Second Corinthians 13:1-10
So That You'd Be Perfect

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

Paul's Third Visit

1. In the passage of scripture I read you for today, Paul wrote that he had a desire for a third visit to Corinth. In regard to this visit, Paul spoke to them with not so gentle words that "As I have spoken to you previously during my second stay, I say ahead of time to those who sinned before and to all of the others even now though apart from you. Whenever I soon come to you, I will not be forgiving," (verse two). The reason he could not avoid writing like that was that there was a specific alarming situation, which was written about in the chapter just before. "I am worried. When I come to you, you will not be the people I am expecting, nor will I be as you might be expecting me to be. Isn't there strife, jealousy, anger, divisions, blaming, gossip, haughtiness, troublemaking, and other things [among you]? Again, when I come to you, won't my God set my countenance low before you? Will I not be sorrowful for the many who had sinned in the past who are not repenting of the impure deeds, the lewd deeds, the promiscuous deeds which they have done?," (12:20-21).

2. To a degree this was to be expected. I say that because they didn't want to accept Paul's words, in which he pointed out their sins to them and he was demanding their repentance. Instead, they took up issue with the authority of Paul to speak in such a manner and the effectiveness of Paul's words. Where it says, "Because you demand proof that Christ is speaking through me," shows that situation, (verse three).

3. The people put up self defenses against the message that was pointing out their sins. They came up with various rationalizations, and rejecting the message, they did away with them. It was in this manner that they went all the way as to justify themselves as good. But, we have got to see that the biggest sin of humanity lies right there in the stubbornness of humanity to admit [our] sins. The scriptures repeatedly state this fact.

4. It was that way since the start. In the story of the Garden of Eden in Genesis, Adam took and ate the fruit of the tree from which he shouldn't have eaten. When his sin was brought out into the open, what answer did Adam give to God? He answered, "That woman that you gave to be with me she took it from the tree and gave it to me, and so I ate it," (Genesis 3:12). He didn't admit his sin, but instead he put the blame on God and the [woman] next to him.

5. It is the same in the history of Israel that we see in the Old Testament. The Bible makes repeated reference to the stubbornness of Israel. Currently at our Wednesday meetings, we are reading from Kings. The Book of Kings tells us of the falls of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. These kingdoms did not just fall because they sinned against God. More than that, the Bible teaches us that despite the fact that God had sent them his prophets over and over, nevertheless, they fell because they had rejected his word. "The Lord warned both Israel and Judah through all his prophets and all his seers as follows: 'You must turn and depart from the way of evil. ...' However, they did not listen and they were stubborn just like their ancestors who would not believe our God the Lord,'" (Second Kings 17:13-14). It was this stubbornness of theirs itself that lied at the root of the problem. A person will reject even the word of God in order to justify oneself in one's stubborn way. Ultimately, [the people] would even end up putting Jesus Christ, who was the living incarnate word of God, to death by murder on the cross.

6. So we hear Paul thinking of some specific measures to take during his third visit on the people at the church at Corinth who were not about to admit their sins just like the Israelites used to be and who were not about to repent either. "Everything is settled by the mouth of two or three witnesses." This is a quote from Deuteronomy chapter seventeen, and I am reminded that Jesus used these words and spoke them like this: "If your brother sins against you, go and get advise before two persons alone. If your brother hears what you have to say, you have gained your brother. If he doesn't hear you take him with you to one or two others. That's so that everything is settled by the mouth of two or three witnesses. If they don't listen then, then tell it to the church. If he does not listen to what the church says, treat him in the same manner as a Gentile or a tax collector," (Matthew 18:15-17). An explanation is necessary for the discriminatory expression of "consider him the same as a Gentile or a tax collector," but today we won't go there. But either way, it obviously means to refuse such an one fellowship with believers and to no longer consider him or her as a Christian. It is believed that Paul is considering doing exactly that during his third visit.

