“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 Cor. 13:1-14).
This last chapter may really be divided into two parts, and yet they are so intimately connected that I want to discuss it all at the same time. The apostle, you remember, had told these Corinthians on two previous occasions that he had been arranging to come to see them, but certain circumstances hindered. Just what forms these circumstances took we are not told, but he was unable to come; and because he had not kept his partial promise there were those who accused him of lightness, of levity, in promising things which he did not do. Others declared there was a very good reason why he did not come. They said, “He has charged us with certain things, which he is taking for granted are true, and he does not dare to come and face us about them.” And he said, “I am coming, the third time I am coming, and when I come, in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word will be established. I have written you beforehand of behavior contrary to Christian principles. All I have heard will be fully substantiated, and I hope when I get there I will find you really repentant of these evil things and not condoning them.” “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.” He did not like to come. He says on one occasion,
“To spare you I refrained from coming,” but he could not put it off; he would come to them and deal with those things face to face. Unholiness is incompatible with the testimony of the Church of God, which is the temple of the living God. “Holiness becometh Thine house, O Lord, forever.” And if those who are linked up with others in Christian fellowship are living unholy lives, they should be put away from the assembly, but if they repent they are to be restored to full communion.
In replying again to the suggestion that Paul was not a real apostle, he says, “If you seek a proof of Christ living in me, examine yourselves.” Now if you take this fifth verse out of its connection you lose the meaning of it. Many people take it, as though he meant that we are to examine ourselves to see if we are real Christians, but that is not what Paul was saying. They questioned his apostleship, whether the Spirit of God was in his ministry. If you will look at everything after “speaking in me,” verse three down through verse four, as parenthetical, then you get his exact meaning. “Since ye seek a proof of Christ speaking in me, examine yourselves.” In other words, he is saying, “Are you Christians? How did you become Christians? Was it not through my ministry? Well, then God was working in me. If you are hypocrites, if you are not real Christians, then Christ did not work in me. If you are real Christians, if you have the assurance that you are the children of God, you received that as a result of the testimony that I brought to you at Corinth. Therefore you ought to be the last people in the world to question whether Christ wrought through me.”
I suppose we are all indebted to some servant of Christ for our present knowledge of the truth. If we are not living in a godly manner, it is reflecting discredit on the one who brought us to Christ. If we want to bring credit to our fathers and mothers in Christ, then we should live to the glory of God. There are certain things that the world looks upon as its own, and I am here to represent my Father, and I do not want to bring discredit on my Father’s name. The Book says, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever.” Oh, I wish that we as Christians might ever keep that in mind! We are here in the world to represent our Father and to represent our Saviour, and men can but get their conception of God and of Christ, our blessed Lord, through us. We may well examine ourselves, therefore, and see if we are so behaving as to bring glory to our Lord Jesus Christ.
Let us now go back and look at the parenthesis. Paul turns aside and exclaims concerning his ministry, “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.” This is the parenthesis. Now notice how solemnly he brings before us the humiliation Christ endured for our redemption, which we are in a measure called to share. “He was crucified through weakness.” What does that mean? Does it mean He was so weak in Himself that He was unable to resist His foes? Or was He simply the victim of circumstances? Oh, no. The preposition translated “through” here is generally rendered “in.” He was crucified in weakness, but He liveth again in the power of God. It simply means this: He chose to become a Man for our redemption. He chose to be made “a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death.” He who was higher than the highest “did not count it (equality with God) a thing to be grasped,” but He emptied Himself of the glory He had before the world was, and “being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedi- ent unto death, and such a death, that of the cross.” In this sense He was crucified through weakness. As excarnate God He could never have died for our sin. But He chose to become incarnate. He chose to become a man, and to be subject to hunger and thirst and weariness and every sinless infirmity of mankind, and He chose not to resist His foes. He allowed Himself to be spat upon, to be beaten, to be crowned with thorns. “I gave My back to the smiters and My cheek to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not My face from shame and spitting.” He chose to be “despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” It was His own desire thus to give Himself a ransom for all, and so we read in his first epistle (chap. 1:21-25): “After that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” Now listen: “Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” Think of these two expressions: First, “The foolishness of God;” what does it mean? It is really, “the simplicity of God.” It means that God’s wondrous plan of redemption through the cross is foolishness to the philosopher, the man of this world; but the Scripture says, “The foolishness of God is wiser than men.” And, second, “The weakness of God;” what does that imply? God becoming: Man, God submitting to the agony and shame of the cross, God in Christ bleeding, suffering, dying for our redemption. “The weakness of God is stronger than men.” God could do through the cross what He never could do apart from the cross. Oh, the miracles that have been wrought through the cross all down the centuries! Do you know of anything else that can change the heart of a hard, cruel and godless man, transform him and make a new creature of him?
A minister tells how on one occasion in New Guinea, where perhaps less than a score of years before the heathen were utterly wrapped in darkness, through a testimony carried on there by faithful witnesses the people were gathered reverently at the table of the Lord, and here sat a missionary of the cross. Beside him sat an elder of the native church. The minister recognized in this elder the son of a man who had eaten the missionary father of the son sitting there. The son of the martyred missionary and the son of the man who had killed him, were both remem- bering the Lord Jesus as the Saviour of mankind. Do you know of anything that can bind hearts together like this?
