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Bible Commentaries
2 Corinthians 13

Contending for the FaithContending for the Faith

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Verse 1

Warning of Impenitent Behavior

This is the third time I am coming to you. In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.

This is the third time I am coming to you: With this second recorded letter to the Corinthians coming to a close, Paul now prepares for another visit to Corinth by issuing a few closing commands and words of encouragement. Acts 18:1-18 records Paul’s first visit to Corinth. Even though there is no record of Paul’s second visit, there had to have been one because he now speaks of a "third" visit. He is presently making preparations for this third visit as he says, "Behold, the third time I am ready to come to you; and I will not be burdensome to you: for I seek not yours, but you: for the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children" (12:14).

As he has done so many times throughout this letter, Paul pleads with the errant Christians to make essential changes so that his third visit will be beneficial and not hostile. McGarvey says, "The apostle here declares that patience has reached its just limit. Twice he has been present and has forborne, but at the third coming he will handle them with rigorous discipline" (240). In 1 Corinthians, Paul spoke the same message: "What do you want? Shall I come to you with a rod, or in love and a spirit of gentleness?" (4:21 NKJV). He has refrained from returning to Corinth and has now written two recorded letters giving instructions in hopes he will not have to punish any of the Corinthian Christians. Earlier in this letter, Paul has said, "Moreover I call God as witness against my soul, that to spare you I came no more to Corinth" (1:23 NKJV).

In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established: Paul has reference to potentially having to punish unrepentant Christians for committing such sins as he has just named in the previous verses where he says:

For I fear, lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I would, and that I shall be found unto you such as ye would not: lest there be debates, envyings, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults: And lest, when I come again, my God will humble me among you, and that I shall bewail many which have sinned already, and have not repented of the uncleanness and fornication and lasciviousness which they have committed (12:20-21).

There are no doubts in Paul’s mind about the guilt of these Corinthians; therefore, he notifies them beforehand that he already has the witnesses needed to prove their guilt. The expression "the mouth of two or three witnesses" is a well-known expression to Paul’s readers. He is actually referring to an Old Testament command of Moses that demands the need to have more than one witness to prove the guilt of another: "One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established" (Deuteronomy 19:15). Regarding a brother who wrongs another brother, Jesus speaks of a similar law for His followers, saying, "But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established" (Matthew 18:16). The word "established" (histemi), as used in this context, means to "stand firm (or) to hold one’s ground" (BAG 383). Therefore, Paul’s plea is for the sinful Corinthians to repent of their sins before his arrival because he already has the necessary two or more witnesses to hold up the charges made against them.

Verse 2

I told you before, and foretell you, as if I were present, the second time; and being absent now I write to them which heretofore have sinned, and to all other, that, if I come again, I will not spare:

Paul speaks directly to the impenitent Corinthians as he reminds them, "I told you before," referring to warnings he gave them during his second visit. Now he gives them a warning about what will happen if he comes to them again and they have not repented. The words "foretell you" (prolego) mean he warns them "in advance" (BAG 715) as well as "all others" who are found in sin when he comes: they will be subject to his righteous wrath. He tells them, "if I come again, I will not spare." Gould says:

The threefold repetition of the idea of "before," which in Greek is expressed each time by the same word, is a thorough specimen of the apostle’s style. So far as it is an involved style, it is quite Greek, and not Hebrew. The first "before," means before now; the second, "beforehand," (foretell wmb) means before the event, a foretelling; the third, "heretofore," means before now (223).

Paul uses this word translated "spare" (pheidomai) to mean he will not "refrain" (BAG 862) from punishing them for their sins. In essence, Paul is saying, "I have warned you over and over again, I have given you many opportunities and, now, enough is enough; therefore, without immediate repentance, when I come the spiritual punishment will be severe." Hughes explains in detail:

…the purpose of the issuing of this final warning is to allow them one more opportunity to repent and mend their ways; for he is still hopeful that they will respond with humility and obedience and so make it unnecessary for him to descend on them with a display of severity (477).

Verse 3

Since ye seek a proof of Christ speaking in me, which to you-ward is not weak, but is mighty in you.

