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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)
Established November 2008 Published Weekly on Friday
This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men (and women) to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1Timothy 2:3-4)
Welcome to HBS.
Introduction to Chapter 13
Paul’s final comments to the Corinthians are meant to reassure them he intends to visit them. But the purpose of this third visit is to judge those who had boasted that he wrote intimidating letters when away but was weak when he was with them (2 Corinthians 10:1-2, 10-11). It’s likely his antagonists had become even bolder, since he had promised to visit Corinth twice before but had been twice-shy according to them. Scripture doesn’t mention this third visit to Corinth. All we have are a couple of Bible verses from Paul speaking of his intent to travel there (Romans 15:22-29). However, in response to his opponent’s boldness he solemnly assures them he is coming and in every case where an offence was CONFIRMED BY THE TESTIMONY OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES, punishment would be inflicted (13:1-2). Since they argued and sought proof that the risen Lord had sent him, they should witness that proof in the punishment he would inflict upon the guilty (13:3).
But it’s not all bad news, after all, this is our Apostle Paul, the encourager; the man who wasn’t willing to give up on these Corinthians (13:10-14). He loved this church, as he loved all the churches (2 Corinthians 11:28), and he wanted to see it purged of the wicked behavior that weakened it and kept it from experiencing true spiritual growth (1 Corinthians 3:1-5; 10:12; 2 Corinthians 12:20). But change had to come!
Any loving parent will tell you to raise a child properly requires you give them a good swat on the seat of their pants now and again to encourage change, i.e. proper behavior. With that thought in mind, Paul is promising to wield the rod of discipline upon his arrival in Corinth, if there is no proof of change, i.e. repentance in the group who heard his message, twice, but still continued to rebel against his leadership, and to all the rest as well (1 Corinthians 4:15, 21; Proverbs 13:24; Hebrews 12:4-12). But he closes this letter with a positive, uplifting message meant for their edification. He prays for them and bids them an affectionate farewell in the usual Pauline manner.
Please open your Bible at 2 Corinthians 13:1.
2 Corinthians 13
1: This is the third time I am coming to you. EVERY FACT IS TO BE CONFIRMED BY THE TESTIMONY OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES.
EVERY FACT - This quote comes from the beginning of Deuteronomy 19:15, which deals with legal proceedings under the Mosaic Law (Deuteronomy 17:6; Numbers 35:30; Matthew 18:16; 1 Timothy 5:19). Why is Paul using it here? I’m glad you asked.
Based on our study of this letter there are two possibilities:
It could refer to the Corinthian’s evaluation of Paul. He’s already made two trips there and they were not rest stops; he ministered to them. Consequently, they would be held accountable as hearers of the truth (Romans 15:1-7; 1 Corinthians 3:12-15, 15:1-4).
It could refer to church discipline related to a certain group within the church.
The factious group (1 Corinthians 1-4; 2 Corinthians 12:20)
An immoral group (2 Corinthians 12:21)
The super apostles who had connections to Jerusalem (Chapters 10-13)
TO BE CONFIRMED BY THE TESTIMONY OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES – what Paul means to say by this comment isn’t quite clear. Some people think he’s referring to the letters he had sent to this church these would serve as his TWO OR THREE WITNESSES. Others think he’s referring to the testimony of his coworkers, namely Titus and Timothy and one the two unnamed brothers who may be with him on this visit. But Instead of working with opinions, let’s move forward with what we know. We understand TWO OR THREE WITNESSES is what the Law of Moses required to settle a legal dispute. Therefore Paul’s point in quoting scripture is to inform the Corinthians, and the false apostles, he’s coming this third time to judge them. This isn’t conjecture because we have the following statement in verse 2 to support it.