You recall the story of Kayarnak, the first convert of the Moravian missionaries in Greenland. When they went to that country and found the people so steeped in iniquity, they said, “They will never understand the gospel. These people are drunkards, gluttons, they are adulterers, they are living the vilest of lives. They won’t understand the grace of God, they will take it as a license for sin.” So the Moravian missionaries drilled into the hearts and minds of that people God’s holy law. They said they had to do it to create a conscience in the Esquimoux. But the results were nil. No man had ever sought out a missionary for conference about his soul. They listened to the messages and went back and lived their wicked lives again. And then Hans Egede came, his heart burning with love for that people. He had left wealth and honor to sacrifice himself for those unspeakably vile Greenlanders. It was announced he would speak in a certain neighborhood on a Lord’s Day. They crowded into a small lodge holding 200 to 300 people. It was a poor affair, built up from pieces of old wrecked ships. There they sat. Hans Egede stood up and preached and, for the first time in the history of Greenland, told the story of the cross. Tenderly, lovingly, with a heart that had itself been broken by the power of the cross, he told of the One who had suffered and bled for the redemption of sinners. It took an hour or two to tell his story, and when he finished Kayarnak, a young chief, who had been listening eagerly as the gospel was proclaimed, sprang forward and cried, “Missionaries, why did you not tell us this before? You have been with us a year, and you never told us before. You told us of a God who created a world, and it did not make us hate our sin. You told us of a God who gave His holy law. We learned the ten commandments, and we went out and got drunk again, but today you have told us how our sins broke the heart of God and He came to redeem us from our sins. Missionary, Kayarnak cannot sin against love like that. From now on Kayarnak will be a Christian.” And Kayarnak became the outstanding Christian testimony for years in Greenland. “The weakness of God is stronger than men.” We have sometimes tried to reason people into salvation, forgetting that our commission is to preach His Word, to preach Christ. Paul says, “We preach Christ crucified, the power and wisdom of God.” He was crucified in weakness. Let us never forget that. My sin put Him there; your sin put Him there. What do I mean? You say, “We are Christians; do you mean the sins we committed before we were saved?” I mean the sin that you committed last night, that sin nailed the Son of God to the cross; that sin that you have been meditating today, that sin put God on the cross. All the sins that you and I have committed, of thought, of word and of deed, God saw them all, and for all of them the Son of God suffered, and if you deliberately walk out and commit sin you are sinning against the cross of Christ. You cannot live like the world without trampling on the Son of God. You cannot go on in things that His Book condemns without deliberately piercing, as it were, the side of the Son of God afresh.
And yet it is not a dead Christ that we serve. He liveth by the power of God and He said, “Because I live, ye shall live also.” We have a living Christ and He desires us to walk in His steps, to live in separation from the world. His people are not of the world, and that is one reason why they will never be understood by the world. You cannot walk as He walked and please the world; it is impossible. He says, “Ye are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own.” Oh, the absurdity—shall I say—or the fanaticism of imagining that you can be a consistent Christian and yet live like the world. It is folly of the worst kind. If you are saved through the Christ that the world rejected, you take Him as your Lord and seek to live the kind of life He lived. Do you want to know what it was? Turn back to the four Gospels and see.
“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.” It is a dishonest thing to profess to serve Christ and not yield your life to His control. If those Corinthians were really Christians, then the gospel that Paul preached had been believed, and if believed it would show through the life. The truth proclaimed goes on from victory to victory. Note the unselfishness of this man Paul: “We are glad when we are weak and ye are strong.” That is not the world’s way. We should be willing to take the lowest place. You see, Paul never sees the saints as perfect in the body. “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may lay hold of that for which also I have been laid hold of by Christ Jesus.” But he is seeking the perfection of the saints, going on to this perfect, fully-developed Christian character. That only comes as we walk in fellowship with Christ.
“Therefore I write these things being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness.” He does not want to say some stern things that very much needed to be said. “According to the power which the Lord hath given me to edification, and not to destruction.”
And then comes the conclusion of his epistle: “Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect.” I desire your perfection. Literally, be perfected, by continual growth. “Be of good comfort.” Cheer up. “Be of one mind, live in peace.” I think one thing that brings great distress and hindrance to the work of the Lord is when believers speak so unkindly of others. Let us learn to speak well of our brethren in Christ. “Live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you.” “Greet one another with an holy kiss.” Do not put the emphasis on “kiss.” He is not saying that you are to greet people with a kiss. “Greet one another with a holy kiss. That is where you put the emphasis. Greet one another with a holy hand-shake. It is a very unholy hand-shake if on meeting a brother we say, “Well, my dear brother, how do you do?” and then turn away and say, “I have no use for him.” That is a very unholy hand-shake. Judas kissed the Lord and it was an unholy kiss; it was a kiss of hypocrisy. “All the saints salute you.”
And now we have that well-known benediction that has been heard ten million times since Paul wrote it: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen.”
In these words we have epitomised for us the outstanding doctrines of the Christian faith. The truth of the Holy Trinity is here presented as definitely as in Matt. 28:19. The grace of the Son, the love of the Father, and the fellowship of the Spirit, include every blessing that is ours through the infinite mercy of God: grace to cover all our sins, and to strengthen us for every conflict; love to cheer and sustain our hearts in every trial; and a hallowed fellowship that gives us to enter into and enjoy our rich inheritance in Christ!