2 Corinthians 13

Apostleship Established by the Corinthians’ Own Salvation
2 Corinthians 13

Paul would be Unsparing of Evil upon Arrival (13:1-2)

This third time I am coming to you. “In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every matter be established.” [Deut. 19:15] 2 I have declared beforehand, and I say beforehand as present the second time, and now absent, to those that have sinned before, and to all the rest, that if I come again I will not spare. vv.1-2 The principle that Paul would operate under is drawn from the Old Testament; “In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every matter be established” (Deut. 19:15). This principle transcends dispensations, and Paul had good reason to use it, because Christ Himself authorized it in Matthew 18:16 in connection with the local assembly. Whenever official matters are taken up in the assembly, facts are to be established in the mouth of two or three witnesses (1 Tim. 5:19). Paul refers to three things, and it can be difficult to understand exactly what he means. The “three” are Paul’s three separate intentions to visit Corinth. There were really only two literal visits, but in the purpose of Paul there were three!12
  1. His first visit to Corinth. Paul’s first visit was on his second missionary journey, and he remained in Corinth for eighteen months. Acts 18 describes this first visit.
  2. His planned second visit. Paul planned a second visit to Corinth as his first epistle shows, but he delayed the visit to spare them, and to wait until he knew their state. He explains this in the second epistle. However, the message that Paul wanted them to hear was still delivered, only in the form of a letter rather than an in-person visit; “as present the second time”.
  3. His third intention. Now Paul planned to visit again, and he would definitely make good on the promise; “This third time I am coming to you”. Paul would not be lenient this third time. His detractors had portrayed his patience as weakness, but if he came again, he says “I will not spare”
Another Possibility: Three Witnesses. There may be another way to understand the “third time” that Paul is speaking of. It could be that the “three” are witnesses to the state of the Corinthians. In this case v.2 is an explanation of the three witnesses, following the principle of two or three witnesses repeated in v.1.
  1. “I have declared beforehand” (past tense) might refer to Paul’s first epistle, when he indicted them for immorality and warned that he would come with a rod (e.g. 1 Cor. 4). This was an opportunity for them to deal with the evil.
  2. “I say beforehand as present the second time” (present tense) refers to the second epistle, revealing that there were deeper evils at work. Yet this epistle gave them another opportunity to repent.
  3. “This third time I am coming to you… I will not spare” (future) refers to the fulfillment of Paul’s promise; an actual visit to Corinth. This would be the third and final witness of their state. Would they have repented?

Self-Examination: The Final Proof of Paul’s Apostleship (13:3-5)

3 Since ye seek a proof of Christ speaking in me, (who is not weak towards you, but is powerful among you, 4 for if indeed he has been crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power; for indeed “we” are weak in him, but we shall live with him by God’s power towards you,) 5 examine your own selves if ye be in the faith; prove your own selves: do ye not recognise yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you, unless indeed ye be reprobates? vv.3-5 Next Paul gives the final proof of his apostleship: the Corinthians themselves. They were seeking “a proof of Christ” in the apostle’s ministry, and the best proof he could give them was “examine your own selves if ye be in the faith”. Paul had brought them the gospel, and their salvation was proof that Christ was indeed working through him. This is not the first time the subject of self-examination is brought up to the Corinthians. In the first epistle, the subject is brought up in connection with eating the Lord’s Supper. However, self-examination is never recommended in scripture as a proof of salvation. This verse (v.5) has been misconstrued to mean that the believer must examine himself to have assurance of salvation. Looking inward is the last place we should look! In 1 Cor. 11 they were to examine themselves because of sin in their lives. In 2 Cor. 13 they were to examine themselves to be reminded that Paul was a true minister of Christ. Never is a believer told to look within for the evidences of salvation. Instead we are always pointed to Christ and His Word. Paul did not say this to make the Corinthians doubt their salvation. The authenticity of Paul’s apostleship was linked with the Corinthians’ salvation! If Jesus Christ was in them, then Christ was speaking in Paul. If Paul wasn’t a true apostle, then the Corinthians were reprobates. A reprobate is someone who is utterly useless… a good-for-nothing. It is the same word translated in 1 Cor. 9:27 as “castaway”… cast away as good for nothing. The figure is taken from reprobate silver; when the silver becomes so full of impurities (dross) it is good for nothing. Reprobate silver shall men call them, because the LORD has rejected them” (Jer. 6:30). The parenthesis in the middle of these verses is very instructive. Paul’s ministry reflected the same character as Christ. The Lord Jesus was “crucified in weakness” (what appeared to be ultimate defeat), yet God raised Him from the dead (ultimate power and victory). In a similar way, Paul outwardly appeared weak and contemptible to the Corinthians, but he had confidence that God would grant a tremendous victory in Corinth through his ministry. It was quite the opposite of the Judaizing teachers who came with much outward show, but really had no power to affect positive spiritual change.