7. But, the main thing is that this is not merely some human judgment and dealing by Paul but it had the judgment of Christ in it. "Christ is not weak with you, but is strong among you." He was the one who was speaking through Paul. In addition, Paul states that "Christ was crucified because of weakness, but he lives through the power of Christ," (verse four). The figure of the crucified Christ must have truly been the extreme of weakness. If Christ had only been crucified and killed and that was it, that would mean that the power of sin would ultimately have been in control. But, that's not how it was. God rose Christ from the dead. Christ lives through the power of God. It was not the power of sin that was ultimately in control but the power of God. So, he says that no matter how weak Paul might have seemed, he was living with Christ in accordance with the power of God.

8. Therefore, no matter how much they rejected the words that Paul spoke or would justify themselves, the problem of their sins would not be resolved by it. -- Because Christ was there as the one who lives by the power of God. -- Because when sin is present and there is a stubbornness in refusing to repent, Christ is not like some weakling, but is present as the ever strong one.

Give Yourself A Careful Examination

9. So, as we've seen in this, what the scriptures are saying here is a terribly dreadful thing to say. But, Paul's desire is not to deal with them or for them to be ultimately judged by Christ. As we read verses nine and so, we understand this clearly. "We rejoice though I be weak and you were strong. We pray that you would be perfect. I am so far away and the reason I am sending this message to you is so that when I come to you I do so not taking a severe attitude, but according to the authority that the Lord has given me to build you up and not for the purpose of breaking you down," (verses nine and ten).

10. Paul says, "I would rejoice if you were strong." Naturally, being strong does not mean strengths in which the Corinthians are proud of in themselves, in not admitting their sins. In that sense, the Corinthians must have been totally and thoroughly weak. The strengths of which Paul is speaking about here is the strengths that come from the power of Christ which is exhibited within one's weaknesses. The Corinthians were not strong in any true sense, but Paul prays that they "become perfect." "To become perfect" means to mature as a believer and to move towards perfection. As Paul keeps praying this way for them, he writes this epistle. This is Paul's very desire for them as well as that they not be judged.

11. Therefore, Paul exhorts them in the following manner. "Examine yourselves and carefully scrutinize yourselves as to whether or not you are living by faith," (verse five). When we read those words, we are always doing some introspection into the condition of our hearts of "Is my believing heart strong or weak?" But, Paul is requiring of these people to not do that. He continues with, "Don't you know your own selves? That Jesus Christ is in you," (verse five).

12. Whether your believing heart is strong or weak, Jesus Christ is in you. This is also to say that he is also in the church, which is the fellowship of the followers, and that he is in individual Christians, too. No matter, Christ is in [us]. The word "to know" is also a word with the meaning of "to realize." It does happen that one does not realize that Christ is in you. Thus, Paul desires for them with "I want you to realize, I want you to know that Christ - that is - the Christ who was crucified on the cross for us, that if you would know that he is in you, and that if you would live with this understanding and thought with you, nothing would ever be the same as before." That's why there shouldn't be any need at all for Paul to say, "When I soon come to you, I will not be forgiving."

13. Paul wrote that "If you were disqualified persons [failing the examination as true Christians] it would be different, but ..." But, if he had thought that they were truly disqualified as true believers, he wouldn't have written it like he did. Since he didn't' think they were disqualified, he exhorts them to "examine yourselves and carefully scrutinize yourselves." Then, he prays that "You would not commit any sins," (verse seven). Paul prays that way because he knows that they have Christ in them.

14. When we look at the phrase of "that you would not commit any sins," we might think, "Could it be possible that we could be people who do not sin at all?" It may be impossible to not sin at all. But, even with that, whether regarding others or ourselves, it should be vitally important as Christians that we live by seeking in prayer to trust in the Christ within us and not sin. -- Because even if we have sinned like that, there is a big difference in whether we are struggling against sin to stand up through God's forgiveness though we've fallen so many times and to trust in the Christ within, or whether we are struggling against the word of God to justify our sinful behaviors.

15. Well, as we've seen so far, at the dead center of Paul's very severe message about his third visit is his sincere desire and hope that the Christians would move towards perfection in their faith and that the church would be truly built up. What he's saying is this, this must be the sincere desire of Christ for us, the desire of the Christ who spoke in Paul and who is in us.

 
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