2 Corinthians 13 - IVP New Testament Commentaries

Paul Calls for Congregational Self-Examination

Paul challenges the Corinthians, in preparation for his visit, to examine [themselves] to see whether [they] are in the faith (v. 5). In the Greek yourselves is placed first for emphasis: "yourselves, examine." Examine translates a verb that normally means "tempt" (peirazo; 1 Cor 7:5; Gal 6:1; 1 Thess 3:5). But here, as in 1 Corinthians 10:9, it denotes "test." The Corinthians have put Paul to the test. He has complied (11:16--12:6), and now it is their turn.

The kind of testing Paul envisions is that which proves the worth or genuineness of something (dokimazo; compare 2 Cor 2:9; 8:8, 22; 9:13). In this case it is the Corinthians' faith that is to be proven. Pistis in this context denotes profession. The Corinthians have professed a belief in Christ, but does their life match their profession? If the life of the congregation is not in conformity with the trutes of the gospel, it negates any claim to standing firm in the faith (1 Cor 16:13). The challenge sounds foreboding. Yet true profession should issue in a life characterized by "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Gal 5:22). From all appearances, the Corinthians, on Paul's return, will be found wanting on virtually every count.

Of course, such testing requires that the Corinthians possess the wherewithal to recognize Christ's presence among them. Paul's sarcasm (which is lost in the NIV translation) comes to the fore: "Or can you not even recognize that Jesus Christ is in your midst?" (v. 5). The verb "to recognize" (NIV realize) means "to know fully enough to be able to act on that knowledge" (epi + ginosko). Perhaps the Corinthians' perceptions have become so skewed that they no longer possess the ability to recognize Christ's presence in the community--in which case they stand the real possibility of failing the test. Adokimos denotes that which has been tested and found to be counterfeit. The very fact that the Corinthians are demanding proof that Christ is speaking through Paul would suggest that they are out of touch with genuine evidences of the Spirit's work in the community.

Yet if the Corinthians have their spiritual wits about them, they will discover that Paul "is not counterfeit" (NIV have not failed the test)--at least he trust[s] (or, better, "hopes" [elpizo]) that this will be the case (v. 6). Paul gets a little ahead of himself. We would expect unless, of course, you fail the test (v. 5) to be followed by the hope and expectation that the Corinthians will indeed pass. Instead, his wish is that in their self-examination he will not be judged a fake. The verb is in the future tense: I trust that you will discover. The idea is that as they examine themselves and find themselves to be genuine Christians, they will be led, in turn, to evaluate Paul and see that he also has passed the test.

Paul shifts at this point to the first-person plural and includes his associates (that we have not failed). This is to remind the church that the work at Corinth was and continues to be a team effort. So to question Paul's authenticity is to question the authenticity of the team effort (that is, Paul, Silas, Timothy and Titus). And to question the authenticity of the team effort is to put the authenticity of the Corinthian community in jeopardy. Paul, however, has met and exceeded all the tests of a true apostle, and he hopes that the Corinthians will have enough integrity to admit that (Murphy-O'Connor 1991:134). This may be hard for them to do. If they affirm Paul's standing as an apostle (as they must, if they affirm their own Christian standing), then they must accept Paul and reject the intruders.

In the final analysis, however, what matters to Paul is that they will do what is right--even if it means that his work at Corinth may seem to have failed (v. 7). Not that Paul expected to fail the test. But such a price would be worth paying if it guaranteed that the Corinthians would do the right thing. The Greek term kalos denotes what is beautiful, noble and honorable. As Christians we are called to live in a way that commands the respect and esteem of those around us--and Paul asks no less of the Corinthians (Beyreuther 1976:102-3). In fact, he makes it his prayer to God. It would be far worse if they "do what is wrong" just so that Paul and his coworkers might appear approved. The NIV translation do wrong is somewhat weak. The Greek term actually means to "do what is evil" (kakos)--that is, what is morally reprehensible in the eyes of others. A somewhat similar thought is found in Sirach 4:21: "There is shame which brings sin and there is a shame which is glory and favor." Christians should not be afraid of offending others so long as they do what is right.

Even if Paul's work at Corinth should appear to be discredited, the fact of the matter is that he cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth (v. 8). Verse 8 has the ring of a familiar saying--somewhat like our "truth marches on." The idea of fighting or striving for truth was a traditional theme in the wisdom literature of Paul's day. "Never speak against the truth but be mindful of your ignorance," stated the noted teacher Jesus ben Sirach (Sirach 5:25). He also told his students to "strive even to death for the truth and the Lord God will fight for you" (v. 28). Not to speak against the truth implies choice. Paul, however, has no choice; he says that he cannot do anything against the truth. The truth here is undoubtedly the gospel or the trutes that the gospel embodies. Just as Christ's sacrificial love compels Paul to preach the gospel (5:14), so too his commissioning as Christ's apostle hems him in to doing only what advances the gospel.

Paul concludes by restating that his task at Corinth is to produce strength: We are glad whenever we are weak but you are strong (v. 9). The claim you are strong is made somewhat tongue in cheek. The Corinthians would certainly think of themselves as strong. They have been enriched in speech and knowledge (1 Cor 1:5); they do not lack any spiritual gift (1 Cor 1:7); they are already kings (1 Cor 4:8); they already are so wise in Christ (1 Cor 4:10). But Paul means something different by the term strong. For the Corinthians to be strong means that they are firm in faith (v. 5) and of one mind and heart (v. 11). And if their strength can be achieved only through his weakness, then Paul will gladly bear the label "timid" (10:1); for this means that he will not have to assert the strength of his apostolic authority against them when he returns (Bruce 1971:254).

