Conflict, Maturity, Growth, Examination, 2 Corinthians
When writing a letter, a paper, a book, or almost anything else, you use the end of what you are writing to summarize what you have been trying to say, draw conclusions and make any final points. The end is where you try to bring everything together. The old outline (which I do not think is particularly valuable) is: Tell them what you want to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you told them.
We have been attentive to what Paul wrote the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians. It has been a different kind of letter. He talked about comfort, about trials, about life beyond the grave, about generosity, and also a great deal about a conflict that had taken place between Paul and his antagonists in Corinth.
Now Paul draws his letter to a close. He wraps things up with a warning about the visit he was planning for Corinth and then he gave the church directives on what he hoped would be found true about them.
As we read these words I hope you will be challenged in your own walk with God.
Paul began wrapping things up by warning the church again that he is coming to visit them and this could be a good experience or a bad experience depending on the attitude of the people.
This is the third time I am coming to visit you (and as the Scriptures say, “The facts of every case must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses”). I have already warned those who had been sinning when I was there on my second visit. Now I again warn them and all others, just as I did before, that next time I will not spare them.
I will give you all the proof you want that Christ speaks through me. Christ is not weak when he deals with you; he is powerful among you. Although he was crucified in weakness, he now lives by the power of God. We, too, are weak, just as Christ was, but when we deal with you we will be alive with him and will have God’s power. (1-4)
The meaning of the first verse is hard to discern. We don’t know whether Paul is saying the facts will be established because it is a third visit (which is an awkward interpretation) or whether Paul is reminding them that any charges against him need to be established by two or three witnesses. Personally, I think this interpretation makes the most sense.
The idea of two or three witnesses is a Biblical principle and a good one. Think of how much trouble we could avoid if we insisted on this in our dealing with each other. It would eliminate many of the spurious rumors that get started and blow up into something destructive. The idea of having the witnesses actually confront the one they are talking about would silence even more nonsense.
Paul warned the church that he is not going to hold his punches. He is done playing with the antagonists. These people who claim he had no backbone, he said, will find out just how forceful he can be.
We know from reading other accounts in the Bible that Paul was able to shred most arguments and he was fearless when facing opposition. Remember this is the guy who had been beaten several times, imprisoned, stoned, and left for dead. This was a tough and very smart guy. He continues
5 Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. Test yourselves. Surely you know that Jesus Christ is among you; if not, you have failed the test of genuine faith. 6 As you test yourselves, I hope you will recognize that we have not failed the test of apostolic authority.
The Corinthians had been examining Paul. They had been weighing the various teachers. Now Paul turned the focus on them. He said it was time for them to examine themselves. They needed to consider whether or not they possessed genuine faith or simply a faith of convenience.
This is good counsel for all of us. There are many who are in the church who are not in Christ. They are devoted to a group of people, a Pastor, a family history, or what they believe is living a “good life” but they are not devoted to Christ. They are not really IN the faith, they are simply associating with the faith community.
So how do you go about examining yourself in this all-important matter? There are some questions that would be good to periodically review.
- Do I see myself as a sinful person in need of rescue?
- Do I believe that Jesus is the only one who can so rescue me?
- (This one is key) Have I placed my trust and confidence in Christ as my Savior and have I surrendered to Him as my King and Master?
To flesh out that last question we can ask additional questions
- Do I live my life in gratitude for a gift I do not deserve?
- Am I honest about my sin rather than trying to argue that I am righteous?
- Do I seek to live my life in accordance with the commands of the Bible? In other words, am I desiring to conform my behavior and will to God’s counsel in the Bible because I believe His way is best or am I trying to twist His will to serve me?
- Do I find myself loving the Lord more and more?
- Am I seeing myself becoming more “loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled” in my relationships with others?
- Am I angry less and more willing to forgive?
Again, these things are not a means to salvation, it is evidence of the change that God is making in your life as a result of your trust in the work of Christ..
Paul suggested something that is a good principle for life: before you condemn others it is always good to examine yourself.
- Is it possible you have misread a situation?
- Are you condemning someone for something with which you yourself struggle?
- Are you playing God by laying down rules that are not in the Bible?
- Are you keeping your distance from someone because you feel you are “better than they are”?
We should all examine ourselves regularly. Paul concludes his warning with these words,
We pray to God that you will not do what is wrong by refusing our correction. I hope we won’t need to demonstrate our authority when we arrive. Do the right thing before we come—even if that makes it look like we have failed to demonstrate our authority. For we cannot oppose the truth, but must always stand for the truth. We are glad to seem weak if it helps show that you are actually strong. We pray that you will become mature. I am writing this to you before I come, hoping that I won’t need to deal severely with you when I do come. For I want to use the authority the Lord has given me to strengthen you, not to tear you down.
Paul pointed out that refusing correction is sin. Paul had tried to correct the Corinthians. He pointed them to the truth. He said it was time for them to get their act together. Paul hoped that it will be before they ever arrived. If they did that, Paul would not have to defend himself any longer.
Paul says, “I want to use the authority the Lord has given to strengthen, not to tear down.” As we saw last week, this shows us the heart of Paul. I have argued that it should be the heart of every believer because it was the heart of Jesus. Do you remember the words of John 3:17?
God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.
God’s intention is not to ‘beat us up’. What He wants to do is lead us into a deep and satisfying relationship with Him. However, those who spurn that relationship will find that they face the fierceness of God’s wrath.
There are times when we must confront evil. There are times when if we speak the truth it will be hard for others to hear . . . however, when we need to speak these hard truths we should not be looking for confrontation, we should be looking to encourage people to grow in grace and truth. In other words, such confrontation should focus not on making things better for us, but on trying to stimulate growth in the other person.
