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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
2 Corinthians 13

 

 

Introduction

Chapter 13 Final Warning and Closing Words.

Paul finishes the letter with a promise shortly to be with them for a third time and with a final challenge. He warns them that if their behaviour is as he fears he will not spare them when he comes. This third visit will witness to their true situation. They have sought a proof that Christ, the One Whom they see as powerful within them, is speaking through him. That is well and good. So let them also consider themselves. Are they also seeking to test the genuineness of their own faith? Let them consider whether Jesus Christ truly is within them, with all that that involves, for if He is not they are on the way to rejection. They are reprobate, failing the test. But he trusts that they will prove not to be so and that their final conclusion will be that he is not reprobate. That Christ is truly in him. And that therefore they will repent. And with that challenge he says his final farewells.


Verse 1

‘This is the third time I am coming to you. “At the mouth of two witnesses or three shall every word established”.’

He was now coming on his third visit. The first visit was when he founded the church. It had been a time of joy, of sowing and reaping, of love between the brethren and sisterhood, amidst much outside opposition. It had given all the promise of a solid future. It had been a witness to their credit. The second had been short and brief, a painful visit, one which had caused him much hurt, and which he had cut short in order to prevent breaking up the church. It stood as a witness against them. Now it will be his third visit and he asks which type of visit this is to be, is it to be one of joy or one of sorrow?

‘At the mouth of two witnesses or three shall every word established.’ This is a quotation from Deuteronomy 19:15, and refers to the evidence required in a public court in order to find guilty or not guilty. He wants them to see his coming visit as the final witness in their trial. For in view of the mention of a ‘third’ visit the reference must surely have some connection with that. The second visit had not established their position, it had left all in disarray. The witness was divided. It had left them open to a verdict of ‘guilty’. He wants this third visit to establish the word among them, to establish the truth about himself and about their response. His longing is that it might find them ‘not guilty’.

Alternately he may be saying that he is bringing witnesses with him, men from Macedonia, who will be witnesses to the true position. He will let them be the judges of the situation. But this seems less likely.


Verse 2

‘I have said before, and I do say before, as when I was present the second time, so now, being absent, to them that have sinned in the past up to now, and to all the rest, that, if I come again, I will not spare.’

Here two witnesses are called on, the past painful visit and the present letter written while absent from them. They are both a warning of what he will do when he comes in view of the continued sinfulness of all of them, not just those who were clearly wrong in the past, but to all, because in one way or another all have sinned. And what he will do is that he ‘will not spare’. There will be no toning down of his intentions.

‘I have said before.’ That is, he has already said it before his coming again, when he was present the second time on the painful visit. ‘And I do say before.’ I am also now saying it before my coming visit in this letter, which I write while absent. Thus there are two witnesses to what he intends to do, to not spare them when he comes.

‘To them that have sinned in the past up to now, and to all the rest.’ His words are spoken to all, both those who have previously sinned and continue to do so, and to all the others as well. For he does not want any to feel that because they had escaped censure previously they would not be involved. In the end almost the whole church was involved, whether by direct sin or by neglect.


Verse 3-4

‘Seeing that you seek a proof of Christ that speaks in me; who to you-ward is not weak, but is powerful in you, for he was crucified through weakness, yet he lives through the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but we shall live with him through the power of God toward you.’

His firm and severe attitude will be because they seek a proof that Christ is speaking in him. So he will follow their criterion. He will come powerfully, and not in humility and meekness as he had before. They claim that Christ is not weak towards them but is powerful in them. That is their justification for their attitude. And in a sense, as long as they are His, it is true, for although He was crucified in weakness (let them note that), yet He lives through the power of God. But they fail to see that the One Who reveals His power within men does so through ‘crucifying’ them. It is by dying with Him continually that they experience His power. (Which is why he will now query whether Christ really is in them - 2 Corinthians 13:5).

