NOTES II Corinthians
13:1-14 (click here for
In this chapter Paul gives his final instructions and warnings to the Corinthians before his imminent arrival for his third visit to them. He leads by quoting a law from Deuteronomy: "Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses." (v. 1 quoting Deut. 19:15) By quoting this law, Paul is doing two things: he's reassuring the Corinthians that he will not accuse them falsely based on rumors of misconduct, and he's also declaring that he will deal with established and unrepented sin among them.
Because the false apostles in their community have succeeded in convincing the Corinthians that Paul is weak and of doubtful authority, those fledgling Christ-followers have slid away from the purity of belief and practice to which Paul called them when he preached the gospel to them. Many have been indulging in sinful behavior which they have refused to give up. They've ignored his letters of warning and quieted their fear of being reprimanded by saying Paul was too weak to deal harshly with them.
Paul had originally planned to visit Corinth sooner, but he had postponed his visit because he wanted to give them adequate time to deal with the sin in their fellowship which he had already pointed out to them. (see 2 Corinthians 1:23) Apparently the Corinthians were a somewhate stubborn lot, and they were not addressing their shortcomings with dispatch as Paul had urged them to do. Now, however, Paul is ready to address their behavior and their stubborn resistance to truth with firmness and discipline. Compounding the problem is the fact that the infiltrating false teachers have cause the Corinthians to mistrust Paul. They have, therefore, felt no need to rush to respond to Paul's calls to accountability and reform. Consequently, Paul is prepared to visit them and to discipline them if they haven't repented by the time he arrives.
The Corinthians are behaving a bit like insubordinate adolescents. They're asking him to prove to them that Christ is speaking through him to them. Their arrogance is born of their refusal to obey God's conviction on their hearts. They KNOW that they are behaving badly and self-centeredly, indulging in greed, power plays, and immorality. Yet, because the false prophets have succeeded in flattering them into doubting Paul, their main source of teaching and Godly admonition, they have rationalized their own sin and refused to respond to the Holy Spirit's prompting in their hearts. Rather than examining their hearts and being accountable before God for their behavior, they instead focus on Paul, demanding that he prove his authenticity. They are refusing to deal with the problems among themselves and instead are making Paul their scapegoat.
Christ In Paul
Paul addresses the Corinthians' demand by refusing to defend himself but by strongly asserting his role of apostle among them. "He [Christ] is not weak in dealing with you," Paul writes, "but is powerful among you." Paul is stating that when he visits them, he will clearly administer the power and discipline of Christ among them. He is authoritativley reminding them that he is Christ's appointed teacher for them, and because he is under the authority of Jesus, it will be Christ's authority and dicsipline he will administer among them, not his own. Their questions about his authority will be silenced; they will be faced with the decisive judgment of Jesus when he comes to them. They will have no more doubts; the power of Christ will be obvious.
Paul's confidence that Christ will speak through him demonstrates one of the gifts that Christ-followers receive when they are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. When Jesus sent his disciples out with the power to heal and drive out evil spirits, he gave them a prophetic warning of what not only they but also all His followers would face as they took Christ into the world. He warned that all men would hate them because of Him, but they were not to worry what they would say when they were accused before hostile authorities. "Do not worry about what to say or how to say it," Jesus reassured them. "At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speakingn through you." (Matthew 10:19-20)
Paul elaborated on the mystery of the the Spirit in us in 1 Corinthians 2. "The spiritual man makes judgments about all things," he wrote to this fledgling church in his first epistle to them, "but he himself is not subject to any man's judgment: 'For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?' But we have the mind of Christ." (1 Cor. 2:15-16)
These stubborn Christ-followers know that the Holy Spirit gives those who live by His prompting the insight to understand the will of God. They know that when Paul speaks to them, he is revealing God's will for them. They know that his reproofs are God's reproofs, and they must act on them.