2: I have previously said when present the second time, and though now absent I say in advance to those who have sinned in the past and to all the rest as well, that if I come again I will not spare anyone (the proverbial rod of discipline),
Paul is obviously speaking to two groups. The first, “those who have sinned in the past” must refer to the Believers who heard Paul twice but remained in rebellion against his apostolic authority. Whether this was the factious group of 1 Corinthians 1-4 or the immoral group of 2 Corinthians 12:20-21 this book does not come right out and say. The second, “and all the rest” could relate to those who were not present during these two visits, which would include the false apostles from Jerusalem and those who supported them, which are the focus of chapters 10-13. Whatever the case, Paul puts these two groups on notice. He wants them to deal with their sinful behavior and repent. But if they do not he will attend to it.
If I come again I will not spare anyone – Paul used this phrase before in a positive sense: But I call God as witness to my soul, that to spare you I did not come again to Corinth (2 Corinthians 1:23). But here, he uses it in a noticeable judicial sense.
Let’s go to verses 3-4.
3: since you are seeking for proof of the Christ who speaks in me, and who is not weak toward you, but mighty in you. For indeed He was crucified because of weakness, yet He lives because of the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, yet we will live with Him because of the power of God directed toward you.
Since you are seeking for proof of the Christ who speaks in me – Paul’s antagonists, specifically the false apostles (2 Corinthians 11:5, 12:11), said they wanted to see more “power” from Paul. He appeared to be too weak and humble in their estimation (by the way, the Jews said the same thing about Jesus Christ). So Paul responds to their personal evaluation here, in effect saying, “You want to see proof of the Christ who speaks in me? Very well, when I come the third time, you will see the power of God in my rebuke as I make things right in this church. I advise you to clean house now before I arrive.”
In case some of you think that’s a bit too harsh, are you not aware Jesus Christ cleaned His Father’s house because of the sinful activity taking place within it? He entered the temple of God (before Passover), and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And He said to them, “It is written, MY HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED A HOUSE OF PRAYER; but you are making it a ROBBERS’ DEN.” (Matthew 21:12-13)
You have to read all four gospel accounts to obtain the entire record of Jesus’ righteous display of anger toward all those men who were more interested in making money than they were in maintaining the holiness of God’s house. If you flip on over to John 2:15 in your Bible you’ll discover Jesus took the time to make Himself a whip out of cords and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle with it (John 2:15).
And who is not weak toward you, but mighty in you (v3b) - the Jewish intruders failed to recognize weakness is God’s path to spiritual victory, as clearly illustrated in the life of His Son, Jesus Christ. They refused to see it in the life and ministry of our Apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 10:1, 11, 12:9, 13:9) as well. Here’s the thing: there is no record of any human being receiving glory for spiritual accomplishments that are in actuality a direct result of God’s will being accomplished through them. That’s because it is God’s resources that accomplish spiritual results!
How many times must Paul say this? Well, he’s writing to Corinth so once is never enough, so here he goes again. Paul wants them to know Believers must allow God’s power to flow through their weaknesses. The same suffering that reveals our weaknesses will also reveal God’s strength, if we permit it: for (His) power is perfected in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9; Philippians 4:13).
For indeed He was crucified because of weakness (v4a) – Let’s be clear, the Son of God was not weak; Jesus Christ chose not to exert His power thus He appeared to be weak to His enemies: although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of (what) a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:6-8). Does anyone believe for a second God the Father is powerless? Do you believe God was unable to prevent the crucifixion? Do you honestly believe Jesus Christ, the Creator of all that is seen and unseen could not have put an end to His torment at any given time? We know they could have, but then where would we all be? The answer is: still dead in our sins (Romans 5:6-11).
Yet He lives – Jesus Christ is alive, though He was crucified, He lives (1 Corinthians 15:20-23)! Furthermore, He is capable of exerting supernatural power as proof that He is alive. Paul reminds us miracles, signs, and wonders are being performed in His name and by His power? One other sign that Christ lives is the gospel of Jesus Christ is being preached in every town and city despite fierce opposition, beatings, often in danger of death, dangers in the cities, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren (11:23, 26). Why would men risk their lives daily to propagate a lie?
