Paul’s Final Warnings to the Corinthian Church
(2nd Corinthians chapter 12, verses 14-21; Chapter 13)
In this week’s study we will be finishing up 2nd Corinthians as we continue our exhaustive study of the writings of the apostle Paul. Taking up where we left off last week, we are beginning at verse 14 of chapter 12, where Paul continues his train of thought about his trials and tribulations, testifying that he was only able to get through them all with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God. He then expresses his concern for the church at Corinth, wondering if they will be strong enough to hold up under trials and persecution as he had.
“Now I am ready to visit you for the third time, and I will not be a burden to you, because what I want is not your possessions but you. After all, children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. So I will be very glad to spend for you everything that I have and expend myself as well. If I love you more, will you love me less? Be that as it may, I have not been a burden to you. Yet, crafty fellow that I am, I caught you by trickery! Did I exploit you with any of the men I sent you? I urged Titus to go to you and I sent our brother with him. Titus did not exploit you, did he? Did we not act in the same spirit and follow the same course? Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? We have been speaking in the sight of God as those in Christ; and everything we do, dear friends, is for your strengthening. For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and that you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear there may be quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder. I am afraid that when I come again my God will humble me before you, and I will be grieved over many who have sinned earlier and have not repented of their impurity, sexual sin and debauchery in which they have been involved.” (2nd Corinthians 12, verses 14-21, NIV)
Notice what Paul writes in the very first verse of today’s study, “ …what I want is not your possessions but you”. This is a clear reference to something he wrote in the previous chapter (that would actually be two studies ago) when he criticized various churches and factions for competing with each other for membership and fund-raising, very similar to the majority of today’s churches. People can tithe their ten percent to the church for their entire lives, but if any are counting on their generous gifts to get them into heaven they are going to be disappointed at best – and horrified at worst – when their time comes. Remember what Jesus said in the four Gospels, “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, but those who humble themselves will be exalted”. God is exactly the same as Paul wrote about. He couldn’t care less about our stuff. He wants us. Everything he, Titus and Timothy (“our brother”) did was for the upholding and edification of the church. They took no credit for themselves for their ministries, but gave all the credit, praise, glory and honor to Almighty God through Jesus Christ our Savior. Yet Paul expresses his concern by wondering if he will find a unified church when he returns, or whether there will be “factions” within the church, as Paul called them. If he finds them at odds, or worse yet in competition, with each other then all Paul’s work would have been for nothing and he would be faced with starting over again on a clean sheet of paper, so to speak. This was apparently a significant worry to him. Bearing that in mind, let’s now continue at verse one of chapter thirteen.
“This will be my third visit to you. ‘Every matter must be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses’. 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, since you are demanding proof that Christ is speaking through me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. 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 to serve you. Examine yourselves to see if you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you – unless, of course, you fail the test? And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test. Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong. Not that people will see that we have passed the test but that you will do what is right even though we may seem to have failed. For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. We are glad whenever we are weak but you are strong; and our prayer is for your perfection. This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come I may not have to be harsh in the use of my authority – the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not tearing you down.” (2 Corinthians 13, verses 1-10, NIV)
As you can see in verse 1, Paul has definite plans in place to visit the Corinthian church for a third time. We now know that this never did occur, as we discover in the book of Acts – also called the Acts of the Apostles – but I think I’ll save that one until then so we can examine it in better context. For the moment, Paul clearly warns them sternly not to stray from what he taught them, and he wrote “our prayer is for your perfection”, meaning a form of perfection that transcends humanity and intellectual thought that can only be found in Christ. Jesus is the only way we can achieve Spiritual perfection. There is no substitute for Him, none at all. Finally, Paul reminds them that everything he has said and done has been for their own good, and he chides them about being too sensitive to criticism – an antique version of what we would call “tough love” today. Discipline and the exercise of authority, when done responsibly with love, can yield excellent results, and that’s want God wants us all to achieve in our walk with Christ.
Never give up, never give in, but keep on trying to become not just a better person than what you are, but to become something more than what you are. Jesus said, “I have come that you may have life, and that you may have it in abundance”. He also said, “Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and the door will be opened”. The point Jesus was making is that while God has given us the ability and the freedom of choice to better ourselves, He not only wants us to have as good a life as we possibly can, He also expects us to do our part to help make good things happen. Like the apostle Paul, Jesus would also give us some tough love – and occasionally does as I have found out firsthand – because that’s how we become better Christians, better people, and better citizens of the kingdom of God. And now, Paul closes out 2nd Corinthians with this elegant goodbye.
“Finally, brothers, good-bye. Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints send their greetings. May the peace and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (2 Corinthians 13, verses 11-14, NIV)