Threatening of punishment to impenitent offenders; exhortation to self-examination and amendment; conclusion of the letter.
Paul's warnings and exhortations (verses 1–14).
Having previously admonished and warned, he now distinctly announces his intention of exercising his apostolic power in the punishment of offender (verses 1–2). As they sought evidence of his apostleship, he would show that although weak in himself, he was invested with supernatural power by Christ. As Christ appeared as weak in dying, but was none the less imbued with divine power, as was proved by his resurrection from the dead; so the apostle in one sense was weak, in another full of power (verses 3–4). Instead of exposing themselves to this exercise of judicial authority, he exhorts them to test themselves, since Christ lived in them unless they were reprobates (2 Corinthians 13:5). He trusted that they would acknowledge him as an apostle, as he sought their good (verses 6–7). His power was given, and could be exercised, only for the truth. He rejoiced in his own weakness and in the prosperity of the Corinthians. The point of warning them was to avoid the need to exercise the power of judgment with which Christ had invested him (verses 8–10). Concluding exhortation and benediction (verses 11–13).
13:1. From this it is evident that Paul had already been in Corinth. He was about to make his third visit. The Acts of the Apostles does not contain a full record of all the journeys, labours and sufferings of the apostle. He may have visited Corinth repeatedly without its coming within the purpose of that book to mention the fact.
'The evidence of two or three witnesses.' The Old Testament expressly laid it down that no one should be condemned without the testimony of two or three witnesses: see Numbers 35:30 and Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15. In this latter passage, the very words used by the apostle are to be found. This principle of justice was transferred by our Lord to the New Dispensation. See Matthew 18:16; see also John 8:17; Hebrews 10:28. In 1 Timothy 5:19 the apostle applies the rule specially to the case of elders. In the judgment of God, therefore, it is better that many offenders should go unpunished through lack of testimony, than that the security of reputation and life should be endangered by allowing a single witness to establish a charge against anyone. This principle, although thus clearly and repeatedly sanctioned in both Old and New Testaments, is not held sacred in civil courts. Even in criminal cases the testimony of one witness is often considered sufficient to establish the guilt of an accused person, no matter how pure his previous reputation may have been. Paul here announces his determination to stick strictly to the rule relating to testimony laid down in the Scriptures, when administering discipline.
13:3. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful in you. The messenger of Christ was not to be rejected or offended with impunity, since Christ was not weak, but powerful. His power had been proved among them not only in the conversion of multitudes, but by signs and wonders, and by various manifestations of omnipotence.
13:4. In weakness. His weakness was the cause or necessary condition and evidence of his death; not of course as implying that his death was not voluntary, for our Lord said he laid down his life of his own accord; but the assumption of a weak human nature liable to death was of course necessary, in order that the eternal Son of God should be capable of death. Compare Philippians 2:9; Hebrews 2:14–15. His death, therefore, was the evidence of weakness, in the sense of having a weak, or mortal, nature.
But lives by the power of God. The same person who died now lives. That complex person, having a perfect human and a true divine nature united, rose from the dead, and lives forever, and therefore can manifest the divine power which the apostle attributed to him. The resurrection of Christ is sometimes ascribed to God (as in Romans 6:4; Ephesians 1:20; Philippians 2:9), and sometimes to himself (as in Matthew 26:61; Mark 14:58; John 2:19; 10:18). This is done on the same principle that the works of creation and providence are ascribed sometimes to the Father and sometimes to the Son. That principle is the unity of the divine nature, or the essential identity of the persons of the Trinity. They are the same in substance, and therefore the works of one are the works of the others also. It is not, however, the fact that the resurrection of Christ was effected by the power of God, but the fact that he is now alive and clothed with divine power, that the apostle urges as pertinent to his purpose.
13:5. Jesus Christ is in you. This does not mean 'Christ is among you as a people.' It refers to an indwelling of Christ in the individual believer, as is clear from such passages as Galatians 2:20; 4:19; Romans 8:10. Christ lives in his people by his Spirit. The presence of his Spirit is the presence of Christ. This is not a mere figurative expression, as when we say we have a friend in our heart – but a real truth. The Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit, is in the people of God collectively and individually, the ever-present source of a new kind of life, so that if anyone does not have the Spirit of God he is none of his (Romans 8:9).
