2 Corinthians 13:1-10

2 Corinthians 13:1-10

Examination unto Restoration

We’ve made it to the final chapter in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. Having just endured three chapters on spiritual warfare (chapters 10-12), one might think that Paul will ease up at the end. Think again. He does what most preachers or pastors do at the end of a writing or a sermon: he puts the responsibility of the message back on the listeners. “What about you?” is the call to reflect and act. That’s what Paul does here. He concludes with a call for self-examination.

Paul, one of the finest Old Testament exegetes (along with the other New Testament authors), grounds his call for Corinthian self-examination in the Old Testament. He quotes part of the Deuteronomic requirement of multiple witnesses for the authentication or establishment of a word, charge, or accusation. Deuteronomy 19:15 in full says, “A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established.” This requirement is not unique to this letter alone, but it finds itself elsewhere (in 1 Timothy 5:19 in reference to charges against church elders; and in Matthew 18:16 with reference to church discipline for an unrepentant brother). Clearly, this is how we must operate as we hear various charges made against someone in the church. This was not merely an Israel-specific law, but it’s a wise, biblical principle by which all truth-lovers must operate even now. Paul, then, who has assured the Corinthians that he cannot do anything against the truth but always operates according to the truth (v. 8), has brought more than one witness against sinful Corinthian conduct. We know the charges: unrepentant, ongoing sin in the Corinthian camp (12:20-21; 13:2) and fraternizing with false apostles (thereby rejecting God’s Word through Paul). What are these witnesses? I take them to be Paul’s own visits. Each trip is a successive witness against them who remain firmly planted in sin. That his visits are the witnesses is clear from verses 1-2. His upcoming third visit will function as the third witness. He has already warned them previously and visited them twice (and even sent two or three letters before 2 Corinthians), and he is now warning them by letter.

Therefore, there is ample evidence to condemn. We do need to note, however, that he’s not rehashing sins that were met head-on by Corinthian repentance (as in chapter 7). That matter has been settled. He’s now taking on a different group of Corinthians and/or the Corinthian critics who must be rebuked and who must know that they will not be spared. Judgment is coming unless real repentance comes first. Paul, at the end of his letter, is offering a gracious warning to the impenitent that with each step Paul takes toward Corinth, judgment is that much closer. Paul can say this because it is Christ who is speaking in him (v. 3). If the Corinthians really desire proof of Christ’s revelation in and through Paul, it will be seen in his not sparing the unrepentant. Where’s this power to punish coming from? From Christ himself, who is not weak, though he was crucified in weakness. Christ is powerful among the Corinthians because of the power of God by which he was raised from the dead (vv. 3-4). Paul on his own is weak, but he’s not alone; he’s in Christ and so lives by the power of God. Get this, then: the power of judgment awaiting unrepentant Corinthians comes from the resurrected Son of God! Here is resurrected power aimed directly at sin and sinners. That’s a power you can’t hide from. In fact, Paul uses similar language when speaking to the Athenians on Mars Hill. Read these words in Acts 17 and note the connection between repentance, the day of judgment, and the resurrected Christ: “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (vv. 30-31).

With such a strong case and unavoidable judgment coming their way, what’s a Corinthian to do? Examine his life. In verse 5, we have Paul’s double command to examine and test themselves. They must search their hearts, look at their worldview commitments, hear their words, behold their behavior, and consider their relationship to God by means of their relationship to his Word through the apostle. The questions swirling their minds must be: “Am I in the faith? Is Christ in me?” This is a call to examine oneself, as some of the Corinthians have flirted with immorality and been in bed with the enemy.

Paul demands their examination, and the demand comes from his own confusion about some of their relationship with the Lord. He cannot say that he is confident that every Corinthian that confesses Christ is a follower of Christ. Even so, we’ve already seen evidence earlier in the letter that he’s confident that a majority of Corinthians really are trusting in Jesus. We also see subtle evidence in verse 6 of such confidence. Paul has not failed the test. The Corinthians are the letter of recommendation to God’s Word and work (3:2). The Corinthians are evidence that Paul has not failed the test. If Paul has not failed the test, that means that most of these Corinthians are repentant followers of Christ. Most, therefore, when they self-examine, can be assured that Christ is in them, that they are in the faith. Even with a strong warning, Paul shows a gracious confidence in God’s power of converting and sanctifying the Corinthians. There’s that twin theme of judgment and grace pervasive in the Bible.

After calling the Corinthians to examine their hearts, Paul opens the window of his own heart through his prayer life. In verse 7, he says that he’s been praying that the Corinthians will not do wrong, the wrong being a refusal to repent, an ongoing rejection of Paul’s apostleship, and an abiding in sin. Christians should never desire that their siblings do wrong. An obvious truth, but perhaps not one that could be uttered all the time from the lips of our brothers and sisters. Sometimes (perish the thought!) we secretly desire the fall of another, because, in a Satanically twisted way, it makes us look better. But notice Paul’s motive for his prayer. It’s not that Paul will be made to look good. He doesn’t want the Corinthians to be closer to Christ so that he, Paul, would be vindicated and seen to be a great vessel of the Lord. That’s what he means by, “not that we may appear to have met the test.” He goes on to say that he wants them to do good, even if he appears to have failed. Paul says essentially, “Even if you think I’ve failed you, still do good!” Paul is concerned about God, his glory, his goodness, and his work in the lives of the Corinthians. His motive for the Corinthians’ practice of holiness is not Paul-centered but God-centered.

You can see this other-oriented concern in verse 9 as well, when Paul would gladly prefer his own weakness if that meant the Corinthians’ strength in the Lord. Some are strong, others are weak. For this reason, Paul continues to pray for them. Not only does he desire their well-doing, but also their restoration. The word for restoration (κατάρτισις) is used only here as a noun, but it appears as a verb in 13:11 (“Aim for restoration,” which is one word in Greek). The word-group may point to a perfecting or maturing (as in 1 Thess. 3:10 and Heb. 13:21), or it may refer to a coming-together (a mental unity in 1 Cor. 1:10; a brotherly restoration in Gal. 6:1; and a post-suffering divine restoration in 1 Pet. 5:10). Paul is praying that the Corinthians would be put in order, or set right, by moving away from the Corinthian critics, by fully supporting God’s Word and work, and by moving away from Christless conduct (as in 12:20-21).

I hope you can see Paul’s love for Christ and Christ’s church through this letter, and even through this last call for examination. Granted, Paul will be severe in his use of authority, if necessary (v. 10). If sin remains in the camp, if false teachers keep on keeping on, then Paul has something severe to say and do. Judgment will arrive, if necessary. But, of course, Paul’s desire is “for building up not for tearing down.” Hence the call for self-examination. Hence the prayer for well-doing. Hence the prayer for restoration. Hence the warning!

Do we care about sin in our lives and in the lives of our brothers? We ought to be concerned about our wooden planks and their splinters. Do we heed Christ’s warning against sin? Do we warn others of sin, its consequences, and the resurrected power of Christ used to punish it? In the same breath, however, do we pray for restoration? Do we desire well-doing, a habit of holiness? It all comes down to this question really: Is Christ in us?

What about you?

  • Romans 11:33-36

    Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways!
    For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counselor? Or who has given a gift to Him that he might be repaid?
    For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.

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