Warning of impending discipline, if necessary (v1-2)
v1a, “This is the third time I am coming to you.” The first visit was when Paul founded the church in Corinth. He was there for a year and six months. It is described in Acts 18. The second visit we don’t have record of in the book of Acts, but it’s alluded to in 2:1 of this letter. It was apparently a brief painful visit in which Paul had to deal with some problems in this church. Likely in 12:20-21 Paul is recalling the painful experience of that 2nd visit.
Now, Paul just made this same announcement of coming to them for a 3rd time back in 12:14. Why repeat the same announcement here? Well, I think the announcement serves a different purpose each time. In 12:14 the announcement contributed to his purpose there of establishing that his ministry to them is not motivated out of a desire to get their money, as he was accused. The fact that Paul did not take money from them on either of his 2 previous visits and promises that he will not do so this time either should assure them that Paul is not after their money. Here in 13:1 the announcement of his 3rd coming I think serves to assure the Corinthians that on this upcoming visit he is prepared to facilitate church discipline. It’s like when your mother told you, “I’ve already talked to you twice about your behavior.” That means if you persist to misbehave she’s going to take a different approach to adjusting your behavior. I hear Paul likewise saying here, “I’ve been there twice. We’ve talked twice about how we must live. So now it’s time for more than just talk if there are still those there who have not repented.”
In the rest of v1 he quotes from Deuteronomy 19:15, “Every fact is to be confirmed by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” That was a command by God that before any legal action could be taken against someone accused of a crime there had to be the corroborating testimony of at least 2 witnesses. There are different opinions about Paul’s intention with this quotation. Some believe that he is simply indicating the principle that he will operate according to when he leads this church in disciplining some of its members, that we will not take any disciplinary action toward anyone until there are at least 2 witnesses to confirm the person’s sinful behavior… which is a principle that Jesus taught His disciples to follow in cases of discipline (Matthew 18:15-17). Or you could understand Paul to be using this quotation as an illustration. He may be picturing his 2 previous visits to Corinth and the 3rd which was about to happen as the 2 or 3 witnesses. And he may be simply saying that it’s like 2 witnesses have already taken the stand and a 3rd is about to, and so now it’s time for the next stage of the disciplinary process. Either way you interpret it, Paul is issuing a warning of discipline when he comes.
In v2 the warning is stated in plain language. “I have previously said when present the second time, and though now absent I say in advance to those who have sinned in the past and to all the rest as well, that if I come again I will not spare anyone“. “Those who have sinned in the past” are the ones mentioned in 12:21, who have struggled in their Christian walk with impurity, immorality and sensuality. Perhaps Paul has heard that some of them have fallen back into these sins because all that was holding them back from them was words they’d heard or read from Paul. But now that the false teachers have caused them to question Paul’s apostleship it has weakened the words that once restrained them, so they have returned to these sins. The threat in Paul’s statement “I will not spare anyone” is, for one, the humiliating experience of being rebuked in the presence of the whole congregation (I Tim 5:19-20; Matt 18:17a) and then, if need be, being “handed over to Satan”/disfellowshiped (I Tim 1:19-20; I Cor 5; Math 18:17b; II Thess 3:6,14-15).
A further bit of evidence for Paul’s apostleship (v3-4)
In v3-4 Paul appears to have in mind a charge that his opponents in Corinth were making against him, and one that he has been dealing with throughout the letter. It appears they charged Paul with being too weak, too soft to be a true apostle of Christ. Their argument may have sounded something like this.
“Think of how the risen Lord Jesus Christ is toward you and in you. Weak or mighty? Mighty. He commands with authority. He demands submission and obedience. He disciplines those who are out of line. He empowers you with miraculous abilities. And you know that one day before Him every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and He will destroy this world and deal vengeance on those who refused to submit to Him in their lives. So if Christ is really using an individual as His representative, what should we expect to see from that individual? We should expect might, power, strength, boldness, impressiveness. But what do we see in Paul? Cowardice. He won’t dare say to your face the sort of things he will say to you in his letters (10:1). Unimpressiveness. His personal presence is unimpressive and his speech is contemptible (10:10; 11:6). Weakness. He’s a crybaby (2:4; 11:28-29; 12:21). He’s just a pathetic individual. How could you possibly be so naive to think that he’s a representative of the glorious almighty commander and chief of the universe? But you know, we’re not afraid to say things that might hurt your feelings. We’re not afraid to order you with boldness to do what you need to do. We’re not afraid to tell you that you ought to support us. We’re not afraid to slap you upside the head when you need it (11:20-21). We have the appearance, the rhetoric skill, the courage, boldness, strength, impressiveness that you should expect to see in an apostle of Christ.”