Well, they should consider that Paul is ‘in Him’ and that is why he has been like Christ, not only through outward manifestations but in every way. In Him he has, like Jesus Christ, been meek and lowly and has suffered. And through that God’s power has been revealed, as it was through the cross, as many have responded to God’s saving power. But now, contrary to his usual attitude, he will ‘live with Him through the power of God’ towards them. They will be made to recognise that Christ is with him in the power of God by how he is among them. If they reject lowliness and meekness they will experience the power they desire to see, the very power of God manifested, but in judgment. (This contrast is needed, although some see ‘towards you’ as meaning ‘in your service’. But the question must be whether this would answer the proof that they are seeking, and fit in with the connection with ‘I will not spare’).

What the Corinthians in their folly constantly ignored was the weakness of Christ, the ‘sufferings of Christ’ through which His work went forward and will go forward, as Paul has constantly demonstrated throughout the letter (2 Corinthians 1:5 and often). It is through that that His power is most effectively revealed and effected. It is the ‘word of the cross’ that is the true power of God, it is Jesus Christ as the crucified One Who must be proclaimed (1 Corinthians 1:18; 1 Corinthians 2:2). They rather boast in powerful manifestations, concentrating only on His power in the resurrection, a kind of spiritual infusion. They refuse to see that God works powerfully through weakness, and that that is how His work is accomplished in us all, through our dying with Christ that we might live with Him. (How we are all prone to overlook this). Well if that is how they want it they shall have it, they will see the power of God at work.

We do not know exactly what Paul has in mind. It would suggest that like Peter before him (Acts 5:1-11) he is aware that God will act in judgment at his word. Possibly he also bears in mind 1 Corinthians 11:30 and has the confidence that God will act in the same way towards those who bring judgment on themselves by their behaviour towards His chosen Apostle. For if the whole church is against him internal church discipline would not work. (Although we would probably be right to assume that a core is still with him, including some of the leadership). What they will need is to see God’s active judgment directed at them. They want to know whether he brings the word of Christ? Well, if they do not repent and become different, they soon will. And it will be their own fault because it is they who have demanded it.


Verse 5

‘Try your own selves, whether you are in the faith; prove your own selves. Or know you not as to your own selves, that Jesus Christ is in you? unless indeed you are reprobate (failing the test).’

But he does not want to have to act as depicted in 2 Corinthians 13:4 so he pleads with them to consider themselves. Let them test themselves as to whether they are in the true faith. Let them examine whether Christ is truly within them, is in their very selves, (not just said to be manifested among them). Are they new creatures in Christ? (2 Corinthians 5:17) Are they experiencing His weakness as well as His power? Are they dying as well as living? (2 Corinthians 4:10-11). For unless they are ‘reprobate (tested and rejected) this will be true. They will be experiencing His weakness as well as His power, and will then recognise that the same is true in Paul.

They have challenged him as to whether Christ speaks in him. Well let them also challenge themselves as to whether Christ is truly at work in them. When Christ came how did He walk among men. Was it in weakness or in power? (It was, of course, in both, as with Paul). Was He humble and lowly and open to persecution and hardship? Or did He stride the world like an impregnable Colossus as Satan had suggested to Him? Was His power not manifested in weakness? Was His saving work not accomplished through weakness? Did they not first receive Him as the crucified One (1 Corinthians 2:2). That is how the power of God worked, and does work. (Had it been written he could have pointed them to Philippians 2:5-11). And that is how it will continue to work. So all must constantly come to Christ’s power through His cross (Galatians 2:20). If they do not experience the cross daily, they can know nothing of His power (2 Corinthians 4:11). (Woe betide the church that has the manifested power but not the manifested cross). Let them then see that this is precisely what is true of Paul. That is his proof that Christ speaks in him.


Verse 6

‘But I hope that you will know that we are not reprobate (failing the test).’

And his hope is that as they do this they will come to recognise that Paul and his fellow-workers are not reprobate, not God-rejected, because they will recognise in them both the manifestation of Christ’s weakness, (through their sufferings) and of His power (through their effectiveness). Thus will they be saved from what God might do among them as he reveals His power in judgment.


