Notes on 2 Corinthians 13:1-5

2 Corinthians 13:1‑5  •  7 min. read  •  grade level: 10
The apostle reverts to his intention of visiting the Corinthian saints once more, and in such a way as to give a solemn force to the visit when it should be accomplished.
“This third [time] I am coming unto you. At [the] mouth of two witnesses and three shall every word [or, matter] be established. I have foretold and foretell, as if present the second [time] and now absent, to them that have sinned before and to all the rest, that if I come again I will not spare. Since ye seek a proof of the Christ speaking in me (who toward you is not weak, but is powerful in you, for although he was crucified in weakness, yet he liveth by God's power; for indeed we are weak in him, but shall live with him by God's power toward you), try your own selves whether ye be in the faith, prove your own selves. Or recognize ye not as to your own selves that Jesus Christ is in you, unless indeed ye be reprobate?” (Vers. 1-5.)
It had been already explained why the second visit had fallen through. It was to spare them he had not come. When he should revisit them, they must not expect such forbearance. His patience had been misconstrued by some, if others had profited. But this third time he was coming; and when he did, everything should be established with due evidence. The previous warnings he had given, not only to those that had sinned heretofore but all the rest, only strengthened his resolve not to spare at his coming again. The language most naturally conveys that he had not gone to Corinth the time when he had intended his second visit. Hence he says, “I have foretold and foretell, as if present the second time and now absent, to them that have sinned before and to all the rest,” &c. There is no ground apparent to my mind that this was literally a third visit, rather on the contrary the Second in fact, though third in purpose.
It helps greatly to the understanding of what follows to see that, whether marked externally or not, there is a parenthesis after the first clause of the third verse which runs through the fourth also; so that the connection of the first clause of verse 8 is really with verse 5. “Since ye seek a proof of the Christ speaking in me,.... try your own selves whether ye be in the faith, prove your own selves.” It is a final notice of and answer to their unworthy questioning of Paul's apostleship. Did they demand a proof of Christ speaking in him? Were not they themselves proof enough? Had He not spoken to their souls in that servant of His who first caused His voice to be heard in Corinth? As surely as they were in the faith, which they did not at all question, he was an apostle-if not to others, assuredly to them. The many Corinthians who, hearing the apostle, believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, were the last who ought to gainsay the messenger if they appreciated the message and Him who sent the messenger. If they were reprobate, having confessed Christ in vain, there was no force in the appeal, which derives all its power from their confidence that Christ was in them as the fruit of the apostle's preaching.
This also shows how baseless is the too common abuse of the passage, as well as of 1 Cor. 11:2828But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. (1 Corinthians 11:28), to sanction a doubting self-examination, as one often hears not only in the practical history of souls, but in the teaching of doctrinal schools otherwise opposed. Here, say they, we are taught to search ourselves and see that we be not too confident. Does not the apostle in the first Epistle to the Corinthians call on each habitually to examine or prove himself before partaking of the Lord's Supper? and does he not pursue that special call by the general exhortation in the second Epistle to examine or try themselves whether they be in the faith? The truth is that an examination of the context in each case dispels the error as to both-an error which strikes directly at the peace of the believer, if not also the truth of the gospel. For the gospel is sent by God, founded on the personal glory and the work of His Son, to bring the believer into communion with the Father and the Son in full liberty of heart and with a purged conscience. These misinterpretations, under cover of jealousy for holiness, tend immediately to plunge the soul into doubt through questions about itself.
What then do the passages respectively teach? 1 Cor. 11:28-3128But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. 29For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. 30For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. 31For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. (1 Corinthians 11:28‑31), the duty, need, and value of each Christian testing himself by the solemn truth of the Lord's death expressed and confessed and enjoyed in His supper. How slur over sin of any kind, were it but levity in word or deed, in presence of that death in which it came under God's judgment unsparingly for our salvation? Nor is it enough to confess our faults to God or man, as the case may require; but as on the one hand we discern the body, the Lord's body, in that holy feast of which we are made free and which we can never neglect without dishonoring Him who thus died for us, so on the other hand are we called to discern ourselves, scrutinizing the inward springs and motives of all and not merely the wrong which appears to others. But this intimate self-searching, to which we are each called who partake of the Lord's Supper, is on the express ground of faith, and has no application whatever to an unbeliever. This last doubtless has been mischievously helped on by the error of “damnation” in the Authorized Version of verse 29, which verses 30-32 clearly refute, proving that the judgment in question is the discipline of sickness or death which the Lord wields over careless or faulty saints in positive contrast with the condemnation of. the world.-As for the passage in our chapter we have already seen that the argument derives all its force from the certainty that those appealed to were in the faith, not in the least that they were uncertain. That they were in the faith through Paul's preaching ought to have been an unanswerable proof that Christ spoke through him; if Christ was not in them, they were reprobate; and was it for such to question his apostleship? Scripture never calls a soul to doubt, always to believe. But self-judgment is ever a Christian's duty; and our privileges, we being in ourselves what we are, only deepen the importance, as representing Christ, of dealing with ourselves truly and intimately before God, as well as of reminding our souls habitually of the Lord's death and of its infinite and solemn import as celebrated in His Supper.
The parenthesis connects the apostle's ministry, Christ's speaking in him, with all he had laid down before as its true principle throughout the epistle, as well as in the preceding chapter. Christ certainly had shown Himself toward them not weak, but powerful in them. Let them only bethink themselves of the past, and weigh what His grace and truth had done for them. And if they found fault with the apostle as indifferent to, yea, as despising and abominating, fleshly power and worldly wisdom, let them think again of the Savior, who “was crucified in [lit. out of] weakness, yet he liveth by [lit. out of] God's power.” Let them judge then who was consistent with Christ, His cross and His resurrection-they with their natural thoughts; or the apostle with his ministry so despicable in the eyes of some? “For indeed we are weak in him, but shall live with him by God's power toward you.” Where was dependence in faith of the crucified One? Where real power, as became the witness of resurrection and glory on high? Where unselfish devotedness and practical grace answering to Him who loved the church and gave Himself for it?