A second letter to the Corinthians of Paul’s doctrines for the church, as well as instructions for the church age.
A second letter to the Corinthians of Paul’s doctrines for the church, as well as instructions for the church age.
Thursday, 28 January 2016
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen. 2 Corinthians 13:14
This is the last of the 257 verses of the book of 2 Corinthians. Paul ends this marvelous epistle with words reflecting the nature of God revealed in the pages of Scripture; that of the Trinity. Charles Ellicott notes that, “It is not without a special significance that the Epistle which has been, almost to the very close, the most agitated and stormy of all that came from St. Paul’s pen, should end with a benediction which, as being fuller than any other found in the New Testament.”
The words are rich and alive. They reflect both a prayer of blessing and a hope for the ending of the strife and division which so permeated the church at Corinth. And so he begins with, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Normally, words describing the Trinity do not begin with Jesus, but with God (implying God the Father). However, the thoughts are inverted here.
The order he has chosen is important to Christian theology because it shows that there is really One God revealed in three Persons without any inequality between the three. If there were, Paul’s words would be most inappropriate. However, this shows that they are truly co-equal within the Godhead. His words, rather than noting any distinction, are given based on priority of thought. He wants, first and foremost, to highlight the “grace of the Lord Jesus Christ” one last time to them.
Grace is one of the great themes of the Bible. Man is fallen and man needs grace for his salvation and for his continued walk with the Lord. Paul asks for this marvelous blessing to be bestowed upon his audience. In this petition, it is understood that they are undeserving of it. One cannot merit grace. Therefore, the petition is one of hope that this unmerited favor “of the Lord Jesus Christ” will continue to be lavished upon them – sinners already saved by that same grace.
He next focuses on the “love of God.” The term “God” here is certainly speaking of “God the Father.” This is evident by the naming of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit in the same verse. Albert Barnes describes the words of this clause – “The love of God brings salvation; imparts comfort; pardons sin; sanctifies the soul; fills the heart with joy and peace; and Paul here prays that all the blessings which are the fruit of that love may be with them.
This logically follows “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ” in order because one cannot truly experience the continuous and eternal stream of the love of God without first being reconciled to Him. It is through the grace of Christ that this occurs. Though it is also an act of the love of God, without receiving the grace by faith, one cannot continue in the love of God. However, once the gift is received, the love of God will be realized and reveled in.
Paul’s final words of the epistle close with, “…and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.” The communion, or fellowship, of the Holy Spirit is something that not all believers fully experience. One is sealed with the Holy Spirit upon belief (Ephesians 1:13, 14). At that moment, they receive their guarantee of eternal life and they receive the fullness of the Holy Sprit. They will never receive “more” of the Spirit.
However, this doesn’t mean that they will experience the fullness of what they have received. In Ephesians 5:18, Paul tells us to “be filled with the Spirit.” In the Greek, it is an imperative, but it is also in the passive. This means that we are not actively, but passively filled with the Spirit. This then means that He will fill us as we yield to Him. This is done through prayer, praise, worship, fellowship, and study of His word. It is through these things that we are “filled” with the Spirit. We have all of the Spirit we will ever receive, but He can get more of us as we yield to Him.
In yielding, we enter into fellowship with Him. It is this blessed state which Paul prays will come upon his audience at Corinth (and thus us!) as he writes to them. It is something they were surely lacking, but something that his letter of love to them hopes for. May it be with us as he has prayed for them!
The final word “Amen” is apparently missing from most early manuscripts and therefore many scholars suggest that it is a later addition by a scribe. Whether this is so or not cannot be precisely determined. No matter what, it is something that Paul would have surely said in his heart, even if it was unstated with his pen. It means “So be it,” and this would have been Paul’s fervent desire for them.
Life application: You have now made it through 257 verses of the book of 2 Corinthians. You are next admonished to carefully evaluate the coming book of Galatians; a book which contains 149 wonderful verses of doctrine for our understanding. Stay tuned as we prepare ourselves for that journey by relying on the very benediction which has been bestowed upon us by Paul at the end of this marvelous letter, 2 Corinthians.
Lord God, is it too much for us to get up each day and spend a good amount of time in Your word before we start our other activities? Is it right that we spend so much time playing on social media, watching TV, going to sports games, and otherwise frittering away the time while neglecting Your perfect gift of love and learning for us? Help us to get our priorities right, even now O Lord. Help us to faithfully reach out and pursue Your superior word. Be pleased to bless us as we pursue You. And should You fail to bless us for neglecting Your word, then isn’t that a just note of censure? If so, then give us wisdom to learn from it and take it to heart. Amen.
