Paul's 2nd Letter to the Corinthians and Paul's Letter to the Ephesians

March 4, 2015

Tom Lowe

 

The Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians

                   

Lesson V:Conclusion. (13:11–14).

 

 

2nd Corinthians 13:11-14; NKJV

 

11 Finally, brethren, farewell. Become complete. Be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.

12 Greet one another with a holy kiss.

13 All the saints greet you.

14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

 

 

Introduction

 

The apostle brings this difficult and painful letter spontaneously and affectionately to its close: “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ . . . be with you all” (14).  Exhortation (11), greetings (12-13), and benediction (14) fall rapidly on one another as if they belonged together.

 

 

 

Commentary

 

11a Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal.NRSV

 

Paul typically would end his letters with a short list of exhortations[1] (see Colossians 4:2-6; 1 Thessalonians 5:12-22).  In 2 Corinthians, he did the same.  Now, with his words of farewell the apostle joins together the final admonitions[2] which his Corinthian brethren are in need of. He lists them in 12:20:

 

For I fear that when I come, I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish; I fear that there may perhaps be quarreling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder. (2 Corinthians 12:20)

 

The word translated farewell may just as easily be rendered “rejoice,” as it is in other New Testament passages (see Philippians 4:4).  If translated farewell, it is not a mere formal word for “good-bye,” but means “May things go well with you.”

 

The salutation brothers and sisters is warm in tone and describes the readers as fellow Christians.

 

Put things in order repeats Paul’s command in 13:9 (the NIV translates the Greek word in this verse and in 13:9 with the English word “perfection;” the command then becomes “be perfect” (Grow up. Stop being baby Christians.), which corresponds with Paul’s prayer for their perfection in 13:9—For we rejoice when we are weak and you are strong. This is what we pray for, that you may become perfect—which means, “Let yourselves be steadily perfecting” in grace and ethics.  Foremost in Paul’s mind was that the church leaders of the Corinthian congregation would take charge by disciplining the unrepentant (13:2), silencing the false teachers in their congregation (11:13), and restoring the repentant to church fellowship (2:7).  Put things in order has also been translated “Be of good comfort.” Remember that it means help.  It means God is the One who is called to our side to help us, to strengthen us, to encourage us.  God wants to do that for you today, my friend.  No matter who you are, where you are, or how you are, God wants to help you.  He can help you through His Word by means of the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

 

Listen to my appeal (see 2 Corinthians 1:3): Paul requests that they listen to him, that they receive the admonitions that will lead them to the perfecting of their lives together as the body of Christ.  Involved in this quality of their relationship to Christ is its increasing expression within the fellowship of the church.

 

Paul had already warned the Corinthians and told them what to do.  All they had to do at this point was to listen to him.  His appeal in 2 Corinthians was to reject the false gospel of his opponents (11:2-5) and to stay faithful to the gospel he had preached to them (6:1-2; 13:5).

 

 

11b Agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.NRSV

 

Paul knew that the disruption the false teachers had caused in the Corinthian church would create disunity.  In fact, the Corinthian church hadn’t been unified from the start.  It had been plagued with quarrels and disruptions (1 Corinthians 1:11-13).

 

For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:11-13NRSV)

 

In 1 Corinthians, Paul had carefully explained to the Corinthians that each member of the church was part of the body of Christ.  In the same way that the parts of a person’s body work together, the Corinthians should work together as members of Christ’s body.  They would see opportunities to build each other up in the faith (1 Corinthians 1:10; 12:7, 12-14).  With his brief directives to agree and to live in peace, this verse sums up Paul’s appeals in his earlier letters for the Corinthians to unite as one congregation under Christ (see thee 1 Corinthians 12:27).  They were to put their disputes aside and join together under Christ’s leadership to advance His heavenly kingdom.  By acting upon Paul’s directives, their Christian fellowship would become what God intended.

 

Agree with one another (that is, be of one mind—the mind of Christ), has reference to a common commitment to the love and truth of the gospel of Christ.  That does not mean that we all agree on everything, but that we agree not to disagree over matters that are not essential.  This exhortation is possibly a warning against the divisive tendency so prevalent at Corinth.

