Jesus later reaffirmed this important legal standard in Matthew 18:16. The book of Deuteronomy also defines several other fundamental principles that support the foundation of a fair and equitable judicial system. Those standards include judicial impartiality (Deuteronomy 16:19-20), the need for a thorough investigation of the available evidence (Deuteronomy 19:16-20), and the concept of equal justice and equal protection under the law (Deuteronomy 24:17–18).
This legal context enables us to view each of Paul’s Corinthian visits as separate pieces of evidence or testimony. As one scholar observes, “(Paul) may be implying that each of the warnings he previously delivered both in person and by letter constitutes a distinct testimony or evidence to establish a “case” against those who resist God’s truth.” (1)
Another source is much more direct in his commentary on this passage: “To put it in our modern idiom, Paul insists there must be a showdown. The ill situation must drag on no longer. Paul knew that there comes a time when trouble must be faced. If the healing medicines fail, there is nothing for it but the surgeon’s knife.” (2)
So this message to the Corinthian church was clear. Paul was prepared to implement this principle upon his return to Corinth- and if the charge was confirmed, the indictment would soon follow.
(1) Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 2067). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.
(2) William Barclay, The Letters to the Corinthians (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1954), p. 297. Quoted in Coffman, James Burton. “Commentary on 2 Corinthians 13”. “Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament”. <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=2co&chapter=013>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
“I have told you before, and foretell as if I were present the second time, and now being absent I write to those who have sinned before, and to all the rest, that if I come again I will not spare—” (2 Corinthians 13:2).
Much like a photographer who makes use of a wide-angle lens, 2 Corinthians 13:2 captured the entire church at Corinth in a snapshot that brought the various elements of the congregation together. But unlike a photo that evokes a memory of a group activity, this passage served as a warning for every member of the Corinthian church.
You see, Paul the Apostle’s first Biblical letter to the Corinthians addressed a number of issues that existed within the church. These issues included divisions within the church (chapter one), sexual immorality (chapter five), lawsuits among the members of the congregation (chapter six), irreverence towards the things of God (chapter eleven), and erroneous views of Jesus’ resurrection (chapter fifteen) among others.
The final portion of this second Corinthian letter has dealt with the accusations made by the false apostles who had worked their way into the church, Taken together, these two Biblical epistles functioned as a first and second warning to the members of the Corinthian fellowship. So this passage represented a forceful message to any member of the congregation who chose to continue in those behaviors: “…the next time I come nobody will escape punishment” (GNB).
We can understand this statement to imply that Paul would use his authority as an Apostle to correct those who refused to be persuaded by other means. That might involve various forms of church discipline such as the kind described earlier in 1 Corinthians 5:5. In that portion of Scripture, Paul gave the following instructions regarding a person who was involved in a sexually immoral affair: “I direct you to release this man over to Satan so his rebellious nature will be destroyed and his spirit might be rescued in the day the Lord Jesus returns” (Voice).
However, it might also mean that Paul would use his apostolic authority to exercise a more immediate form of correction, one that we will examine in greater detail next. But just as Paul mentioned previously in 2 Corinthians 10:8 (and will go on to repeat again in 2 Corinthians 13:10). that authority was intended to build them up, not tear them down. Nevertheless, he would use his God-given authority for disciplinary purposes if he was required to do so.
“…if I come again I will not spare—since you seek a proof of Christ speaking in me, who is not weak toward you, but mighty in you” (2 Corinthians 13:2-3).
There is an old proverbial saying that tell us, “Be care what you ask for- you might get it!” That old adage makes a humorous point; the things we think we want may be far different from our original expectation. This idea probably described a faction of people within the Corinthian church who continued to press for evidence of Paul’s apostolic authority. But those who were seeking such evidence may have been looking for more than they bargained for.
