September 18, 2016
Pastor Joe Wittwer
Summer Bible Series
2 Corinthians 13
Introduction and offering:
Did y’all enjoy Ice Cream Sunday? A big thank you to all of you who volunteered! Like everything else that happens around here, it wouldn’t happen without hundreds of you offering to help! Hug a volunteer!
Well, we did it. Or we’re going to do it today. We are finishing 2 Corinthians! Today, we wrap up our Summer Bible Series. The apostle Paul wrote this letter to the church in Corinth, a church he started on his first visit there. His second visit was painful as some opposition arose, and he wrote this letter to answer his opponents and prepare the church for his third visit. In this last chapter, he wraps up with a warning, an appeal, a prayer, a hope and a blessing.
Whenever we read the Bible, we ask three questions:
- Observation: what does it say?
- Interpretation: what does it mean?
- Application: what will I do?
Observation: what does it say? Observation gathers facts: what kind of literature is it, who is the author and recipient, what was the context or setting, what was the purpose, and so on.
Interpretation: what does it mean? Interpretation is determining meaning. There is only one correct interpretation, and that is what the author intended to communicate. If I send you an email, the correct interpretation is not whatever you want it to mean, but what I intended it to mean. This is, of course, the true difficulty in any kind of communication. What I mean may not be what you understood. When we read the Bible, we want to get to the author’s intended meaning, if we can. These first two are closely related: knowing what it says is essential to understanding what it means.
My pastor told me that every passage of Scripture has one interpretation, but many applications. That leads to the third question:
Application: what will I do? Application makes it personal: What is God saying to me and how will I respond? What does God want me to know, or believe, or do? I always want to come away from the Bible with a sense of God speaking to me: here’s what God is saying, what He wants me to do.
As we go through this chapter, we’ll be asking these questions, and I hope each of you leave with something God says to you.
- A warning: I will not spare anyone. 1-4
2 Corinthians 13
1 This will be my third visit to you. “Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” 2 I already gave you a warning when I was with you the second time. I now repeat it while absent: On my return I will not spare those who sinned earlier or any of the others, 3 since you are demanding proof that Christ is speaking through me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. 4 For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him in our dealing with you.
Paul starts with a warning. He is coming to visit them a third time. He already warned them on his second visit, and now he is warning them again: “I will not spare those who sinned.” They were demanding proof that Christ was speaking through him, that he was a true apostle. The proof would be in the powerful exercise of his authority when he arrived. We don’t know what that looked like. Would he kick people out of the church, as he did the man who was sleeping with his step-mom in 1 Corinthians 5? Would people drop dead like Ananias and Saphira did in Acts 5? Would they be struck blind like Elymas was in Acts 13 when he opposed Paul’s preaching of the gospel? We don’t know. All we know is that Paul warned them that he was coming in the power of Christ, and wouldn’t spare anyone who sinned. It sounds ominous.
Through this whole letter, Paul has tried to appeal to the Corinthians, to reason with them. But here at the end, he takes the gloves off. He won’t be weak; he is coming to them in the power of Christ: “by God’s power we will live with him in our dealing with you.”
Here is my application: Welcome warnings. There is value in a well-timed warning. A warning can give you a heads up, a wake up call, and save you lots of pain and trouble. Learn to welcome warnings!
ILL: How many of you have ever had someone flash their lights at you to warn you that there’s a cop with his radar on around the next corner? On a motorcycle, it’s this (tap the top of the helmet). I’m always grateful for the warning—although I always drive the speed limit…and never lie.
You appreciate it because that warning might save you a ticket. A warning can save you lots of pain.
ILL: Before I became a Christian, I was a thief and a liar. I got my Boy Scout hiking merit badge by hiking through downtown Modesto shoplifting. Even then, I loved books, so I stole a bunch of books. That night, my dad saw me looking at these books in my room and asked where I got them. I lied to his face. My dad was a cop, and he could smell a lie a mile away. He looked at me and said, “If I ever catch you stealing, that will be a day you’ll never forget. Do you understand me?” I did. The warning was loud and clear and I stopped stealing…for awhile. I didn’t stop completely until Jesus got a hold of me. Aren’t you glad Jesus got a hold of me! I was a wicked boy!
