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Final Words

2Corinthians: Paul's Most Underappreciated Epistle

May 2, 2021


by: Jack Lash Series: 2Corinthians: Paul's Most Underappreciated Epistle | Category: NT books | Scripture: 2 Corinthians 13:11–13:14

I. Introduction
A. We have come to our 110th – and final – sermon on 2Corinthians.
B. 2Corinthians 13:11–14 Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. 12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. 13 All the saints greet you. 14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
C. The letter ends with a list of final exhortations and then a benediction.
D. We’re going to look at it in three parts: v.11, v.12-13, v.14
II. The final exhortations of v.11
A. Like many of his letters, Paul includes at the end a list of exhortations. “Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace.” Let’s consider them one at a time.
B. 11a Finally, brothers, rejoice.
1. It may seem a strange exhortation after such a serious letter. But there is a sense in which Paul is putting his finger here on the very thing the Corinthians were failing to do.
2. They were failing to rejoice in the gospel Paul had brought them. They were failing to rejoice in the Christ Paul had preached. They were failing to rejoice in the apostle God had given them.
3. So, he says to them at the end of it all, Rejoice!
C. 11b Aim for restoration,
1. This exhortation makes all the sense in the world at the end of this letter.
2. Paul is telling them, “Mend your ways, be restored.”
D. 11c comfort one another,
1. The next imperative is difficult. It could mean “exhort one another.” It could mean “accept my exhortation.” It could mean “be exhorted.” Any of those would make good sense here.
2. It could even mean, “comfort one another,” although to me that doesn’t make as much sense here.
3. — The verb here is PARAKALEIN, the verb from which the noun PARAKLETE comes from, the noun Jesus used to refer to Himself and the coming HS when He promised, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper/Comforter/Counselor/Advocate.” John 14:16
4. — [Of the 18 times the verb PARAKALEIN appears in 2Corinthians, nine times it means “to comfort” (1:4, 6; 2:7; 7:6, 7, 13), and eight times it means “to beseech” or “entreat” (2:8; 5:20; 6:1; 8:6; 9:5; 10:1; 12:8; 18).]
E. 11d agree with one another, live in peace;
1. The church in Corinth had history of conflict. They were rife with strife.
a. — I am of Apollos, I am of Cephas 1Cor.3:3-4
b. 1Cor.6:12-7:5 one group thinks it’s fine to go to prostitutes, another thinks even married sex is sin
c. — Christian freedom 1Cor.8-10
d. — Gifts of the Spirit in 1Cor.12-14
e. — Pro-Paul, anti-Paul 2Corinthians
2. So, it makes sense that Paul would urge them to be unified & live together in peace. He has given them an assignment. Now he sends them off to work on it together, to help one another fulfill it.
F. 11e and the God of love and peace will be with you.
1. Paul concludes these admonitions with a blessing, “and the God of love&peace will be with you.”
2. “The God of peace” is a favorite expression of Paul (Rom 15:33; 16:20; 1 Cor 14:33; Phil 4:9; and 1 Thess 5:23), but this is the only time in his writings he uses the phrase “the God of love.”
3. Paul is telling the Corinthians that as they set about to figure out who they are and what they really believe, that God is with them in the process, that the God who loves them is guiding them, protecting them, enabling them — that He is leading them in the direction of love and peace.
G. How does v.11 apply to our lives?
1. In this verse we see that church is something we work on together.
a. It’s not only a matter of getting yourself right – although that is always the first thing.
b. We’re in this church thing together, and we’ve got to work together to make it work.
2. And we can do this boldly, joyfully and confidently because we know that it’s not just us – the God of love and peace is with us in it.
3. So many people today have given up on making church work for them. The problems are too big. The hypocrisy is too deep. It just doesn’t seem worth it.
a. But that attitude is not in the Bible.
b. Being a Christian involves being a student of the Bible, and seeking to live one’s life according to what it says. But in the Bible there is no give-up-on-the-church! Find me one verse!
c. There is only work-on-it-together because it is the Lord’s church, and He is with us in it.
