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

February 23, 2015

Tom Lowe


The Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians


            IV.    Authority of Paul’s Ministry. (10:1–13:10).                         

                       D.    The Charge of the Apostle. (12:19-13:10).                                                     

Lesson IV.D.2:The Charge to Self-examination.     (13:5-13:10)                           




2nd Corinthians 13:5-10; NKJV


5 Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified.

6 But I trust that you will know that we are not disqualified.

7 Now I pray to God that you do no evil, not that we should appear approved, but that you should do what is honorable, though we may seem disqualified.

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

9 For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. And this also we pray, that you may be made complete.

10 Therefore I write these things being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness, according to the authority which the Lord has given me for edification and not for destruction.





Paul challenged the Corinthians to examine and test themselves to see if they really were Christians (13:5).  This passage urges believers to give themselves spiritual checkups.  They should look for a growing awareness of Christ’s presence and power in their lives.  Only then will they know if they are true Christians, or merely impostors.  If you’re not taking active steps to draw closer to God, you are moving further away from Him.




5 Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?NIV


This verse connects with the first part of verse 3 as follows: “Since you seek a proof of Christ speaking in me… examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith.” They themselves were the proof of his apostleship.  It was through him that they were led to the Savior.  If they wanted to see his credentials, all they needed to do was—look in a mirror.


The Corinthians had insisted on testing Paul, the one who had introduced them to the gospel of salvation in the first place.  This letter responds to the Corinthians and answers some of their questions (see 1:12-24; 3:4-6; 11:22-23; 12:16-18).  Now that Paul had withstood their investigation, he asks the Corinthians to examine themselves (their hearts) to test (see) if they were really born again and members of the family of God, and whether they were acting in accordance with the Christian faith.  We should be willing to face up to this issue of testing ourselves.  I think we should do it several times a year.   


Do you have the witness of the Holy Spirit in your heart?  (Romans 8:9, 16)  Do you love the brethren? (1 John 3:14). Do you practice righteousness?  (1 John 2:29; 3:9) Have you overcome the world so that you are living a life of godly separation?  (1 John 5:4) The quality of our conscious needs is another test of our progress.  The more knowledge we have the more we seek.  The more the love of Christ grows in the heart the more we are compelled to seek His presence and commune with Him.  These are just a few of the tests we can apply to our own lives to be certain that we are the children of God. He hopes to get the desired behavior from them by reminding them that they are Christians. 


Have you noticed that those who are quick to examine and condemn others are often guilty of worse sins themselves?  In fact, one way to make yourself look better is to condemn somebody else.


Paul’s question, “Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you,” probes them, for if they are truly believers they will not resent a real test.  The form of the question indicates that Paul believed them sound at heart.  The expression “in the faith” and “Christ Jesus is in you” interpret each other; “faith is the reality of the presence of Christ, it is the life of Christ in those who believe… (Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 3:17).  The test of the authenticity of their relationship to Christ is the ethical quality of their behavior.  If a man believes Christ is dwelling in his heart, the thought will rally his gratitude, his love, and his desire to obey the guiding of the Spirit.  It will make him strong enough to meet difficulties; it will make him strong enough to resist temptations; for example, he will realize that the misuse of the body in immoral conduct is sacrilege, the violation of a temple—“What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?” (1 Corinthians 6:19).KJV 


No doubt many of the problems in the church at Corinth were caused by people who professed to be saved, but who had never repented and trusted Jesus Christ.  Our churches are filled with such people today.  Paul calls such people reprobate ASV, which means “counterfeit, discredited after a test.” Paul used this word again in 2 Corinthians 13:6-7 ASV, emphasizing the fact that it is important for a person to know for sure that he is saved and going to heaven (see 1 John 5:11-13).


Here are two ways of describing a Christian.  He is in the faith, and the risen Christ is in him and is the Lord of his life (Galatians 2:20; Colossians 1:27). At the outset, Paul had expressed confidence in the Corinthian believers (7:4, 16).  He generally believed Christ Jesus was in them (Romans 8:10-11; Colossians 1:27).  He never expressed doubts about their faith, for on his initial missionary visit Christ had certainly acted powerfully in their lives (1:21-22; 3:1-3; 1 Corinthians 1:26-29; 2:4; 3:16, 23; 6:19-20).  But if they didn’t believe in the fundamental truths of the Christian faith, then they would fail the test.  He hopes that they will pass the test; to do so, however, they must repent.


