From 12:19-13:10 Paul writes concerning his proposed visit to Corinth. There were those in Corinth who had continued to flout Paul's apostolic authority and so in 13:1-10 Paul speaks of his determination to restore discipline in the church at Corinth.
v1. Paul intends to visit the church again and reinforce his apostolic authority - a third visit to bear witness to the will of God for the Corinthians, cf. Deut.19:15.
v2. During his second visit to Corinth, the "painful visit", Paul warned the offenders of his intention to deal with them and now he warns them again in the written word. His warning also applies to any others who have aligned themselves with the offenders. The actual offences are not spelled out, but given some of the issues raised in 1 Corinthians it is likely that sexual aberrations top the list.
v3. Those troubling the Corinthian church have questioned Paul's authority as a messenger of Christ. In their eyes Paul can't support his claim to apostleship. So, Paul makes the point that when he visits next, his detractors will get a taste of his authority, an authority supported by Christ himself.
v4. Paul uses Christ's life to illustrate his own, as well as the life of all believers. Christ was weak on the cross; wickedness had its way. Yet, he overcame death and was victorious through his resurrection. Those who are "in him" (in Christ) share both his weakness and power. A believer is often impotent in the face of human sin, overcome and made of none effect. Yet ultimately, resurrection-power will have its way, if not here, then certainly in eternity.
v5-6. Those troubling the church, those within and those without, have questioned Paul's apostolic authority. They claim that Paul does not speak for Christ. So, Paul asks the Corinthian believers to examine themselves. If they find themselves "true to the faith", Christ Jesus will confirm the truth to them, and of course, confirm the truth that Paul himself proclaims. As Paul was the person who brought the gospel to the Corinthians, and thus faith in Christ, to defy Paul's authority is to deny the validity of their faith.
v7. Paul expresses the hope in prayer that the Corinthian believers will sort out all the problems, moral and otherwise, that have infected the church. He will soon visit the church and this time, if necessary, powerfully establish his apostolic authority. Yet, Paul would rather that the church accepts his authority and so not give him the opportunity to have to apply his authority and thereby vindicate himself.
v8. Of course, being in the truth business, Paul is not into authenticating his apostleship by exercising discipline where it is not warranted.
v9. So, if the Corinthians correct their ways, Paul won't have to apply his apostolic authority. As a consequence, Paul will seem like his old "weak" self. Yet, he would rather be "weak", in the sense of not using his power, and for the Corinthians to be "strong", in the sense of having corrected their ways and now living for Christ.
v10. In the end, the very purpose for writing this letter is so that Paul will not need to "be harsh" with the Corinthian believers when he visits them. His apostolic authority was not given "for tearing down", but for "building up."
Rev. Bruce Smith, who was a highly respected Australian theologian, once shocked his theological students with the admission that he may be a fraud. He was making the point that it is just too easy to take on the form of the Christian faith, but not the substance. We have all witnessed the hypocrisy of Christians involved in character assassination, blatant sinfulness..... all done in the name of Jesus. We have all observed institutional religion involved in its power games, conformed to the world, playing at religion, but not knowing the substance. We have all witnessed the denial of mercy, of forgiveness withheld. Blind fools we are, hypocrites, for often we are the perpetrators ourselves. Did not Jesus remind us that he will say to many who claim to follow him, "I don't know you"?
In the last day none of us will want to hear those words. What we want to hear is "well done thou good and faithful servant." But how can we be sure that we will hear the good words and not the bad ones? How can we test where we stand? Paul the apostle asks the members of the Corinthian church to test their standing in Christ. He says to them, "make sure you are true to the faith?"
Paul asks the Corinthians to look at the "fruits" of their lives. Are they living good and fruitful lives for Christ? The church members Paul addresses in this letter are into party spirit and immorality and so their lives are certainly not fruitful for Jesus. Yet, although an honest assessment will expose their state of loss, Paul assumes that they will ultimately pass the test.
When a believer honestly faces their sin, they are driven immediately to the foot of the cross and there, caught up in the amazing grace of God, they find themselves pure in the presence of the Ancient of Days. It is this grace, this divine mercy, this forgiveness of God, that drives us to reassess our actions, to change our ways, to align ourselves to Christ. Never perfectly, of course, since, as Martin Luther put it, the old Adam has his way until he is deposited in the grave. Yet, we do change, for love fosters love, mercy fosters mercy; we do start to become the person we are in Christ.
It's easy to be a fraud for Jesus, all we have to do is deny our sin and rest on our own outstanding spiritual qualities. It may be best if we give that approach a miss.
1. Why is Paul critical of the Corinthian believers, and can you see a similar problem in the church today?
2. Why should the Corinthians test themselves, and what is the test?