Because of the power of God – here Paul states the Father raised Christ Jesus from the dead and placed Him at His right hand (Psalm 110:1; Ephesians 1:19-21). However, there is a Bible verse that says in some way the Holy Spirit is involved in Jesus’ resurrection: But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in You, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you (Romans 8:11, 1:11).
Then we these Bible passages that say Jesus Himself has the power to overcome death: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19-22).
“For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have (what) authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father” (John 10:17-18).
Please note there are other Bible verses that say the same thing. I selected the two above because they say it so clearly. However, did you know scripture also says the Son can do nothing by Himself: “Truly, truly, I say to you the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing (John 5:19a). It would appear the Holy Trinity is involved in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and perhaps the Father sanctioned it (v4).
For we also are weak in Him, yet we will live with Him because of the power of God directed toward you – Paul had a unique understanding of the Believer’s life in Christ Jesus, speaking specifically of our identification with Christ’s life, His death and His resurrection. We’ve learned from this study that Paul mimicked Christ, meaning he lived a humble, gentle life, which also meant he lived a challenging, misunderstood life, and so will the Corinthians, if they’re truly following Jesus Christ. This identification theology is found in Romans 6. Paul wrote the letter to the church at Rome while he was dealing with the problems in Corinth. Read it again with that understanding.
There was a musical group in the 60’s called The Monkees. They had a hit single called, “I’m a Believer.” Of course Mickey Dolenz’s song was about the certainty of “young love.” Here is verse 5 Paul asks his antagonists a question requiring serious thought, with eternal implications, and I’m paraphrasing, “Are you a Believer, in the gospel?”
2 Corinthians 13
5: Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you – unless indeed you fail the test?
Paul isn’t asking every Believer who belong to this church to examine themselves. They weren’t all rebelling against his apostolic authority. The painful/stern letter he sent sandwiched in between 1 and 2 Corinthians had a positive effect on some of them. It had brought about change (repentance) in some of their lives. However, there were two other groups and Paul identified them in verse 2 saying, “those who had sinned in the past, and all the rest as well;” who continued to oppose Paul.
The reason why Paul asks these folks to examine themselves is they had tested Paul. There had been too many church related issues and irregularities. These two groups had shown themselves to be completely out of step and out of character with the true nature of a person following Christ Jesus. Paul felt the need to ask them to give careful consideration to the time of their conversion; perhaps they were deceived. Paul has tried to solve their problems by using the resources available to him without success. Now it’s time to go back to the very beginning, their conversion, to ensure they are in the faith to begin with! In effect Paul’s saying, “Check your heart; did you truly believe the gospel? (1 Corinthians 15:1-4; Ephesians 2:8-9)
Examine yourselves – examine in the Greek language is Dokimazo (dok-im-ad’-zo), Verb, Strong’s Greek # 1381, meaning: to test, prove, scrutinize (to see whether a thing is genuine or not) as metals. This is a stronger word than test it refers to trying metals by the powerful action of heat. Paul is saying they should examine their beliefs, to see whether it would stand the test: each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work (1 Corinthians 3:13; Revelation 19:12).
The obvious question should be, “How do they examine/test their faithfulness to God? As I said earlier, it begins with an examination of their hearts but it also extends to their lives. What are their views and feelings toward the gospel, and the Word of God, and what position do these truths hold in their daily lives (Psalm 119:105; Matthew 15:8). The only way to properly examine themselves is by putting their faithfulness to the test, i.e. while faithfully following Jesus Christ 24/7/365, and enduring the trials of life as a Believer should: for when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-11).
The way an individual proves the car they want to purchase is going to be faithful is by subjecting it to an actual trial. It’s not possible to do this by watching it from a chair in the showroom or by reading the car manuals. They put the key in the ignition and take it for a test drive. This is where the rubber meets the road, literally. If it performs well, then they know they’re on the right track. Likewise, if an individual wants to know what their faith is worth let them take it into the world; for this is where the rubber meets the road, spiritually speaking. Take the gospel, i.e. the Person of Jesus Christ, any place where He may do some good. Don’t wink at sin, as the world-at-large does. Admonish sinners in a loving manner, don’t join them; inform them of their wrongdoing and why change is necessary. Tell them Jesus died for them; His blood was shed for them and others. Then when they encounter opposition, and they will, they ought to endure it in a proper manner. Do this faithfully, day-in and day-out, and they will soon see what their faith is worth.
