A. Paul warns the Corinthians to examine themselves before he comes.
1. (1-4) Paul promises to come with severity, if necessary.
This will be the third time I am coming to you. "By the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established." I have told you before, and foretell as if I were present the second time, and now being absent I write to those who have sinned before, and to all the rest, that if I come again I will not spare; since you seek a proof of Christ speaking in me, who is not weak toward you, but mighty in you. For though He was crucified in weakness, yet He lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, but we shall live with Him by the power of God toward you.
a. This will be the third time I am coming to you: On his first visit to Corinth, Paul founded the church and stayed a year and six months (Acts 18:11). His second visit was a brief, painful visit in between the writing of 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians. Now he is prepared to come for a third time.
b. By the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established: Paul quotes this passage from Deuteronomy 19:15, and quotes it in reference to his coming visit. Either the two or three witnesses are Paul's three visits, or the testimony of his associates. But the point of the quotation is to remind the Corinthian Christians that he comes this time as a judge. He has enough evidence to write, "If I come again I will not spare."
i. Those are strong words: "I will not spare." But the situation among the Corinthian Christians called for strong leadership. A Christian pastor must never let authority to corrupt into authoritarianism, yet "Rebellion against an appointed minister is rebellion against the higher power that appointed him." (Hughes)
c. Since you see a proof of Christ speaking in me: Paul's opponents, the most eminent apostles among the Corinthian Christians (2 Corinthians 11:5 and 12:11), said they wanted to see more "power" from Paul. He seemed to weak and humble for their liking. So, Paul addresses this thinking: "You want to see proof of Christ speaking in me? Fine. When I come the third time, you will see the power of God in my rebuke as I clean house. So clean it up before I come."
i. For though He was crucified in weakness, yet He lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, but we shall live with Him by the power of God toward you. Just as Jesus displayed weakness, yet now reigns in power, so Paul will come with similar power after having shown the Corinthian Christians his weakness.
ii. "It would seem that in their immaturity the Corinthians were unimpressed by Christlike gentleness and meekness . . . but were overawed by arbitrary displays of power." (Harris)
2. (5-10) A plea for self examination.
Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?; unless indeed you are disqualified. But I trust that you will know that we are not disqualified. Now I pray to God that you do no evil, not that we should appear approved, but that you should do what is honorable, though we may seem disqualified. For we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth. For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. And this also we pray, that you may be made complete. Therefore I write these things being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness, according to the authority which the Lord has given me for edification and not for destruction.
a. Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? Paul asks the Corinthian Christians to consider a sobering question: "Am I really a Christian?"
i. We are rightly concerned that every believer have the assurance of salvation, and know how to endure the attacks that come from Satan in this area. At the same time, we also understand that there are some who assume or presume them are Christians when they are not. It is a challenge to all: Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?
ii. We are often very ready to examine and test others. But first, and always first, we must examine and test ourselves. "That was the trouble at Corinth. They criticized Paul and failed to examine themselves." (Redpath)
iii. "To examine yourself, in fact, is to submit to the examination and scrutiny of Jesus Christ the Lord – and this never to fix attention on sin but on Christ – and to ask Him to reveal that in you which grieves His Spirit; to ask Him to give you grace that it might be put away and cleansed in His precious blood." Self examination "takes the chill away from your soul, it takes the hardness away from your heart, it takes the shadows away from your life, it sets the prisoner free." (Redpath)
iv. "Now, 'prove yourselves.' Do not merely sit in your closet and look at yourselves alone, but go out into this busy world and see what kind of piety you have. Remember, many a man's religion will stand examination that will not stand proof. We may sit at home and look at our religion, and say, 'Well, I think this will do!'" (Spurgeon)
v. Unless indeed you are disqualified: Paul knew there were some among the Corinthian Christians who were disqualified for eternal life and salvation. Their thinking was worldly because they were of the world, not of the Lord. This is a hard truth to confront, but it is better to know now than when it is too late! The word for disqualified is simply the negative of the word for test in this same passage. If we don't examine ourselves and test ourselves now, we may find that we ultimately don't pass the test and are disqualified.
b. What are to look for when we examine and test ourselves? We are to see that Jesus Christ is in you. We are not to look for perfection, in ourselves or in others; but we should see real evidence of Jesus Christ in us.
