This will be my third visit to you. “Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” 2 Corinthians 13:1
Here Paul is recounting his visits to the Corinthian church. Obviously, on his first visit he had founded the church (Acts 18:11). He had stayed with the new church and taught them for a year and a half. His second visit was made while he was living in Ephesus. It was a quick and painful visit that was made in order to try to solve some urgent problem (2 Cor. 2:1, 5). Now he was preparing for a third visit, in hopes that he could spend the winter at Corinth.
There seems to be an urgency in his visit and a certain dread that things may not turn out well. Nevertheless, he seems determined to bring the whole problem to a head or to a show down. He reminds the Corinthians of certain key Scriptures in this regard. Deuteronomy 19:15 says, “One witness is not enough to convict anyone accused of any crime or offense they may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses” (cf. Num. 35:30; Deut. 17:6; Matt. 18:16; Jn. 8:17; 1 Tim. 5:19).
It appears that Paul is comparing his visits to the Corinthians (soon to be three), with the three witnesses required in the Scriptures that we have just mentioned. Bruce puts the words in Paul’s mouth: “My three comings will take the place of three testimonies.” 1 Paul’s overall purpose is to build the church but, as we see in the Bible, sometimes it is necessary to tear down certain things before true building can take place (cf. Jer. 1:10). Some in the church had stood against Paul’s apostolic authority. Hughes says, “Rebellion against an appointed minister is rebellion against the higher power that appointed him.” 2 Paul was quite determined to deal with this simmering rebellion and bring it to an end.
“I already gave you a warning when I was with you the second time. I now repeat it while absent: On my return I will not spare those who sinned earlier or any of the others, (13:2). Paul is called to build, but he is willing to do what it takes to solve the problem once for all. Obviously, the judgment of God is at hand regarding this troubling situation (cf. 1 Pet. 4:17, 18).
The Judaizers or false apostles had scoffed at Paul and his supposed authority, but now the apostle is determined to bring an end to this rebellion. It is clear that neither the Corinthian Christians nor the false apostles had correctly appraised Paul’s authority and power. We know previously that people had died in the Corinthian church for abusing the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:30). People died in the Jerusalem church for abusing Peter’s authority (Acts 5:1 ff.). Apostolic authority was nothing to play around with. We remember how Elymas the sorcerer was struck blind for resisting Paul’s ministry (Acts 13:8-11). To come against apostles whom God had especially chosen and sent out was a fearful thing.
So, life could be endangered by opposing the apostles. Also, there was the possibility of what came to be known as excommunication. Early believers had paid a dear price to join with the Christian community. In many cases they had cut most all ties with the pagan world. Thus, to be cast out of the church was a dreadful thing. Since there was only one church in a city it was impossible to leave the church and join another as people casually do today in the West.
There were no doubt many other forms of punishment Paul could inflict. We remember that the apostles were given spiritual power to bind and loose on earth (Matt. 18:18). Paul could come with a rod of chastisement to afflict the disobedient ones at Corinth.
Paul says, “since you are demanding proof that Christ is speaking through me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you” (13:3). Barker and Kohlenberger state: “It seemed as if in their immaturity the Corinthians were unimpressed by Christ-like gentleness and meekness (10:10) but were overawed by arbitrary displays of power (11:20).” 3 They were obviously about to see a display of apostolic power from Paul.
In this verse we begin to see a contrast with certain Greek words. The word for “proof” is dokimēn. This word means to test, try and approve in hopes that the test will be successful.4 In word-play, it will be contrasted with adokimos of verse 5 and following. This word means to fail the test.5
“For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him in our dealing with you” (13:4). Paul points out how Christ himself was weak as he came to earth but he will be strong in their midst. Christ was resurrected with great heavenly power and took his seat at the right hand of God. He will also come again with mighty power to raise the dead and judge the world. They will surely witness some of this power as Paul comes again into their midst.
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? 2 Corinthians 13:5
Here Paul continues on with the contrast we mentioned earlier. He commands them to test themselves (dokimazete) to see whether or not they are in the faith. If they are not, they will fail the test (adokimoi) and be reprobates. No doubt, Paul realizes that the church will always have wheat and tares growing side by side until the coming of the Lord (Matt. 13:24-30). Wheat must be ultimately recognized as wheat and tares must be recognized as tares.