To illustrate that point, we can turn to an incident that occurred during Paul’s first missionary journey as recorded in Acts 13:1-12. It was during that time that Paul and another man named Barnabas made their way to a town named Paphos on the island of Cyprus. It was there that they encountered a leader named Sergius Paulus, a proconsul who represented the Roman government in that area. We’re told that Paulus had a desire to hear the word of God so he sent for Paul and Barnabas.
However, the proconsul was obstructed in this request by another man named Elymas. The Scriptures identify Elymas as a sorcerer and a false prophet who was also known by the name Bar-Jesus (which ironically means “son of Jesus”). Elymas made an effort to derail the proconsul’s interest in Christianity but Paul the Apostle countered with a direct confrontation: “You are full of dirty tricks and schemes, you son of the devil! You hate everything that has God’s approval. Quit trying to distort the truth about the way the Lord wants people to live” (Acts 13:10 GW).
This attempt to dissuade a man who wanted to hear God’s Word brought serious repercussions for Elymas: “‘And now, indeed, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you shall be blind, not seeing the sun for a time.’ And immediately a dark mist fell on him, and he went around seeking someone to lead him by the hand” (Acts 13:11).
Since Elymas was determined to keep others from access to God’s Word, he was forced to endure the physical equivalent of his own spiritual darkness. On a happier note, this chain of events eventually led the proconsul to faith in Christ, Unfortunately, that sequence also illustrated the type of fate that potentially awaited the insubordinate members of the Corinthian church. In effect, Paul said to the Corinthians, “I’ll provide proof of my authority. I may be weak, but Christ within me isn’t.”
“For though He was crucified in weakness, yet He lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, but we shall live with Him by the power of God toward you” (2 Corinthians 13:4).
In what sense was Jesus “crucified in weakness” as we’re told in the passage quoted above? Well, the New Testament book of Philippians provides us with an answer to that question…
“Have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Although he was in the form of God and equal with God, he did not take advantage of this equality. Instead, he emptied himself by taking on the form of a servant, by becoming like other humans, by having a human appearance. He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, death on a cross. This is why God has given him an exceptional honor— the name honored above all other names—” (Philippians 2:5-9 GW).
So we can understand this concept of “Christ’s weakness” as a reference to the frailty of human existence. That human frailty found its ultimate expression in Jesus’ crucifixion and death. However, others may consider Jesus as weak in another sense because He failed to exercise the power to resist, prevent, or circumvent His death. That concept of weakness is typified by the following question: “What kind of ‘god’ allows himself to be crucified?”
The answer is that there was more to Jesus’ crucifixion than just His physical death. Remember that Jesus atoned for our sins through His death on the cross and His sacrificial death enables us to establish a relationship with our Creator (see 1 Peter 2:21-24). That’s the first part. The second part involves Jesus’ resurrection from the dead as referenced here in 2 Corinthians 13:4: “…we shall live with Him by the power of God toward you.”
While Jesus may have appeared to be weak in a limited sense, the immense nature of His actual power was demonstrated through His resurrection. One commentator ties these aspects of weakness and power together with the following observation…
“…the literal, historical, actual, bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead proved all his claims to divine power, proved all his claims to moral perfection, proved all his claims to supernatural revelation, and proved that he did not die in ‘weakness’ but in the power of God… He proved by his resurrection that he had overcome the ultimate enemies of the human race – sin and death. That is power! No other being has ever had that power!” (1)
(1) Paul T. Butler, The Bible Study Textbook Series, Studies In First Corinthians (College Press) [p. 439] Copyright © 1985 College Press Publishing Company https://archive.org/stream/FirstCorinthians/131Corinthians-Butler_djvu.txt
“Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified. But I trust that you will know that we are not disqualified” (2 Corinthians 13:5-6).
The Phillips translation of 2 Corinthians 13: 5 provides us with an illustrative paraphrase of this verse: “You should be looking at yourselves to make sure that you are really Christ’s. It is yourselves that you should be testing, not me. You ought to know by this time that Christ is in you, unless you are not real Christians at all.”
