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A Concluding Admonition and Greetings.
Paul announces his determination to use all severity, if necessary:
v. 1. This is the third time I am coming to you. In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.
v. 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,
v. 3. since ye seek a proof of Christ speaking in me, which to you-ward is not weak, but is mighty in you.
v. 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.
Paul here follows his usual method of making the end of his letters as impressive as possible. In a very formal manner he announces: This is the third time that I am coming to you. This is, in a way. a reminder of Matthew 18:15-Esther :; for two apostolic visits had gone before, in the course of which Paul had used every form of instruction, of persuasion, of admonition. For his third visit, therefore, he deliberately chooses as his motto: At the mouth of two witnesses or three every statement shall be established. The disciplinary proceedings which he intended to institute would be rigid and precise. He does not quote this word as a command of Moses which is valid for the New Testament, but because this order of establishing the truth by a sufficient number of witnesses was found good by Christ, Matthew 18:16. See 1 Timothy 5:19.
Very solemnly and emphatically he again states: I have said beforehand and now do say beforehand, as when I was present the second time, so now in my absence, to those that have sinned before and to all the rest: If I come again, I will not spare. With great forbearance Paul had suffered the incorrigible transgressors in Corinth. He had warned them upon the occasion of his visit to them, the very presence of his representatives had been tantamount to a warning; he had rebuked their proneness to sins of immorality, chap. 12:21; he had warned them on account of their tendency to form factions and parties. His present admonition, therefore, is the last one, for the time comes when forbearance and long-suffering ceases to be a virtue. He can no longer be satisfied with mere appeals that are ignored; he cannot permit his apostolic authority to be challenged and questioned.
The reason why he would not spare them on the coming visit he tells them: Since you seek a proof of the fact that Christ speaks in me (and by your conduct challenge this). Not all the members of the Corinthian congregation had become so rebellious, but neither had they taken the proper steps to quell the disturbance which threatened to undermine the apostle's authority. Rightly, therefore, Paul includes the rest as well as the positively guilty ones in his rebuke. They were challenging his call, his mission from Christ to speak in His name. And this in spite of the fact, as Paul writes: Who toward you is not weak, but strong in you. Was not the very existence of their congregation a testimony to the power of Christ in His servant? Had the signs of an apostle done in their midst not been sufficient to convince them? Christ was indeed not weak, but His grace had proved itself powerful in their midst. Christ, having come in the apostolic word and spirit to the Corinthians and now living in their midst, was now again standing at the door and knocking, and nothing would be more foolish on their part than evasion or open hostility.
Two evidences for the presence and for the power of Christ in their midst Paul adduces: For He also was crucified from weakness, but He lives through the power of God. That is the first reason: the resurrection of Christ, by which He proved Himself to be the Victor over death. Christ indeed, having taken upon Himself the form of a servant, Php_2:7 , was nailed to the cross as a consequence of that weakness which He voluntarily assumed for the sake of mankind. He yielded to the weakness of suffering and dying out of that wonderful love which caused Him to bear our griefs and carry our sorrows, Isaiah 53:4. But by His resurrection He entered into His glory by the divine power of Him who raised His Son from the dead, as well as by the power of Him who conquered death and brought life and immortality to light. And as a result of this manifestation of Christ's power the second reason holds good: For we also are weak in Him but we live with Him by the power of God toward you. So the strength which Christ, the risen King, imparts, gives power to Paul in the discharge of his duty toward the Corinthians. As Christ indeed was weak in the eyes of the world, so Paul might seem weak before them. But as a matter of fact, he is a partaker of that wonderful divine life and energy which is characteristic of the risen and glorified Christ. Note: Paul here insists that the almighty, infallible Christ lived in him and worked through him, and that his office was to be esteemed accordingly.
Paul appeals to his readers to stand approved of Christ:
v. 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?
v. 6. But I trust that ye shall know that we are not reprobates.
v. 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.
v. 8. For we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth.
v. 9. For we are glad when we are weak and ye are strong; and this also we wish, even your perfection.
v. 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.
In opposition to the thought presented in v. 3, according to which the Corinthians desired a proof of Christ in him, the apostle here brings the demand that they should direct their examination to their own selves. Instead of paying attention to insinuations and suspicions concerning him: Yourselves put to the test; begin your examination at home before criticizing others. And he advises them to devote their attention especially to that one point whether they are in the faith; to that end they should examine themselves. For from all appearances one was almost tempted to conclude that their faith was a mere figment of their imagination, a condition which was, in turn, due to their deliberately deceiving themselves. That was turning the tables with a vengeance, but this was necessary, for desperate situations require desperate measures. And he follows up this thrust with another, equally strong: Or do you not know for your own selves that Christ Jesus is in you, unless, indeed, you are unapproved? If they actually are believers, then they must have experienced the power of Christ in their hearts, and this consciousness of the power of Christ's grace is the best proof for Paul's divine mission. But, of course, if they will not stand the test here suggested, then they are unapproved, reprobate. The apostle's words are searching, yet incidentally appealing; he is not trying to terrorize their consciences nor to fill their hearts with doubt and despair, his purpose being rather to confirm the weak and wavering in their faith, to enkindle the dying ember of their belief to a glowing flame.