Verse 7

‘Now we pray to God that you do no evil, not that we may appear approved, but that you may do that which is honourable, and that we be as reprobate.’

So on the assumption of their new recognition of his acceptability with God, as one who is not disapproved, he points out that he is praying for them from now on to ‘do no evil’. He desires that they will assert their acceptance of his authority and will refrain from all the things of which he has accused them in 2 Corinthians 12:20-21. That they will from now on live righteous lives. He wants them to be approved. And he stresses that this is not in order that he might be approved by God, or by men who see how effective his rebukes have been, but in order that they might do what is honourable, even though, because they do it in response to his letter, it might indicate that he himself has failed the test, because it is not seen as his doing. His thoughts are not for himself but for their final good. He wants no credit for himself, only that they might begin to live new lives because they recognise that his authority is from God.


Verse 8

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

This is because he is incapable of doing anything which is against the truth, because he is totally for the truth. What matters to him is the truth, both in doctrine and in life. It is only the truth and its consequences that are important, not his own reputation. His whole life is given to the expression and living out of the truth (see 2 Corinthians 11:10).


Verse 9

‘For we rejoice, when we are weak, and you are strong. This we also pray for, even your perfecting.’

For his rejoicing is not in what he is or in how he is seen, for if his weakness results in their strength he is satisfied. What concerns him is their being made strong. This too is what he prays for, their restoration and being made fit, going on to their being made perfect. In this is seen the total selflessnesss of Paul’s ministry. In this too he is like his Master, and an example for us all.


Verse 10

‘For this cause I write these things while absent, that I may not when present deal sharply, according to the authority which the Lord gave me for building up, and not for casting down.’

The verse connects with 2 Corinthians 10:8 suggesting that ‘these things’ refers to chapters 10-13. He has written ‘these things’ while absent from them for one purpose, so that he might avoid having the necessity of dealing sharply with them when he arrives. For his main authority and power in the Spirit which makes him ‘mighty through God’ (2 Corinthians 10:4) has been given to him primarily for building up and not casting down. For even though he will do it if necessary, he has no desire to cast down. His aim is positive. Yet let them not doubt that if necessary he will cast down, although even that will have a right aim behind it, their final repentance. So they are left with this final choice. Do they wish to be built up or cast down?


Verse 11

‘Finally, brethren, rejoice (‘farewell’). Be perfected; be comforted; be of the same mind; live in peace, and the God of love and peace shall be with you.’

With this thought he moves on to his farewells. He still sees them as ‘brothers and sisters’ (brethren), and bids them ‘rejoice’ (while literally saying ‘rejoice’ some translate as farewell, seeing it as possibly being a little like our ‘cheers’, i.e. ‘be of good cheer’). His main thought is that they might be joyfully responsive. He then exhorts them to grow towards full maturity, towards perfection, to enjoy God’s encouragement and comfort, to be like-minded and in unity, and to live at peace. Thus will they ‘do no evil’ (2 Corinthians 13:7), and reverse the trends that he fears have arisen among them (2 Corinthians 12:20). if they ‘do no evil’ all his disagreements with the church will cease, for it their evils that he is concerned about. The evil of rejecting his Apostleship, the evil of all the sins of which he has had to accuse them. Then the God of love and peace will be with them. For how can they know such a God if they do not live in love and peace?

Remarkably this is the only New Testament reference to ‘the God of love’, while ‘the God of peace’ is more common. It suggests that Paul is using the phrase here specifically in order to encourage love among them, the love that is so lacking (see 1 Corinthians 13), love that also results in peace.


Verse 12-13

‘Salute one another with a holy kiss. All the saints salute you.’