Paul the Apostle thus encouraged the members of the Corinthian church to perform a self-examination before they sought to evaluate him. You see, a person who is familiar with Jesus’ teachings and prayerfully relies upon the Holy Spirit to put those teachings into practice is someone who is likely to pass a similar kind of self-examination. Once that evaluation takes place, then he or she will suitably positioned to make a proper evaluation of others.
Jesus made a similar point in an oft-quoted portion of Scripture…
“Why do you notice the little piece of dust in your friend’s eye, but you don’t notice the big piece of wood in your own eye? How can you say to your friend, ‘Let me take that little piece of dust out of your eye’? Look at yourself! You still have that big piece of wood in your own eye. You hypocrite! First, take the wood out of your own eye. Then you will see clearly to take the dust out of your friend’s eye” (Matthew 7:3-5 NCV).
This is important because each of us will eventually be called to account for the lives we have built upon the foundation of Christ. At that time, God will look upon what we have done for Him as well as the motives behind our efforts. This is why it is important to prayerfully examine ourselves, or as Paul said earlier to the Corinthian church, “…if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged” (1 Corinthians 11:31).
And what if that evaluation process determines that we are not everything we should be? In that case, we would be well-advised to approach God in complete honesty and ask Him to replace those inappropriate thoughts, attitudes, and motivations with those that honor Him. Then as our internal motivations become more godly, our external actions will begin to follow along as well.
“Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! I hope you will find out that we have not failed the test” (2 Corinthians 13:5-6).
A machinist who is working to rebuild an automotive engine will often test it for cracks or other irregularities that may lead to failure. This generally involves spreading a fluorescent substance on the surface of an engine block and examining it under an ultraviolet light. This method often reveals issues that are undetectable by other means and allows the machinist to take corrective action.
As we seek to apply the principle behind 2 Corinthians 13:5-6 and prayerfully examine ourselves, here are a few spiritual irregularities we should look for under the “ultraviolet light” of God’s Word…
Ulterior motives. This phrase refers to a rationale that differs from our stated reason for action. A God-honoring person will prayerfully seek to uncover those areas where an actual motive differs from what he or she presents to others (see 1 Corinthians 4:4-5).
Double standards. A double standard can be defined as “the habit of treating one group differently than another when both groups should be treated the same.” (1) The New Testament book of Romans cautions us against establishing such double standards in our evaluation of others (see Romans 2:1-3).
Failure to accept responsibility. The Biblical book of Nehemiah provides us with a good example to follow in chronicling the prayer of those who accepted responsibility for past wrongs (see Nehemiah chapter nine).
Blame shifting. Although human beings have been blame shifting from the beginning (see Genesis 3:11-12), this approach only serves to inhibit the spiritual growth of those in positions of accountability who might otherwise learn from their mistakes.
Lack of perception or discernment. If we seek the Lord for the qualities of perception and discernment, we can often avoid misrepresenting Christ to others or inflicting pain upon those who may be hurt by the potential consequences of our words, actions, and/or decisions (see 1 Corinthians 6:1-8).
Finally, one commentator offers a valuable set of parameters that we can use in this regard…
“Paul asks the Corinthians to examine their own lives for evidence of salvation. Such evidence would include trust in Christ (Heb. 3:6), obedience to God (Matt. 7:21), growth in holiness (Heb. 12:14; 1 John 3:3), the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22, 23), love for other Christians (1 John 3:14), positive influence on others (Matt. 5:16), adhering to the apostolic teaching (1 John 4:2), and the testimony of the Holy Spirit within them (Rom. 8:15, 16).” (2)
(1) Definition of “double standard” from the Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary © Cambridge University Press https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/double-standard
(2) Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 2067). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.
Image attribute: By Skleeba [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:MPI_crack_indication.png
“Examine yourselves to see whether you are still in the Christian faith. Test yourselves! Don’t you recognize that you are people in whom Jesus Christ lives? Could it be that you’re failing the test? I hope that you will realize that we haven’t failed the test” (2 Corinthians 13:5-6 GW).