 

Live in peace, urges them to work out in the fellowship of believers the preceding commitment to agree with one another, for there were divisions and dissension in the church (2 Corinthians 12:20)These same two exhortations, are combined beautifully by Paul when he writes later to the Philippians, “have the same thoughts among yourselves as you have in your communion with Christ Jesus” (2 Corinthians 2:5).  If the preceding admonitions—put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace—are constantly observed, the encouraging promise is that the God of love and peace shall be with you.  When that happens, the wars would cease and they would enjoy peace in their fellowship.  Only by channeling the love and peace of God to others can the Corinthians continued to enjoy the blessing of the presence of the God of love and peace (see Acts 5:32). There can be no adequate understanding of God’s love apart from the cross; and the only lasting fellowship between men is the fellowship of sinners redeemed by the blood of Jesus. The peace meant here is the reconciliation with God and subsequently with one another which God brings about through the gift of His grace and the working of His Spirit (see Romans 5:1; Ephesians 2:14-18).  We cannot make peace, but we can live in peace.  This is the peace of God which passeth all understanding.”  It is the peace that God made through the blood of the cross.  We are to live in that peace today.  We are to rejoice in our salvation.  The God of love and peace will be “with you.” Don’t miss that.  You are not alone—God is with you today.  How wonderful that is.

 

 

12 Greet one another with a holy kiss.NIV

 

Just as present-day writers would typically end their letters with a “sincerely,” in Paul’s day letter writers would end their letters with an exchange of greetings.  In these verses, Paul used this letter-writing practice (just as he did in Romans 16:3-16; 1 Corinthians 16:19-21; Philippians 4:21-23).

 

Since ancient times, the kiss has been a form of greeting and a gesture of love and fellowship.  Members of the early church often kissed new believers after their baptism and thus welcome them into the fellowship. Paul encouraged the Corinthians to greet each other with a kiss (see 1 Corinthians 16:20).  He had done the same in his earlier letter to them (see 1 Corinthians 16:20).  This external symbol is not merely a token of affection; Paul calls it a holy kiss.  It is holy because it was exchanged by Christian worshippers as a sign of their brotherhood in Christ.  The holy kiss must be heartfelt, and so reflect a new loving confidence in one another.  The practice was adopted by the Christian Church from the synagogues, where the sexes were separated in worship.  In the Christian services only men would kiss men and women would kiss women, as an assurance that the kiss would be kept holy.  In the light of the significance of this custom in early Christianity and Judaism, the treacherous nature of Judas’ betrayal kiss is clearly evident (Mark 14:45).  In Paul’s day, a kiss on a person’s cheek or shoulder was a common greeting, a gesture of friendship.  Such a kiss is similar to a hearty handshake or a hug in present-day society.  Paul was evidently encouraging the Corinthians to greet one another warmly as the first sign of their commitment to agree with one another and to live in peace.  He was certainly hitting hard at one of the most serious problems in the church; their division and lack of concern for one another.

 

 

13 All God’s people here send their greetings.NIV

 

By alluding to the greetings of all the saints (all God’s people), Paul was reminding the Corinthians that other congregations throughout the Roman Empire were trying, along with the Corinthians, to be unified under Christ.  There were congregations all across the eastern Mediterranean that shared the same faith and the same Spirit that the Corinthians had.  Although these believers were miles apart, all Christians were unified through the Holy Spirit under Jesus Christ’s authority.

 

The saints who were with Paul at the time—specifically, the Macedonian Christians—were sending their greetings to the Corinthians as an expression of their love and concern for the believers in Corinth.  The Macedonian Christians, although most of them had never met the Corinthians, belong together with them in the body of Christ, which is the universal Church.  They are united in Christ.  The apostle has pointed out the behavior required of the church, not only by direct appeal, but also by mention of a Christian custom, and by a reminder that the church is a wider fellowship. 

 

 

 

14 May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ[3], and the love of God[4], and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit[5] be with you all[6].NIV

 

Paul’s final blessing on the Corinthians invokes all three members of the Trinity—the Father (God), the Son (Lord Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit.  Although the term “Trinity” is not explicitly used in the Bible, verses such as this one show that early Christians believed that there were three persons in the Godhead: God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (for more verses on the Trinity, see Matthew 3:17; 28:19; Luke 3:35).  Denying that Jesus is God would mean denying that His death on the cross could provide God’s unmerited grace to those who believe in Jesus.  Denying that the Holy Spirit is God would mean denying that the Spirit could provide believers fellowship with God and each other.

 

With this final Trinitarian benediction, Paul was giving the Corinthians a model from the Godhead of how to be unified in love. Through the Spirit’s empowering, they, too, could begin to imitate in their congregation the grace, love, and fellowship that the Godhead already enjoyed.

 

This prayer of the apostle is expressed in terms of the experience and faith of the early church.  This explains the fact that the order—Christ, God, Spirit—is not intentionally Trinitarian.  The order is that of the salvation experience. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ comes first, because it is only by it we come to “the love of God” the Father (John 14:6), and then to share in the fellowship of Christians brought about and maintain by and in the Holy Spirit.  The order of Persons proves that in this Trinity none is before or after the other. It is important to note that when Paul wanted to sum up his gospel those words most naturally fell into his mind which when logically developed, form the basis of the doctrine of the Trinity.  The fact that in a single sentence the name of Jesus, a mere thirty years after His death, is brought together with the Holy Spirit and the name of God in a prayer indicates that “the fully develop doctrine of the Trinity has its theological roots in the adoration of Jesus Christ.  The men of the New Testament were primarily concerned with redemptive history, which for them was a “Christ-process.”

