Authentic Ministry 28/Second Corinthians
There is a basic spiritual dilemma that confronts everyone who accepts the truth of the Christian message. If it is the case that there are only two final destinies for human beings—for the saved and the lost—and if it is also true that these two kinds of people are also found within the ranks of baptized Christian people, then the question is obviously this. “How can I be sure that I am among the saved?” To that question, the Pauline exhortation here is often applied—examine yourselves. Yes, indeed, do examine yourselves. But by what standard? Morbid introspection has often been indulged in with this passage appealed to as an authority, but the problem is that it is not true examination.
“This is the third time I am coming to you. In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established. I told you before, and foretell you, as if I were present, the second time; and being absent now I write to them which heretofore have sinned, and to all other, that, if I come again, I will not spare: Since ye seek a proof of Christ speaking in me, which to you-ward is not weak, but is mighty in you. For though he was crucified through weakness, yet he liveth 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. Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates? But I trust that ye shall know that we are not reprobates. Now I pray to God that ye do no evil; not that we should appear approved, but that ye should do that which is honest, though we be as reprobates. For we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth. For we are glad, when we are weak, and ye are strong: and this also we wish, even your perfection. Therefore I write these things being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness, according to the power which the Lord hath given me to edification, and not to destruction. Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you. Greet one another with an holy kiss. All the saints salute you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen” (2 Corinthians 13:1-14).
Summary of the Text
Paul founded this church. His second visit was the one where he ran into the surprise opposition of the false apostles. This will be his third visit (v. 1). When he comes, he will bring judgment, and he will apply the biblical standards of justice to the situation (v. 1). He warns them solemnly now that unless there is repentance, his discipline is going to be strict (v. 2). He will do this to prove the strength of Christ in him, as it is applied to them (v. 3). The strength of Christ is a death and resurrection kind of strength (v. 4), and Paul faithfully follows that pattern. Paul tells them to examine themselves before he comes and has to do it (v. 5). Christ is within those who pass the test, but is not present within the reprobates (v. 5). And he is confident that they will at least recognize that Paul’s group is not reprobate (v. 6). Paul wants them to pass the test, to do no evil, and he is not saying this for the sake of his reputation (v. 7). What matters above all is the truth (v. 8). Paul is glad to be weak and the Corinthians strong (v. 9). Paul’s hope is that he might get the sharp things out of the way in the letter, and then when he is present with them, he might give himself to edification, not the demolition work of discipline (v. 10). He then gives a cluster of exhortations and charges in his farewell—be mature, be comforted, be likeminded, be at peace, and may the God of love and peace crown it all (v. 11). Greet one another with a holy kiss (v. 12). The saints send their greetings (v. 13). He then concludes with a glorious benediction (v. 14).
Before you set yourself to “examine yourself to see if you are in the faith,” you must settle two other things first. First, what are you testing for, and second, what are you testing with? You are testing whether or not Christ is within you. That is the first thing. That is what you are testing for. Second, you are testing with the standards set by the Scriptures, and not by standards invented by your Victorian great-grandmother, or by some hedge preacher in a Kentucky revival two centuries ago.
So what do you make of Jesus? What do you think of Him? You should not be looking for certain ecstatic emotions, or sentimental turbulence. That is not what we are looking for. We are talking about Christ the Messiah. What do you make of Him? What do you say of Him?
And what standards can we take from the Scriptures? The standards of Scripture are what we test with. We know Christ is in us because we have believed in the name of Jesus (1 Jn. 5:13; Rom. 10:9). We know that Christ is in us because the Spirit was given to us (1 John 4:13). And how do we know that? Well, He grows things (Gal. 5:22-23; Eph. 5:9), and He kills things (Rom. 8:13). We know Christ is in us if we love the brethren (1 John 3:14). We know Christ is in us and we are converted if we have humility of mind, like that of a little child (Matt. 18:3). We know Christ is in us if we are hungry for the Scriptures (1 Pet. 2:2-3). We know Christ is in us if the sacrifice of Christ on the cross makes good sense to us as the power of God (1 Cor. 1:18). We know Christ is in us because of our growth in obedience (1 John 2:3). We know Christ is in us because of what happens when we disobey (Heb. 12:6). We know Christ is in us.
A Glorious Benediction
Paul concludes this epistle with a wonderful benediction. The order of the persons named is a little different than the usual order. He begins with the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. Our starting point here is with the one who first came to us as Immanuel, God with us. Christ is the one who brings us to the Father, and this Father is the one who loved us. And so it is that the love of God, speaking of the Father, is mentioned second. And then, after we have encountered Christ, and have been brought to the Father, we find that we are in koinonia-fellowship with Him, and with all of God’s people everywhere. And amen.
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