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Bible Commentaries

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible
2 Corinthians 13

 

 

Verse 1

1.This will be the third. He goes on to reprove still farther the insolence of those of whom he had been speaking, some of whom living in profligacy and licentiousness, and others, carrying on contentions and strifes among themselves, cared nothing for his reproof. For his discourse did not apply to the entire body of the Church, but to certain diseased and half-rotten members of it. Hence he now, with greater freedom, uses sharpness, because he has to do with particular individuals, not with the whole body of the people, and besides this, it was with persons of such a stamp, that he perceived, that he would do them no good by kindness, and mild remedies. After having spent a year and a half among them, (Acts 18:11,) he had visited them a second time. Now he forewarns them, that he will come to them a third time, and he says, that his three comings to them will be in the place of three witnesses. He quotes the law as to the authority of witnesses; not in the natural and literal sense, as it is termed, but by accommodation, (943) or similitude, applying it to his particular purpose.

“The declaration of the law,” says he, “is, that we must rest on the testimony of two or three witnesses for putting an end to disputes.” (944) (Deuteronomy 19:15.)

For the word established means that a decision is pronounced respecting a matter, that the strife may cease. “I, indeed, am but one individual, but coming a third time I shall have the authority of three witnesses, or, my three comings will be in the place of three testimonies.” For the threefold effort that was made for their welfare, and perseverance, as made trial of on three different occasions, might, with good reason, be held equivalent to three persons.


Verse 2

2.I told you before, and foretell you. The friendly and agreeable admonitions, that he had addressed to them so frequently, had been of no advantage. He, accordingly, betakes himself to a more severe remedy, with which he had previously threatened them in words when present with them. When we see him act with so much strictness, we need have no doubt, that they were surprisingly ungovernable and obstinate; for it appears from his writings, what mildness, and what unwearied patience he was otherwise prepared to manifest. As, however, it is the part of a good parent to forgive and bear with many things, so it is the part of a foolish parent, and one that has no proper regard for the welfare of his children, to neglect to use severity, when there is occasion for it, and to mingle strictness with mildness. We are well aware, that nothing is more hurtful than excessive indulgence (945) Let us, therefore, use mildness, when we can safely do so, and that too, dignified and properly regulated: let us act with greater severity, when necessity requires.

It is asked, however, why it was, that the Apostle allowed himself to expose the particular faults of individuals in so open a manner, as in a manner to point his finger at the very persons? I answer, that he would never have done so, if the sins had been hid, but as they were manifest to all, and matter of notoriety, so as to furnish a pernicious example, it was necessary that he should not spare the authors of a public scandal. (946)

It is asked, secondly, what kind of chastisement he threatens to inflict upon them, as he could scarcely chastise them more severely in words. I have no doubt that he means, that he will inflict punishment upon them by excommunication. For what is more to be dreaded, than being cut off from the body of Christ, expelled from the kingdom of God, and delivered over to Satan for destruction, (1 Corinthians 5:5,) unless you repent?


Verse 3

3.Since ye seek a proof A twofold meaning may be drawn from these words. The first is, “Since you wish to try me, whether I speak of myself, or whether Christ speaks by me;and in this way Chrysostom, and Ambrose, explain it. I am rather inclined, however, to understand him as declaring, that it does not so much concern himself as Christ, when his authority is detracted from — that when his admonitions are despised, Christ’s patience is tried. “It is Christ that speaks by me; when therefore, you bring my doctrine under your lash, it is not so much to me as to him that you do injury.”

Some one, however, will object thus: “What! Will a man’s doctrine, then, be exempted from all investigation, so soon as he makes it his boast, that he has Christ as his authority? And what false prophet will not make this his boast? What distinction, then, will there be between truth and falsehood, and what will, in that case, become of that injunction:

Try the spirits, whether they are of God.” (1 John 4:1.)