Paul’s Desires Concerning His Arrival (13:6-10)

6 Now I hope that ye will know that “we” are not reprobates. 7 But we pray to God that ye may do nothing evil; not that “we” may appear approved, but that “ye” may do what is right, and “we” be as reprobates. 8 For we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth. 9 For we rejoice when “we” may be weak and “ye” may be powerful. But this also we pray for, your perfecting. vv.6-9 Paul desired them to receive him and his peers as true servants of Christ, not as “reprobates”. But his chief concern was not that he might be vindicated in their eyes, but that they would walk uprightly and “do nothing evil”. Paul and his companions were not merely seeking the approval of the saints in Corinth… he wanted them to do what was right, even if his ministry outwardly appeared worthless. This is the heart of a true servant of Christ. His own reputation wasn’t his top priority. A father’s chief joy ought not to be that he receives affection from his children, although he certainly should want that. John could say, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” (3 John 1:4). Paul felt the same way about the Corinthians. He would “rejoice” (v.9) if his own reputation suffered outwardly while the Corinthians prospered inwardly. Yet he adds, “but this also we pray for, your perfecting.” Paul wanted his spiritual children to be full-grown. They were acting like babies (1 Cor. 3:1), and he wanted them to grow up. When they did grow up, they would have a proper view of him, and would receive him warmly. The expression in v.8 is interesting; “for we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth”. I’m not completely sure what this means, but following are some thoughts for consideration. Paul is definitely not saying that he is infallible, as if he was incapable of sinning. The sentence could simply be an expression of the apostle’s devotion to the truth… his utmost desire was that the truth be upheld by his children. This first interpretation fits well with v.7, but it lacks a close connection to the verses that follow, and it does not explain the presence of the first part, “we can do nothing, etc.”. The phrase ‘ou dunametha’ (“we are not able”) is used several other places in the New Testament, and has the thought of that which is beyond the realm of possibility; i.e. something you couldn’t do even if you wanted (Acts 4:20; 1 Tim. 6:7). Perhaps a better interpretation could be that the apostle is giving the Corinthians another reason to do nothing evil and only what is right. Paul was not permitted by the Lord to use his authority to work against the truth (Matt. 12:25-28). If Paul arrived, and the Corinthians were going on well, there was absolutely nothing to fear. This second interpretation also fits well with the context, and leads nicely into v.10. There would be no grounds for Paul to use his authority against the Corinthians if they were walking in truth. How different from the Judaizers who often acted against the truth!
10 On this account I write these things being absent, that being present I may not use severity according to the authority which the Lord has given me for building up, and not for overthrowing. v.10 Paul’s purpose in writing 2 Corinthians was to address the deeper problems in Corinth and to open up his heart to the saints there. He chose to write while absent because he wanted his second visit to be a happy one. He had authority from the Lord to be severe, but did not desire to be that way. The general thrust of Paul’s ministry, and of the authority given him by the Lord, was “for building up, and not for overthrowing”; i.e. it was primarily positive, not negative.