If you’re going the wrong direction, if you’re doing the wrong thing, a warning can save you lots of trouble. But you must be humble enough to welcome the warning and make a change. Have you ever warned someone, and they bristled? “Don’t tell me what to do.”
ILL: I once warned a married man who was getting emotionally involved with another woman. “You are skating on thin ice. You are risking your marriage, the love of your wife, the respect of your children, and your relationship with God. Stop this now!” He resented me for the warning, ignored me and ended up in an affair and lost everything.
If you love someone and you see him going the wrong direction, you warn him. If you’re wise, you listen to the warning.
2 Timothy 3:16–17 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
God’s word is useful for teaching and training—we like that. But it’s also useful for rebuking and correcting—for warning. We don’t always like that. But if you’re wise, you’ll pay attention to the warning. I often say that I’m always correcting back to Jesus. This is repentance. I get off a little or a lot, and God’s word or a loving friend speaks to me, and I correct back to Jesus. Welcome warnings. Has God been warning you lately? Pay attention! Welcome warnings.
Paul gave a warning, and hopefully they welcomed it.
- An appeal: Examine yourselves. 5-6
5 Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? 6 And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test.
After the warning comes an appeal. “Examine yourselves,” or literally, “yourselves examine,” putting the emphasis on “yourselves” instead of Paul. The Corinthians had been busy examining Paul, testing Paul to see if he was a genuine apostle. Paul says, “You need to examine yourselves, not me.” And he suggests that if they examine themselves, they will have their answer about Paul. Are they in faith? Are they Christians? If so, it’s because Paul shared the gospel with them. Earlier in the letter, Paul wrote:
2 Corinthians 3:1–3 Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? 2 You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. 3 You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
They were Paul’s letter of commendation, the result of Paul’s ministry, the proof of his apostleship. “Do you want to know if I’m an authentic apostle? Look in the mirror! Examine yourselves! Are you in the faith? Are you a Christian? That will be your answer.”
Paul warned, but then he appealed. He preferred that they would examine themselves and come to the correct conclusions, and clean up their problems before he got there. “We can do this the hard way, or the easy way. Let’s do it the easy way. Examine yourselves.”
Here is my application: examine yourselves. The fruit of the gospel is changed lives; has your life changed? Are you becoming a new person in Christ? One of my favorite questions is, “If you were on trial for being a Christian, is there enough evidence to convict you?” Does your life match your profession?
I know many people who are Christians in name only. They have just enough faith to be inoculated against the real thing. They claim to be Christians, but there is little or no evidence in their daily life that they are following Jesus. James wrote:
James 2:14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?
James 2:17 … faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
Faith without deeds, without action, is dead. Faith that is only talk and not action is no faith at all. Jesus said that we would be able to recognize true and false prophets by their fruit.
Matthew 7:17–20 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
Examine yourselves. What is your fruit? Is there enough evidence to convict you of being a Christian? If not, it’s time to get serious about following Jesus! Examine yourselves.
Paul gave a warning, an appeal, and then…
- A prayer: may you be fully restored. 7-9
7 Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong—not so that people will see that we have stood the test but so that you will do what is right even though we may seem to have failed. 8 For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. 9 We are glad whenever we are weak but you are strong; and our prayer is that you may be fully restored.
Paul prays two prayers here. In verse 7, “we pray that you will not do anything wrong, but will do what is right.” He is praying that they will do the right thing: examine themselves, see that they are in Christ, and then repent of their opposition and divisiveness. Paul is willing to look like a failure, willing to be weak as long as they do the right thing.
ILL: This reminds me of the person who is willing to look like a fool for a good cause: the CEO who get dropped in a dunk tank to raise money for charity; the school principal who shaves his head to identify with a cancer kid in his school.
Paul says that he is willing to look weak or like a failure if it means they will do the right thing and grow up. And that is his second prayer in verse 9.
“Our prayer is that you may be fully restored.” The Greek word is katartisis, and means, “to be put in order, made complete, restored.” For example, it was used of repairing fishing nets, restoring them to like new working condition. It came to mean “maturity.” Paul was praying they would be fully restored to Christ and to him and would grow to maturity.
