Lesson 52: "Examine Yourselves, Whether Ye Be in the Faith. . ." (II Corinthians 13:5)
II Corinthians 12:14--13:14
Paul's Missionary Journey Epistles. Welcome to lesson #52, our last lesson on II Corinthians. You might want to do a quickie reading of the book of Galatians before we convene our next study. In our last lesson, we read down through 12:13; but, for lack of time, we did not discuss the 13 verses in chapter 12. However, we did say Paul changed from his glorying discussion as he called it in the last part of chapter 11 to visions and revelations at the beginning of chapter 12, i.e. supernatural appearances and new spiritual disclosures of truth. This may seem like a big jump at first; but, in Paul's mind the two are here very closely allied together. And again, this kind of thinking is still with us today. It grows out of that same kind of thinking is still with us today. It grows out of that same kind of " outward appearance" type-thinking that Paul has condemned over and over. Some religious people (I know, even today) measure their spiritually by how many visions and how many revelations they claim to receive. Notice, I said: they CLAIM to receive. If they hiccup, it's an omen to them. If they take a test for a new job and they pass; God was with them. If they flunk; the Lord was not with them. In their worship, spiritually is measures by intensity of emotional excitement. Perhaps you are aware that some religious groups in the past, at least, have used so-called "experiences" to verify the genuineness of their faith and to certify and confirm they are saved. I heard one story of the good-old-days, two or three generations ago; how one brother kept waiting, and waiting, and waiting on his experience to be saved. He got in late one evening and had to do his milking in the barn after dark. As his eyes were adjusting to the darkness; suddenly a light shined down on him, right on his milk stool where he was and enabled him to quickly complete this chore in good style. So, he went forward the next Sunday telling his story and claiming it as his religious experience to salvation. Guess what, they voted him in. Twenty eight days later when the moon was in the same place; it just so happened that he had to milk in the dark once again. As he was milking in the darkness; suddenly that same light shone down on him again. However, this time he happened to look up and see it was the moon shining through a knothole as the moon appeared suddenly from behind a cloud. So, having found a simple explanation and being an honest man, he went forward the following Sunday and retracted his religious experience giving the explanation he had discovered. Guess what, they voted him out. Now the moral to that story is: that if you'll telPem a lie they will vote you in; but, if when you tell the truth they'll vote you out.
I don't know how many visions and revelations those Judiazing teachers and their followers were seeing; but, I perceive from Paul's statements here, as he came to visions and revelations (12:1), they had been doing a little boasting spirit, gave them something to measure by. When they measured their visions and revelations by what the Lord had shown Paul; their visions measured up pretty puny, I would suspect. However, Paul did not feel comfortable in making such statements (we pointed out before). Nevertheless, he in effect showed these deceitful workers (11:13) they needed to sit up and do a little listening. They couldn't hold a light for Paul, so-to-speak; the very one they were belittling. When Paul said in verse 2, "I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago..."; obviously, Paul was speaking of himself. Some get all hung-up here on the "third heaven", (end of verse 3) and paradise in verse 4. But, I'll leave that with you. You see, I trust you! Go ahead! The fourteen years Paul mentioned in verse 2; probably takes him back to about the
time he became a Christian (Acts chapter 9) or possibly the time he started the first missionary tour (Acts chapter 9) or possibly the time he started the first mission tour (Acts chapter 13). If II Corinthians was written in AD 57, then that would have been around AD 43, or roughly one decade after Jesus went back to heaven. The two parenthesis repeated in verse 2 and in 3 means simply Paul was not sure whether he was transported bodily during those visions or whether he was simply transported in spirit. You might put a notch on the wall by this reference to remember this when we get to the book of Revelation and the visions of the apostle John.
Paul said: "yet of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities." (verse 5). Paul was what he was by the grace of God. Paul says even if he should desire to glory in such things; he would not be so foolish as to do it (verse 6). He did not want any man to see him as something he was not. As to Paul's "thorn in the flesh" (verse 7), I'm afraid I can't shed much light. Obviously, it was a physical ailment or deformity that caused Paul pain, i.e. "in the flesh." (verse 7). Some have conjectured everything from poor eyesight to epilepsy. What ever it was, Paul evidently thought it helped to keep him humble. David Lipscomb said: the last part of verse 7 means: "that bodily suffering is sometimes allowed to keep the fleshly impuses down to promote the spiritual well-being of the individual." (unquote). Since Paul prayed and the Lord refused to remove this "thorn in the flesh", Paul said he would "take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake." (verse 10). There is a great attitude lesson in that for us. Then, I see verse 11 -12-13 as somewhat of a summary of this section. These verses say, (1) Paul was a genuine apostle; as much as any of Christ's apostles. (2) Paul should have been commended, rather than ridiculed. (3 ) Paul' s apostleship had already been established in the Corinthians by miraculous deed. (4) Paul had done the Corinthians great service with no charge; i.e. they owed a debt of gratitude.
Then, beginning in verse 14, the apostle begins to close his letter; but, takes a moment to review his travel plans as related to Corinth. Let's read every thing but the last four verses. Are you ready? Beginning in 12:14 and we read down through 13:10. Here we go: "Behold, the third time I am ready to come to you; and I will not be burdensome to you: for I seek not yours, but you: for the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children. And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved. But be it so, I did not burden you: nevertheless, being crafty, I cause you with guile. Did not I make a gain of you by any of them whom I sent unto you? I desired Titus, and with him I sent a brother. Did Titus make a gain of you? walked we not in the same spirit? walked we not in the same steps? Again, think ye that we excuse ourselves unto you? we speak before God in Christ: but we do all things, dearly beloved, for your edifying. For I fear, lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I would, and that I shall be found unto you such as ye would not: lest there be debates, envyings, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults, and lest, when I come again, my God will humble me among you, and that I shall bewail many which have sinned already, and have not repented of the uncleanness and fornication and lasciviousness which they have committed. 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 others, 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. 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. There 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."