How do we test ourselves regarding our faith? We need to remember that the Spirit bears witness with our spirits that we are truly God’s children (Rom. 8:16). When we are born again we immediately have a different attitude toward the world and its things and toward God and his things. When we come into his kingdom we suddenly have peace with God. The warfare in our souls is over (Rom. 5:1). We become like newborn babes and start desiring the sincere milk of God’s word (1 Pet. 2:2). There is new life because of Christ in us (Rom. 8:10). It seems we are all too eager to examine others, but we might wonder if we are just as eager to examine ourselves.6 In fact, the Corinthians had been examining Paul, and now it was their turn.7 It is clear that Christians can know their true character. Paul says: “…I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day” (2 Tim. 1:12).
In ancient times the testing process often had to do with metals. They were put into the fire to determine their strength, durability and worth. Redpath says that self-examination, “takes the chill away from your soul, it takes the hardness away from your heart, it takes the shadows away from your life, it sets the prisoner free.” 8
“And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test” (13:6). We see that they were so busy testing the apostle that they had neglected to test themselves. They surely needed a spiritual check-up. How could they dare question the apostle who had brought the glorious gospel to them? He and his helpers had not failed and there were vibrant churches all over the Mediterranean world to prove that they had not failed.
Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong— not so that people will see that we have stood the test but so that you will do what is right even though we may seem to have failed. 2 Corinthians 13:7
Martin Luther once said that he could be called a devil or anything else, just as long as Christ was exalted.9 Paul seems to have a similar attitude. He wants the people to pass the test even if it seems the disciples have failed.
“For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth” (13:8). Meyer says, “None can really injure the truth or stop its victorious progress. As well try to stop the sunrise.” 10 In our day truth is under siege with our many new postmodern philosophies. We must remember that there is such a thing as eternal truth and that our lives ultimately will be measured by this truth. As Christians we realize that Jesus is the Truth (Jn. 14:6).
“We are glad whenever we are weak but you are strong; and our prayer is that you may be fully restored” (13:9). Paul simply prized weakness as we have pointed out. He realized that God works in weakness. His prayer was that the Corinthians could finally be strong in the faith. He desired that they be fully restored (katartisin). This Greek word has to do with restoration in the sense of setting a dislocated limb or perfectly joining things together.11 From what we have read so far, we would have to agree that the Corinthians surely needed this restoration.
“This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority— the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down” (13:10). In the First Century when persons began to explain why they had written, it was a clear sign that they were ending the letter.12 Paul is about to do that very thing.
The apostle did not wish to use his authority to discipline. His authority was given primarily to build up the church. So often when great authority is used it tears things down rather than builds them up. It is love that really builds things up. Guthrie says, “A display of force might impress the world, but it would hardly build up the church (cf. 10:8).” 13 We can be fairly certain that things went well when Paul got to Corinth. There are several reasons for thinking this. He stayed there three months (Acts 20:2-3). While he was there he had enough peace and presence of mind to write the great Epistle to the Romans. He even planned a trip of pioneer evangelism to Spain and the far west (Rom. 15:22, 28). That would have hardly been possible if the work at Corinth was crumbling. In Romans 15:26-27, we learn that the Corinthians had heeded Paul’s request and had completed their offering to Jerusalem. They even seemed happy about doing it.14
PAUL’S FINAL GREETINGS
Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. 2 Corinthians 13:11
Paul urges the Corinthians to rejoice (chairete). After all, it is the joy of the Lord that is our strength (Neh. 8:10). To walk in the joy of the Lord is to walk in the Spirit. The Corinthians are to work towards full restoration. This is the Greek word (katartizo) and it means to restore something to its former position.15 In addition, they are to encourage one another and be of one mind. Being of one mind was one of the secrets of success in the early church (Acts 4:32). In Romans 12:16, Paul advises: “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.” It is obvious that the Corinthian church had done very poorly in the area of unity (1 Cor. 1:11-13). There is a difference between uniformity and unity. “Uniformity is the result of compulsion from the outside; unity is the result of compassion on the
“Greet one another with a holy kiss” (13:12). Giving and receiving the holy kiss was a very common custom in the early church (cf. Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:20; 1 Thess. 5:26; 1 Pet. 5:14). It sounds a little strange today in our western culture. It was obviously an oriental custom that was in practice throughout the area. Jesus rebuked the Pharisee host for not giving him the customary kiss (Lk. 7:45). Also, we note that Judas gave Jesus the customary kiss at the betrayal (Lk. 22:47-48).