The American humorist Mark Twain is widely credited with the following quote: “Some people are troubled by things in the Bible they can’t understand. What troubles me are the things I can understand.” (1) The passage from 2 Corinthians 13:5-6 quoted above is one portion of Scripture that may fit Twain’s description. You see, these verses may be troublesome but not because they are hard to understand. Instead, they challenge us to engage in the kind of spiritual self-examination that may lead to a difficult question: “…are you just pretending to be Christians when actually you aren’t at all?” (TLB).
For instance, we have already applied this passage to a number of characteristics that are irreflective of God-honoring character. But what if the presence of those characteristics leads us to discover something more foundational- the possibility that our beliefs fail to align with genuine Biblical faith? What are the factors that may indicate we are failing such a test?
Well, one potential indicator would involve a failure to follow the path of spiritual growth described in Acts 2:42 by neglecting to regularly engage in prayer, Bible study, communion, and church attendance. A person who seeks to honor God in these four areas is someone who is well-positioned to pass the test of genuine Christianity.
Another way to gauge the depth of our faith is to measure our adherence to Jesus’ Biblical teachings. As Jesus said in John 14:21, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” The Amplified Version of 1 John 3:7 sheds further light on this idea: “…The one who practices righteousness [the one who strives to live a consistently honorable life—in private as well as in public—and to conform to God’s precepts] is righteous, just as He is righteous.”
Finally, we should remember that “Nothing is hidden from God! He sees through everything, and we will have to tell him the truth” (Hebrews 4:13 CEV). If we prayerfully approach God through Christ with an attitude of humility and respect, we can seek His help as we examine ourselves to determine if we are truly in the faith.
(1) Perhaps spuriously- see here
“We pray to God that you will not do what is wrong by refusing our correction. I hope we won’t need to demonstrate our authority when we arrive. Do the right thing before we come—even if that makes it look like we have failed to demonstrate our authority. For we cannot oppose the truth, but must always stand for the truth” (2 Corinthians 13:7-8 NLT).
The Biblical book of Revelation contains two chapters that consist entirely of letters from Jesus to seven churches that were active during the New Testament era. However, that portion of Scripture contains more than just a series of personal letters; it also holds some important truths for those who are willing to look more closely.
One such letter was addressed to the church that met in a city named Sardis. Unlike some of His messages to the other churches of Revelation chapters two and three, Jesus had nothing good to say to the assembly of Christians in that area: “…I know your works; you have a reputation for being alive, but you are dead” (Revelation 3:1 CSB).
If the church at Sardis were active today, it might be the kind of church that features a dynamic speaker, numerous activities, and a large and growing congregation. While each of those things are good in themselves, the Christians at Sardis had an external reputation for vitality when they were far from where God wanted them in reality. More importantly, Jesus saw the members of that church as they were and not as they seemed to be.
So what does this have to do with 2 Corinthians 13:7-8? Well, it would have been easy for Paul the Apostle to allow the church at Corinth to continue as a growing but spiritually dysfunctional institution. To be known as the founder of a large and growing church may have looked good on Paul’s resume’ but he had a different set of priorities: “We are not concerned with our appearing successful, but with your doing what is right, even if we appear to be failures” (CJB).
Paul wanted the Corinthians to do the right things for the right reasons. Whether Paul was vindicated in his criticisms of the church at Corinth was irrelevant to him. Instead, he was less concerned with external appearances and more concerned with the spiritual growth and maturity of those within the Corinthian fellowship. In doing so, he provides us with the right attitude to emulate both individually and corporately as well.
“For we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth” (2 Corinthians 13:8).
The New Testament gospel of John records a question that Pontius Pilate presented to Jesus just prior to His crucifixion. That question consisted of three words that comprised eleven letters in their entirety. Yet despite it’s brevity, Pilate’s inquiry represents one of the most important questions anyone can ever ask: “What is truth?” (John 18:38).
