February 21, 2020

We Point People to Jesus

A Letter for the Church Today (6, conclusion)
A Study of 2 Corinthians 10-13

“Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.”

• 2Corinthians 13:11, NRSV

• • •

It’s decision time in Corinth. As we come to the end of 2 Corinthians, Paul lets the church know that they have come to a fork in the road. They must choose which path they will follow: either the way of Christ, to which he as Christ’s apostle introduced them, or the way of the “super-apostles.” Essentially, to use Lutheran language, it is the choice between a theology of the cross and a theology of glory.

Paul’s opponents sought the glory (what D.A. Carson calls “triumphalism”) — practicing a religion that was all about impressive credentials and appearances, power, human wisdom, and outward results. Evidence suggests there was a strong Jewish emphasis in their movement (for example, 11:22-23). Therefore, it is likely that their “gospel” required adherence to the requirements of the Law in order for one to be considered a true follower of Messiah and a member of God’s people. Mixing faith with the works of the Law, they appealed to human pride, self-justification, and a sense of superiority over others.

Throughout 2Cor 10-13, Paul turned this whole perspective upside down, insisting that the ministry of Christ runs directly counter to all this. Christ’s way is the way of weakness and humble service. It’s not about impressing others, but loving them; not about big crowds and visible “success,” but about genuine pastoral concern that leads people to trust Christ and love their neighbors.

In this final section, Paul announces that he is coming to town to check on the church. On which road will he find them?

Ancient Corinth, 19th c. illustration

Paul will soon be visiting Corinth for the third time. He planted the church on his first visit, and his second visit was a “sad” one during which he had to deal with severe problems in the church (2Cor 1:23-2:4). That visit had been so painful, that Paul intentionally stayed away for awhile. But now, he will come to them again, and this visit will be yet another confirming “witness” to their ongoing relationship.

As you read this section, you can sense the distress in Paul’s heart. The very last thing he wants to do is be severe with the Corinthians. He wants their time together to be a happy one, a time of fellowship and encouragement, not one in which he has to confront sin and deal with defections from the Gospel.

And so…

  • He encourages them to remember that Paul is representing Jesus (13:3-4). Throughout this section, Paul has embraced weakness and eschewed “power” spirituality and ministry. But he reminds the Corinthians that the same Jesus who died, who came to them through Paul’s weakness, also rose again and rules as Lord of all. He lives in true power, and resides in both Paul and them. The Apostle wants them to consider that Jesus may well manifest his power in severity toward them if they reject the Gospel.
  • He encourages them to reexamine their relationship with Jesus (13:5-10). Are they Christians? When Paul proclaimed the Gospel to them, did Jesus come into their lives and make them new? If so, this should lead them to recognize that Paul is their real spiritual mentor and pastor, the one who became weak that they may be strong, the one who has prayed and worked without ceasing that they may become mature in Christ.
  • He encourages them to renew their life together in Jesus (13:11-14). In the Apostle’s final appeal and greetings, he encourages the Corinthian church to seek joy, maturity, unity, and peace, qualities that spring from their ongoing reception of Christ’s grace, the Father’s love, and the Spirit’s companionship.

Did the Corinthians respond to Paul’s appeal in 2Corinthians 10-13? Evidence encourages us to think there was no final rupture between the church and Paul, though we don’t know details about how this specific situation played out. On his next visit to Corinth, Paul penned the Epistle to the Romans, which suggests that he had time and was not preoccupied with a demanding discipline and/or recovery operation.

We also know that some forty years later, the early church father Clement of Rome wrote an epistle we know as I Clement (c. 96 AD) — an “appeal for peace and concord” to a Corinthian church that found itself in a situation of strife and contention once again. The more things change…

And so, the church ever weak, ever in need of God’s mercy, prays that “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit” will be with us all, each day and forever. Amen.

Comments

  1. …”appearances, power…and outward results..”

    You forgot to add book deals, ampitheatres that seat thousands, and control over your congregation…even if you can only recognize a handful of your “flock” from your leadership and management suite.

  2. ” Mixing faith with the works of the Law, they appealed to human pride, self-justification, and a sense of superiority over others.”

    It is the default human condition to want to add something (any little bit) to the finished work of Christ. It is EVERYWHERE.

  3. The most amazing words that The Holy Spirit spoke through Paul is that Paul (Saul) was such an adherent to the Law before Jesus;s amazing visit ( …why do you kick against the goads, Saul . . .) The Gospel of Grace . . .will we completely understand it? . . .I pray that we will journey more and more . . .’cause I often fall into the trap of graceless life. Help us O Lord!

  4. Just stumbled into this site. I hope to find good materials here to help grow my faith in Christ.

  5. I love this, Chaplain Mike:

    “Christ’s way is the way of weakness and humble service. It’s not about impressing others, but loving them; not about big crowds and visible “success,” but about genuine pastoral concern that leads people to trust Christ and love their neighbors.”

    Last night while visiting a church in my town (of another culture/language), the pastor’s wife asked me for money to help someone else, then snubbed me when I asked about an invitation her daughter made to mine about a party. I saw so much show, but it’s not only there. I see much where I attend that makes me ask “why?” I’m disillusioned.