 

Notice the uniqueness of the Holy Spirit, for He is both the Gift and the Giver.  He is the Founder of this fellowship which is established upon a common sharing of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:42; Philippians 2:1).  The practical realization of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, as the Corinthians opened their lives more and more to the Holy Spirit, will bring about the perfecting (13:9) that Paul desires for them.  Their fellowship of the Holy Spirit allows Him as both Gift and Giver to shape the unity and mutual love which must permeate the ethical life of the Church as the body of Christ.  In fact, it is only their common experience of the one Spirit which constitutes them as the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-13). As for Paul, it was the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, in which Paul’s experience was rooted.  It was the grace of Christ which had sought him, found him, and forgiven him on the Damascus road.  The grace of Christ had made real to Paul the love of God.  God was no longer mere Judge or Lawgiver, but Father, in whom holiness and love were one.  There is no trace in Paul’s mind of the doubts about the sovereignty of God which assail the modern mind, but after his meeting with Christ, he knew it was sovereign love that was on God’s throne.

 

Paul had every right to refuse to communicate with the Corinthians until they reformed their ways.  Instead, Paul loved them and mercifully reached out to them with visits and letters, again and again.  This type of persistent love was the type of grace Jesus had shown Paul.  Although Paul had persecuted the church (1 Timothy 1:13), Jesus had graciously shown him mercy.  In the same way, Paul didn’t withdrawal himself from the Corinthians when they began to reject him.  He didn’t exclude them from fellowship.  Instead, he expressed love and concern for them.  He prayed for them.  He lovingly warned them about the false teaching and the immorality in the congregation.  It was by his commitment to the Corinthians—through good times and bad, through rejection and acceptance—that Paul hoped to bring the Corinthians back into the full enjoyment of Christ and Christian unity. 

 

Paul gives evidence in his own attitude of that for which he is praying, for his desire is the same for all.  There are no reservations, no grudges held; only a love that transcends all human barriers and longs for the best that God has for them.  Their highest good expressed in a breathtaking summary of the Christian faith is (1) the grace of Christ (2) revealing the love of God (3) by their fellowship in the Holy Spirit, which is able to transform the quality of their lives together. 

 

I have jokingly said that the apostle Paul was from the South because he uses the expression “you all.” I have lived in the South for fifteen years and so you must forgive me if I, too, say, “you all.” When he says that the blessing of the Trinity should be with “you all,” he includes us with the folk in the church in Corinth.  We ought to revel in all that we have in Christ Jesus: the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.  Whoever has “the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,” also has “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ,” the love of God”; and vice versa.  Friend, we ought to bear witness not only to the world but also to our own churches.

 

This closing benediction is one of the most beloved used in the church.  It emphasizes the Trinity and the blessings we can receive because we belong to God.  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ reminds us of His birth, when He became poor in order to make us rich (see 2 Corinthians 8:9).  The love of God takes us to Calvary where God gave His Son as the sacrifice for our sins (John 3:16).  The fellowship of the Holy Spirit reminds us of Pentecost, when the Spirit of God came and formed the church (Acts 2). 

 

And so we leave the troubled story of Paul and the Church of Corinth with the benediction ringing in our ears.  With his spiritual hands spread in benediction over the Corinthians, the apostle’s voice sinks into silence and we end our study of Second Corinthians.

 

 

 

 


[1] Exhortation for our purpose means a written passage intended to persuade, inspire, or encourage.

[2] Admonition: a warning or reproof given by an ecclesiastical authority.

[3] The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ is the undeserved but freely given and powerfully effective favor of Christ, which not only opens the way to faith and new life, but also continues to give the believer the daily help he needs.

[4] The love of God is here the outreaching, active goodwill by which God, who has sent Christ for man’s salvation, freely gives all further gifts needed to complete His divine purpose to save men (see Romans 5:8; 8:32).

[5] The fellowship of the Holy Spirit may mean here that fellowship with God and with other members of Christ’s church which is established and sustained in Christians by the presence and working of the Holy Spirit; or the phrase may refer to the participation in, and the sharing in, the Holy Spirit enjoyed by all members of the church.

[6] With the closing words with you all Paul shows that he bears no grudge for any of the trials and sorrows that members of the church at Corinth have caused him.

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