III. After the brief exhortations of v.11, there are two greet verses in 12-13: “Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.”
A. v.12 Greet one another with a holy kiss.
1. This is one of five times in the NT where God’s people are commanded to greet one another with a holy kiss, and this is one of three times where it’s linked with a greeting from other believers:
a. — 1Corinthians 16:20 All the brothers send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss.
b. — Romans 16:16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.
c. — 1Thessalonians 5:26 Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss.
d. — 1Peter 5:14 Greet one another with the kiss of love.
2. Some have been quick to assert that this is not a command which we should feel obligated to obey today in our society, but I really don’t understand that assertion. In mean, how can we possibly be confident that God didn’t mean for us to do what He told us five times in His word to do?
3. In many cultures they do give one another a greeting of a kiss, even to a stranger.
4. It seems to me that we’re missing something by not practicing this in our Christian culture.
5. Now it’s obviously hard for one person, or even one church, to start this on its own.
6. But it seems to me that there’s been a failure in the past — which continues into the present — to so lightly dismiss what God’s word commands here.
7. It seems to me that by not doing this, we open ourselves to the criticism that we can impose hard practices on others from the Scriptures, but are unwilling to impose them upon ourselves.
8. We say abortion is wrong because of what the Bible says. We say that young people can’t have premarital sex because of what the Bible says. We say women can’t be officers in the church because of what the Bible says. But we say we don’t need to greet others with a holy kiss in spite of what the Bible says. From my perspective, it sure looks hypocritical.
9. The church is supposed to be different from the rest of the culture. We are supposed to be building a new sociological reality – a place of warmth & acceptance & openness to each other – instead of just conforming to the one around us.
B. The second greeting verse is 13: “All the saints greet you.”
1. In his writings Paul is always trying to build the members of the body of Christ to one another.
2. Christians all around the world are bound together in Christ and we often find Paul trying to stir up an appreciation of that. “You Corinthians are not alone in this. Your brothers and sisters in Christ are running the same race and seeking the same goal. And they’re cheering you on!”
C. — Application of v.12-13
1. Greeting is an important part of church life. Have you ever thought about that? This word translated “greet” is used 59 times in the 27 books of the NT, including 30 in Paul’s epistles.
2. It’s a big deal! Greeting is an important expression of love.
3. There are many ways we love one another: we serve one another, we pray for one another, we give to one another, we encourage one another.
4. But one of the important ways we love one another is to greet one another. Because we love one another, it brings us joy to see one another. And so, we greet one another to express that love/joy.
5. In my father’s final years, when his mind was deteriorating, he would still light up when one of us walked into his room. And he would exclaim: “Happy Day!” He couldn’t think/communicate very clearly, but that simple greeting communicated love, and the joy of seeing someone he loved.
IV. The last verse in all of 2Corinthians is a benediction: v.14 “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
A. In these powerful words, his heart for the Corinthians is summarized in one last concluding wish for them: “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
1. Here is this congregation which has given him so much grief, has taken up so much of his time, has broken his heart over and over. And yet after an entire epistle of extending himself in love, and pleading with them in love, Paul ends by calling down God’s blessings upon them, “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
2. Here one last time the passion of Paul’s heart is revealed. This is the ambition of this godly shepherd. This is what he longs for. This is what he has been striving after all along. And now we see that this is also what he prays for.
B. Here in this benediction, we see the formula of the Trinity: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
1. My NT professor, Gordon Fee said, “In many ways, this benediction is the most profound theological moment in the Pauline corpus.” (I.e. in the collection of all of Paul’s writings)
2. Of course, this is not the only place where we see a Trinitarian formulation:
a. Matthew 28:19: "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
b. 1Pet.1:1-2: “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those ...who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, that you may obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood...”
c. (Also Matt.3:16-17; John 14:16; 1Cor.12:4-6; Eph.1:3-13; 2:18; 3:14-19; 4:4-6; 2Thes.2:13-14.)