That they salute with a ‘holy kiss’ (and thus not sexually oriented) occurs regularly (see Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 1 Thessalonians 5:26; 1 Peter 5:14). It might be on the cheek, forehead, or regularly on the hand. Its purpose was as a kiss sealing true spiritual love and friendship, and marking them off as God’s, for he then speaks of ‘all the saints’ saluting them as well. It is thus a symbol of the whole unity of God’s people. They are to see themselves as one with all God’s people (even if ‘all the saints’ means all in Macedonia).


Verse 14

‘The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion (fellowship) of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.’

The letter comes to an end with this fullest of ascriptions, not paralleled in full elsewhere. As elsewhere in the Corinthian letters Paul brings together the three members of the Godhead (2 Corinthians 1:18-22; 1 Corinthians 6:11; 1 Corinthians 12:5-7). It is suggestive of the fact that this is deliberate in view of their divided state. Paul seek the overall activity of the Godhead in working among the Corinthians. It is not that Paul thinks that this will be more effective, but that he hopes that it will more fully impress the Corinthians.

We note that ‘the Lord Jesus Christ’ comes first. This is not because of priority but because He is the personal Saviour. The whole of the letter from the beginning has concerned salvation and deliverance in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:5-6; 2 Corinthians 1:10; 2 Corinthians 2:14-16; 2 Corinthians 4:11; 2 Corinthians 5:14-21; 2 Corinthians 10:5; 2 Corinthians 11:2; 2 Corinthians 13:5). For the titles and their order contrast 2 Corinthians 1:2 and see on that verse for the significance of all three titles of Christ. Thus his concern is that the saving, unmerited, active love of Christ be always with the Corinthians, bringing about their true salvation. This will necessarily produce grace within their own hearts.

‘The love of God’, coming from the God of love (2 Corinthians 13:11). As John puts it, ‘we love because He first loved us’ (1 John 4:19). Thus does Paul desire that God’s active love be revealed towards them, resulting in their themselves being infused with it.

‘And the communion (fellowship) of the Holy Spirit.’ In line with the previous two phrases this would primarily mean that he wishes the Holy Spirit’s ‘sharing in common’ with Christians to be with them, as He comes to them as their Helper and Encourager, that is that they might know His active work in them in true oneness with Him, bringing about love, spiritual awareness, and unity among them as they are His one Temple (2 Corinthians 6:16).

But as with the other phrases there is probably the twofold meaning so that we can also see it as referring the unity between believers that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit brings about.

We will close with the question that must affect us all. What did happen when Paul arrived in Corinth? We can never, of course, be sure but there are grounds for thinking that it was not too stressful.

For example Paul wrote Romans during his three months stay in Corinth (Acts 20:2-3, 56-57 AD), and in it there is no indication that there were problems in Corinth that he could not cope with. Moreover he did proceed with his plans to evangelise unreached areas, which he would surely not have done if the Corinthian church still required his in depth attention (compare 2 Corinthians 10:14-16).

Paul also wrote to the Romans that the Corinthians “were pleased” to complete their collection for the Jerusalem saints (Romans 15:26-27). And finally the Corinthian church's preservation of 2 Corinthians argues may argue for this church's acquiescence to Paul's admonitions and warnings. It would hardly have been preserved by the false teachers.

These are not certainties, for there could be other explanations. He may have kept to himself the struggles he was having, although that is not like Paul elsewhere. His further outreach might have resulted from his despairing of Corinth, but then we might have expected him to mention this in other letters, and ask for prayer for the loyal members who were suffering adversity. His reference to the Corinthian contribution is a fairly strong evidence, for he had no need to mention it if it had been done by them separately from him. But it is always possible that Paul was making the best of a bad job. And the preserving of his letter may have been by a loyal member of a disloyal church.

It is rather the fact that there is no hint anywhere of catastrophe at Corinth that can give us the most hope, but that the Corinthian church continued to be difficult, probably mainly arising from the background and environment of its members, comes out in that later in the century Clement of Rome could write of their quarrelsome behaviour. They had a reputation for dissension.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 13:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/2-corinthians-13.html. 2013.

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