2 Corinthians 13

I hope that most of us present have convictions. I hope that our convictions are based on our understanding of God's purposes in Jesus Christ and God's work through Christ in our lives. I also hope our convictions are continually growing, maturing. In that growth I hope our convictions are willing to change when we grow into more mature understandings of God's will and God's son.

That introduces us to some most interesting questions. Question one: has there ever been any change in your convictions? For some of us, that is a hard question to answer. Some would say, "No!" and take great pride in that answer. Some would say, "Yes!" and take great pride in that answer.

In these statements, I speak for myself, not for you. In my life, growing in understanding of scripture and God's purposes has changed a number of my convictions. As I learn, I grow. As I grow, I mature. As I mature, I must accept the responsibility to transform. Transformation requires change. One of the changes produced by a maturing understanding is changes in convictions. When those changes occur, I feel deeply blessed. I also feel deeply thankful that God provided me opportunity to grow and to change.

Question two: if your position is, "My convictions have never changed," why do you hold to that position? Do you think you possess all truth and have nothing left to understand? Do you think you always had a complete, perfect understanding of God's mind and God's purposes? Do you think you have nothing significant to learn about God, God's purposes, or God's work through Christ in your life?

Question three: do you think that there are people who need to change their convictions? Who are they? If you could name names, would your list exclude yourself?

  1. The connection between Paul and some of the Christians in Corinth grew to be a very tense relationship.
    1. 2 Corinthians provides a lot of evidence of that tenseness.
      1. In chapter one Paul addressed those who thought he was "wishy-washy," unreliable, and perhaps just plain deceitful. "He will promise you one thing then do something totally different."
      2. In chapters 4, 5, and 6 Paul talked a lot about his personal struggles--struggles which most of them did not understand.
      3. In 10:10, some said Paul wrote an impressive letter, but he was very unimpressive in person, and he was a terrible speaker.
      4. In chapter 11 obviously some severely attacked Paul's apostleship.
      5. The fact is that in much of 2 Corinthians Paul defended himself against numerous attacks from some in the community of Christians at Corinth.
    2. Before we begin to examine some of Paul's emphases in the last chapter (chapter 13), let's put our personal perspectives in the place that we can "hear" what Paul wrote.
      1. If you made great personal sacrifices to help a group, and some in that group attacked your motives and your person, how would your react?
        1. If someone from that group said you were so unreliable that your promises could not be trusted, how would you react?
        2. If someone in that group who criticized you had no idea of the sacrifices you personally made for them, how would you react?
        3. If someone in that group said they were totally unimpressed with you as a person, how would you react?
        4. If someone said that nothing you taught them came from God's teachings and emphasis, how would you react?
        5. Would you be kind and encouraging, or would you be belligerent and make them pay for their attacks?