O.K. the verses we just read deal primarily with Paul's planned visit to Corinth. It would appear from these words, the apostle hoped to depart Macedonia shortly on his way to Corinth. His statements here are some of the simplest and easiest to be understood in this book. You will remember, I trust, we learned in the first three verses of Acts chapter 20; that "when he had gone over those parts (i.e. Macedonia, on the same occasion), and had given them much exhortation, he came into Greece (i.e. the same as Achaia, where Corinth was located), and there abode three months." Titus, I would infer, the apostle spent the summer months in Macedonia, sent this letter in late summer or early fall and then went himself to Corinth late that same fall or early winter, we're assuming AD 57. Paul sent this letter on ahead by Titus and the other two brothers, undoubtedly two or three months ahead to pave the way, so-to-speak. This would be the third time Paul went to Corinth. His first visit (or first stay) was for 18 months; but, as we have said before, we know nothing of his second visit except it is inferred (2:1) that on the last occasion (visit # 2), Paul left them in heaviness, i.e. with some kind of bad relations. There may be a hint in Paul's stated "fears" here in verse 20; "when I come" and "when I come again" (verse 20-21). That may imply the list he gives here, i.e. "debates, envyings, wraths, strifes..." etc. are some of the things that happened before and therefore he obviously sought to avoid any such on his third visit. The purpose of this writing was to prevent a recurrence. He would not accept support from them (verse 16). Nevertheless, he was aware of what had been said. "I caught you with guile", he says. So, as their spiritual parent in the gospel, Paul simply would not accept their money NOW under any circumstance. Because, Paul did all things for their edifying and their up-building (end of verse 19). He said, " I seek not yours, but you!" (Verse 14). Then, lest some of his opponents should seek to start debates and continue their competitive spirit, the apostle asked the question recorded in verse 19, "think ye that we excuse ourselves unto you?", i.e. he is saying, please don't take these things as defensive. In verse 21 and further down in chapter 13; the apostle rather repeated himself for clarity. He mentioned "many that have sinned already" in verse 21. Then in verse 2 of chapter 13 he continued, "I write to them which heretofore have sinned...if I some again, I will not spare", i.e. when he came to Corinth, Paul would not use light words, nor would he over look and ignore the sins of any in that congregation. They would not be accused of anything unjustly! In verse 1, he said: "in the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established." This brings to mind the words of Jesus back in Matthew 18:15-16; where Jesus discussed the procedure for dealing with brethren that sin. Jesus said, "if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established...". Remember, these deceitful workers (as Paul called them, back in 11:13) were not only opposing Paul; they were perverting the gospel and corrupting the church. Paul was going to deal with them fairly; but, he wanted them to know that if they persisted and excommunication was necessary that the apostle would do his duty. So, he advised: "Examine yourselves!" (Verse 5). "Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?" Question mark! did you notice? (end of verse 5). A "reprobate" is one who is morally corrupt, i.e. one who lies, cheats, extorts and claims to be something they are not with an eye to material gain or some other swindling proposition. Then, Paul followed his question with a statement (verse 6), "But I trust that ye shall know that we are not reprobates." Then in verse 7-8-9-10, Paul expresses the hope and desire that none would be found as reprobates. Paul would like to see them stronger even than himself. He wished them perfection. He did not want them to misunderstand his position. He sought their betterment and not to their destruction. We might call verse 11-12-13-14, final greetings. As we have said, chapter 10-11-12-13 were directed primarily to Paul's opponents; but, in these last four verses the apostle addresses his final greetings to everyone. To emphasize this he calls them "brethren", like he did back in 1:8 and in 8:1. Let's read Paul's final greeting, verse 11-12-13-14. Are you ready? Put your eyes on verse 11. "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 a 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."
O.K. the word "farewell", I suppose was a greeting that carried with it more than the idea of a pleasant wish for their welfare. The commentators say it here means, "rejoice." It seems to me in these verses Paul said the most appropriate thing, very meaningful, very comprehensive. The last sentence in verse 11, made up of five clauses, might well be a prescription for happiness for every Christian and for every congregation. To be "perfect" implies we are to strive for perfection in doctrine, fellowship and purpose. More effort here could cure many deficiencies. To "be of good comfort" suggests a strong faith and dependence upon the heavenly Father from which our real needs are supplied. To "be of one mind" does not imply a community of clones, where individual judgement and opinion are set aside; but, we must be united in the essential elements of the Christian faith that flows from word of God. To "live in peace" is the fruit of being of one mind, just mentioned. Then the apostle elaborates further with the promise: "AND the God of love and peace shall be with you." The kiss was the common greeting and social custom of the east as we talked about at the end of the first Thessalonian letter and as the apostle closed his first letter to the Corinthians (16:20). Making it and keeping it "holy" was where the apostle laid the emphasis. Verse 13 means that other Christians in Macedonia with Paul were sending greetings. In the last verse Paul paints three blessing flowing from three sources and very affectionately wishes the blessings and the sources, "be with you all. Amen." That's a great thought, for us to end this lesson with; have a good day!