Paul concluded his letter with some final instructions.
11 Dear brothers and sisters, I close my letter with these last words: Be joyful. Grow to maturity. Encourage each other. Live in harmony and peace. Then the God of love and peace will be with you.
12 Greet each other with Christian love. 13 All of God’s people here send you their greetings.
14 May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
The first command is easier to say than do: “Be Joyful”. That sounds a little like someone telling you not to be sad, or not to cry, when you are already sad and crying. However, Paul was encouraging the Corinthian believers to choose joy rather than contention.
We generally associate joy with our circumstances. In other words we think joy is having a new car, a pay raise, a vacation on the beach. Those are nice things but they do not produce joy. Joy is a choice! It is choosing to see God’s blessing in all things. Joy comes from being right with God and walking with Him. You can have joy regardless of the circumstances. This is why in Philippians we are told to ‘rejoice in the Lord always” (4:4).
Ask yourself this question: Are you choosing to rejoice or are you choosing to be miserable? Does that sound harsh? It is not. It reminds us that we can choose how we respond to the circumstances of life. We can overlook and forgive faults or we can fixate and stew over them. We can see the thorns as evidence of God’s sadistic mentality or we can see them as ways to discover the God’s grace is sufficient for any and every situation. You can choose to focus on what you believe you “deserve” or you can rejoice that God has given us grace instead of what we so justly deserve.
Second Paul encouraged the people to “Grow to maturity”. The ESV says “Aim for restoration” The NIV says “Listen to my appeal”. Paul is calling the people to rise above the pettiness and squabbling that has been recently been characterizing the church. In other words, he is telling them to grow up! It is time for them to begin to act on what they say they believe.
There are many in the church who declare a commitment to Christ and then never grow. They continue to function by the values and tactics of the world but now they go to church. A growing believer is one who is more and more adopting the way of Christ in contrast to the ways of the world around us. In the book of Romans Paul said,
Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. (Romans 12:2)
Third, Paul called the Corinthians to encourage each other. Once again Paul challenges the church to stop dividing from each other and begin cheering for each other. Instead of throwing rocks at other churches we should be encouraging our fellow believers.
Fourth, live in harmony and peace. Are you catching a theme? Paul wanted the Corinthian Church to start acting like the church of Jesus Christ rather than one more organization controlled by power and pettiness.
If you turn the verse around you can declare: if we want the love and peace of God to be with us, then we need to pursue harmony and peace with each other.
What does this kind of pursuit look like?
- A willingness to forgive offenses because we have all been forgiven.
- Recognizing that even though we are new creatures in Christ, we all struggle with the reality of the deeply rooted nature of sin.
- Choosing to focus on the possibilities we see in others rather than on their liabilities and differences.
- Reminding ourselves that we are all at different stages of growth, understanding and passion. Just because someone does not share our passion does not mean they are wrong and we are right. It just means we are different.
- It means focusing on the gospel we hold in common rather than on the expressions of that truth on which we may differ (like on mode of baptism, frequency of communion, style of music in worship, beliefs about the second coming of Jesus, what version of the Bible is best).
Fifth Paul tells us to greet each other warmly. Paul actually said, “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” The Message translates this “Great each other with a warm embrace”.
One scholar writes
ethical teachers were “not noted for urging people to kiss” and that Paul “was certainly the first popular ethical teacher known to instruct members of a mixed social group to greet each other with a kiss.” Thus, “The holy kiss is to be seen in a living context of people who are building a new social reality.” “The admonitions to kiss one another serve to stress the liberty to express without inhibition to all people of whatever background, rank or gender, the ardor of agape in any context. The ‘holy kiss’ is a public declaration of the affirmation of faith: ‘In Christ there is neither male nor female, Jew nor Greek, slave nor free’ (Gal. 3:28).”
The point of all of this is that we should greet each other as we would greet family. In the Middle East that was a kiss on each cheek. In our context it would be a hug or a handshake. Why should we do this? Because we ARE family. We are part of God’s family though Christ. Every time we get together we express this with our handshakes and hugs. Obviously, we should be careful not to violate someone’s “personal space” or comfort zone. We must guard what is proper while at the same time celebrating what is unique about the Christian community.
I rejoice when I look around our sanctuary on a Sunday morning and see the various kinds of warm embrace extended. I am thrilled to see small groups bowing in prayer for each other. This is a sign of genuine community. It is an expression of that oneness that Jesus died to make possible.
Paul concluded his letter to the Corinthians by turning the focus again to where it always should be: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit”.
The church is healthy and honoring to the Lord when it recognizes that we have come together not because we are good or better than others. We are brought together as those who have received an astounding gift. Our Lord gave His life so that we might be forgiven and have new life. He is the reason we are made new. His work is what makes it possible for us to be part of His Kingdom.
God’s posture toward us is not that of a deity with his arms crossed and a scowl on His face. Instead, He is like the Father of the Prodigal Son. His arms are open. He loves us in spite of the way we have treated Him. He welcomes us home.
Our salvation is not simply an individual thing. It is communal. Through the Holy Sprit we discover what community looks like. He helps us to see beyond ourselves so there is room in our lives for others.
So, we complete our study of the book of 2 Corinthians grateful that the Holy Spirit led Paul to write it. May God help us to embrace His grace, trust His love, and grow together into a community of faith that represents Him as He deserves to be represented in the world. May the world see in the way that we treat each other that we belong to Him and we are living now, to live again.
 Hughes, R. K. (2006). 2 Corinthians: power in weakness (p. 234). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.