He is coming to them for the third time.  He will take decisive action and do whatever needs to be done, because they are looking for proof that Christ really is speaking through him; Christ who is not weak where they were concerned, but Who is powerful among them.  True, He was crucified in weakness, but He is alive by the power of God.  The apostle instructs them to keep testing themselves; he asks, “Don’t you recognize that Jesus Christ is in you, unless, for some reason you have been rejected?” They ought to know if Christ Jesus was in them, by the influences, graces, and indwelling of His Spirit, by His kingdom set up in their hearts.  Let us question our own souls; either we are true Christians, or we are deceivers.  Unless Christ be in us by His Spirit, and power of His love, our faith his dead, and we are yet disapproved by our Judge. 


It is fatally easy to make the acceptance of the Christian faith a substitute for living by it.  Jesus issued this warning, “Why call ye Me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46).  But a man must conduct his own Self-examination.  We may show him where his conduct is wrong, but conviction of sin is not reached till he has seen his sin and condemned himself.  Some people live in a fantasy world of self-approval.  They take shelter behind the sense of their own virtues and so try to avoid the self-criticism which sincerity with truth would bring.


Verse 5 is often misused to teach that we should look within ourselves for assurance of salvation, but this could lead to discouragement and doubt.  Assurance of salvation comes first and foremost through the Word of God.  The moment we trust Christ we can know on the authority of the Bible that we have been born again.  As time goes on, we do find other evidences of the new life—a new love for holiness, a new hatred of sin, love of the brethren, practical righteousness, obedience, and separation from the world.


But Paul is not telling the Corinthians to engage in self-examination as a proof of their salvation.  Rather he is asking them to find in their salvation a proof of his apostleship.



6 And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test.NIV


If the Corinthians did pass their own self-examination, then, by implication, Paul would have, also, passed the test.  However, he has made an inventory of himself, and he wants them to know that he is in the faith.  The fact that their lives had been changed by the gospel Paul had preached to them in the first place was Paul’s letter of recommendation (see 3:1-3).  Paul had founded the Corinthian church.  How could the Corinthians, of all people, question him?  The fact that they were perceiving in the faith was a reflection of the effectiveness of his ministry.  Although it was completely absurd for the Corinthian church to question their own founder, they were doing just that!  Here Paul tactfully reminded the Corinthians that their Christian faith was a result of his ministry, the same ministry that they were now questioning.  He hopes that before he arrives, they will realize that he is a minister of Christ whom God has tested and approved; if they realize this, they will repent, and he will not have to be severe with them.


On the same basis that the Corinthians are able to detect the presence of Jesus Christ in themselves, Paul hopes that they will be able to recognize that he and his associates in the ministry are not wrongdoers.  I Trust is literally “I hope.” He hopes that in their own saving relationship to Christ they will find the proof of Christ speaking (13:3) in him that they desired.  Perhaps then he will not have to come with severity.



7a We pray to God that you will not do what is wrong by refusing our correction.


Paul was a man of prayer.  He was deeply concerned about the spiritual growth of the Christian church (11:28), so he spent his nights and days praying about those who had accepted Christ as a result of his ministry (see Paul’s prayers in Ephesians 1:18-21; 3:16-20; Philippians 1:9-11; Colossians 1:9-14; 1 Thessalonians 3:10; 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12).  Although the Corinthians had caused him much trouble and grief (2:4), Paul had never stopped praying for them.  He prayed that God might give them the wisdom and the power to do what was right and not side with the impenitent sinners in Corinth.


Paul does not delight in the chastisement of his spiritual children.  He just wants them to be the type of believers they should be.



7b I hope we won’t need to demonstrate our authority when we arrive. Do the right thing before we come—even if that makes it look like we have failed to demonstrate our authority.NLT

8 For we cannot oppose the truth, but must always stand for the truth.NLT


He tells them that he has a wish (I hope).  It is his wish that they would do the right thing.  If they do, he will never need to exert his authority, and that will be no disappointment to him but a deep and real joy.  Paul never wanted to show his authority for the sake of showing it.  Everything he did was to build up and not to destroy.  Discipline must always be aimed to lift a man up and not to knock him down.  He hopes that they will listen to the exhortation he has given them.  If Paul went to Corinth with a rod, asserted his authority, and succeeded in gaining obedience to his instructions concerning discipline, then he could use them as an argument against the false teachers.  It takes a big man to listen to hard advice.  We would often be a great deal better off if we would stop talking about what we want and begin listening to the voices of the wise, and especially to the voice of Jesus Christ.