Paul prays not only that they will do no wrong (v. 7) but also for their perfection (v. 9). The basic meaning of the noun katartisis is to "make suitable or fitting" for a particular task, not to "make perfect" as the NIV, TEV and JB translate (Schippers 1978:350). "That all may be put right with you" (NEB) or "be put in order" (Liddell, Scott and Jones 1978) catches the sense. The Corinthians have a great deal to put in order before they can set about the task of serving God.

This is why I write these things when I am absent, Paul says (v. 10). A reference to writing signaled to the reader in Paul's day that the writer was drawing matters to a close. It also provided a final opportunity to state the purpose of writing. His purpose, Paul reminds the Corinthians, is that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority--that is, his motivation is essentially pastoral. Paul was not one to show his authority for the sake of showing it (Barclay 1954:267)--a temptation that leaders in any organization constantly face. The exercise of authority in the church must have as its aim building up, not tearing down; otherwise it is power in its most abusive form.

This is the third time Paul has made this point in chapters 10--13 (10:8; 12:19). No doubt he wants the Corinthians to be very clear that he is not out to take advantage of them or slap them around, as his rivals are prone to do (11:20). But there is also a veiled warning in his statement. Although he is not in the business of tearing down, sometimes demolition is a necessary prelude to rebuilding. And demolish Paul will do, if it is the only way to ensure a sound structure.

Paul follows the reminder of his purpose in writing with a last word of exhortation (v. 11)--a typical feature of the closing section of the letter body. Finally, brothers, good-by. Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace. This is the only time Paul addresses the Corinthians as "dear friends" in these four chapters (adelphoi is the generic term in Greek for "people" or "friends" and should not be translated brothers as in the NIV). To do so now is to acknowledge his solidarity with them (Furnish 1984:581).

The series of five exhortations in this verse focuses on congregational unity and harmony--the very thing that the Corinthians are lacking. At first glance, the imperative chairete would look to the Greek reader like the typical form of greeting given at the close of a letter: good-by (NIV, TEV), "farewell" (KJV, NEB, RSV). Paul, however, uses the term more often than not with the sense "rejoice" or "be glad" (as in Phil 4:4; 1 Thess 5:16). Coming at the head of what quite obviously is a series of exhortations, "be happy" (JB, LB) or "cheer up" (Phillips) is the better fit.

Paul's second command is "mend your ways" (RSV, NEB), not the NIV aim for perfection (katartizesthe; see the commentary on v. 9). He has already said he is praying that they will be able to set matters in order at Corinth. Now he puts it in the form of a command.

It is difficult to pin down Paul's third command. The verb parakaleo can mean to encourage or to exhort, and the voice can be passive ("be exhorted" [that is, listen to my appeal], "be encouraged") or middle ("encourage one another"; "exhort one another"). Paul stresses throughout the chapter that he expects the Corinthians to take action prior to his return; thus the middle is preferable and the meaning "exhort" is the logical one in the context. Paul may be thinking of persistent sins at Corinth and how the task of correction is not the sole prerogative of the apostle or pastor. It is a responsibility that we have toward one another as members of Christ's body--a truth that the Corinthians have been loath to acknowledge (as in 1 Cor 5:1-2, "a man has his father's wife. And you are proud!").

Paul's fourth command is literally "Think the same thing" (to auto phroneite). One suspects this would be a tall order for the Corinthian congregation.

The final exhortation, live in peace, can be carried out only if the other four are in place. Only one other time does Paul exhort a church to pursue that which leads to peace (Rom 14:19)--although he does pass along a wish for peace to the Galatian (Gal 6:16) and Ephesian (Eph 6:23) churches.

If they do these things, Paul states, the God of love and peace will be with you (v. 11). A peace benediction is the way Paul normally closes the body of his letters (see Rom 15:33; 16:20; Eph 6:23; Phil 4:9; 1 Thess 5:23; 2 Thess 3:16). Quite often the wish for peace comes, as here, after a series of exhortations (as in Rom 16:17-19; Phil 4:8; 1 Thess 5:12-22; 2 Thess 3:14-15). What is unusual about this peace wish is the addition of love (the God of love and peace will be with you). Ephesians is the only other letter where Paul closes in this fashion. Both love and peace are fruits of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22). Paul probably includes them at this juncture to point the Corinthians to the divine resources available to help them fulfill the previous commands (compare "May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through," 1 Thess 5:23). To be sure, love and peace are too resources most needed in a fractured congregation like that at Corinth.

Paul usually includes mention of an upcoming visit--either his own or that of a coworker--in the closing section of the body of his letters. It is also typical for him to express confidence that his readers will do as they have been asked (for example, "confident of your obedience," Philem 21). Yet the omission of both elements at the close of 2 Corin-thians is not surprising (Doty 1973:36-37). Paul has informed the Corinthians toice in chapters 10--13 (12:14; 13:1) that he is ready to visit them for the third time. Then too, an expression of confidence would hardly be appropriate after the challenge Paul has put before them in the earlier verses (12:19--13:9).

Next commentary:
Closing Exhortation and Greetings

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