I’ve spent the last three and a half months studying 2 Corinthians. It truly is a gem. The overarching purpose of the book is Paul’s defense of his apostolic ministry. The main way Paul defends himself is through weakness. He makes clear, over and over, that his weakness is the most fertile ground for Christ’s strength to bear fruit and demonstrate His power (2 Cor. 12:9-10). As Paul closes his letter to the Corinthian church, who had hurt him in numerous ways, one may expect the closing of his letter to say something along the lines of, “I’ve proved my apostolic authority, now get yourselves together!” Yet, what he writes is a hopeful conclusion that is packed with the expectation to see God’s love and grace become a lively demonstration in and through one another. Paul writes this:
“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” (2 Corinthians 13:11).
In such a sorrowful letter, Paul’s resounding hope throughout the letter is Christ’s love and approval for him and the Corinthians. As he draws this heart-wrenching and hopeful letter to a close, he has 5 expectations for them, which will exhibit their receiving of Paul and the Gospel that God entrusted him with. Paul expects that a true repentance that leads to salvation without regret (2 Cor. 7:10) will produce a gospel-driven charity that comes from God Himself. These 5 acts of restoration are as follows:
1. Rejoice: Paul gives this first command as the exuberant and joy-filled response to the gospel of grace. Those who have been forgiven and counted righteous in the eyes of Christ should be the happiest of all people. So Paul starts off this list with the beneficial command to, “Rejoice!”
2. Aim for restoration: Paul spent much of 2 Corinthians 5 laying out the ministry of
reconciliation. Not only has Christ reconciled all who believe to Himself, but He
charges all reconciled beings to take that reconciliation to others (5:15-21). Now,
amongst the Corinthians were those that were not being loved and shown this kind
of grace (2 Cor. 2:6-8). Paul believed if they made it their aim to restore those who
have caused hurt in the church because of sin, it would be an evidence of the
restoration and reconciliation they themselves have received in Christ.
3. Comfort one another: This is the fruit of the second command. When restoration
happens, comfort follows. The man that needs to be restored caused a lot of
damage in the Corinthian church (1 Cor. 5:4-5), and it is a given that forgiveness is
hard to receive when others say it with their lips but keep you at arms length. Paul
wants there to be an actual comfort that takes place. In doing so, Paul will know
that gospel power and comfort is evidence that the God of all comfort is moving
among them (2 Corinthians 1:3-10). In fact, the opening of Paul’s letter shows us
that comfort was one of the main goals of the letter, leading us to a beautiful
bookends that wraps the life of the Corinthians up in the comfort of God and the
comfort of one another.
4. Agree with one another: Every church needs this gentle nudge. We can say we are
unified and that we agree with one another, but how often do misunderstandings
and expectations move us towards disagreement? One of the main issues that
was causing disagreement in the Corinthian church was developing factions based
on people’s favorite pastor/teacher (Paul calls these folks the “super-apostles”).
Paul wanted to see the church come to a place of agreeing on the main things. Of
course there is a freedom to disagree on some things, but when it came to the
gospel and other necessary doctrines, Paul urged for agreeing on these things.
This meant that God’s Word had to be the standard for agreeing and unity, not
5. Live in peace: To live in peace is the fruit of the previous four imperatives. Peace
would be the natural result of prior commands. Paul is calling the Corinthians to
live in these realities day-by-day, and even more so, to put these actions upon
their own shoulders for the sake of God’s glory. If they can walk as new creations
(2 Cor. 5:17), then there is a promise that Paul adds to the end of these closing five
commands. Paul writes:
“and the God of love and peace will be with you.”
On one hand, these 5 imperatives do not earn the love and peace of God. But on the other hand, the love and peace of God will not be present among those that have not received and experienced the love and peace of God. Or as R. Kent Hughes so strikingly puts it, “In truth, the Christian life and the existence of unity within the church do not come through passivity. We must work at every aspect all the time. Restoration is work, comfort is work, agreement is work, peace is work, and even rejoicing requires thought and effort. Paul called for continuous, specific effort for the church—and everything depended upon their response.” (R. Kent Hughes, Preaching the Word: 2 Corinthians, 233.)
All of these necessities for the church are truly an outworking of Christ living in us and through us by the Spirit. If Christ himself took on our sin so that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21), then to live any other way is an affront to Him personally. Are relationships in the church life-giving? Yes! Are relationships in the church costly? Yes! Are relationships in the church sometimes messy? Yes! Paul knew this as he himself loved the church and also endured quite a bit of pain. So Paul closes the letter, not with himself as the answer and fixer of all things, but by pointing to the Trinitarian God in whom love, peace, and all relationships find their genesis:
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” -2 Corinthians 13:14