Paul is wrapping up his letter to the Corinthians. He has now written them at least twice, and possibly more, but this will end his recorded correspondence with the church at Corinth. He has exhorted the church to stand for what is right in the midst of a culture that had little use for Christianity, and to clean up the church from the infiltration of worldliness. While 2 Corinthians 13 is its own chapter, we should also see at as somewhat of a conclusion to his work with that church. It is possible that he visited the church later, and that is the opening subject of this chapter: he reminds the church that he intends to come and visit them, to see if they are walking in obedience.
As Paul finishes his correspondence, he draws the Corinthians to a very direct point: they need to examine themselves to see if they are in the faith. There is a callback here to 1 Corinthians 11, where he gives the same instruction regarding taking the Lord’s Supper. He is providing them both a closing challenge for the individual and the church: test yourself and the group behavior. What should the test be? There are the actions of moral obedience that function as a starting point, but he gives the final test in 13:11. Those who are truly in the faith, who have examined themselves, will be able to live in peace with each other, will grow in their faith, and will be unified about Jesus. His closing sentence is a clear statement of the Trinity: the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all (2 Corinthians 13:14, NASB). If we follow Jesus, we will show grace to one another. If we are children of God the Father, we will have love for one another. If we are indwelt with the Holy Spirit, we will have fellowship (not just meal-sharing) with one another.
How are we doing with that in the church today?
Let us put 2 Corinthians 13:8 into our focus for the day. Paul says that we do nothing against the truth, only for the truth. What does that mean?
First, it has a philosophical connection. That which is “the truth” can be opposed, can be argued against, but cannot actually be destroyed. Truth is neither a negotiable item nor an issue of perception. Truth does not depend on a certain point of view, though points of view can affect one’s access to the truth.
Second, there is a practical connection. Truth is not stronger, more true, or the opposites because of anything someone does. In this concept, Paul is speaking of those things which are unchanging truth. It is not “the truth about who really discovered America” but a deeper concept, an unchanging reality that is universal.
Third, there is a personal connection. Paul asserts that the truth does not need anyone, and in so doing implies that he knows this truth, that he presents this truth, and that even if all the Corinthians bailed out on the truth, it will still be true. This was as big of a deal in the Greco-Roman Empire and its pluralism as it is for the modern world.
Practically speaking, we are not really that different from the world of Paul. Philosophically, many different schools of thought lay claim to holding the truth. The overarching viewpoint of the current day is that no one can possibly be certain their particular view is absolutely right, and so we live in a pluralistic society where the only absolute claim that is acceptable is that no one can make absolute claims. We also find ourselves concerned about defending the truth or about assaults on the truth, and while there are knowledge problems where facts are assaulted as “not true” when they are, or alternates are presented that are “not true” but claimed that they are, the ultimate truth is still unassailable.
And then we hit the personal connection: do we know the truth? And if we do, do we live like it? If the Gospel is true, that God put on flesh, dwelt among us, that Jesus died for us and rose again, then do we show that in our lives? Because if the ultimate truth is Jesus (John 14:6 might be relevant here), then we ought to live that out.
Instead, though, our lives and churches invest a great deal in attempting to “defend” the truth or stressing that something will “disprove” our faith. For example, consider the investments in archeology with hopes of “proving” the Bible, or our fears when CNN runs something they claim “disproves” the resurrection (which has never been successfully done). We sit and wait on those rather than acting on the truth as if it were true and unassailable. We live like God needs our help rather than acknowledging how deep our need for Him goes.
I suggest that we invest more of our time in learning the truth through the Word of God than we spend in trying to defend the truth. There is a value in defending the faith, defending the truth, but in many ways the church has become like a hospital that has learned to keep out bacterial infections and forgotten how to treat patients. The floors are clean but we are not entirely sure what we are supposed to be doing as we walk on them.
Alongside that, may we also recognize that how we live may obstruct other people’s view of the truth, but it does not change the truth. Likewise, our own heroes can point us to the truth but they are not the truth. Let us strive to fixate our thoughts on Jesus Himself, and never be so addicted to one of His representatives that that person has power over our grasp of the truth.
1. Writing to the Corinthians: there are some who advocate that 1 Corinthians 5:9 indicates a letter before 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians 2:3-4, 7:8 indicate a letter between 1 and 2 Corinthians. The Baker Exegetical Commentary volumes, the NICNT volumes, the Pillar NT volumes, all are worth consulting on this matter. (I’m not discounting others, those are the ones I looked at.)
2. Paul’s citation of Deuteronomy 17:6, about needing “two or three witnesses” is interesting here. He places this in context with his warnings to the church: I warned you once, I’ve warned you again, and so now my warnings are established seems to be what you have in 2 Corinthians 13:2. If that is so, then it should inform our own understanding that “two or three witnesses” may not automatically mean two or three impartial observers.
The occasional thoughts of an ordinary man serving an extraordinary God. Come with me as we learn, teach, and laugh along the way.
Tuesday, September 4, 2018
Truth: 2 Corinthians 13
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