This question is far more critical than it may seem. You see, if we do not seek to obtain a genuine definition of truth now, someone else will surely try to introduce us to an alternate definition later. In light of this, scholar and apologist Dr. Norman Geisler provides us with an accurate and beneficial definition of truth that warrants a lengthy excerpt…
“…it is helpful to specify more clearly what is meant by ‘truth’ and what would constitute an ‘error.’ By truth we signify that which corresponds to reality. An error, then, is what does not correspond to reality. Truth is telling it like it is. Error is not telling it like it is. Hence, nothing mistaken can be true, even if the author intended his mistake to be true. An error is a mistake, not simply something that is misleading. Otherwise, every sincere utterance ever made is true, even those that were grossly mistaken. Likewise, something is not true simply because it accomplishes its intended purpose, since many lies succeed.
The Bible clearly views truth as that which corresponds to reality. Error is understood as a lack of correspondence to reality, not as intentionally misleading. This is evident from the fact that the word ‘error’ is used of unintentional mistakes (Lev. 4:2). The Bible everywhere implies a correspondence view of truth. For example, when the Ten Commandments declare ‘You shall not bear false testimony’ (Ex. 20:16), it implies that misrepresenting the facts is wrong. Likewise, a correspondence view of truth is used when the Jews said to the governor about Paul, ‘By examining him yourself you will be able to learn the truth about all these charges we are bringing against him.’ In so doing, he adds, ‘You can easily verify the facts’ (cf. Acts 24:8)”. (1)
Finally, one source expands on this statement in 2 Corinthians 13:8 with the following observation: “…to fight against truth, whether ethical or historical or scientific, is to fight against Him who is the Truth, and so is to court defeat. We can do nothing, even if we would, against the truth.’” (2)
(1) Geisler, N. L., & Howe, T. A. (1992). When critics ask : a popular handbook on Bible difficulties (p. 13). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
(2) Ice, Rhoderick D. “Commentary on 2 Corinthians 13:8”. “The Bible Study New Testament”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ice/2-corinthians-13.html. College Press, Joplin, MO. 1974.
“For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. And this also we pray, that you may be made complete. Therefore I write these things being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness, according to the authority which the Lord has given me for edification and not for destruction” (2 Corinthians 13:9-10).
A brief examination of the Apostle Paul’s life will quickly uncover some of his astounding credentials. For instance, Paul was the human agent who was responsible for producing a significant portion of the books that comprise the New Testament Scriptures. He spoke before some of the leading political and religious figures of his day. He was given a personal vision of paradise and the ability to perform unusual miracles. Through the Biblical books that bear his name, Paul’s writings have influenced countless lives over the past twenty centuries. In fact, it may be said that Paul has had a greater impact on human history than any person who has ever lived other than Jesus.
In light of these things, it is fascinating to consider Paul’s incredibly humble statement in 2 Corinthians 13:9: “We are glad to be weak if it means that you are strong. Our ambition for you is true Christian maturity” (Phillips). This tells us that Paul could look beyond his personal reputation to focus upon something that was far more important.
In this instance, Paul was willing to accept the perception of weakness if it led to spiritual growth and maturity among the members of the Corinthian church. Paul’s experience reminds us that we may sometimes be asked to endure a less-than-ideal circumstance if it serves to benefit others. However, this concept also applies to those periods of blessings we experience as well.
For instance, Israel’s king David was among the most powerful men on earth in his day. Despite this, the Scriptures record the following acknowledgment regarding David’s attitude: “…David realized that the LORD had confirmed him as king over Israel and had blessed his kingdom for the sake of his people Israel” (2 Samuel 5:12). So while God surely blessed David on a personal level, David also recognized the fact that his status as a monarch meant more than just a blessing for himself; he also understood that he had been blessed for the sake of others as well.
The same is just as true for us as it was Paul and David. Whether we receive weakness, authority, or something in-between, we can maintain the right perspective if we pause to remember an important truth: the way we address the circumstances of our lives can often have a positive spiritual impact upon others.
“Finally, brethren, farewell. Become complete. Be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you” (2 Corinthians 13:11).