Passing the Test
In verse two Paul says he "will not spare those who sinned earlier". Two verses later he says he lives by God's power to serve the Corinthians. Discipline is an integral part of God's love for us. As Christ's appointed apostle to Corinth, he was given His authority to deal with the their problems with the wisdom and mind of Christ. His holding the Corinthians accountable and meting out discipline as needed was to be part of the way he would demonstrate that Christ was speaking through him.
Paul pleads with them to examine themselves. If they honestly look at their own lives and admit their failings, God will help them to repent and reform without their having to endure some of the heavy consequences God might otherwise use to bring them to face reality.
In his first letter to them, Paul explained that their disrespectful and irrereverent behavior during the Lord's Supper was the reason many among them were weak, sick, and even dying. When one "eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord", he "eats and drinks judgment on himself," Paul told them. He urged them, rather, to judge themselves so they
"would not come under judgment."
"When we are judged by the Lord," he summarized, "we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world." (1 Corinthians 11:31-33)
Jeremiah, the probable author of Lamentations, gave similar advice to Israel: "Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord." (Lamentations 3:40)
Part of our calling as children of God is to honestly face ourselves and to be willing to allow the Holy Spirit to reveal to us the things we need to change in our lives. The truth of the gospel of Jesus reveals the truth of our experiences as well. The great sacrifice and vulnerability of Jesus reveals and redeems our deep shame and guilt. In order to experience that transforming redemption, we cannot hide from the truth about our own brokenness as the Holy Spirit brings it to light.
As an apostle of Christ, Paul cannot exercise his authority among the Corinthians in any way except that which will support the gospel. This integrity means that he will have to exercise discipline for unrepentant sin among the Corinthian believers when he comes. In his own strength, Paul would not be able to execute such demands. Yet because Christ is in him, he can trust that the power of Jesus will enlighten and enable him to deal justly and decisively with the problems he will likely encounter on his visit.
His purpose in addressing the Corinthians' sins is not to demoralize them but to build them up "in the knowledge of the Son of God" so they can "become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." (Ephesians 4:13) The perfection for which he prays in them is spiritual maturity, their growth in Jesus and their continually increasing reflection of Jesus.
Paul ends this letter with an invocation of the Trinity. "May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all," he writes. (v. 14) After he has said all he can say, Paul does the only thing truly within his power to accomplish: he turns the Corinthians over to God to be sustained in His care. The grace of Jesus has brought them from death to life. The love of God sent Jesus as their perfect sacrifice. The Holy Spirit unites their hearts in fellowship deeper and more profound than any mere human relationship can generate.
God is calling you to Godly authority in the work he has given you to do, and he is also calling you to respectful submission to the authorities he has placed in your life. To exercise authority and also to submit respectfully requires that you examine yourself. Are you surrendered to Jesus? Are you willing to give him control of the people and situations you feel you must "manage" in your life? Are you responsive to the Holy Spirit's prompting as you interact with people and make decisions? Above all, are you willing to hold tightly to the truth?
God is asking you to commit yourself to letting him teach you. He will guard your heart against deception and confusion, but you must allow him to shatter your illusions if you are to be acting in truth. You must be willing to test everything you hear and observe against the standards in the Bible. You must make God, not charismatic leaders, your first loyalty.
Above all, God is calling you to be a faithful shepherd and discipler of those he brings into your sphere of influnece. He is asking you to hold them accountable, as Paul held the Corinthians accountable. He is asking you to represent him to the people in your life.
You do not need to worry what to say, however; the Holy Spirit will give you the words. You only need to be willing to speak for God, not for yourself. You must surrender to Jesus your anger and fear of certain people and trust Jesus to give you the insight and wisdom you need to deal with them.
God power in you will accomplish his will in your life and through your life. Ask God to help you to know what you must surrender to him. Ask him to fill the places in your heart where you have held onto deep loyalties or secrets that have stood in the way of the Holy Spirit having free access to you. Give Jesus all of you and ask him to guard your heart and mind with his peace.
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CA USA. All rights reserved. Posted March 4, 2003.