Since ye seek a proof of Christ speaking in me: Paul here gives justification for his severe warning. The justification is that he has already forewarned the unrepentant Christians that he "will not spare" (13:2) them when he arrives in Corinth unless they repent. The purpose of what might appear to be an excessive, harsh and demanding warning from Paul actually comes from their own persistence. They have insisted that Paul present proof that his teaching is from the authority of Jesus. The word "proof" (dokime) means "trustiness" (Strong 1382) or trustworthiness. Thayer defines "proof" as "a specimen of tried worth" (154).

which to you-ward is not weak, but is mighty in you: In essence, these Corinthians once again are expressing doubt of Paul’s apostleship. Therefore, the severeness of Paul’s warning and his lack of weakness in his actions when he arrives will silence their challenge of his apostolic authority and will at the same time silence their doubt of the power of Jesus working in Paul’s teachings. If, in fact, Paul is forced to carry out his warning and punish the unrepentant Christians, this very act will prove the lack of weakness in Paul and the "mighty" power of Jesus Christ working in him. Bratcher states clearly:

Christ is powerful in his dealing with the members of his body. In the context, Christ’s power in doing this will be manifested in Paul: he will have Christ’s power as he deals with the sins of the Corinthian Christians (143).

Verse 4

For though he was crucified through weakness, yet he liveth 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.

For though he was crucified through weakness, yet he liveth by the power of God: As in the previous verses referring to Paul, the same is true with Jesus; the word "weakness" (astheneia) refers to the feebleness of the physical body. "Weakness," as used here is the "frailty to which all human flesh is heir … (Jesus) was crucified as a result of his weakness (His weak nature)" (BAG 114); and "power’ (dunamis) means "work" (Strong 1411), that is, Jesus through weakness died, but through the "power of God," He lives again and forever.

For we also are weak in him, but we shall live with him by the power of God toward you: Paul emphasizes here that as an apostle of Jesus he is in union with Jesus, meaning he follows the same pattern Jesus would in dealing with the unrepentant sinner. "The period between the Lord’s two comings is the season of opportunity for all to avail themselves of the longsuffering of the Lord and to come to repentance" (Hughes 480). Paul, as all mankind, is "weak" just as Jesus, as a man, was weak; however, just as Jesus by the power of God became alive physically, man by the power of God becomes alive spiritually. Lipscomb explains, "The weakness of Christ here is the same that Paul has attributed to himself—the weakness of passive endurance, and humble service; the weakness of human condition, subjected to the power of his enemies" (170). Paul’s message here is that he, being faithful to the living Christ, has the "power" (the authority) of Christ to deal severely with the sins of the Corinthians if they choose not to repent before his arrival.

Verse 5

Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?

Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves: Both verbs "examine" (periazo), meaning "to make trial of" (Thayer 498), and "prove" (dokimazo), meaning "to test" (Thayer 154), teach the same thing and that is that they are to scrutinize themselves meticulously to discover whether their faith is genuine or not. Paul’s instruction, therefore, is for the Christians to scrutinize themselves to ensure their conviction in Jesus as the Messiah is true; that is, to test to see if they are "in the faith," which is "a synonym for the Christian religion" (Coffman 500).

Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?: Without this serious and truthful examination of their faith in Jesus, they may be "reprobates" (adokimos), meaning "not standing the test" (BAG 18). In other words, they may not be what they think they are and thus be rejected by Jesus. This self-examination is commanded of every Christian. In 1 Corinthians regarding the Lord’s supper, Paul instructs: "But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread, and drink of the cup" (11:28).

Verse 6

But I trust that ye shall know that we are not reprobates.

Paul is aware that not only will the unrepentant Christians in Corinth be tested to be faithful to Christ or not, but he also will be tested. He, however, is confident that he is "in Christ" and that when he arrives in Corinth, they will no longer have doubts of his apostolic authority regardless of whether they stand the test of faith or not. Paul’s message is that every Christian must know that in fact Jesus is present in his life. These unrepentant Christians have challenged Paul’s faithfulness to Christ, but now, Paul has turned the table on them to insist that they would be wiser to put themselves to a test. McGarvey says:

Ye who are so eager to put me to the test as to whether I am united with Christ, would exercise a truer wisdom if you tested your own selves to see whether you are in possession of that faith which should unite you with Christ—yea, test your own selves and do not foolishly wait for me to apply the rigors of my testing (241-242).

Verse 7

Now I pray to God that ye do no evil; not that we should appear approved, but that ye should do that which is honest, though we be as reprobates.