Every objection of this nature Paul anticipates, when he says that Christ has wrought efficaciously in them by his ministry. For these two clauses, Christ speaking in me, and, who is mighty in you, not weak, must be read in connection, in this sense: “Christ, by exercising his power towards you in my doctrine, has declared that he spoke by my mouth, so that you have no excuse on the ground of ignorance.”

We see, that he does not merely boast in words, but proves in reality that Christ speaks in him, and he convinces the Corinthians, before requiring them to give him credit. Whoever, then, will speak in the Church, whatever be the title that he claims for himself, it will be allowable to inquire as to his doctrine, until Christ has manifested himself in him, and thus it will not be of Christ that judgment will be formed, but of the man. When, however, it is apparent, that it is the word of God that is advanced, what Paul says holds good — that it is God himself who is not believed (947) Moses spake with the same confidence. (Numbers 16:11.)

What are we — I and Aaron? You are tempting God.

In like manner, Isaiah:

Is it too small a thing that you grieve men,
unless you grieve my God also? (
Isaiah 7:13.)

For there is no more room for shuffling, when it has been made apparent, that it is a minister of God that speaks, and that he discharges his office faithfully. I return to Paul. As the confirmation of his ministry had been so decided among the Corinthians, inasmuch as the Lord had shown himself openly, it is not to be wondered, if he takes it so much amiss, that he meets with resistance. On good grounds, truly, (948) might he throw back upon them, as he does, the reproach, that they were rebels against Christ.


Verse 4

4.For though he was crucified. He speaks, with particular intention, of Christ’s abasement, with the view of intimating indirectly, (949) that nothing was despised in him, but what they would have been prepared to despise, also, in Christ himself, inasmuch as he

emptied himself, even to the death of the cross.
(
Philippians 2:8.)

He shows, however, at the same time, how absurd it is to despise in Christ (950) the abasement of the cross, inasmuch as it is conjoined with the incomparable glory of his resurrection. “Shall Christ be esteemed by you the less, because he showed signs of weakness in his death, as if his heavenly life, that he leads subsequently to his resurrection, were not a clear token of his Divine power?” For as the term flesh here means Christ’s human nature, (951) so the word God is taken here to denote his Divinity.

Here, however, a question arises — whether Christ labored under such infirmity as to be subjected to necessity against his will; for, what we suffer through weakness, we suffer from constraint, and not from our own choice. As the Arians of old abused this pretext for effectually opposing the divinity of Christ, the orthodox Fathers gave this explanation of it — that it was effected by appointment, inasmuch as Christ so desired, and not from his being constrained by any necessity. This answer is true, provided it be properly understood. There are some, however, that mistakenly extend the appointment to Christ’s human will — as if this were not the condition of his nature, but a permission contrary to his nature. For example: “His dying,” they say, “did not happen because his humanity was, properly speaking, liable to death, but by appointment, because he chose to die.” I grant, indeed, that he died, because he chose to do so; but, whence came this choice, but from this — that he had, of his own accord, clothed himself with a mortal nature (952) If, however, we make Christ’s human nature so unlike ours, the main support of our faith is overturned. Let us, therefore, understand it in this way — that Christ suffered by appointment, not by constraint, because, being in the form of God he could have exempted himself from this necessity, but, nevertheless, he suffered through weakness, because he emptied himself (Philippians 2:6.)

We are weak in him. To be weak in Christ means here to be a partaker of Christ’s weakness. Thus he makes his own weakness glorious, because in it he is conformed to Christ, and he no longer shrinks back from the disgrace, that he has in common with the Son of God; but, in the mean time, he says that he will live towards them after Christ’s example. “I also,” says he, “will be a partaker of Christ’s life, after I shall have been exempted from weakness.” (953) To weakness he opposes life, and, accordingly, he understands by this term a condition that is flourishing, and full of honor. (954) The clause towards you may also be taken in connection with the power of God, but it is of no importance, as the meaning always remains the same — that the Corinthians, when they began to judge aright, would have respectful and honorable views of the power of God, which was in Paul, and would no longer despise outward infirmity.


