The ending of New Testament letters is always important to slow down and consider. They usually give some final warnings and final instructions for the recipients of the letter. Paul has written this letter to the Corinthians to spiritually build them up before he arrives. He wants them to make changes in their lives by looking at how Paul has treated them and model a life in Christ. One of the primary messages of this book is that we are made perfect and complete through our weaknesses, sufferings, trials, and difficulties. Paul opened this letter by reminding the Christians that the God we serve is the God of comfort. God is the God of all comfort, who comforts us in our afflictions (1:4). Further, all of God’s promises find their fulfillment (their “yes”) in Christ (1:20). So we find our life and hope in Christ even though we are led in a triumphal procession, spreading the aroma of Christ (2:14-16). We are beholding the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image (3:18). We are clay jars but we possess the treasure of the gospel which we share with others (4:7). We know that our earthly tent, this body is being destroyed as we sacrifice it for the Lord. But we know that we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens (5:1). We are ambassadors for Christ, imploring people to be reconciled to God (5:20). We give of our possessions and wealth because we know that God gave us our blessings for the work in his kingdom (chapters 8-9). So though people criticize the suffering and trials experienced for Christ’s sake (chapters 10-12), we know that this is what we were called to be as servants of Jesus. This is what it looks like to be a disciple of Jesus. This is what it means for us if we are going to call ourselves Christians. With these images firmly placed in the minds of the Corinthians, the call for this final paragraph as Paul closes the letter is for these Christians to examine themselves.
Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! (2 Corinthians 13:5 ESV)
Glaring Evidence (13:1-4)
Paul transitions into this final section by pointing out to them that he has the evidence he needs to require the repentance he is calling for them to have. Remember that this is what Paul said he wanted from them in 2 Corinthians 12:20-21. There are many who sinned earlier and have not repented. Now this is the third time he is going to come to them. These sins have not been dealt with yet and must be dealt with now. Paul quotes Deuteronomy 19:15 as authoritative proof that he can come and discipline these unrepentant ones for their sins. We see that this is the thrust of verse 2. He has warned them on his prior visits that he could not spare them if he had to come back again. He will use the authority given to him as an apostle to pronounce judgment upon these who have not repented.
In doing this, Paul yet again appeals to the example of Christ in verses 3-4. Christ is the supreme example of strength and weakness. What Paul is saying is that Christ, through his human form, his meekness, and voluntarily giving his life, demonstrated weakness. But that does not mean Jesus lacked authority or power. From the outside you might get the impression that Jesus was weak because of how he treated people and what he allowed people to do to him. But we know that he was strong and that his strength was being restrained for our good. In the same way, Paul is saying that he also was meek and gentle among them when he has visited them in the past. But do not allow that meekness and gentleness to cause you Corinthians to think that he does not possess authority from God. He does and he will use it when it comes if necessary. Paul had presented himself as a crucified minister of the gospel but the boldness will be seen later, just as the power of God was seen in Jesus after the crucifixion through the resurrection. Do not mistake a display of weakness for the cause of Christ as a lack of authority.
Please consider that Paul cannot be saying that he was nice before and now he going to be ruthless and mean. Rather, the picture is that Paul gave these people time to repent. He gave them slack. He let them have time to sort all this out for themselves. But now Paul is coming and these sins have not been repented of at this point, it will be time for the church to take action and Paul is going to authorize that action. Sin cannot be allowed to go on forever. There is a time when unrepentant sin must be handled by the church. Paul is going to start that process when he comes for he carries the authority of Jesus as an apostle to do so.
Examine Yourself (13:5-10)
Now think about the weight of this command: “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith.” We need to regularly check ourselves. Paul has written a letter describing what a servant of Jesus looks like. Now test yourself to see if you are in the faith. Please consider that such a test indicates that you can know the answer. You do not have to wonder if you are in the faith or not. You can know. Test yourself. Examine your life. Here is one way you can know, according to verse 5: Is Christ in you? If Christ is in you, then meekness and gentleness will be on display. If Christ is in you, then you will be seen as a servant of the Lord and will not act like these boastful, arrogant, self-serving people that Paul is contending with. If Christ is in you then you will not remain in unrepentant sin. It will be your desire to do something about it.
It is Paul’s desire that these Christians would do right and not do wrong. Paul is not setting up these Christians because he wants to discipline them. It is his fervent prayer that they see himself as true to God and that they will behave in a manner that shows they are true to God. Notice the end of verse 9, “Your restoration is what we pray for.” We want you to be complete. We want you to be mature. All that we are doing is to bring you to that completion.
We see this point emphasized in verse 10. He does not want to come to them and deal with these sins. But he will deal with them with the authority the Lord gave them him for building up and not tearing down. I want to emphasize this again. Notice again that his goal is for their building up, not tearing down. He is not coming to destroy them. He is not going to be intimidating or mean even though he is calling for repentance and warning them that he will use the discipline God has instructed Christians to use. Our goal is to determine ways to build each other up, not to tear each other down. We need to have our minds turn to this question: How can I help this person? What can I do to spiritually help this individual? This is the idea that the writer of Hebrews is driving at when he tells us to consider how to stir up one another to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24). We use our gifts and abilities to determine how we can help each other. Correction is for our good. We need correction. We need direction. We need someone to come alongside of us and point us in the right direction. Satan can get us to move away from the path of truth and life. So examine yourself and see if there is something in your life that needs to be turned away from.
With this need for examination of ourselves and being brought to completion, Paul ends his letter for these Christians with some goals for them to reach. First, “Finally, brothers, rejoice.” Be joyful. This is not a superficial happiness as if we do not have difficulties or problems in life. We have joy as we focus on the relationship God has given to us through Christ. We rejoice in the Lord because of what we have been given by God’s grace.
Second, Paul wants them to aim for restoration. This has been Paul’s goal. He wants this church to be put back together. It is divided and fractured. Paul has written so that they would be restored to God’s will and purpose for their lives. We aim to grow to mature. We aim to fix what is wrong in our lives. We aim to help others grow in the Lord toward completion. We work together for maturity.
Third, encourage one another. We comfort and encourage one another toward restoration and maturity. We need this encouragement from one another. Aim for maturity and aim to encourage one another.
Fourth, agree with one another. We to be like-minded. We are to have harmony with one another. This was a divided church. This was a church that was full of conflict and strife. Our aim must never be to cause problems but to look for common ground and agree with one another.
Fifth, live in peace. Do we look to cause problems or do we look to bring solutions? Do we look to harm others and cause conflict or do we look to be peacemakers?
I want us to think about these five goals and think about how different the church would be if these things were our continued aim. Be joyful, aim for restoration and spiritual maturity, encourage and comfort one another, agree with one another and live in peace. These are some of the traits Paul wants to see in Corinth when he comes to them. As we end this series in the book of 2 Corinthians I would like for us to consider the pictures servanthood that we have seen and how these weaknesses in this life can only be used to magnify God’s greatness.
The Lord told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Be willing to recognize that we are weak and need each other. We are weak and need to draw near the Lord. Aim for greater maturity in Christ. Encourage each other. Agree with each other. Live in peace with each other. Let our boast not be in ourselves but only in the Lord who has taken weak people like us and shown his strength and power to save us.