And amazingly the Corinthian Christians were actually starting to listen to that nonsense (11:4,20). So Paul’s been dealing with it throughout the letter. He’s tried to show that they’re looking at things as they are outwardly and superficially instead of looking at the heart (5:12; 5:16; 10:7; 11:18-21). They have mistaken meekness, gentleness and humility as being weakness (10:1). They’ve overlooked the fact that Christ Himself while a man on earth was “weak” by their definition (4:10, 10:1; 11:17; 13:4). God uses “weak” men to do great things so that it’s evident that it is by His power and not by theirs (4:7). For various reasons weakness and suffering actually enable one to be a more effective witness for Christ (1:3-11; 4:8-15; 12:9-10). Paul continues to deal with the charge here in 13:3-4.
In v3 Paul mentions that the disciplinary actions that he will take if he finds some still unrepentant on his upcoming visit to Corinth will be the sort of evidence that they been looking for of his apostleship.
But in v4 Paul points out that people also thought that Christ was too weak, too soft. In fact that’s the reason they crucified Him. Christ was not the aggressive military warlord who would lead the Jews in overthrowing the Romans as the Jews were expecting of the Messiah. His personal presence, for one thing, was unimpressive, “no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him” (Isaiah 53: 2). “He will not quarrel, nor cry out; nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets. A battered reed He will not break off, And a smoldering wick He will not put out” (Isaiah 42:2). He was too gentle, too peaceful, too patient, too merciful, too easily brought to tears (Jn 11:35; Lk 19:41), too loving of His enemies to be the mighty Messiah in their minds. So they charged Him with blasphemy when He confessed that He was and crucified Him for it. Yet God showed His approval of Christ by raising Him from the dead. And Paul is following in the steps of Christ in being what some are calling “weak”. Yet one day God will show His approval of Paul and of all follow in the steps of Christ by doing for them what He did for Jesus.
A call to examination (v5-6)
v5a calls the Corinthians to do some self-examination. “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves!” They’ve been examining Paul, “seeking for proof of the Christ who speaks in him” (v3). But who they need to be testing and examining is themselves… to make sure that they are in the faith. “The faith” is simply to the body of truth that that God has given us to believe in and live according to (Acts 6:7; Jude 3). It’s basically equivalent with the gospel. That’s what God has given us to believe in and follow. To be “in the faith” is to believing what it reveals and living as it instructs.
In v5b Paul indicates what we’re looking for when we examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith. “Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you — unless indeed you fail the test?” I think he’s saying here’s the big pass or fail question – Is Christ in you? If so, you’re in the faith. If no, you fail the test. Many understand the phrase “Jesus Christ in you” to mean having His literal presence actually in them or among them. Certainly Christ is with His people to help and protect them (Matt 28:20; Acts 18:10; Eph 4:10; Phil 1:19; II Thess 3:16; II Timothy 4:17,22). But Paul often uses the language of “Christ in you” to refer to reflecting Christ from the inside out, to exhibiting the mind and heart of Jesus. Notice the language in other statements from Paul.
- Galatians 2:20 he said, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me…” What’s he mean? He’s clearly not speaking in literal physical terms. Paul had not literally physically been crucified with Christ. But he means that his old self, his old way of thinking and his old character is gone. And it’s been replaced with the thinking and character of Christ. He’s taken on the mind and heart of Jesus and that’s now the mind and heart that’s running his life.
- Galatians 4:19, “My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you…” Do you see what Paul’s ministry and his gospel was to bring about in people? Christ formed in them. That’s what the gospel is intended to produce – Christlikeness in the hearts of people.
- Colossians 1:27, Paul talks about the gospel and calls it “the mystery,” because it was kept a secret for all the previous ages of time. And at the end v27 Paul sums up with one short concise statement the basic central message of the mystery/the gospel. Here it is, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” That’s the central message of the gospel. Crucify the old self, let Christ be formed in you, and as you do you have the hope of glory. You can look forward to eternity with God.