3. The order of the Trinity
a. You’ve probably heard this benediction used in worship services before. Often the order is changed: “Now may the love of God, the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” because the order here is not what we would expect.
b. I used to think that was the correct order because that’s how I’d heard it so often. But no! This benediction refers first to the One we refer to as the second person of the Trinity...
C. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ
1. The first thing this apostle of love tells His flock that he wishes for them is that they would grasp the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.
2. Now whenever you refer to the grace of the Lord Jesus, you must have the cross in mind.
3. If we lose sight of the grace of Christ in the cross, then all we see is our sin, and the sin of our spouses and kids and parents and friends, and the sin of the world. Life is very bleak when we lose sight of the grace of the Lord Jesus.
4. The life of a Christian ought to exude the grace of Christ: grace in our interactions, grace in our attitude, grace in our labors, grace in our prayers, grace even in our thoughts.
5. But before we can impart grace, we must ingest grace.
6. And this isn’t always an easy process. It often involves God working on deep, uncomfortable parts of our hearts.
7. If you see only superficially what’s in your heart, you will have only a superficial grasp of grace.
8. Let me read you a story about grasping the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ:
9. Luke 7:36-47 A Pharisee asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table. 37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and from behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” 40 And Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And Simon answered, “Say it, Teacher.” 41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed 500 denarii, and the other 50. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven: for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”
D. — The love of God
1. The second thing Paul wishes for the Corinthians is that they would grasp the love of God.
2. How great is the love of the Father! This is one of the most precious realities of life in Christ.
3. And yet it can be one of the most elusive experiences for many of God’s people.
a. There is much working to dissuade us of God’s love: pain, loss, hardship, disappointment, rejection, loneliness. How can we believe in the love of a God who let’s us experience these?
b. And so, these things tempt us to find something else to live for besides God, something that will make our lives more pleasant and less difficult.
4. And yet the very thing people need to grasp in the midst of the pangs of life is the love of God.
5. People need to know that He loves them, and that that’s the reason why life is hard.
6. But we will not see this, for we are blind to it — unless God opens our eyes to see it. That’s why, in Ephesians 3:14-18, Paul talks about praying that God grant them “the power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth” of God’s love for them.
7. And, if WE don’t feel like we really grasp the breadth & length & height & depth of God’s love for us, we ought also to pray God would enable us to do so. Seek and ye shall find (Matt.7:7).
E. The third & final aspiration Paul has for the Corinthians in v.14 is the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
1. We can understand what the love of God is, and what the grace of the Lord Jesus is. But what is this fellowship of the HS which Paul longed for them to know and experience?
2. In order for us to grasp this, we need to understand the role of the HS in God’s work.
3. God so loved the world that He gave us His Son (John 3:16). And Jesus showed His grace by dying on the cross and taking our sins upon Himself to save us.
4. But there’s more. God is with me right now and right here, living in my heart. And that constant, personal presence is something we enjoy through the Holy Spirit.
5. One good way to understand the distinctive roles between the Father, Son and Spirit is in locational terms.
a. The Scriptures speak of the Father as in heaven on His throne. Even when He speaks, He speaks out of heaven.
b. The Son, having left the Father in order to dwell among us, He has now returned to heaven and sits at the Father’s right hand.
c. And the Spirit comes down from God to deal with men, to work in the lives of men. The Spirit is the member of the Trinity who is constantly involved in dealing with us where we are.
(1) You don’t hear very much about the Holy Spirit being in heaven. You hear about the Spirit coming down from heaven to work with human beings, and even to live in our hearts.
(2) — See 1Cor.6:19; 2Cor.6:16; Ezekiel 36:27; 2Timothy 1:14; Romans 8:9, 15; Galatians 4:6.
6. The work of Christ in one sense is done (until He returns) – though He continues to intercede for us before the Father. Now is the age of the Spirit’s work. (And it’s perfectly appropriate to say that Jesus is at work through His Spirit, or God the Father is at work through His Spirit.)