Verse 5

5.Try yourselves. He confirms, what he had stated previously — that Christ’s power showed itself openly in his ministry. For he makes them the judges of this matter, provided they descend, as it were, into themselves, and acknowledge what they had received from him. In the first place, as there is but one Christ, it must be of necessity, that the same Christ must dwell alike in minister and people. Now, dwelling in the people, how will he deny himself in the minister. (955) Farther, he had shown his power in Paul’s preaching, in such a manner that it could be no longer doubtful or obscure to the Corinthians, if they were not altogether stupid. (956) For, whence had they faith? whence had they Christ? whence, in fine, had they every thing? It is with good reason, therefore, that they are called to look into themselves, that they may discover there, what they despise as a thing unknown. Then only has a minister a true and well grounded assurance for the approbation of his doctrine, when he can appeal to the consciences of those whom he has taught, that, if they have any thing of Christ, and of sincere piety, they may be constrained to acknowledge his fidelity. We are now in possession of Paul’s object.

This passage, however, is deserving of particular observation on two accounts. For, in the first place, it shows the relation, (957) which subsists between the faith of the people, and the preaching of the minister — that the one is the mother, that produces and brings forth, and the other is the daughter, that ought not to forget her origin. (958) In the second place, it serves to prove the assurance of faith, as to which the Sorbonnic sophists have made us stagger, nay more, have altogether rooted out from the minds of men. They charge with rashness all that are persuaded that they are the members of Christ, and have Him remaining in them, for they bid us be satisfied with a “moral conjecture,” (959) as they call it — that is, with a mere opinion (960) so that our consciences remain constantly in suspense, and in a state of perplexity. But what does Paul say here? He declares, that all are reprobates, who doubt whether they profess Christ and are a part of His body. Let us, therefore, reckon that alone to be right faith, which leads us to repose in safety in the favor of God, with no wavering opinion, but with a firm and steadfast assurance.

Unless by any means you are reprobates. He gives them in a manner their choice, whether they would rather be reprobates, than give due testimony to his ministry; for he leaves them no alternative, but either to show respect to his Apostleship, or to allow that they are reprobates. For, unquestionably, their faith had been founded upon his doctrine, and they had no other Christ, than they had received from him, and no other gospel than what they had embraced, as delivered to them by him, so that it were vain for them to attempt to separate any part of their salvation from his praise.


Verse 6

6.I hope that you shall know He presses them still more urgently, while indulging this confident persuasion — that he will not be rejected by the Corinthians. One of two things was necessary — that they should either assign to Paul the honor due to an Apostle, or condemn themselves for unbelief, and acknowledge that they have no Church. He softens, however, the severity of the statement, by making use of the expression — I hope; but in such a manner as to remind them the better of their duty; for to disappoint the hopes that have been entertained as to our integrity, is excessively cruel. “I hope,” says he, “that you shall know — when you have been restored to a sound mind.” He prudently, however, says nothing as to himself in this second clause, calling them to consider God’s benefits, by which they had been distinguished; nay more, he puts their salvation in the place of his authority.


Verse 7

7.I desire before God. Again he declares, that he cares nothing for his own honor, but is simply desirous of promoting their advantage. For nothing was so undesirable for them, as to deprive themselves of advantage from his doctrine — as they had begun to do, through their pride and contempt. “As to myself,” says he, “for my reputation among men, I am not concerned. My only fear is, lest you should offend God. Nay more, I am prepared to be as a reprobate, provided you are free from all blame.” “I am a reprobate,” says he, “in the judgment of mankind, who very frequently reject those who are deserving of the highest honor.” (961) At the same time, the particle as is not superfluous. For it corresponds with what he says elsewhere — as deceivers and yet true. (2 Corinthians 6:8.) And this, certainly, is the true rule — that the Pastor, having no regard to himself, should be devoted exclusively to the edification of the Church. Let him be concerned as to his own reputation, in so far as he sees it to be conducive to the public advantage. Let him be prepared to feel indifferent to it, whenever he may do so, without public disadvantage.