The important thing is the truth of the Gospel and the Word of God.  All self-interest is barred (5:14).  He wants only the obedience, purity, and unity of the church.  To exercise his authority for his own sake would be a prostitution of his apostleship.  The proper reception of the gospel is the great aim of his life to which all else surrenders.  So, here is another great truth we should mark well.  My friend, you can’t do anything against the truth.  That is why I don’t worry about folk who are disagreeing with me about the Word of God.  They can’t do anything against the truth.  We should declare the Word of God and not spend our time defending it.  God doesn’t ask us to defend it.  He asks us to declare it, to give it out.  The word truth, as used by Paul, refers to the gospel message that he preaches.  He means that he cannot bring himself to do anything, even for personal advantage, which would hinder the acceptance and progress of the gospel.  His aim is always to further the knowledge and acceptance of this message. This explains why in verse 7 he is willing to let his own personal interest drop out of sight.  Thus Paul, in whom is “the truth of Christ” (11:10), is able to do nothing against the truth.  His experience on the Damascus road had taught him that (Acts 9:1-6).  Paul did not state here that it is impossible to attack the truth or hinder the truth, for these things were going on at that time in the Corinthian church.  He was affirming that he and his associates wanted the truth to prevail, come what may, and that they were determined to further the truth, not obstruct it.  In the end, God’s truth will prevail, so why try to oppose it?  “There is no wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against the Lord” (Proverbs 21:30).


Thewe”of this verse probably refers to the apostles.  Paul is saying that all they do must be done with a view to the furtherance of the truth of God and not with any selfish motives in view.  Even in a matter of discipline, no thought of personal vindictiveness must enter into the reckoning.  All must be carried out with a view to the Glory of God and the good of one’s fellow Christians.


Paul didn’t want to be misunderstood.  He wasn’t praying for their success, so that, in turn, he would appear successful.  He did not want the Corinthians to fail the test just to prove that he was right.  Nor did he want them to live godly lives just so he could boast about them.  He wasn’t acting in the same way as those false teachers who preached for profit—those preachers who look for good recommendations from successful churches (2:17-3:1). The wonderful transformation that took place in the lives of the Corinthians could scarcely have come through a false teacher.  His prayer was for the Corinthians success, even if it meant that people might consider him to be a failure.  Just as Christ was willing to suffer insults and die on a cross in order to serve all of humanity, Paul was willing to become a failure and be despised and criticized for their sakes in order to serve the Corinthians and the truth of the gospel (13:4).  He was not concerned about his own reputation, for the Lord knew his heart; but he was concerned about their Christian character.  Do you have the same commitment? 



9 We are glad to seem weak if it helps show that you are actually strong. We pray that you will become mature.NLT


Just as parents will make great sacrifices for their children’s welfare, so Paul didn’t hesitate to make sacrifices for the Corinthians.  Paul wanted the Corinthians to grow in the faith and to become strong Christians.  If he had to exhaust himself, deplete his own resources, and appear weak, he would do so for their sakes (see also 1:6; 12:14-15).  He had invested much in them, spending over a year instructing them in the faith.  He wanted the Corinthians to continue to grow in the faith; he wants them to grow in grace and in the knowledge of Christ Jesus.  We still hear that expression today—“Why don’t you grow up?” That is what Paul is saying to them.  Grow up in Christ!


Paul spent hours committing them to God in prayer.  In addition to praying that the Corinthians wouldn’t do anything wrong (13:7), he prayed for their maturity (their complete perfecting); maturity has the idea of “putting into proper condition.” Thus, Paul’s prayer was that the church would be in order when he arrived (see 1 Corinthians 14:29-33 for an example of the disorder in the Corinthian congregation).  There can be no standing still in the Christian life.  The man who is not advancing is slipping back.  The Christian is a man who is always on the way to God, and therefore each day, by the grace of Christ, we must be a little more fit to stand God’s scrutiny. 


One of the ministries of our risen Lord is that of perfecting His people (Hebrews 13:20-21).  He uses the Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17) in the fellowship of the local church (Ephesians 4:11-16) to equip His people for life and service.  He also uses suffering as a tool to equip us—“And the God of all grace, who called you unto his eternal glory in Christ, after that ye have suffered a little while, shall himself perfect, establish, strengthen you” (1 Peter 5:10).ASV  As Christians pray for one another (see 1 Thessalonians 3:10) and personally assist one another (Galatians 6:1, where “restore” is this same word perfect), the exalted Lord ministers to His church and makes them fit for ministry.  Paul prayed that they might be perfectly restored from the state of confusion, contention and evil into which they had fallen.