i. "Now, what is it to have Jesus Christ in you? The Roman Catholic hangs the cross on his bosom; true Christian carries the cross in his heart; and a cross inside the heart, my friends, is one of the sweetest cures for a cross on the back. If you have a cross in your heart - Christ crucified in you, the hope of glory - all the cross of this world's troubles will seem to you light enough, and you will easily be able to sustain it. Christ in the heart means Christ believed in, Christ beloved, Christ trusted, Christ espoused, Christ communed with, Christ as our daily food, and ourselves as the temple and palace wherein Jesus Christ daily walks." (Spurgeon)
c. But I trust that you will know that we are not disqualified: Paul is anticipating a counter-question. "Paul, you ask us to examine ourselves. Well, why don't you examine yourself? Maybe you aren't a Christian after all!" Paul dismisses this question out of hand. It is so apparent that we are not disqualified that he simply trusts that they recognize the truth of it.
i. Even so, Paul admitted, "though we may seem to be disqualified." If one judges a genuine Christian life by worldly standards (emphasizing "power" and "success"), Paul might seem to be disqualified. It was by these standards that Job's friends were convinced that his hardships were the result of sin in his life. But one could only say that by judging with worldly standards.
d. Paul, even as an apostle, could do nothing against the truth. Even the apostles were not above the truth. Paul could only work effectively for the truth, not against the truth.
i. "This passage is of special interest as fixing the limits of all ecclesiastical power, whether ordinary or miraculous . . . The promise of our Lord, that what the church binds on earth shall be bound in heaven, is limited by the condition that her decisions be in accordance with the truth." (Hodge)
ii. "It is right to make examination of the doctrine of any man who speaks in the Church, whatever title he may claim, until Christ has manifested Himself in his teaching, for then it is not Christ that is being judged but the man. But when it is clear that it is God's Word that is being proclaimed, then what Paul says holds good, that it is God Himself who is being disbelieved." (Calvin)
e. For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong: If Paul's weakness could contribute to the strength of the Corinthian Christians, he would be glad! His real concern was that you may be made complete.
i. To be made complete is basically the same idea as in 2 Corinthians 12:19: we do all things, beloved, for your edification. Paul wanted to build up the Corinthian Christians, to make them complete. They were already a body strong in spiritual gifts and personal testimony (1 Corinthians 1:4-7). But their strength was not complete. They were not like a building that was just a foundation and a bit of rubble. They were like a building built tall and strong – for one and a half walls, with the other walls crumbling or barely started. Paul wanted them to be made complete.
f. Therefore I write these things being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness: Paul preferred that the Corinthian Christians would clean up their act before he came to see them. He wanted to use his authority for edification, not destruction.
B. Conclusion to the letter.
1. (11) Concluding exhortation.
Finally, brethren, farewell. Become complete. Be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.
a. Finally, brethren, farewell: Farewell is much better translated rejoice. Even though Paul has been severe with the Corinthian Christians, all has been said to the end that they would enjoy the joy of walking in a right relationship with God.
b. Become complete: In 2 Corinthians 13:9, Paul revealed that he prayed that you may be made complete. Now he exhorts them to help answer his prayer, as he challenges them become complete.
i. As Christians, we shouldn't excuse and neglect areas of our life by saying, "I'm just not into that" or "That's just my weak point." We certainly cannot work on everything at once before the Lord, but we can have a heart to become complete.
c. Be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace: By exhorting the Corinthian Christians to do these things, Paul proves an important point. These are at least partially in our power to do. We often think that our comfort, or being of one mind, and our being at peace with others just depends on them. In part, that is true, but it also depends on us. We need to let God worry about their part, and we can worry about our part!
i. It costs something to work hard to be of good comfort, be of one mind, and to live in peace. But the reward is worth it: the God of love and peace will be with you. If you feel that God isn't with you, perhaps it is because you are resisting and rejecting His call to be of good comfort, be of one mind, and to live in peace.
2. (12-14) Final words.
Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
a. Greet one another with a holy kiss: The idea of greeting one another with a holy kiss was common in that culture. Our cultural equivalent is a handshake and a warm greeting.
i. The fact that it is a holy kiss shows that it had nothing to do with romantic affection. It was commonly practiced as a warm greeting in the early church, but was rarely done on Good Friday, in remembrance of Judas' kiss that betrayed Jesus. In later times, the practice was thought inappropriate. In 1250, in England, the Archbishop of York introduced a "peace-board" which was first kissed by the clergy and then passed around to the congregation.
ii. "The fact that the kiss was described as holy indicates that erotic overtones were excluded, the kiss was a greeting, a sign of peace and Christian agape." (Morgan)
iii. Hodge wisely relates the practice to our modern culture: "It is not a command of perpetual obligation, as the spirit of the command is that Christians should express their mutual love in the way sanctioned by the age and community in which they live."
b. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. This is the only place in the New Testament where the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are mentioned together in this kind of blessing. Paul wanted the Corinthian Christians to be completely blessed, by everything God is.
i. In essence, Paul wanted them to be blessed as true Christians. "For a Christian is one who seeks and enjoys the grace of the Lord Jesus, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost." (Hodge)