Wednesday, 27 January 2016
All the saints greet you. 2 Corinthians 13:13
As the letter begins to close, Paul reminds the Corinthians that they are still beloved by the members of the other churches. In other words, he hasn’t maligned them in any way and he hasn’t led them to believe that the church in Corinth wasn’t worthy of their greeting. Instead, he notes to those around him that he was writing to the Corinthians, and they in turn asked for their greeting to be passed on to them. It is a sign that Paul had presented the church at Corinth to them as a group of fellow Christians.
The first letter to the Corinthians ended with the statement, “The churches of Asia greet you.” Now, when ending this letter he says, “All the saints greet you.” It is of note then that wherever he was, he considered all of the churches and their members as a part of the greater church-universal. It is his intent to ensure that they felt this bond of the greater family through his words.
Life application: It is important to not divide what God has joined together. When a church is in right standing with the Lord, they should be considered as brothers and sisters in Christ. Lesser doctrinal differences are to be expected, but those who hold to proper orthodoxy in the greater issues should be treated with the kind respect which Paul shows in his letters to the churches that he addresses.
Heavenly Father, help us to be appreciative of, and kind to, the various churches we may encounter in our travels. As long as the main issues of doctrine are held to, help us to overlook some of the lesser points we may not agree with – types of music, form of worship, small differences in opinion about issues which are debatable. Help us to be friendly and accepting of those who have called on Christ, building them up and treating them just as He would. Amen.
Tuesday, 26 January 2016
Greet one another with a holy kiss. 2 Corinthians 13:12
Paul just said, “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.” Continuing on now in the hopes they will follow that advice, and in order to promote the general good of the congregation, he tells them to “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” This was, and still is, the custom in many parts of the world. The kiss is intended as a greeting just as western nations today shake hands or possibly hug, depending on familiarity. In the Far East, a deep and respectful bow is given in substitute of this.
Although Paul’s letters are prescriptive, intent must always be considered. Is Paul mandating that all people in all churches meet one another “with a holy kiss?” The answer is “No.” The reason why this is important is because there are small pockets of churches that mandate this even today and even in western societies, such as the US. However, the intent of the kiss of greeting is cultural, not merely biblical. Proof of this follows from the first kiss noted in the Bible in Genesis 27:26 when Isaac blessed his son Jacob before he departed to Padan Aram.
From that point, the kiss is seen among the covenant people and among those who aren’t yet in the covenant, thus demonstrating the cultural nature of the greeting. It is used in the same way we use a handshake. When Jacob met Rachel, without knowing her in any familiar way yet, he kissed her. In 2 Samuel 20, the following exchange begins with a kiss of greeting and ends in death –
“Then Joab said to Amasa, “Are you in health, my brother?” And Joab took Amasa by the beard with his right hand to kiss him. But Amasa did not notice the sword that was in Joab’s hand. And he struck him with it in the stomach, and his entrails poured out on the ground; and he did not strike him again. Thus he died.” 2 Samuel 20:9, 10
In 1 Samuel 20:41, David and Jonathan, close male friends, gave a fraternal kiss in accord with the culture before departing. And, Proverbs 27:6 notes the following –
“Faithful are the wounds of a friend,
But the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” Proverbs 27:6
This demonstrates clearly that the kiss is cultural because even enemies will kiss rather than shake hands. This is seen in these parts of the world today when leaders who are at war with each other still greet with a kiss. Exchanging “kisses” with “shaking of hands” in this Proverb would hold exactly the same meaning and intent.
And as a premier example of this, read this exchange between Jesus and Simon the Pharisee –
And He said to him, “You have rightly judged.” Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.” Luke 7:43-47
And of course, the most famous kiss in history is recorded concerning Judas’ betrayal of Jesus and reflects the sentiments of Proverbs 27:6 (above) perfectly.
It is important then to understand the cultural nature of this admonition by Paul lest we get swept up into legalism over something which is actually not intended for all cultures and in all situations. If a person with an immune deficiency were to use this verse in a prescriptive manner, he could soon be dead from receiving the germs of others.
Finally, the kisses in these and other verses throughout the Bible which are between men and men (such as David and Jonathan noted above) are not in any way intended to convey the perverse sin of homosexuality as modern liberals often imply. They are merely cultural and welcoming displays just as handshakes are today. To imply this in their writings shows a disregard for God’s order in the natural world.
