1 This is the third time I am coming to you. “Any charge must be sustained by the evidence of two or three witnesses.” 2 I warned those who sinned previously and all the others, and I warn them now while absent, as I did when present on my second visit, that if I come again, I will not be lenient— 3 since you desire proof that Christ is speaking in me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful in you. 4 For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God. 5 Examine yourselves to see whether you are living in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless, indeed, you fail to meet the test! 6 I hope you will find out that we have not failed. 7 But we pray to God that you may not do anything wrong—not that we may appear to have met the test, but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed. 8 For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. 9 For we rejoice when we are weak and you are strong. This is what we pray for, that you may become perfect. 10 So I write these things while I am away from you, so that when I come, I may not have to be severe in using the authority that the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down. 11 Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. 12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you. 13 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

2 Corinthians 13

This is my 28th and final post on 2nd Corinthians! By God’s grace, we’ve walked through the entirety of this often overlooked letter (when compared with Romans, Galatians, and 1 Corinthians). Coming to the end is kind of bittersweet. I’ve enjoyed wrestling with Paul, and I’m unsure of what my next project on this blog will be. Keep me in your prayers. Now, let’s get to this final chapter…

Paul wraps up this letter with a warning that he is on his way back, and that the community in Corinth needs to get its house in order. It is evident in this chapter that Paul ends this tough letter on themes dealing with church discipline and authority within the church. To modern ears, everything Paul says here sounds like a threat.

However, maybe the problem is with our modern ears and not Paul’s words.

As we have often suggested in this study, we live in a world conditioned to assume automatically that all appeals to discipline and authority are power plays seeking dominance. In other words, appeals to discipline and authority are really about who is boss, and who is not. As a result, we are conditioned to revolt, to struggle, to free ourselves of these arbitrary shackles because, well, we just want to be free. The fancy term for this is the hermeneutic of suspicion, but we’ll park the fancy terms here and move on.

But if you will take time to listen closely to Paul in this closing chapter, you might hear something a little different. The first thing that should be apparent to us is that between this letter and the letter we call 1 Corinthians is that there is real disorder in these churches. There are incestuous relationships, the rich are insisting on their own way to the exclusion of the poor from the Lord’s table, and Gentile and Jew just can’t seem to get along. They want a snazzy preacher, not an unattractive apostle defined by chains and his lack of slick preaching.

The problem all along, Paul points out here and throughout the letter, is that they have been using the wrong measuring stick. And because they have given weight to power, position, status, eloquence, riches (as the world defines such things), and refinement, they are blind to real authority and its proper exercise. Paul writes in verse 4: “For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God.”

From a certain vantage point, the cross is weakness and foolishness, but this is how God has determined to operate and display his grace in the world. There is real power in self-giving, atoning, sacrificial love, though we are blind to it apart from God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ. As a result, when Paul presents himself in that same garb of weakness, they ought to see in him the marks of Christian love, and recognize his apostleship.

It is from this vantage point we are asked to see and interpret Paul’s exercise of authority. These aren’t threats. Paul’s words and admonitions to the community (and even his harsher rulings like separating the man living in an incestuous relationship with his mother-in-law outlined in 1 Corinthians 5:1) are meant for the health and spiritual well-being of the community. But most importantly, his exercise of power is conditioned upon his status conferred upon him by Christ. Though they may not clearly see the marks of that authority due to their spiritual blindness, they ought to heed his words and correct their behavior.

And what does such correction look like? Again, the cross and resurrection of Jesus are the measure. Correction of behavior, and receiving correction from Paul by recognizing his authority, builds up, as Paul tells us in verse 10. If the Corinthian community will really think about it, Paul is saying, they know his correction is true and rooted in the power bestowed upon him by the Lord Jesus because such correction seeks the wholeness and true unity of the community. Love builds up. Love leads to lives marked by peace, as verse 11 shows us.

As we draw this study to a close, this a good reminder that sometimes, being the church is both a team sport, and it is very difficult. We live in a culture where we haven’t really learned to play nice together and share our toys. Our tendency is to walk away when something we hear from the pulpit, or in a study, or from another brother or sister hits too close to home. We want to be comfortable above all.

Yet Paul’s words still ring true: real love, cruciform love, Christ-shaped lives of discipleship are anything but comfortable and easy. It is hard, and its greatest difficulty is that being a Christ-follower is rooted in renouncing ourselves, giving up our place, and putting other ahead of ourselves, just as Christ did with us.

Grace is both disruptive and transformative. Its final goal is communion and fellowship with one another, and with the triune fellowship of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

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