As we approach the end of this letter to the Corinthian church, Paul the Apostle will close with a few final exhortations. One source reports that there are five imperative verbs here in 1 Corinthians 13:11 (1) and it appears that Paul wanted to leave a definite impact upon his readers with these last remaining words. In light of this, let’s take a closer look at the exhortations within this passage…
Farewell. While this may seem to be a nondescript way to end a letter, there is more behind this statement than just a simple “goodbye.” In the original language, this word is variously defined as to rejoice exceedingly, to be well, or to thrive. (2) So despite the Corinthians’ demonstrated lack of respect and appreciation for Paul, he remained steadfast in his desire for them to flourish and excel.
Become complete. This phrase suggests the idea of something that has been repaired or mended. It can also refer to something that has been put in order, arranged, or adjusted. (3) Although there was much that was broken within the Corinthian fellowship, Paul continued to encourage them to mend their ways. This also brings to mind a quote from the New Testament epistle of James…
“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4).
The Corinthians had endured their share of spiritual difficulties (many of which were self-inflicted) but James identifies a few of the spiritual benefits they could take from those experiences- benefits such as perseverance, maturity, and completeness. While the Corinthians had been challenged in their collective walk with Christ, God had the ability to use those things to facilitate their spiritual growth and maturity- or as Paul reminded the church at Rome, “…we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Even if the circumstances appear otherwise, these passages remind us that God is able to make all things work together for our ultimate benefit. To quote from another of Paul’s New Testament epistles, “…He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).
(1) The Bible Study Textbook Series, Studies In Second Corinthians (College Press) Paul T. Butler. [p. 445] Copyright © 1985 College Press Publishing Company https://archive.org/stream/BibleStudyTextbookSeriesSecondCorinthians/132Corinthians-Butler_djvu.txt
(2) G5463 chairo Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?t=kjv&strongs=g5463
(3) G2675 katartizo Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?t=kjv&strongs=g2675
“Dear brothers and sisters, I close my letter with these last words: Be joyful. Grow to maturity. Encourage each other. Live in harmony and peace. Then the God of love and peace will be with you” (2 Corinthians 13:11 NLT).
The list of imperatives here in 2 Corinthians 13:11 continues with an exhortation to be of good comfort or, encourage one another as we read in the version quoted above. In addition to the qualities of comfort, encouragement, and consolation, this concept also involves the act of admonishing, teaching, or instructing others, thus giving this phrase a wide-ranging application. (1)
So this brings us back to where we began in our look at the book of 2 Corinthians. You see, the opening verses of this letter began with an expression of praise for “…the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (1 Corinthians 1:3-4). Now this letter closes with an encouragement to express those virtues in our relationships with others.
This exhortation is followed with a directive to “live in harmony” or to “be like-minded” (NASB). This does not necessarily imply that every Christian must share the same viewpoint on every subject. Nor does it mean that two Christians of good conscience cannot reach different conclusions on a variety of questions. Instead, a closer look at the internal dynamics of the first-century Corinthian church can help us find the best way to apply this instruction.
Remember that the members of the Corinthian fellowship struggled with the issue of divisions within the church. Therefore, this passage served to remind the original audience for this letter (along with modern-day readers of this epistle) that unity in Christ far outweighs such disagreements. This issue is so important that similar exhortations are found within the New Testament books of Romans (12:16-18), Philippians (2:2), and 1 Peter (3:8) as well.
Finally, this passage offers a corresponding reminder to “…live peacefully with each other” (CEV). One commentator offers further insight into this idea with the following observation: “This Greek term has many connotations… but in this context it is parallel to ‘be made complete.’ This refers to unity for the sake of the gospel. This is not asserting that believers must agree about every issue, but that they must disagree in love and that the gospel should always have priority over personal opinions or preferences!” (2)
(1) G3870 parakaleo Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?t=kjv&strongs=g3870
(2) Dr. Bob Utley, Free Bible Commentary 2 Corinthians [13:11] Copyright ©2014 by Bible Lessons International http://www.freebiblecommentary.org/new_testament_studies/VOL06/VOL06B_13.html
“Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice, set things right, be encouraged, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you” (2 Corinthians 13:11 NET).