Now I pray to God that ye do no evil: Even though Paul has often warned these Christians about their coming punishment when he arrives in Corinth, it should never be thought that he desires them to be punished. On the contrary, he wants his visit to Corinth not to be used to prove his apostleship but to prove to himself that these Christians have repented and that they are not continuing to live in sin. Bratcher states: "Paul’s prayer is that their innocence will be proven—that they will pass the test and prove to be good Christians" (145). Paul’s object in this context is not to prove his apostolic authority; his object, first and foremost, is for the salvation of these Christians.

not that we should appear approved, but that ye should do that which is honest, though we be as reprobates: Paul reemphasizes the previous statement and states he wants them to be vindicated so they will be found not guilty of the sins with which they have been charged. He prays to God they have done no "evil" (kakos), meaning they have not been "wicked" (Thayer 320). If so, he will appear "approved" (dokimos) or "genuine" (BAG 202) when he comes to them. Simply put, Paul’s prayer is for their righteousness and not his ability to have them punished or to prove his apostleship.

Verse 8

For we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth.

The word "truth" (aletheia) literally means "the truth, as taught in the Christian religion, respecting God and the execution of his purposes through Christ, and respecting the duties of man" (Thayer 26). Paul acknowledges that even though he has apostolic authority, he still has no authority to speak or do anything that would hinder the progress of the gospel; thus, he does not desire to punish others purely to establish his authority.

A powerful demonstration of authority when the truth is established in a church would be a perversion of authority; for such a display of power is justified only when serious error and misconduct are present and require to be driven out so that the cause of the truth may be vindicated (Hughes 483).

As an apostle, Paul can only do what supports the advancement of the truth. His interest is in advancing the truth of Christ. His desire is that the sinful Christians will repent and that he will not have to exercise his power to punish them for their failure to do so. McGarvey says, "If ye, therefore, do the truth, you withdraw your demand for a test of us, and deprive us of this chance of vindicating ourselves by showing our power, and this we desire that you should do" (242).

Verse 9

For we are glad, when we are weak, and ye are strong: and this also we wish, even your perfection.

For we are glad, when we are weak, and ye are strong: Paul proves his unselfishness as a true worker for Christ and emphasizes again, as he does in verses 7 and 8, that he is content to appear "weak" (astheneo), meaning that he is looked upon as being "weak toward someone," rather than having to demonstrate his authority to impose punishment; he just longs for the Corinthian Christians to be truly "strong" in the Lord.

and this also we wish, even your perfection: Paul’s wish or his desire is for the Corinthians to reach a point of "perfection" (katartisis), that is, of their "being made complete" (BAG 419) in Jesus Christ. Their being made complete would mean they have been restored to Christ. Coffman says, "The word thus rendered in the Greek is "restoration" (501). Paul’s interest is exclusively for the restoration of sinful Christians.

Verse 10

Therefore I write these things being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness, according to the power which the Lord hath given me to edification, and not to destruction.

This verse concludes Paul’s subject matter in the first two verses of chapter ten where his adversaries are accusing him of being bold when he is absent from them, but weak when he is with them. He says:

Now I Paul myself beseech you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ, who in presence am base among you, but being absent am bold toward you: But I beseech you, that I may not be bold when I am present with that confidence, wherewith I think to be bold against some, which think of us as if we walked according to the flesh (10:1-2).

"The Corinthians must understand that all that he does and says, whether present or absent, is directed towards the building up of themselves" (Hughes 485).

Therefore I write these things being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness: Paul’s adversaries have apparently challenged him to come to Corinth and display a forceful punishment upon them. This action, if at all possible, obviously is not Paul’s desire; therefore, he initiates the closing of this letter with a final explanation of his plans, saying: "I write these things being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness." The word "sharpness" (apotomos) means "severely, rigorously" (BAG 101), indicating that his desire is that he may come to build up the church and not to have to deal sharply with them for failing to make spiritual correction themselves. If there is chastisement, it is because it is warranted; if there is no punishment, it is because the sinner has repented or the church has purged the wicked sinners from their midst as Paul instructed in his previous letter to them:

In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us (1 Corinthians 5:4-7).

according to the power which the Lord hath given me to edification, and not to destruction: Paul loves these Christians, and his desire is to visit them for the purpose of edifying them and not punishing them. His apostolic authority will be easily recognized regardless of the actions required of him. There are two choices: "edification" (oikodome), which is Paul’s desire, means he will arrive "for the building up of the church" (BAG 561). The second choice, which is certainly not what Paul desires, is to arrive for the purpose of "destruction" (kathairesis), meaning "tearing down" (BAG 387) the impenitent sinner. The removal of the sinner still builds up the church by ridding it of a defiant believer. Therefore, the decision about Paul’s actions is unilaterally up to the church/impenitent sinner. Paul has already emphasized this fact: "What will ye? shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of meekness?" (1 Corinthians 4:21).

