Scripture: 2 Corinthians 13:11–14
2 Corinthians 13:11-14
Sunday, March 8, 2015
Pastor Randy Smith
Division in the church.
The story is told about a man stranded alone on a deserted Pacific island for many years. Finally, one day a boat comes sailing into view. The man frantically waves and draws the skipper's attention. The boat comes near the island and the sailor gets out and greets the stranded man.
After a while the sailor asks, "What are those three huts you have here?" "Well, that's my house there in the middle, said the man." "What's the hut to the left?" asks the sailor. The man said, "I built that hut to be my church." "Then what is the other hut on the right?" "Oh," said the man, "That's where I used to go to church."
It's been said that the greatest proof for the existence of Satan is the sad state of today's society. From the gruesome assaults from ISIS terrorists to the child who is mocked daily on the school bus. We'd all admit that it's an evil world out there. We'd all admit that we've been the victim of someone's anger or jealousy or gossip. Perhaps it's just the violence we experience simply because we profess to be a Christian. Many of us experience it daily in our homes and neighborhoods and schools and work environments. There seems to be no relief. We need a refuge. We need a sanctuary. Enter the local church.
One of my favorite definitions of a church is a sanctuary. According to the dictionary, the primary definition of sanctuary is "a safe place, especially for people being persecuted." The secondary definition, "a place or area of land where wildlife is protected from predators and from being destroyed or hunted by human beings."
God has forewarned us that we exist in an evil world. He has clearly told us that if we live for His name, we will be persecuted and hunted by unbelieving human beings. That's one of the many reasons He gave us the church. We need a place where we can have our batteries recharged. We need a place where we can talk to other believers and remind ourselves that we are not the weirdoes. We need a place where we can feel spiritually safe from predators that seek to hunt us. The church is that sanctuary.
Yet too often this is not the case. Many have been hurt in the church. Sometimes the grudges and backbiting and unfriendliness and arrogance and immorality and gossip and selfishness are no different than the world. If that's the case, we have to ask where is God's presence - His mercy and peace and love and forgiveness? If that's the case, we have to ask why would anybody want to come - and be treated here no different than they are treated in the world?
The problem is not a new one. The church we have been studying from Corinth two-thousand years ago had its share of difficulties in this area. There was favoritism and doctrinal confusion and strife and divisiveness and the neglect of others. It was really a mess. Basically, most of what Paul does in 1 and 2 Corinthians is to seek to unify this fragmented church in preparation for his third visit.
It's been almost 15 months since we began 2 Corinthians. If the Lord permits, we'll wrap-up our study this morning. All we have left to cover is verses 11-14.
Some view these verses as a simple conclusion to the letter with Paul following the common standards of ancient letter writing. However, I am of the opinion they are much more. Paul isn't just signing-off. He's using his concluding comments to summarize his arguments and highlight his central concerns that he's expressed throughout the letter. Often when reading the conclusions to Paul's epistles, you can best see his heart's intentions in writing his letter in the first place. And what is the theme of this conclusion? Church unity! That's where Paul went in 2 Corinthians. That's we're we'll be going with this morning's sermon as we bring an end to our study of this wonderful letter.
So we know the majority of the church has repented. A small sect is still rebellious against the Apostle Paul and God's Word. They are addressed in chapters 10-13. Paul even calls them in 13:5 to examine themselves as to whether or not they were even Christians. Yet he holds out hope. He wants to believe that they are saved and simply need to repent and be brought back into fellowship with the church. Therefore when he begins his concluding comments in verse 11, he addresses the repentant and the unrepentant as "brothers." "Finally, brothers," he says. And at the beginning of his final words are five imperatives directed toward church unity.
First is the command to "rejoice." What a great one to start with! In verse 9, Paul spoke of his joy that would result if the Corinthians turned things around. Likewise the same joy will be experienced by the church.
When things are going well in the church, regardless of the storms that are brewing outside, Christians will be filled with joy. You know we are commanded to rejoice always. You know joy is a by-product of being filled with the Spirit. Joy transcending bad circumstances in the world is an ongoing reality for Christians. Joy transcending bad circumstances in the church is also a reality, but it should be one that is much more infrequent since circumstances in a church body should be more united.