Conclusion (13:11-14)

11 For the rest, brethren, rejoice; be perfected; be encouraged; be of one mind; be at peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you. v.11 Finally, Paul gives a number of short exhortations in closing. These five things describe the proper state of every believer and of every local assembly. Contrast this state to that of 2 Cor. 12:20, which was the effect of the Judaizing teachers. He calls them “brethren”… a term of Christian fellowship. In contrast with the disunity, strife, and sorrow that had characterized their past, Paul wanted them to “rejoice; be perfected; be encouraged; be of one mind; be at peace”. He reminds them that they would enjoy the presence of “the God of love and peace” in a way they hadn’t heretofore. We cannot enjoy God in the character of love and peace if we refuse to love our brethren. “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Psa 133:1).
12 Salute one another with a holy kiss. v.12 Paul encourages the Corinthians to show brotherly love.

The holy kiss is mentioned four times in the New Testament as a common expression of affection, to be used as a greeting for Christians (Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:12; 1 Thess. 5:263).  There was to be a ‘kiss’, or display of affection; but it was to ‘holy’ as well. They were to be careful that their greetings were genuine, and above reproach. There are at least two ways a kiss could be unholy. First, if it is not genuine, like the kiss of Judas (Luke 22:47-48) or Joab (2 Sam. 20:9). Second, if it is sexually motivated or gives the appearance of evil (1 Cor. 7:1). Paul wanted to see affection between the saints, but he wanted it to be pure. God's desire is for warmth and affection to be present in the greetings of His saints. It is remarkable how a simple greeting such as a kiss can remove barriers, soften bitter hearts, and draw the Lord's people together.4

13 All the saints salute you. v.13 To encourage them, Paul sent greetings from “all the saints”, for he could so speak having traveled to a great extent. There were many problems in Corinth: some had been resolved, but some still needed to be dealt with. Yet the assembly in Corinth was not ostracized from the other saints. Paul wanted to encourage them with salutations from abroad, so that they would not feel alone. 
14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. v.14 Yet there is something better than the fellowship of brethren, and that is the fellowship of the Trinity! No matter what failure may come in, the believer can always count on “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ” to help us through the circumstances of life, “the love of God” to comfort and strengthen our hearts, and “the communion of the Holy Spirit” to bring our souls into the enjoyment of eternal life.
May the grace of Christ our Saviour,
And the Father’s boundless love,
With the Holy Spirit’s favour,
Rest upon us from above.
Thus may we abide in union
With each other and the Lord,
And possess, in sweet communion,
Joys which earth can ne’er afford.5
  1. The apostle says, “This is the third time I am coming”; yet he adds, “as if I were present the second time, and being absent now.” This is, because he had been there once, was to have gone there on his way to Macedonia, was coming a second time, but did not on account of the state the Corinthians were in; but this third time he was coming, and he had told them beforehand; and he said beforehand, as if he had gone the second time, although now absent, that if he came again he would not spare. – Darby, J.N. Synopsis of the Books of the Bible.
  2. The, language most naturally conveys that he had not gone to Corinth the time when he had intended his second visit. Hence he says, “I have foretold and foretell, as if present the second time and now absent, to them that have sinned before and to all the rest,” etc. There is no ground apparent to my mind that this was literally a third visit, rather on the contrary the second in fact, though third in purpose. – Kelly, W. The Second Epistle to the Corinthians.
  3. In addition, we have a "kiss of love" in 1 Pet. 5:14.
  4. Should we still practice the holy kiss today? If God had intended some other form of greeting He would have specified it. In many cultures around the world, a greeting with a kiss is still common and socially appropriate. However, in some western cultures a kiss in public would have the appearance of evil. For example, in the United States, two men kissing in public, or a man kissing another man's wife, would give the appearance of evil, and therefore could not be considered "a holy kiss". In these cases, a different greeting could be used, or else discretion should govern the times and places the holy kiss is used.
  5. Newton, John. May the grace of Christ our Saviour. Little Flock Hymnbook #17. 1725-1807.
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