7. The Father arranged redemption; Jesus accomplished redemption; the HS now applies redemption
8. So, the Holy Spirit is the person of the Trinity through whom we have fellowship with God.
9. This word for fellowship here in the Greek is KOINONIA, meaning communion, commonness, sharing. It’s almost too amazing to believe, but by the love of the Father and the grace of the Lord Jesus, we have been drawn by the HS into fellowship, into close, intimate, personal communion with the living God!
10. The world is a lonely place. No matter how people we have around us, each of us lives with a certain loneliness, what Pascal called “a God-shaped vacuum.”
11. But, by the work of the HS, we come to know God Himself, we come to see His eternal and infinite love for us through His Son Jesus, we come to experience His loving presence with us now and forever.
F. — Application of v.14
1. This doesn’t mean that a church never talks about God’s laws or His wrath or His sovereignty.
a. This doesn’t mean we never teach about Jesus’ miracles or His wisdom or His teachings.
b. This doesn’t mean we don’t address the Spirit’s ministry of inspiring the Scriptures or convicting people of sin or gifting people for service in His body.
c. But it does mean that the goal of it all is to help people see and experience the grace of the Lord Jesus, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
(1) When we talk about God’s law, it is for the sake of helping people know the grace of the Lord Jesus, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
(2) When we articulate God’s wrath and justice, it is for the sake of helping people grasp the grace of the Lord Jesus, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
(3) In the end, this is what Paul was all about. And this is what we should be about too.
V. Epilogue
A. Well, we’ve made it to the end. But as we end, we’re left with a question. We’re left wondering what happened when Paul visited Corinth. Did the Corinthians repent? Was reconciliation achieved? Well, we don’t know for sure, but we do have at least four hints:
1. According to Acts 20:2–3, Paul spent three months in Greece and it seems safe to assume most of that time was spent in Corinth. That’s encouraging, it seems to me. The earlier visit was cut short because of conflict. The fact that this one lasted so long may suggest a happier outcome.
2. About 40 years after the writing of 2Corinthians, Clement, a leader of the Roman church, wrote to the Corinthians, referring to 1Corinthians (1Clem.47:1) and praising Paul as an example (1Clem. 5:5-7). This seems to imply that Paul and his writings were held in honor in Corinth, meaning that Paul’s pleas were successful and that all his loving work with the Corinthians was not in vain.
3. The letter to the Romans was probably written from Corinth near the end of his three month visit there – on the eve of his departure for Jerusalem with the collection for the church there.
a. Romans 15:26–27 “Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. 27 For they were pleased to do it.” (See also Rom.16:24-25.)
b. Remember in 2Corinthians 8-9, Paul had appealed to the Corinthians to participate in the offering for the church in Jerusalem, and how the Macedonians had already done so (8:1-5). And when Paul refers to Achaia here, he is talking about Corinth, for Corinth was the church in Achaia.
c. So, we find out that in the end the Corinthians did give to Paul’s offering, which makes it very likely that they also received him as a true apostle when he finally came to visit.
4. But there’s one more passage in Romans which might indicate something of what was on Paul’s mind as he finished up his visit with the Corinthians, and that’s in Romans 12, an extraordinary chapter, which, when you read it after studying 2Corinthians and knowing that Paul probably wrote Romans from Corinth right at the end of his visit with them, honestly seems like a summary of his strategy in dealing with the Corinthians in 2Corinthians, as he repeatedly refused to close the door of his heart toward them, but kept reaching out in love.
a. I have loved and cherished Romans 12 since I first became a Christian 50 years ago, but now reading it in the context of where and when Paul wrote it blows my mind...
b. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints... 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them...16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil... 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:10-21)
c. If this is what Paul wrote after spending three months with the Corinthians, I think it’s safe to assume that Paul’s Christ-fueled goodness did finally overcome the evil the false apostles had introduced.
d. I think that last verse (21) well sums up Paul’s dealings in his struggle with the Corinthians. So let it be our final words in the series: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”