For his own person Paul confidently asserts: I hope that you shall know we are not unapproved. He is ready cheerfully to submit to any test of his faith as well as of his apostolic authority. Those among them that had Jesus Christ in their hearts would not hesitate a moment about recognizing His voice and power in the apostle, through whose preaching they had come to the knowledge of the truth. If they were not reprobate, they would know without further argument that he was not reprobate, but that he had the full authority of Christ, also to punish all disobedience.
But that Paul would rather be spared such a proof of his power he states in the form of a prayer: But we pray to God that you do no evil, not in order that we might appear approved, but that you may do the right, the honorable thing, even though we appear unapproved. He wants them to be guilty of nothing that is morally bad, of nothing that would not stand the searching eye of God. But his motive in making this wish is not that his ministry should stand forth in the glory of its success, that he profit by the contrast offered by their reprobate state, but that they might in all things do that which is right and good, even though he in that case would be unapproved, having no opportunity to show the extent of his authority. Their edification, their salvation was the aim of his ministry.
Two reasons he gives for the unselfishness of his prayer for them. He says in the first place: For we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth. He cannot and will not exhibit any apostolic authority if the facts in the case show that the Corinthians have shown proper repentance. He must at all times stand for the truth; he must absolve and comfort those that showed obedience to the Gospel. It is a principle which finds its application at all times that the servants, the ministers, of Christ must stand for the truth and suffer all, even death, rather than permit falsehood to reign. In the second place, Paul is so entirely disinterested in his prayer, because their moral growth is a real joy to him: For we rejoice when we are weak and you are strong; and this we pray for, your complete restoration, your perfection. He would be glad in not being compelled to use his authority, to appear weak, in this case; it would please him highly if they would show the proper strength in repenting; that is what he desired and prayed for, their restoration to that condition which was required by the will of God, that they would accept his admonitions, put aside all enmity and evil, and prove themselves true children of their heavenly Father.
That was the real object of his letter, as he says in conclusion: For this reason I write these things while I am absent, lest, when present, I must deal severely according to the authority which the Lord gave me for building up and not for destroying. It was not at all a pleasure for him to deal roughly, rigorously, with them, as he would be forced to do in case they refused to heed the instructions of this letter. Far rather would he see them accept his admonitions now, before his arrival, and regulate their congregational affairs properly. For then only would the object of his ministry, the aim of his authority, be properly realized, since their edification, their spiritual confirmation and growth, and not their spiritual harm, was the reason why he labored so assiduously. This object of church discipline should be kept in mind at all times, lest we become guilty of legalistic practices.
v. 11. 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.
v. 12. Greet one another with an holy kiss.
v. 13. All the saints salute you.
v. 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.
Paul cannot refrain from closing without some cheering remarks, altogether in his customary mild tone. He bears them no personal grudge, and all vindictiveness is foreign to his nature. He bids them rejoice, Php_3:1 ; Php_4:1 ; 1 Thessalonians 5:16; to be perfected, to grow in the knowledge of the will of their Lord: to be comforted and to comfort one another with regard to all the things that have grieved them; to be of one mind, to have such an affectionate regard for one another, such a tender interest in one another's welfare, as to put aside all factions and all party spirit; and to live in peace, to preserve such outward harmony as to offer an unbroken front to any enemies from without. See 1 Corinthians 1:10. If this were the situation, then the God of love and peace would delight to be with them, to live in their midst. As brothers together and as children of the same heavenly Father they should be united to experience the richness of His grace and the abundance of His blessings.
With this hope of a faithful pastor Paul admonishes them to salute one another with a holy kiss, with the common form of Oriental salutation which became a part of Christian ritual at a very early date and indicated the brotherhood of the faithful in God's family. To shorn them that they were thought of in brotherly love. Paul sends them greetings from the believers in Macedonia, where he was writing this letter. His concluding apostolic greeting is filled out to include the three persons of the Trinity: The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. This blessing ascribes to each person of the Godhead a special, though not an exclusive, part in the work of redemption. The grace of Jesus Christ became evident in His incarnation, in His whole life, in His vicarious suffering and death, in His work as our Advocate before the Father. The love of God the Father was proved in his counsel for the salvation of mankind, in his sacrifice of His only-begotten Son, in His being in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, in His accepting us as His dear children in Christ. The communion, or fellowship, of the Holy Spirit, the extending of His gracious influence through the means of grace, enables us to appreciate the wonders of God's mercy and to follow His sanctifying direction. Note: "We have in this passage the practical doctrine of the Trinity, the Father revealing His love in Christ: Christ, in and through whom He reveals Himself, and by whom the work of redemption is accomplished: and the fellowship of divine life fin the Holy Ghost), which proceeds from Christ."
Paul announces his determination to use all severity in Corinth, if necessary; lie appeals to his readers to stand approved of Christ and to make such a course unnecessary; he closes with salutations and a very complete apostolic greeting.
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Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 13". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30