Verse 8

8.For we can do nothing: That is — “I do not seek, or desire any other power, than what the Lord has conferred upon me, that I may promote the truth. To false Apostles it is all one, provided they have power; and they feel no concern to make use of their power for the promotion of what is good.” In short, he defends and maintains the honor of his ministry, in so far as it is connected with the truth of God. “What does it matter to me? For unless I have in view to promote the truth, all the power that I shall claim will be false and groundless. If, however, I lay out, whatever I have, for the promotion of the truth, I, in that case, do not consult my own interest. Now, when the authority of doctrine is safe, and truth is uninjured, I have what I desire. In contending, therefore, so keenly, I am not influenced by any exclusive regard for myself personally.” By this consideration, however, he intimates, that the man, who fights and labors for the truth alone will not take it amiss, should occasion require it, to be regarded in the judgment of men as a reprobate, provided this does not interfere with the glory of God, the edification of the Church, and the authority of sound doctrine.

This passage must be carefully observed, because it limits the power, which the Pastors of the Church should have, and fixes its proper bounds — that they be ministers of the truth. Papists loudly tell us, that it is said,

He that heareth you, heareth me;
he that despiseth you, despiseth me, (
Luke 10:16);

and likewise:

Obey them that are set over you, (Hebrews 13:17);

and under this pretext they take to themselves the utmost liberty, so as to usurp unbounded dominion, while they are, at the same time, the avowed and sworn enemies of the truth, and aim at its destruction by every means in their power. For exposing such impudence, this one statement of Paul will suffice — which declares, that they must themselves be in subjection to the truth. (962)


Verse 9

9.For, we rejoice. Either the causal particle γὰρ, (for,) must be taken as meaning — therefore; or it is a second reason, why he does not refuse to be regarded as a reprobate — for their sake, and with a view to their advantage. Let the reader select whichever he may choose, for it is of no consequence. (963) When he says, Provided you are strong, I shall willingly submit to be reckoned weak, there is an antithesis in the words — not in the meaning; for weakness means here, as formerly, (2 Corinthians 13:4,) contempt. On the other hand, he means that the Corinthians will be strong, if they are full of the power and grace of God.

And this also, He now again repeats, what he had already stated several times, that he was from necessity — not from his own inclination, more severe than they would have wished; and farther, that by this means, too, (964) he spared them, that he might not be constrained to resort to severer measures, when he was present with them.

The perfection, of which he speaks, consists in a fit proportion, and sound condition, of all the members. Now (965) he alludes to good physicians, who cure particular diseases in such a way as not in any part to mutilate the body; (966) and, as he is concerned to secure a perfection of this nature, he says, that, for that reason, he provides against the necessity of having recourse to severer measures. (967) For we see, that those, who at first shrink back from the slight pain, or uneasy feeling of a plaster, are at length constrained to endure the torture of burning, or amputating, and that, too, where the issue is extremely doubtful. (968)


Verse 10

10.According to the power In the first place, he arms the strictness of which he speaks, with the authority of God, that it may not appear to be thunder without lightning, or a rashly excited onset. (970) Farther, he lets them know, that he would rather employ his power to another purpose, for which it was peculiarly designed — the promoting of their edification. “I shall not rashly have recourse to cruel remedies, nor will I give indulgence to my passion, but will simply execute the commission that the Lord has given me.”