Unless, indeed, you fail to pass the test! Those in whom Christ does not live cannot stand the test, and are proved to be Christians only in name, if at all.
13:9. That you may become perfect. That is, we are not only glad when you are strong, but we pray for your complete establishment. The Greek word translated perfect comes from a word meaning 'to put into complete order.' Paul prayed that they might be perfectly restored from the state of confusion, contention, and evil into which they had fallen.
13:10. The authority the Lord has given me. His authority was not self-assumed, and his power was not derived from himself. They were the gifts of the Lord, the only source of either in the church. The Lord is of course Christ, whose divine power and omnipresence are taken for granted. Paul everywhere assumes as much that the Lord Jesus is invested with divine attributes and entitled to divine worship, as God himself. Nothing can be more foreign to the whole spirit of the New testament than the idea that Christ, having finished his work on earth as a teacher and witness, has passed away so as to be no longer present with his people. The whole Scriptures, on the contrary, assume that he is everywhere present in knowledge and power, the source of all grace, strength, and consolation, the object of the religious affections, and of the acts of religious worship.
13:11. The severe rebukes contained in the preceding chapters are softened by the parental and apostolic tone assumed in these concluding verses. He addresses them as brothers and sisters – members of the family of God and of the body of Christ.
Farewell. Literally, 'rejoice,' or, 'joy to you.' It is often used in greetings. On account of what follows, it is better to take it as an exhortation to spiritual joy: 'Rejoice (that is, in the Lord)!' In Philippians 3:1 and 4:4 we have the same exhortation. Joy in redemption, rejoicing in our union and communion with the Lord is one of our highest duties. Blessings as infinite as these should not be received with indifference. Joy is the atmosphere of heaven, and the more we have of it on earth, the more heavenly we shall be in character and temper.
Live in peace. One of the greatest evils prevailing in Corinth, as we learn from 1 Corin- thians 1:10–12, was the quarrels of the various parties into which the church was divided.
And the God of love and peace will be with you. God is the author of love and peace. The existence of love and peace is the condition of the presence of the God of peace. He withdraws the manifestations of his presence from the soul disturbed by angry passions, and from a community torn by dissensions. We have here the familiar Christian paradox. God's presence produces love and peace, and we must have love and peace in order to have his presence. God gives what he commands. God gives, but we must cherish his gifts.
13:12. The kiss was the expression of fellowship and affection. It was and is in the East the common way friends greet each other. A holy kiss is a kiss which expresses Christian communion and love. It was the practice in Christian meetings for the men to kiss the minister and each other, especially at the celebration of the Lord's Supper. [Other Bible versions make a separate verse of the words, All the saints greet you.]
13:14. This comprehensive benediction closes the letter. It includes all the benefits of redemption.
The grace (or favour) of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is calling our blessed Saviour the God-man. It includes or indicates his divine nature, he is our Lord; his human nature, he is Jesus; his office, he is the Christ, the Messiah, the long-promised Redeemer. It is the favour, the unmerited love and all that springs from it, of this divine person clothed in our nature, and who as the God-man is invested with the office of Messiah, the headship over his own people and all power in heaven and earth, that the apostle invokes for all his believing readers. Every one feels that this is precisely what he, as a guilty, polluted, helpless sinner, needs. If this glorious, mysteriously constituted, exalted Saviour, Son of God and Son of man, makes us the object of his favour, then our present security and ultimate salvation is made certain.
And the communion of the Holy Spirit. The primary object of the death of Christ was the communication of the Holy Spirit. He redeemed us from the curse of the law, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit (Galatians 3:13–14). It is the gift of the Holy Spirit secured in the covenant of redemption by the death of Christ that applies to us the benefits of his mediation. As the gift of the Spirit is secured to all the people of God, they are joint partakers of the Holy Spirit, and thereby made one body. This is the ground of the communion of saints in which the church universal professes her faith.
The distinct personality and the divinity of the Son, the Father, and the Holy Spirit, to each of whom prayer is addressed, is here taken for granted. And therefore this passage is a clear recognition of the doctrine of the Trinity, which is the fundamental doctrine of Christianity. 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 Spirit.
—Commentary on 2 Corinthians, A