- Remember II Corinthians 3:17-18, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” This is what it is to be a Christian. It is to beholding in a mirror the glory of the Lord, the praiseworthy characteristics of the Lord. And not of His physical appearance, but of His Spirit. We’re looking at the Spirit of the Lord. We’re seeing in the testimony of the apostles and prophets the mind and heart, the thinking and character of the Lord, and it’s like looking in a mirror. You look like Jesus if you’re a Christian. But not perfectly or absolutely. Paul says we’re being transformed more into His image. And “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” I think that’s like “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Where people are reflecting Christ, where people have a spirit that looks like the spirit of Jesus, that’s where there’s liberty, freedom from sin, from law, from Satan; that person has the hope of glory.
So the big self exam question is “Is Jesus Christ in you? Is beauty of Jesus seen in you?”
More specifically what should we look for in ourselves? Paul has mentioned in this letter a number of characteristics of Christ.
- Meekness, gentleness, humility, what some mistake as weakness (10:1; 13:4).
- Not boasting to exalt self (11:17).
- Generosity (8:9)
- Controlled by love for God and love for people (5:13-14).
- Enduring suffering to do the will of God (4:8-10).
- Honesty (1:19).
v6 calls the Corinthians to reexamine Paul and his fellow workers to see if they reflect Christ. And Paul expresses his confidence that they will be able to see that he and his fellow workers pass the test.
An assertion of Paul’s sincere concern for the Corinthians (v7-10)
Paul’s love and concern for the Corinthians was being questioned by the Corinthians because of the allegations Paul’s opponents were making about him (10:2; 12:16; 1:12-13,17).
In v7 Paul anticipates and answers the objection that “He is just concerned about his own status and popularity. That’s why he’s trying to convince us to reject his opponents and to recognize him as an apostle of Christ. He just cares about himself.” Paul denies that his concern and that of his co-workers is just that they may appear approved. He affirms that their concern is about the Corinthians avoiding wrongdoing, doing what is right, obeying the will of God. And Paul says he would even be willing to be unapproved if it meant that they would just do the right thing in their lives. It’s similar to the feeling Paul expressed in Romans 9:3, “For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.”
v8 explains why rejecting his opponents, recognizing his apostleship and continuing to trust and follow the gospel he preached to them is doing what is right and for their own good. It is because Paul and his assistants can do nothing to hinder the advance of the truth like preach some distorted gospel. They can only spread and defend and promote the truth. So choosing Paul over the new teachers in their midst is simply doing what is right. It’s simply aligning themselves with the truth. It’s not just something Paul wants them to do for selfish reasons.
In v9 when Paul says “we rejoice when we ourselves are weak” I think he means when we are weak in the minds of some because we’re not harshly rebuking sin and “flexing our apostolic muscles” and administering church discipline. Paul rejoices when he doesn’t have to do that because his converts are strong in the faith. And he says he’s praying that they may “be made complete.” Or could be translated “made whole” or “mended” or “repaired” or “restored.” The term refers to something being put back into its proper condition. The word here in the Greek text is a noun, but the verb occurs over in Matthew 4:11 where it refers to James and John and their father Zebedee mending their fishing nets. After you’ve used nets for fishing for a while there will be some rips and tears in them. So you mend, repair, restore them to good condition again. The Corinthians were in a good spiritual condition until these new teachers showed up and began to lead them astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ (11:3). So Paul’s prayer is that they may be restored to the good condition they were in before the arrival of these teachers.
In v10 he states his purpose in writing this letter. It is to bring the Corinthian Christians to make the changes they need to make before he arrives so that his visit with them may be a pleasant and encouraging one, that they can avoid the miserable experiences he described in 12:20-21. But there is a warning in this verse that if the changes called for in this letter are not made, then Paul will not hesitate to use severity and discipline the wayward members. He says here that he has authority from the Lord to use severity with those who are not repentant. But he wants them to know that if he exercises that authority and disciplines certain members it will not be to tear them down or harm them. It will be for their spiritual up building. It will be to bring them into compliance with the will of God that their souls might be saved (cf. I Cor 5:5).
Benefits of heeding what’s written in the letter (v11)
“Finally,” – everybody’s favorite word to hear come out of the preacher’s mouth. It means we’ll be having lunch soon.