“Peace” is a word that is often easy to use but may be difficult to define. For instance, “peace” generally implies a sense of contentment and/or well being. This can apply to the absence of external hostilities or internal conflicts like anxiety or insecurity. So a person who is free from internal or external discord is someone who is likely to be “at peace.”
The problem is that peace can be an elusive thing. In fact, peace can be so elusive that some people stop searching for it entirely. Those who do so may respond with an attempt to anesthetize their lack of peace through alcohol abuse, drug use (prescription or illicit), the accumulation of money, possessions, or relationships, or by engaging in any number of self-help strategies that seem to have merit but ultimately fail to address the underlying issues.
Those underlying issues (whatever they may be) are ultimately traceable back to the conflict that exists between human beings and their Creator– and the road to genuine peace begins with faith in Christ.
Nevertheless, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the epistle of 2 Corinthians was written to the members of the church in Corinth. The fact that these Corinthian Christians had to be encouraged to live in peace with one another implies that there were some within the church who failed to do so. Of course, this problem was not exclusive to the church at Corinth for Paul the Apostle issued similar reminders to the churches in Philippi and Thessalonica as well.
The New Testament book of Romans provides us with some important counsel on this subject…
“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:17-19 NIV).
So living in peace with everyone (especially with other members of God’s family) may sometimes require us to overlook faults, ignore slights (intentional or otherwise), or accept a loss even if we are in the right. As Jesus said in Matthew 18:20, “…where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” and this unity in Christ is more important than those differences we may have with one another.
“Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you” (2 Corinthians 13:12-13).
The “kiss” referenced in this passage represented a customary form of greeting in the Biblical era and remains common among many Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cultures today. Biblical allusions to this form of greeting appear quite regularly within the pages of the Scriptures as one source observes…
“Other references to (this form of greeting) in the New Testament are Rom. 15:16, 1 Cor. 16:20, 1 Thess. 5:26, and 1 Peter 5:14. Peter called it the “kiss of love”; but it is called the “holy kiss” elsewhere. This form of brotherly greeting, however, existed long before Christianity. Jesus rebuked the Pharisee for withholding the customary kiss of greeting (Luke 7:45), and Judas used it treacherously in the betrayal (Mark 14:44f)…” (1)
This portion of Scripture provides us with an opportunity to review the concept of “principle vs. practice” that we referenced earlier in book of 1 Corinthians. For instance, let’s consider this directive to “Greet one another with a holy kiss” in a 21st century context. Do we violate this Biblical imperative if current-day social or cultural norms prohibit us from greeting one another in this manner? Well, one scholar addresses that question in the following way…
“…there is a difference between command and culture. The commands of Scripture are absolute—culture is relative. For example, few believe that Jesus’ command to His disciples not to have an extra pair of sandals with them while on an evangelistic tour applies today. And most Christians do not literally ‘Greet all the brethren with a holy kiss’ anymore (1 Thes. 5:26). Nor do they believe that ‘lifting up holy hands in prayer’ is essential to public prayer (1 Tim. 2:8).
There is a principle behind all these commands that is absolute, but the practice is not. What Christians must do is absolute, but how they do it is culturally relative. For example, Christians must greet one another (the what), but how they greet each other will be relative to their respective cultures. In some cultures, as in the NT, it will be with a kiss, in others with a hug, and in still others with a handshake.” (2)
So our interaction with other Christians should be conducted in a manner that is suited to both the culture and the individual. You see, a greeting that makes another person uncomfortable is hardly one that conforms to the idea of a “holy kiss.” In those instances, it would be suitable to use an alternate form of greeting that signifies mutual acceptance and respect.
(1) Coffman, James Burton. “Commentary on 2 Corinthians 13”. “Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament”. <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=2co&chapter=013>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
(2) When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved.