When he speaks of power given him for edification, and not for destruction, he employs these terms for a somewhat different purpose from what he had done previously in 2 Corinthians 10:8. For in that passage there was a commendation of the Gospel from the advantage it yields — because what is for our advantage is wont to be agreeable, and is willingly received by us. Here, however, he simply means to declare, that although he might justly inflict upon the Corinthians a severe blow, yet it was much more his inclination to exercise his power for their advantage, than for their destruction — the former being its proper design. For as the Gospel, in its own nature, is the power of God unto salvation, (Romans 1:16,) and an odor of life unto life, (2 Corinthians 2:15,) but in a way of contingency, is an odor of death; so the authority, which is conferred upon the Ministers of it, ought to be salutary to the hearers. If, on the other hand, it turns out to their condemnation, that is contrary to its nature. The meaning, therefore, is this: “Do not, through your own fault, allow that to turn to your destruction, which God has appointed for salvation.” In the mean time, the Apostle admonishes all pastors by his example, in what manner they should limit the use of their power.


Verse 11

11.Finally, brethren He qualifies whatever there has been of sharpness throughout the whole of the epistle, as he did not wish to leave their minds in an exasperated state, (971) but rather to soothe them. For then only are reproofs beneficial, when they are in a manner seasoned with honey, that the hearer may, if possible, receive them in an agreeable spirit. At the same time, he appears to turn from a few diseased persons (972) to the entire Church. Hence he declares, that he aims at promoting its perfection, and desires its consolation.

To be of one mind, and to live in peace, are expressions which mean two different things; for the one takes its rise from the other. The former relates to agreement of sentiment; the latter denotes benevolence, and union of hearts.

And the God of peace This he adds, that his exhortation may have more weight with them, but, at the same time, he intimates that God will be with us, if we cultivate peace among ourselves; but that those that are at variance with each other are at a distance from him. (973) For where there are strifes and contentions, there, it is certain, the devil reigns.

Now what agreement is there between light and darkness?
(
2 Corinthians 6:14.)

He calls him the God of peace and love, because he has recommended to us peace and love, because he loves them, and is the author of them. Of the kiss here mentioned we have spoken in the two preceding Epistles.


Verse 14

14.The grace of the Lord Jesus. He closes the Epistle with a prayer, which contains three clauses, in which the sum of our salvation consists. In the first place, he desires for them the grace of Christ; secondly, the love of God; and, thirdly, the communion of the Spirit The term grace does not here mean unmerited favor, but is taken by metonymy, to denote the whole benefit of redemption. The order, however, may appear to be here inverted, because the love of God is placed second, while it is the source of that grace, and hence it is first in order. I answer, that the arrangement of terms in the Scriptures is not always so very exact; but, at the same time, this order, too, corresponds with the common form of doctrine, which is contained in the Scriptures — that

when we were enemies to God,
we were reconciled by the death of his Son, (
Romans 5:10,)

though the Scripture is wont to speak of this in two ways. For it sometimes declares what I have quoted from Paul — that there was enmity between us and God, before we were reconciled through Christ. On the other hand, we hear what John says — that

God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, etc. (John 3:16.)

The statements are apparently opposite; but it is easy to reconcile them; because in the one case we look to God, and in the other to ourselves. For God, viewed in himself, loved us before the creation of the world, and redeemed us for no other reason than this — because he loved us. As for us, on the other hand, as we see in ourselves nothing but occasion of wrath, that is, sin, we cannot apprehend any love of God towards us without a Mediator. Hence it is that, with respect to us, the beginning of love is from the grace of Christ. According to the former view of the matter, Paul would have expressed himself improperly, had he put the love of God before the grace of Christ, or, in other words, the cause before the effect; but according to the latter, it were a suitable arrangement to begin with the grace of Christ, which was the procuring cause of God’s adopting us into the number of his sons, and honoring us with his love, whom previously he regarded with hatred and abhorrence on account of sin.

The fellowship of the Holy Spirit is added, because it is only under his guidance, that we come to possess Christ, and all his benefits. He seems, however, at the same time, to allude to the diversity of gifts, of which he had made mention elsewhere, (2 Corinthians 12:11;) because God does not give the Spirit to every one in a detached way, but distributes to each according to the measure of grace, that the members of the Church, by mutually participating, one with another, may cherish unity.

 


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Bibliography Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 13:4". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/2-corinthians-13.html. 1840-57.

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Wednesday, June 3rd, 2020
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
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