God is the Great Actor.  But we mustn’t be passive.  This is obvious from Paul’s letter’s conclusion . . .

“This will be my third visit to you. ‘Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 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, since you are demanding proof that Christ is speaking through me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you.  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 to serve you” (13:1-4).

At his first visit, Paul planted the church in Corinth (Acts 18:1-8).  His second was severe and grievous (2 Corinthians 1:23; 3:1).  On his third, citing Deuteronomy 19:15, he will discipline the stubbornly unrepentant.

They see Paul’s Christ-like gentleness as weakness.  But, if it’s power they prefer, it’s power they’ll get in the name of the resurrected Christ—not to protect Paul from criticism, but to uphold his apostleship.  To deny that is to deny the Christ who commissioned him.

Of what kind of discipline does Paul warn?

“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?  And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test.  Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong. Not that people will see that we have stood the test but that you will do what is right even though we may seem to have failed.  For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth.  We are glad whenever we are weak but you are strong; and our prayer is for your perfection. 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” (13:5-10).

Paul urges them to self-examination.  For if they can affirm their faith in Christ, that will confirm Paul is Christ’s apostle.  This is what Paul wants.  He wants them strong in Christ.  He wants them mature (“perfect”).  He wants to use his apostolic authority to build them up.  He wants to find the church in order when he comes.

“Finally, brothers, good-by. Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss.  All the saints send their greetings. May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (13:11-14).

Paul concludes affectionately—“brothers”.  “Good-by” (Greek, chairete) may also be translated “rejoice.”  What follows are four staccato-like exhortations which summarize four of Paul’s points in the letter, all referring to the church as community.  The consequence of their obedience with be an enjoyment of God’s presence.

The “holy kiss” would normally be reserved for family.  Thus Paul urges them to express the unity he urges.  The mention of “All the saints” reminds the Corinthians unity transcends their local situation; they are part of something greater than themselves.

The benediction is beautiful, also interesting.  They’ve already experienced Christ’s grace, God’s love and the Spirit’s fellowship.  What exactly, then, is Paul wishing for them?  That they may continue in those blessings by responding to Paul’s admonitions.

So Paul is finished.  Hopefully, his words will move the Corinthians to properly prepare for his visit.  But we don’t know; Scripture says no more about Paul and the Corinthians.

However, the letter of “First Clement”, an extra-biblical document written to the Corinthian church some time between 80 and 140 A.D.  describes a flourishing church after a half-century of historical silence.  Clement mentions especially their faith, piety, hospitality and knowledge.

Why the dramatic change between the turbulent church of Paul’s day and the “golden age” Clement describes?  Davin Peterlin, pro-rector and academic dean at International Baptist Theological Seminary in the Czech Republic, published the following answer in “The Asbury Theological Journal”, in the Fall of 1998 . . .

“We do not know unless we accept the most obvious explanation:  that the believers took seriously Paul’s words, written or spoken, and turned unreservedly to God for forgiveness, support, and strength . . . [Paul] visited [Corinth] after the Roman imprisonment . . . In the period that followed, the differences that had troubled the church largely vanished.  The various groups within the congregation . . .lived together in harmony. The church enjoyed long and undisturbed peace. The believers cared for each other and forgave each others’ mistakes and sins. They were content with whatever gift God gave them and in turn God chose to bless them even more richly.”

If true, the Holy Spirit worked miracles of grace in the hearts of the restive Corinthian church.
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But they were miracles in which the Corinthians played a part.  Take Paul’s staccato exhortations for example:  Paul promised the God of love and peace would be with them as a consequence of their aiming for maturity, listening to Paul’s appeal, being unified in mind and living in peace with one another.
Reformed theology, which emphasizes God’s sovereignty (perhaps best briefly captured in Romans 11:36–“For from him and through him and to him are all things”)  might make us assume God is active and we are passive (acted upon).  We’d be mistaken.  God may be the initiator and the empowerer, but we must act–and are responsible to do so.
Let me make this personal.  I’m lonely for our Father.  I want to experience his presence.  Yet I shy away from prayer.  Do I expect the Holy Spirit to swoop upon me like some celestial bird?  Even if the longing for the Father’s presence is from him, it’s up to me to practice the discipline of seeking just as it was up to the Corinthians to heed Paul.  God is calling.  Will I answer?




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