The custom of giving the holy kiss of greeting continued in sub-apostolic times. Justin Martyr (c. AD 160) remarks about it: “Having ended the prayers, we salute one another with a kiss.” 17 Apparently, as time passed the holy kiss was abused by some. Clement of Alexandria (c. 195) complains: “There are those who do nothing but make the churches resound with a kiss, not having love itself within.” 18 Keener remarks about it also: “Due to abuses, in subsequent centuries the church limited the practice of the liturgical kiss of fellowship to men kissing men and women kissing women, although this was not the initial practice.” 19
We might wonder if this practice is still in vogue, particularly among the Jewish people. In Israel today the kiss as a greeting is probably more popular than a handshake. It is very common to see Jews of both sexes giving a greeting kiss, but the kiss is quite unlike our Hollywood style of kissing. When two people meet, the greeting kiss and light embrace is given gently and simultaneously by both parties and both sides of the face are kissed. There is nothing sensual about this kiss even when it is done between a man and a woman. We might hasten to add that such a kiss, while practiced commonly with Arab men would never be given by a strange man to an Arab woman. The same is true in regard to Orthodox Jewish women. In these cases even a handshake is usually out of order.
Today in our western world the cultural equivalent of the kiss would probably be a handshake, a hug or a warm greeting. Christians should always take care to express their love and greetings in a manner that is sanctioned by the society in which they live.20
“All God’s people here send their greetings” (13:13). In the Greek language it is all the saints (hagioi) who send their greetings. We must understand that saints in the Bible are common people like you and me. They are just common people set apart for the Lord and his work. The saints who were sending their greeting no doubt lived in Macedonia, likely in Philippi.21
“May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (13:14). “This great trinitarian doxology is one of the most widely used on earth, the beauty and effectiveness of it being known to millions in all nations…This priceless doxology prayerfully closes the Second Epistle to the Corinthians; and, after all that has been said, of censure and warning, the lowest sinner in the congregation is made a beneficiary of this apostolic benediction, no less than all
the rest.” 22
This benediction addresses all three members of the Trinity – God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit. Early Christians did not believe in three gods, but on One God who had revealed himself in three persons (cf. Mt. 3:17; 28:19; Lk. 1:35). This benediction is unusual since Jesus is mentioned here first.23
The idea of the Trinity was anathema to the Jewish people of course. Most Jews thought of the Holy Spirit as some kind of prophetic force that came from God. By pairing Father, Son and Holy Spirit together Paul disputes this belief and indicates that they are all divine.24 Many people today have problems with the Trinity, and a good number of these call themselves “Christians.” It is interesting that the Trinity is not only a biblical necessity but even a philosophical necessity.
The philosopher Francis Schaeffer says of this:
To have an adequate answer of a personal beginning, we need two things. We need a personal-infinite God (or an infinite-personal God) and we need a personal unity and diversity in God…What we are talking about is the philosophic necessity, in the area of being and existence…Let us think of the Nicene Creed – three Persons, one God. Rejoice that they chose the word “person”…If this were not so we would have had a God who needed to create in order to love and communicate. In such a case, God would have needed the universe as much as the universe needed God…Three Persons of the Trinity communicated with each other, and loved each other before the creation of the world…this is not the best answer; it is the only answer. Nobody else, no philosophy, has ever given us an answer for unity and diversity…Every philosophy has this problem and no philosophy has an answer. Christianity does have an answer in the existence of the Trinity.25
No doubt, it was a difficult task for Paul to write this book of Second Corinthians. Barclay says, “Finally, he finishes with a blessing. After the severity, the struggle and the debate, there comes the serenity of the benediction.” 26