So a unified church makes it easy to rejoice. A rejoicing church makes it easy to be unified. The first command is to "rejoice." Your joy comes from a unified environment and your joy also helps produce a unified environment.
The second command is to "be made complete." The Greek word here is "kataritizo." The word was used to speak of mending fishing nets. The implication was that something needed to be fixed, needed to be mended in the Corinthian church. We know they were incomplete because they were disunified.
Let's remember, the church is a body. We can't call ourselves "complete" if we were to have our stomach, brain and right arm removed. When people are acting independently of the Head, Jesus Christ, the spiritual body is incomplete because they are going off in their own direction. The call here is for humility in a desire to act in holy harmony with God's will.
Third is the command to "be comforted" (or to be encouraged). I believe this spins off the second command. In order to be complete, we all need to encourage one another in the right direction. It takes a team effort of generous encouragement and loving correction if we want God's glory and our joy in a unified church. We must take the necessary efforts first to make sure we are contributing and then help others contribute by encouraging them to continue good actions and cease poor ones.
Of all the sports I coached during my nine years as a public school teacher, wrestlers were the most unique. And off all the teams I coached, only one wrestling team would ever police their own teammates. They wanted to be champions and they knew the attitudes and behaviors necessary to achieve that goal. They knew one person can hurt the spirit of a whole team, and they refused to tolerate any actions that would derail their purposes.
Fourth is the command to "be like minded." Literally this means to "think the same thing." We are not talking about uniformity, but unity in our diversity. This is displayed through a common agreement on core doctrinal issues, direction of the church, the standard of Scripture and the commitment to reach the lost. Many of you have commented that this is what makes the church such a blessing for you. You can come here after dealing with the world that spins without a compass and actually find people that support and share your interests.
Paul closed off his great letter to the Romans with this same goal. "Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom. 15:5-6). Or how about Paul from Philippians 2? "Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves" (Phil. 2:2-3).
And lastly, number five, "live in peace." Obviously when we are a church filled with people rejoicing, being like-minded and encouraging one another, there will be an environment that enables people to come here and be at peace. People who are at peace with themselves, others and God make for peaceful and unified churches.
So what is the opposite of peace? The sinful traits such as bitterness, anxiety and fear to name a few. People given over to these sins can be little Tasmanian Devils toward church unity. With Christ, God reminds us that we don't need to be anxious for anything and we can cast our cares on Him and we can know all things are working together for our good. God's peace can be with us. It is a fruit of the Spirit. Peaceful people cooperate and are quick to overlook a transgression and are calm, gentle and self-controlled. When we live in peace, we will live in unity.
Paul then concludes verse 11 that when we do this "the God of love and peace will be with you." I believe there are a couple ways to look at that promise.
First, when we function in a way that is unified, we give evidence that we are walking in the center of His will. A unified church is most notably marked by love and peace. We will never have the love and peace required without God's assistance. So we must remember that whatever God commands, God supplies for us. Therefore as we fulfill the spiritual disciplines, we abide in Christ. And as we abide in Christ, He manifests His love and His peace through us. The world will never have true love and true peace because they don't have the Author of love and peace. We as the church have no excuses.
Second, we also know from Scripture that God commands us individually and as a church to display love and peace. These traits are not options. And as with God's other commands, we are accountable to fulfill God's expectations. And when we fail, there will be consequences. We can expect God's discipline. If we don't comply, we could see the complete departure from God's blessings. You see, God is extremely patient, but when we fail to live in a way that glorifies His name, He removes His presence from our midst. The church belongs to Him. And when we try to hijack it with our own agenda, He simply moves on. We see no greater example of this than in the churches described in Revelation chapters 2 and 3.
So in Corinth there was not love, but jealousy and strife. There was not peace, but disunity and disharmony - clear indications that the church was in the flesh and out of step with God's Spirit. God was not with them in their day-to-day operations. And if things continued in such a way, Paul warns, at the end of verse 11, God would remove His presence from them altogether. They may still get together, but they will no longer be a church in the eyes of God. This emphasizes the need to follow these five commands because God's presence is contingent on the obedience of His people. He will not be mocked because a church without love and peace is a church that does not model these unmistakable and dominate characteristics that He possesses. They are no longer a faithful representation of Christ.
With the plea for unity in the flock still on his mind, Paul writes to, verse 12, "Greet one another with a holy kiss."