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen” (2 Corinthians 13:14).
The final verse of this letter to the Corinthian church ends with a benediction from the Apostle Paul. The word “benediction” finds its origin in two Latin words: bene (or “well”) and dicere (“to speak”). Much like its appearance at the end of this epistle, a benediction is comprised of a short invocation that typically ends a worship service or public ceremony and seeks God’s blessing upon a church fellowship, a newly married couple, or a general assembly of people.
Perhaps the most famous Old Testament benediction can be found in the priestly blessing of Numbers 6:24-26: “The Lord bless thee, and keep thee: The Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace” (KJV). The New Testament parallel to that Old Testament benediction is found here in 2 Corinthians 13:14.
This final verse represents the only portion of Scripture where the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are mentioned together in such a manner. Thus, we are reminded of the unmerited favor demonstrated through Jesus’ sacrificial offering, the love displayed by the Father through Christ, and the fellowship we now enjoy with God through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
One source offers the following observation that captures the all-encompassing nature of this great blessing…
“This is the only one of Paul’s epistles which he closes with such a full Trinitarian benediction. Nevertheless, it fully reveals his faith in the tri-unity of the Godhead, a doctrine absolutely unique to Christianity among all the varied religions and philosophies of the world. It is also a doctrine vital to the true Christian life, for each Person is vitally involved in the creation, redemption, guidance and ultimate glorification of each believer.” (1)
So this brings us to the end of our look at the Corinthian epistles. While the church at Corinth was a deeply troubled church in many respects. we should be thankful that God saw fit to address the issues that existed within that congregation through the pen of Paul the Apostle. This record of the challenges faced by the Corinthian church has helped untold numbers of people and for that, we are deeply indebted.
Nevertheless, there is one final question to address regarding this letter to the Corinthian church and we’ll do so in the epilogue that follows.
(1) Institute for Creation Research, New Defender’s Study Bible Notes [2 Corinthians 13:14] http://www.icr.org/books/defenders/7606
“The grace (favor and spiritual blessing) of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the presence and fellowship (the communion and sharing together, and participation) in the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen (so be it)” (2 Corinthians 13:14 AMPC).
Our look at the Biblical epistles of 1 and 2 Corinthians leaves one final question unanswered- how did the members of the church at Corinth respond to these messages from Paul the Apostle?
Well, two commentators answer that question in a manner that brings an encouraging sense of closure to the sometimes tumultuous and difficult relationship between Paul and the members of the Corinthian church…
“Evidently Paul’s anticipated visit to Corinth turned out to be a pleasant one. Paul wrote Romans during the three months he was in Corinth (Acts 20:2-3, A.D. 56-57). In that epistle, he gave no indication that there were problems in Corinth. Moreover, he proceeded with his plans to evangelize unreached areas, which he would not have done if the Corinthian church still needed his attention (cf. 10:14-16).
Furthermore, Paul wrote that the Corinthians (believers in Macedonia and Achaia) ‘were pleased’ to complete their collection for the Jerusalem saints (Rom. 15:26-27). Finally, the Corinthian church’s preservation of 2 Corinthians argues for this church’s acquiescence to Paul’s admonitions and warnings.” (1)
“Did the Corinthians respond positively to Paul’s warning? Yes. Paul had conditioned the expansion of his ministry in other areas on the problems in Corinth being resolved (2Co_10:15-16). He followed the writing of this letter with a visit of three months during which time he wrote the letter to the Romans. In that letter he wrote “Now… there is no more place for me to work in these regions” (Rom_15:23). His appeal had been heeded. The Corinthians were now obedient.” (2)
(1) Constable, Thomas. DD. Notes on 2 Corinthians 2017 Edition (13:9-10) “http://www.planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/html/nt/2corinthians/2corinthians.htm” Copyright © 2017 Thomas L. Constable.
(2) John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, Bible Knowledge Commentary V. Conclusion (13:11-14) [p. 585] ® 1983 John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck