Notes on 2 Corinthians 13:6-14

2 Corinthians 13:6‑14  •  9 min. read  •  grade level: 11
Thus did the apostle turn the unworthy demand of some in Corinth as to his apostolate to their own souls' blessing as well as to the overthrow of their argument. So at the beginning of this epistle he had dealt with their imputation of fickle levity if not of untruthfulness by insisting on the immutable truth of what he preached of Christ, and the power of God in the Holy Ghost's blessing that confirmed it in the believers. Not less does he here overwhelm those who, in their anxiety to dishonor his commission from Christ, were bringing to naught their own title to Christ. Did they seek evidence of Christ that spoke in Paul, and that was not weak toward them but was mighty in them? Let them try their own selves whether they were in the faith. The apostle was content with no better evidence than his Corinthian converts, unless indeed they were reprobate, which was far from the ground they took or he. He had far rather give them, and that they required, no proof of his apostolic power in severe discipline.
“But I hope ye shall know that we are not reprobate. But we pray1 unto God that ye may do nothing evil, not that we may appear approved, but that ye may do the right though we be as reprobate. For we can do nothing against the truth but for the truth. For2 we rejoice when we are weak and ye are strong: this also we pray for, your perfecting. For this cause I write these things while absent, that I may not when present deal severely according to the authority which the Lord gave me for building up and not for casting down.”
It is impossible to conceive a more admirable dealing with a state of mind which must have been as grievous as it was humiliating to the apostle. Their high-minded ingratitude and short-sightedness only brought out an answer complete and withering, yet dignified, lowly and loving. His heart was occupied with their further blessing, more than with his apostolic office, which he asserted for their sakes more than his own. To stand in doubt of him might jeopardize their own faith rather than his apostleship, which was there to be exercised if need were in vindication of the Lord against their evil, as it had already been by grace in their conversion. But he prayed that they might give no such occasion, not that the validity of his claim might appear, but that they might do that which became saints, even though he might lack such proofs or be ever so depreciated. There would then be no occasion for the display of power, as their honorable walk would testify for the truth; and as for the apostle, he could say “we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth. For we rejoice when we are weak and ye are strong.” And he prayed for this too, their perfecting.
It was reserved for the anti-church to claim irrevocable authority along with immunity from error. Where difference exists among the faithful, it is folly to claim a character which attaches only to their agreement in the power of the Spirit. And the apostle disclaims what the Roman pontiff arrogates, that clave errante the decision binds. The inevitable effect, soon or late, will be destruction, not edification. It is not Christ, but human assumption, not to say presumption.
Whether it be an individual's assumption or an assembly's, or whether as in one notable theory it be the chief along with that which represents the church as a whole, such a claim is fictitious and destructive of the Lord's glory. The promise is strictly conditional, not absolute; and never was there an apparent failure save when the condition was broken, and then in very faithfulness the Lord gave not His sanction. To be unconditionally true, there ought also to have been infallibility, which belongs not even to an apostle but to God alone. The meek will He guide in judgment, and the meek will He teach His way; and this now in the church by His own guaranteed presence and leading, though nothing seem harder to conceive where the several wills of so many would naturally act diversely. But He is there in the midst to make good His gracious power when truly waited on, with subjection in the Spirit to the written word which casts its divine light on facts and persons; that all without force or fraud may act as one in the fear of God, or those who dissent may be manifested in their self-will, whether they be few or many.
But the taking for granted that a given sentence is irrevocable, because it is the opinion of a majority or even of a whole assembly, in the face of facts which overthrow its truth or righteousness, is not only fanatical (I do not say illogical only) but wicked fighting against God. In such a case, humbling as it is, most humbling for an assembly to judge itself hasty and mistaken in pretending to the mind of the Lord, where it was only the illusive influence of prejudiced leaders or the weakness of the mass who prefer general quiet in floating with the stream at all cost, or both causes or others also, the only course at all pleasing to the Lord is, that the error when known be confessed and renounced as publicly as it was committed, being due to Him and to the church, as well as to the individuals or company, if there be such, more immediately concerned. To keep up appearances in deference to men however respected if mistaken and misleading, to give expression to high-sounding terms or to vague begging the question of truth and right, in order to cloak an evident miscarriage of justice, is unworthy of Christ or of His servants. This was far from the apostle, who, as at the beginning of this epistle he disclaimed lording it over the faith of the saints, at the end proves his sincere desire, even when grievously slighted, to avoid if possible sharp dealing with those who had afforded grave occasion, and to use the authority which the Lord gave him for building up and not for casting down.
“For the rest, brethren, rejoice [or, farewell], be perfected, be encouraged, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you. Salute one another with a holy kiss. All the saints salute you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit [be] with you all3.”
May our souls be corrected and strengthened and refreshed by so benignant a conclusion! It well befits the epistle of restorative grace. The work of bringing back the saints in Corinth to meet thoughts in the Lord as to themselves and His servants, and the apostle especially, was only begun. Much remained to be done, both in fulfilling obedience and in avenging all disobedience. But the apostle was encouraged of God, and would comfort them on his part. He bids them, not merely farewell, but rejoice; he wishes what was lacking supplied, what was awry adjusted; he desires them to be not discouraged by or in occupation with themselves, but cheered on as they looked at his exhortation to the Lord; he would have them cultivate, not crotchety points of difference, but the same mind; he calls them, not to indulge in questions gendering strife, but to live in peace; and he assures them that the God of love and peace, as one combined blessing in the power of His presence, should be with them. What a spring of consolation for those who in the measure of deepening self-judgment might otherwise have been cast down! Nor was it only of that divine source of blessedness he assures them, but he calls on the expression to one another of mutual and holy love, as he sends it from all the saints in that part of Macedonia whence he wrote.
The benediction that closes all has the same suitability which we see in each epistle, admirably adapted to the state of the Corinthian saints, and of course not only to all others in similar experience but instructive and wholesome for all that believe. Yet for this very reason one feels the unintelligence which turns such words of blessed point into a standing invariable form for all sorts of different occasions, as if we were reduced to one such mode of dismissal, or that it was of the Spirit of God to select that which might seem the most comprehensive and comforting. As God gives no license to confusion in the assemblies, so does He not sanction those who walk in pride and passion, in self-will, railing, and contention, however graciously He may act, when they begin to judge themselves. We need, not the word of God only, but His Spirit to apply it aright: else we may unwittingly pervert even that word to real mischief, with cheer where reproof is rather called for, and rebuke where consolation would be more seasonable. But what grace is told out in this inspired servant sending under all the circumstances such a parting message to all the saints in Corinth “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.” Poor, weak, unworthy, what can saints lack to help them when this is made good? and what-simple soul among the faithful would doubt it on such a warrant? or desire less or different for himself and his brethren? The free and full favor of Him who for us died and rose; the love of that God against whom we had without cause sinned to our utter ruin, yet who sent the Savior to redeem us; the fellowship of the Holy Ghost, the power and seal of this infinite blessing, who gives us a common and abiding share in it all, yea, with the Father and the Son: what a portion to be with us all, and assured forever.
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