Still as it is today, the kiss was a sign of affection. It's hard to kiss people you are at odds with. Also, it's an intimate way to show your love for one another, something this Corinthian church desperately needed.
If you go overseas, it's common to see people kiss one another. When I go to Armenia, men will kiss other men in their greetings. They sort of leave me alone because I think someone has schooled them on our culture. And it's not that many of us men feel slighted if we are not kissed by other men, it just shows that our culture has abused the kiss and has relegated it primarily to the erotic domain. That wasn't what Paul was talking about. Make no mistake; he speaks of it as a "holy" kiss. Most likely it was a kiss to the cheeks.
As a matter of fact, historians will tell you that there really wasn't a parallel for this in antiquity. There are no records of this happening in the synagogues. There is not much in the original Greco-Roman culture as well. Ethical teachers back then were not noted for urging people to kiss. Most scholars believe Paul was the first one to instruct members of a mixed social group to do so. The kiss was intended to symbolize the genuine love we have for all believers in the body of Christ, regardless of our differences in gender, ethnicity or rank. It was to show each other that we truly love each other.
Within time the kiss lost its meaning and eventually faded away from a common occurrence in the church. Very few Christians want to take a stand as to whether or not this practice should still continue today. What I do find interesting is how easy it is to kiss unbelieving biological family members, but how strange it seems to kiss true brothers and sisters in Christ. Some of you are kissers. And it should be done in all purity and because of our culture with cautious boundaries. Either way, we must not miss the main point here. Regardless of how we display it, the church should be a place that demonstrates intimate and genuine affection for one another.
Verse 13, "All the saints greet you." As Paul was writing from another location (probably Philippi in Macedonia), you see the unity and love of one church to another.
And then the classic benediction in verse 14. "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all."
Paul is so consumed with the Godhead that the Triune God naturally flowed out of his mouth in his final words. I doubt his goal was not to make defense for the Trinity, but he did just that in including the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit all in the same sentence, all on the same standing in verse 14. Salvation was a result of the triune God, and if they are going to be a church that represents the Triune God, they will have to keep focus on Him for the hope and strength and encouragement He supplies.
Therefore He desires that they drink deeply from "the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ."
Kent Hughes said, "[Grace] takes us back to the sheer mercy of God we experienced in salvation as we were exposed to the fire hose of God's relentless grace and goodness. And now we live in the overflow of grace… The pitcher of His grace remains tipped and tottering over each of us, waiting to pour upon us a fresh shower of love" (2 Corinthians, p. 235).
He desires that they truly experience "the love of God." The Father's electing love from eternity past and demonstrated in His willingness to give the Son to pay the penalty for the sinner's debt. It's the conviction as Paul himself stated in Romans 8, "That neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:38-39).
And he desires that they demonstrate "the fellowship of the Holy Spirit."
So to sum it up, the grace of Jesus Christ has made it possible to experience the Father's love, poured out through the Holy Spirit that He has given us.
The final words of the letter. With the primary concern for unity on his mind, how can the church ever be rightly unified apart from the Holy Spirit? You do know God's goal for our fellowship, don't you? That as He is one with the Son and the Spirit, we would not only be one with Him, but also one with each other.
I spent some time last night meditating on the concepts for church unity as it if found in these four verses. And with that, I composed a standard of conduct for myself and the church. Here is what I came up with:
- I will abide in Christ whereby He fills me with His love and His peace that I will then share with others.
- I will rejoice in the Lord, creating a wholesome and winsome environment in the church.
- I will greet others in the church, regardless of their distinctions and my opinion of them, with affection and respect.
- I will grow in my understanding of Christ's grace and measure my understanding of His grace by my treatment of others in the church.
- I will aim to be one with others as the members of the Triune God are one with each other.
- I will avoid the sinful traits such as gossip, anger, favoritism, arrogance, unforgiveness, strife and selfishness that breed church disunity.
- I will use my spiritual gifts for the edification of others.
- I will depend on the strength of the Holy Spirit to love others more than I love myself.
- I will serve, believe the best about others and deal with offenses promptly and appropriately.
- I will promote like-mindedness and not be divisive over doctrine, leadership and church direction.
- I will seek to uphold a unified environment through prayer, forbearance, encouragement and correction when necessary.
May we each do our part individually to contribute to a unified body corporately.