“brethen” means “I see you as family and care about you as family, and you need to see and care about each other as family.”
These commands in v11 are all interesting in that they are each commanding something that every person wants. Everybody wishes they could do these things.
The 1st command, I’m not sure why some versions translate it “farewell” or “good-by”. This the only place they translate it that way. Usually it’s translated rejoice or be glad. It’s the same word in Phil 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” Same word in I Thess 5:16, “Rejoice always.” I think Paul is giving them the common exhortation he gives in his writings, “Rejoice!” Be happy. Who doesn’t want to do that? Who would rather moan and groan and be miserable?
The 2nd command, “be made complete – is the same word in the Greek at the end of v9. It means to be whole, mended, repaired, restored to good condition. Who doesn’t want that, to be whole, to be in good spiritual condition?
Be comforted or be encouraged. Certainly everybody who’s experiencing any kind of discouragement or distress would want to be that.
Be likeminded… Well, that would be nice. To think alike, to have the same goals, be intent on the same purpose, to care about the same things. Then we’d live in harmony with each other.
Live in peace or be at peace. Who enjoys strife and conflict? Or who wants internal conflict, anxiety and stress and fear? Everybody wants to be at peace with other people and within themselves.
Everybody would like to do what is commanded here, if they could. These commands I think are all results or byproducts of doing other things. You can’t just do these commands in and of themselves whenever you want. Think about coming upon a terribly depressed discouraged crying person and just saying, “Hey, be happy! Be comforted! Be at peace!” That’s not going do any good. Because there’s no happy switch in our minds that we can just flip when we want to be happy. These commands are useless commands unless accompanied by an explanation of how to accomplish them.
And I think the Corinthians knew that, and I think they knew that Paul knew that and that Paul has not left them without an explanation of how to accomplish these things. He has given it to them in this letter. The means to joy, restoration, comfort, likemindedness and peace for them are in this letter. The primary means is to reject these teachers who are troubling them and causing them to doubt their relationship with the Lord, recognize again Paul as a true ambassador for Christ and that the gospel he preached to them is reality and that eternal salvation is theirs as they follow the Christ Paul taught them. Knowing you’re doing what’s right in your life and you have the favor of God and you have a portion in the new heavens and new earth is how you rejoice no matter what you’re having to deal with temporarily. When they heed what Paul’s written them they’ll also be mended, restored to good spiritual condition. They’ll be comforted. They’ll be likeminded because they’ll agree on truth of the gospel and be committed to spreading the same gospel and have the same understanding of how to live. And they’ll live in peace with one another and enjoy peace in their hearts knowing that they’re doing what’s right and they have God’s favor and He’s going to take care of them.
And then in rest of v11 Paul tells them that when they do this, when they heed what he’s written to them and as a result do these 5 other things he just mentioned, then “the God of love and peace will be with them.” How is He the God of love and peace? Well, love and peace are dominant characteristics of God and they are what He wants to see in people and what He works to produce in people (II Thess 3:16). He chooses to be with those who let Him produce love and peace in their hearts and lives. And when God is said to be with somebody in Scripture it means God is on their side blessing them, helping them, protecting them, hearing their prayers, causing all things to work together for their good (Gen 21:22; 26:28; 39:3).
Greetings and closing wish (v12-14)
Three things Paul wishes for the Corinthians from the three personas or manifestations of God (or whatever the right term is if there even is a right term in the English language). Paul wishes for them the grace, the unmerited favor, of the Lord Jesus Christ, that though none of us deserve any good thing from Him, in spite of that, that the Lord may just be kind and generous and benevolent to them. Paul wishes for them the love of God, the special love God has for His people. God loves the whole world. He so loved the world that He sent His only Son so that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. But God has a greater love for His people; He adopts them as His children and makes them heirs of the world to come. And Paul wishes for them the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. As it was grace from the Lord Jesus and love from God, I think this is fellowship from the Holy Spirit. Paul wishes for them that the Spirit of God may work in their lives to produce a sharing, a commonality between them and God, a common love, a common righteousness, a common joy and peace (Rom 5:5; 14:17; Titus 3:5-6). May the Spirit of God produce that fellowship in you, make you one with God and with each other.
– James Williams