  2. I want you to notice some emphases in chapter 13; keep in mind the criticized Paul was writing.
    1. The first emphasis I call to your attention is seen in the first four verses.
      1. He would soon make his third visit to them.
      2. This visit would be different: when he came he would confront his critics and ask them to prove their criticisms to his face.
        1. I especially want you to notice something in verse three.
        2. What is the issue Paul will address when he comes? Ego issues? Personal reputation issues? Personal reaction issues? Issues involving a personal defense of himself? No.
        3. The issue he would address was this: was Christ speaking through him?
        4. He wanted them to understand how mighty Christ was in them.
        5. The basis of the confrontation would not be about Paul, but about Christ.
        6. Their opinion of Paul was not the foundation of the issue; their opinion of Christ was the issue.
        7. If they understood Christ, these people would not speak and behave as they did.
      3. In verse four Paul pointed to an interesting reality seen in Jesus and reflected in the devout Christian.
        1. The killing of Jesus reflected weakness to them (in their world a god was beyond the destructive acts of humans).
        2. It is Jesus' resurrection that reveals power.
        3. So Paul said that if we seem weak as we physically serve God, that is not proof that God does not speak through us.
        4. God's power in us is seen in the life we receive through Christ.
        5. The fact that they were resurrected through baptism to newness of life revealed God's power in them.
    2. The second emphasis I call to your attention is seen in verses 5 and 6.
      1. To me, this is Paul's appeal to their consciences.
      2. Being God's person ultimately must be a response to what you know about yourself.
        1. You are not a godly person because other people say you are a godly person.
        2. You are a godly person because of what your heart understands about yourself in your relationship with Christ.
        3. If you are a godly person, it is because Christ is alive in you as he exercises lordship over your life and behavior.
        4. Paul said I am not asking you to do something we do not do--"I hope you realize that we constantly evaluate the place Christ has in our lives."
    3. The third emphasis I call to your attention is found in verses 7-10.
      1. Please notice that Paul's focus is on what is in their best spiritual interest, not on reacting to their attacks on him.
        1. Paul's prayer was that they "do no wrong."
        2. Paul's motivation: "my concern is for you and your best interest, not our reputation."
        3. "If you do what is right, how it makes us look is of no significance."
      2. "Our objective is totally summed up in our commitment to the truth, not a commitment to be impressive to others."
        1. This statement is easily abused by many Christians when we defend the attitude, "The conclusions that I accept and follow are the truth, so you must reach the same conclusion I have reached."
        2. In this attitude we can associate anything with "the truth" and insist that others who do not endorse our conclusions oppose "the truth."
          1. Specific modes of entertainment.
          2. Specific types of clothing.
          3. The kind of jewelry worn.
          4. Tattoos.
          5. Hair styles.
          6. Etc.
      3. All we have to do is classify something as part of "the truth," and then seek to impose our control over others by demanding they conform to "the truth."
      4. If that is your concept, I urge you to change it.
        1. That approach to "truth" is not what Paul referred to in this verse.
        2. If Jesus Christ lives in you, his presence in your life produces a set of standards and values.
        3. That set of standards and values determines (a) your thinking, (b) your behavior, and (c) your relationship values [how you treat others].
        4. The problem at Corinth was deeper than changing the way some Christians behaved--it's foundation was placing Christ in their lives in the place he should be.
        5. Remember verses 5 and 6--test yourself to see if Christ is in you.
        6. The "truth" Paul is referring to was the "truth" about the role Christ should occupy in your lives.
      5. "The important things are your strength and completeness in Christ--not what you are or are not doing to our reputation."
        1. "Our prayer is not, 'Lord preserve our reputation.'"
        2. "Our prayer is for your spiritual completeness."
        3. "If your completeness is produced through our weakness, that is okay."
      6. "I am writing this to you before I come so there can be some 'self-correcting' before I come."
        1. "If that happens, there will be no need for confrontations."
        2. "The authoritative mission God gave me was to build up, not to tear down."
    4. The fourth emphasis is seen in verses 11-13.
      1. Look at the very practical encouragements Paul gave them [and do remember the kinds of problems they had].
        1. Rejoice--division and strife do not produce joy, but allowing Christ to live in your life should produce joy.
        2. Make your spiritual goal be completeness--too many had the spiritual goal of achieving control over other Christians, not letting Christ live in them.
        3. Be like-minded--focus on the matters you hold in common, not on your differences.
        4. Live in peace--stop the war your division started and nurtured.
      2. If you do these things, the God of love and peace will be with you.
      3. Greet each other with a holy kiss.
        1. Once more this is given as a command.
        2. Respect each other enough to promote closeness and healing.
      4. Even though you have been very troubled, even though some of you have made my life miserable in your attacks, you are still a part of the community of Christians.
        1. Other Christians do not wish to exclude you from that community.
        2. Quite the opposite--they send their greetings.
    5. Then Paul closes with three reminders:
      1. The foundation of grace is Jesus Christ.
      2. The foundation of love is God.
      3. The foundation of fellowship is the Holy Spirit.
      4. May all three be with you.

There is an overall emphasis I hope each of us see. Paul's attitude toward his Christian adversaries and the typical attitude between Christian adversaries in the church today is radically different. Paul was focused on their well-being, not their destruction.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 20 April 2003
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