Here’s my application: I pray for your maturity. I pray that you will grow to be all God wants you to be. I pray that you will follow Jesus with a fully surrendered heart and become more and more like Him. This was Paul’s goal—and is God’s goal—for all of us. To the Ephesian church, Paul wrote:
Ephesians 3:17–19 And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Paul wanted them to be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
ILL: Picture it this way. Here is a glass. I can fill it to the measure of the fullness of the glass—about 2 cups. It’s full. This water is coming from the Spokane Aquifer, which is an underground river/lake of over 135 square miles that supplies all of Spokane’s drinking water—billions of gallons of water. What if I fill this glass to the measure of the fullness of the Spokane Aquifer? That’s a different measure!
Paul prays that we’ll be filled “to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Not just what you can hold—but all that He is! This is a prayer for maturity—to become more like the God we worship. Paul not only prayed for their maturity, but worked for it.
Colossians 1:28–29 He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. 29 To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.
This is the goal: to be fully mature in Christ. To be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. To be all that God wants us to be in Christ. This is my prayer for you, and what we work for here at Life Center. We don’t want you to settle for the glass when you can have the aquifer. We don’t want to you settle for mediocrity when you can have maturity, all the fullness of God.
A warning, an appeal, a prayer, and a hope.
- A hope: I won’t have to be harsh. 10
10 This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority—the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down.
Paul still holds out hope that they will heed his warning, that he won’t have to “be harsh in my use of authority.” Whatever he had in mind in that warning, Paul hopes he won’t have to go there. He still hopes that they will repent, and that this third visit will be a joyful reunion, not a tense confrontation.
Here’s my application: God gives authority for building you up, not tearing you down. This is always how Paul used his authority as an apostle, and it is how all Christian leaders are to lead. God gives people authority to serve others, not themselves; to benefit others, not themselves. Jesus made this clear.
Mark 10:42–45 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Authority is given to serve others, not “lord it over them.” Leadership is service. Peter wrote to pastors:
1 Peter 5:2–3 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.
Beware of any spiritual leader who throws his weight around, or lords it over others. God gives authority to serve, not to boss; to build up, not tear down.
ILL: A year after I came here, a local cult blew up. The cult leader abused authority. He told people whom to marry. He told people to max out their credit cards and give the money to him. It was a mess. After the cult collapsed, many of the members ended up at Life Center—I was their first pastor after the cult. Needless to say, they were gun-shy about anyone in authority.
My pastor, Roy Hicks Jr. was coming to speak at our Sunday night service. I wanted to impress my pastor—I wanted the church to be full—so that morning I told everyone, “If you are a member here, I want you to be here tonight.” All these ex-cult folks bristled—and stayed away. I learned a good lesson: bossing people around doesn’t work, especially people who have been abused by authority. And they eventually learned to trust me, that I wanted the best for them.
The only authority I have in your life is what you give me. And the only reason you should trust my spiritual authority is because you believe that I want to build you up, not tear you down. That is the goal of all godly authority, and I hope you feel that from all of our leaders here at Life Center. We want to build you up, not tear you down.
A warning, an appeal, a prayer and a hope, and finally…
- A blessing: from the Father, Son and Spirit. 11-14
11 Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.
12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. 13 All God’s people here send their greetings.
Paul finishes with some final encouragements: rejoice, strive for full restoration (or maturity), encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace, greet one another with a holy kiss. Hey, let’s try that. Lean over and give someone a holy smooch! And then this beautiful Trinitarian blessing. Let’s read it together.
14 May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
May the grace of Jesus be with you all. Starting next Sunday, we’re doing a 5-week series called “Free!” It’s about the grace of Jesus—the unmerited favor, undeserved goodness of God. I hope you’ll come soak in the grace with us! May the grace of Jesus be with you all.
May the love of God be with you all. May you be rooted and established in God’s love, and may y’all together grasp the full dimensions of God’s love for you—the height, depth, length and width of His love. And may you come to know His love—this love that surpasses knowledge—and be filled to measure of the fullness of God. May the love of God be with you all.
May the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. The Message translates this, “May the intimate friendship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” Have you ever thought that the Holy Spirit wants fellowship or friendship with you all day long? What would it look like to live in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit wants to live in you, fill you, empower you, and fellowship with you. Later this fall, we’re going to do a four week series called “There’s more,” and we’re going to not only learn more about the Holy Spirit, but experience more of His presence and power in our lives.
14 May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
And we all say, “Amen.”