Or do you not recognize this about yourselves – Said differently, “This isn’t rocket science; do you not know yourselves?” Paul means to say why wouldn’t a true Believer know their true character? The adage Never Judge a Book by its Cover applies here as outward appearances can’t reveal the whole story. It’s possible for a person to pretend to be one thing when in truth they are the complete opposite. Let’s use the Pharisees as an example. They appeared to be righteous, however their faith and their righteous were false (Matthew 23:28); it was insufficient (Matthew 5:20). The same is possible today. People can pray with others in church, but do they pray in private? They can contribute on Sunday along with others, and others see that envelope go into the basket, but what are they doing the other six days of the week to demonstrate their faithfulness in contributing to Christ’s kingdom? What are they doing to better themselves, what are they putting away to ensure they are truly walking with Christ, when the only One watching is God?
Recognizing one’s sin is seldom a problem. Most people are able to acknowledge moral flaws such as adultery, cheating, lying, stealing, etc. Even new Believers recognize these sins, however, doctrinal errors can be more difficult to discern. This is why Believers need to be diligent in studying this book (2 Timothy 2:15) and knowing God’s will (Philippians 1:9-10; 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22; Hebrews 5:13-14).
That Jesus Christ is in you – I note Paul did not say they were Christians. I note this word appears only 3 times in the Bible and because it is often misused and misapplied in society today I hardly ever use the term. I prefer to use the word Believer or Bible Believing Saint instead. Many cults call themselves Christians today and to be Christ-like means you are following Jesus. You can’t be following Jesus unless you’re adhering to scripture, Church-Age Doctrine, etc; cults simply do not believe in the authenticity of God’s Word and many cults do not believe in Jesus. Do not be deceived.
Verse 13:4 focused on the corporate aspect, but this phrase focuses on the individual’s aspect. We are aware, or should be, the Holy Spirit baptizes us in the Body of Christ the moment we believe the gospel (1 Corinthians 12:12-14). Each Believer is then sealed with the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of our inheritance (Ephesians 1:13-14, 4:30). But the ministries of the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ are so closely linked that often the Spirit is called the Spirit of Christ (See Romans 8:9; 1 Peter 1:11). This book also says Jesus Christ indwells Believers (John 14:23; Romans 8:10; Colossians 1:27).
Unless indeed you fail the test – this phrase runs parallel to “if you are in the faith.” Paul has asserted in this letter in several ways he believes the folks attending this church are Believers, but not all of them. There is a group labeled the false apostles, from Jerusalem who obviously do not know Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). This short phrase refers to them and not the members of the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 1-8). Paul referred to sinful Believers most recently in 2 Corinthians 12:20-21. They needed to repent. The false apostles needed to know Jesus Christ!
6: But I trust that you will realize that we ourselves do not fail the test – here Paul anticipates a counter-question from the false apostles, “Why don’t you examine yourself? Perhaps, you’re the one who is not a Christian.” So, he answers it before it is voiced. But in truth, Paul has made it clear he performs routine “check-ups” to keep himself under God’s control. He does this because he doesn’t want to be disqualified or rejected. …but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified (1 Corinthians 9:27).
In his letter to the church at Philippi, Paul encouraged the Believers there to “check-up” on themselves: So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). So, Paul is saying he and his coworkers have passed the test; they are not counterfeits, as are the false apostles.
Let’s go to verse 7.
7: Now we pray to God that you do no wrong; not that we ourselves may appear approved, but that you may do what is right, even though we may appear unapproved – Paul’s prayer that the Corinthians do no wrong could have been motivated by the desire that he might appear approved, because when they rebelled against God it did bring reproach upon his name. This can be compared to an underage son or daughter going out into the community and messing up badly, being caught, and being brought home in a squad car. Their rebellion reflects badly on the parent’s name and the ripple effect will be noticed throughout their neighborhood, their church, and certainly amongst the family members themselves. But this wasn’t the case. He would rather have them to what is right, be honest, even though he may appear unapproved. Paul understood, honesty is the best policy, and speaking the truth would always prevail to the very end.