Paul ends this thought with, “The churches of Christ greet you.” This carries on the warmth that has been transmitted so far. He has gone from personal greetings, to personal recommendations for continued harmony and love, and has finished with extended greetings from many others. He has been careful to show that the bonds of Christian love extend out in all ways and to all those who are believers.
Life application: If you are in Rome, do as the Romans do. If you are in Japan, do as they do. It wouldn’t be appropriate to go to church in the Far East and attempt to hug, kiss, or even shake the hands of another unless they first offered. If you are in a mid-eastern area, a fraternal kiss may accompany a greeting. In America, a hearty handshake and maybe a friendly hug is the custom. The intent of Paul’s words is promoting warmth and harmony between believers, not causing offense.
Lord God, how grateful I am to travel the world and to see so many different cultures that worship You in their own way while still exalting the wondrous work of Jesus. It shows me that You truly are the God of the nations and He is Lord over people of every race, creed, and culture who have set their hopes In You through His finished work. The songs differ, the layout of the meeting places varies, and the way prayers are conducted are unique, but when the Son is exalted, You O God are glorified! Amen.
Monday, 25 January 2016
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. 2 Corinthians 13:11
Paul begins his final words here with the statement, “Finally, brethren, farewell.” First, despite all of the problems associated with the church and all of the questions about their walk and the application of proper doctrine among them, he never questions their salvation. Instead, he counts them as “brethren.” It is a reminder of his continued proclamation that if someone is saved, they will remain saved. He never questions this.
Secondly the word “farewell” is literally “rejoice.” Charles Ellicott notes that it is the standard way that Greeks parted, and so the word being translated as “farewell” is acceptable and makes the word understandable to an English-reading audience “if only we remember that it was used in all the fulness of its meaning. ‘Rejoice—let that be our last word to you.'”
After this, he petitions them to, “Become complete.” He is asking them to listen to the words he has written and apply them to their lives. In doing so, the dysfunction and disorder which they continued to experience will be taken away. In turn, they will be a properly functioning and healthy congregation where all things find their correct place. He is petitioning them for wholeness in their life and conduct before the Lord.
“Be of comfort” is what will naturally result from accepting his counsel and acting upon it. There are promises in the gospel which go beyond salvation. They lead to harmony in this life and rewards in the next. In order to secure those things, a right application is necessary. If this is accomplished, then this comfort Paul petitions for them will be realized.
“Be of one mind” is a goal that he has directed them towards in both of his letters. For us, it is by applying all of Scripture to our lives. When we are united in God’s word, then we will be of one mind. In a united mind, the pitfalls which he noted in 1 Corinthians 12:20 will be avoided. Instead of those things, there will be harmony and they (and thus us!) will “live in peace.”
Living in peace comes from being of one mind and it is a blessed state that all believers should work for in this life and which they should anticipate with all their hearts because it is a foreshadowing of the true peace which will be realized when we are gathered to the Lord. If this is the goal of the congregation, it will permeate their lives and be a mark of the true Christian fellowship which is often lacking because of personal strife and ambition.
The verse closes with the words, “…and the God of love and peace will be with you.” According to Scripture, God is love. Therefore, we are to emulate Him. In so doing, He will be among us in an intimate way. As God doesn’t change, then His love neither increases nor decreases. Rather, it is we who move in relation to Him. His love will be realized more fully when we are loving towards each other and towards Him.
He is also the Author of peace. Therefore, in pursuing peace, harmony, and contentment, we will be emulating Him. He will be with us and He will bless us for pursuing this blessed state. This final clause is a conditional one then. The “God of love and peace” being with us is dependent on our actions. When we are filled with strife, backbiting, anger, and contention, His presence will not be there as it should be. But when these are put aside and we pursue love and peace, His presence will permeate us and our fellowship.
Life application: If we want peace, then we need to be peacemakers. If we want to experience love, then we need to receive God’s love and share it among one another. Let us pursue this with all of our hearts, knowing that a portion of our rewards and losses at our judgment will be based on these things.
Great God of love and peace, help us – the people of Your pasture – to be of one mind and to live peaceably towards one another. Grant us the desire to not be backbiters or people who crave division and disharmony. Instead, give us hearts that are willing to yield our heart to one another and to You. The world is so filled with strife, but we can have a place of peace in our congregations if we are directed toward Your demonstration of love and peace which came at the cross of Christ our Lord. So help us in this, O God. Amen.