Verse 11

Conclusion

Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you.

Finally, brethren, farewell: Paul’s conclusion of this letter is brief. There are no names referred to as sending or receiving personal greetings. It seems to be an appropriate closing to Christians showing friendliness but yet seriousness.

Be perfect: The word "perfect" (kataritizo) is the verb form of the word "perfection" found in verse 9 and means "restore" (Strong 2675) or "make one what he ought to be" (Thayer 336). There are many sins among the Corinthians; therefore, Paul urges them to "mend your ways" (Bratcher 146) because there is much for them to improve. As Christians we all have a need to work and constantly better ourselves spiritually. Paul, writing to the Christians in Ephesus, expounds on this perfection by saying:

For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love (Ephesians 4:12-16).

be of good comfort: The "good comfort" (parakaleo) spoken of here means "to receive consolation" (Thayer 483) or "comfort through words, or a favorable change in the situation" (BAG 623). This consolation obviously is from the word of God, which is what the Apostle Paul has been teaching them; therefore, he is teaching all the Corinthians to follow his inspired instructions.

be of one mind: The word "mind" (phroneo) means "to think" (Thayer 658); it means to think alike about spiritual matters and to walk by the same rule. This is the same message Paul gives in 1 Corinthians: "Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment (1:10). Bratcher correctly says, "Agreement and peace can come only by a determined effort on the part of them all to be faithful followers of Jesus Christ (146).

live in peace: To "live in peace" (eirene) means to live in "the tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and content with its earthly lot, of whatsoever sort that is" (Thayer 182). This true peace can come only by all Christians helping one another to follow the direction of God’s inspired word. Obedience will bring peace to a faithful Christian so that he will not fear where he will spend eternal life.

and the God of love and peace shall be with you: Obeying the above traits will ensure that God, our Creator of love and peace, will always be with us.

Verse 12

Greet one another with an holy kiss.

In our society today, a greeting is often a handshake; in the first century, it was customary, but not demanded, to acknowledge one’s presence with a kiss. It was not a sexual kiss but a "holy" (hagios) kiss, that is, it "is such a kiss as is a sign of the purest love" (Thayer 7). There is no love greater than the love of Christians; however, a "holy kiss" is simply a form of respectful greeting and not an ordinance of God. It appears, here, at Paul’s conclusion that he is emphasizing the need for restoration of unity among all the Corinthians:

Like our handclasp today, it ("holy kiss") is a symbol of mutual confidence, and, where the Corinthians are concerned, of the resolving of all their old divisions, their joyful reconciliation with each other in Christ, and their going forward together henceforth united in the fellowship and the labour of the gospel to the glory of God" (Hughes 488).

Verse 13

All the saints salute you.

These "saints" are not named, but they probably refer to all the Christians in the area where Paul presently lives and also Paul’s co-workers who are with him at the place where he is writing this letter.

Verse 14

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen.

This is the full apostolic benediction. It contains three blessings respectively derived from the three divine sources…Coming, as it does, after this, the most severe of letters, it reminds one that the greatest showers of blessing often follow the fiercest flashes of lightning and the mightiest reverberations of thunder (McGarvey 243).

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ: "Grace" comes from Jesus. Paul speaks of this fact earlier when he says, "For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich" (8:9). Grace is a characteristic of God seen in Jesus who considered no sacrifice too great even to the point that He willingly gave His life on a cross as our sacrifice. Paul writes of the grace of Jesus in another letter, saying: "But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him" (Romans 5:8-9). This is the love of God through the grace of Jesus.

and the love of God: The source from which grace comes to man is God’s love. The greatest verse to signify this fact is from the words of Jesus when he says, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).

and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen:

The word "communion" (koinonia), as used in this context, means "fellowship (or) association" (BAG 439). The Holy Ghost (Holy Spirit) through the written word of God makes man’s companionship with God possible.

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 13". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/2-corinthians-13.html. 1993-2022.
 
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