As you share the gospel, your goal should be not merely to see others profess faith or begin attending church, but to see them grow into mature Christians.  Don’t set your sights too low.  Pray for the people to whom you speak about the gospel.



10 I am writing this to you before I come, hoping that I won’t need to deal severely with you when I do come. For I want to use the authority the Lord has given me to strengthen you, not to tear you down.NLT


In Paul’s day, when someone began explaining why he or she had written, it was a clear sign that the author was ending the letter.  The same is true in Paul’s New Testament letters.


Paul had written 2 Corinthians and was sending it with Titus (8:16, 23) so that when he came he would find the Corinthian church in order.  He wouldn’t have to use the authority God had given him to discipline the church, as he was threatening to do (13:1-4). [Perhaps what is meant here is not severe church discipline and exclusion from the church, but something far worse.  The suggestion is some miraculous punishment such as that mentioned in 1 Corinthians 5:4, the deliverance of the church over to Satan.  It would thus be separated from Christ and exposed to the sufferings which Satan controls.] Instead, Paul and the Corinthians could encourage each other in the faith and build one another up (1:23-24; 2:1-3; 10:8). 


This letter carries the same authority as the presence of the apostle himself.  Thus, although at times it appears a bit severe (for instance, see 11:3-5, 19-21), it was an expression of Paul’s great love for the Corinthians (11:11; 12:15).  Just as a concerned parent would warn an out-of-control child before the child gets hurt or severely punished, so Paul was warning the Corinthians before it was too late.  Paul didn’t want to deal harshly with them, but he would be forced to take drastic measures if certain ones persisted in sin—“I gave a warning when I was present the second time, and now I give a warning while I am absent to those who sinned before and to all the rest: If I come again, I will not be lenient, since you seek proof of Christ speaking in me. He is not weak toward you, but powerful among you” (13:2-3).HCSBThis time there will be no more loose talk and reckless statements.  Whatever is said will be witnessed and proved once and for all.  To put it in our modern jargon, Paul insists that there must be a showdown.  The undesirable situation must drag on no longer.  He knew that there comes a time when trouble must be faced.


Yet Paul still hoped and prayed for the best.  Throughout the letter, he expressed his confidence in the Corinthians.  He knew they could handle all the difficult and troublesome situations in their congregation.  (Notice how Paul endorsed the Corinthian’s actions against the offender in 2:5-11; 7:7-13.) By delaying his visit to Corinth and sending Titus instead (2:1; 7:6-8; 8:16-17), Paul was giving the Corinthian’s time to respond to his warnings appropriately.  Even though the Corinthians were doubting Paul’s apostolic authority, he was giving them the benefit of the doubt.  Paul was hoping that this letter would prepare the Corinthians for his visit.


Paul may have written this verse partly in answer to the charge of being powerful in his letters but weak in his personal presence (10:10), which has been in views since 10:1.  He writes as he has when absent so that when present he will not have to act with sharpness.  This is not a denial of his authority, but his obedient exercise.  The power which the Lord gave him was not for destruction but for edification (10:8; 12:19).  His authority is “for upholding and not for wrecking”.  But some fear he will be harsh with them since they have not taken action.  How he comes is their decision.  He is hopeful.


The authority of the Apostle Paul as a minister of Christ (13:1) includes the power to discipline the church when repentance is persistently refused (13:2). It is the power of the life of Christ, but (13:3) its use is always controlled by the ultimate purposes of the gospel (Matthew 16:19; 18:15-18; John 20:23; Acts 5:1-6; 1 Corinthians 5:5).  Sometimes the minister of the Word must tear down before he can build up (see Jeremiah 1:7-10).  The farmer must pull up the weeds before he can plant the seeds and get a good crop.  Paul had to tear down the wrong thinking in the minds of the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 10:4-6) before he could build up the truth in their hearts and minds.  The negative attitude of the Corinthians made it necessary for Paul to destroy, but his great desire was to build.


In the New Testament Church there is only one Source of authority, Jesus Christ.  He confers His authority upon His apostles by His presence; and also on ministers, teachers, administrators, etc., who exercised their authority in line with their various functions.  Such authority is not merely officially delegated, but must authenticate itself in his exercise of it: “We shall live with him by the power of God toward you.” (13:4).



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