8: For we can do nothing against the truth, but only for the truth – the truth in this context refers to the gospel as a Person, i.e. the Lord Jesus Christ, the Messenger who left heaven, and His lifestyle. This verse also qualifies Paul’s sentiment in the previous verse, that Paul meant to do only what is right; that he wished everybody else would do the same; and that whatever might be the effect on his own reputation, or whatever people thought of him, he could not go against the great system of the gospel truth which he preached to both Jew and Gentile. Doing what was right was a fixed principle in his life.
9: For we rejoice when we ourselves are weak but you are strong; this we also pray for – Paul has taught the Corinthians (and us) that God’s spiritual power is released through human weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9-10, 13:4). Therefore, this is Paul’s paradox. He wants to remain weak, however, for the Corinthian church to be spiritually strong; she too, must become weak. Think on this. Isn’t this the direct opposite of the way people act and think, i.e. evaluate their lives? The false apostles came preaching another gospel, another Jesus; they came asserting strength through education, lineage, and experiences. What was Paul preaching in comparison? Paul taught the Believer’s strength came through Christ’s example (2 Corinthians 13:4).
That you be made complete – here Paul is calling for the church to become one unit as the risen Lord intended; to end its factious divisions (1 Corinthians 12:11-14). This is certainly a dysfunctional group, presently (2 Corinthians 12:20-21), but Paul expects them to become a functioning, loving, unified church (13:11).
10: For this reason I am writing these things while absent, so that when present I need not use severity, in accordance with the authority which the Lord gave me for building up and not for tearing down.
Paul didn’t want to repeat the painful visit to Corinth (2 Corinthians 2:3-4). He didn’t want to arrive on scene wielding the rod of discipline, as the apostolic avenger (1 Corinthians 4:21). He preferred to enter their assembly in love and gentleness; however, he would gauge his response by their response in accordance with the authority which the Lord gave me.
11: Finally, brethren, rejoice, be made complete, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you – Paul urges these Believers to do those things which pleases God because a) it’s God’s will. b) they bring about this result: the God of love and peace will be with you.
12: Greet one another with a holy kiss – this custom between family members and friends within the church was halted due to pagan ignorance in later years. In the early church years the men would greet the men and the women would greet the women with a holy kiss on the cheek, following the custom of the Jewish synagogue (Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 1 Thessalonians 5:26). I’ve seen some people in the church continue to greet people in such a manner, but it’s very rare today because most folks are acutely aware of communicable diseases and the existence of “rumor mongers” within the walls of their church.
13: All the saints greet you – this phrase refers to not only Paul and his missionary team but to all the Believing saints in all the churches. There was a certain amount of unhealthy tension between the churches and the Corinthian church and Paul addressed this by mentioning several time the standards he taught in all the churches (1 Corinthians 4:17, 7:17, 16:34). Corinth needed to “get its act together,” become a part of God’s one, church family, and not see itself as a privileged, elite member, standing off by its lonesome, all alone.
14: The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all – Paul always ends his letters with a blessing and a prayer or two, but this one is unique. This one combines three aspects of God’s character with the three Person’s of the Trinity. It’s also unusual in that Jesus is mentioned first. The three aspects of God: grace, love, and fellowship are for every Believer at Corinth signified by the phrase “be with you all.” This is a crucial part of Paul’s prayer because he wants to restore unity amongst these Believers and he wants them to recognize and reject the false believers.
Paul used a scribe to write his letters. For example the Romans 16:16 verse informs us Tertius wrote the body of Romans and not Paul. However, it’s likely Paul took up the reed pen (calamus) to write this last prayer himself (See 2 Thessalonians 3:17).
When we meet next week, we’ll begin our study of the book of Galatians.
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