2 Corinthians 13

Chapter thirteen concludes this letter with Paul urging the Corinthians to examine themselves before God before Paul arrived so that his fears (2 Corinthians 12:20-21) would not be realized (2 Corinthians 13:1-3). He warned them that he would not be timid in using his apostolic authority to discipline any of them who rejected his letters and teaching, choosing to continue in their sin. He challenged them to make sure they were truly “in the faith” (2 Corinthians 13:5), probably a reference both to initial salvation and sanctification and to the orthodox teachings of Christianity since he did not specify just “in Christ.” Even believers can “fail the test” of obedience (2 Corinthians 13:5) and be disqualified from serving Christ (1 Corinthians 9:23-27), something Paul did not want for them. Even if it seemed that Paul failed, he did not want them to fail (2 Corinthians 13:6-9).

Paul claimed that this letter, no matter how harsh it was from time to time, was actually a demonstration of his great love for them (2 Corinthians 13:10). Solomon wrote that wounds from a friend can be good (Proverbs 27:6), and Paul chose to wound them from a distance so that they could enjoy each other in person.

The final verse 1 is an inspired acknowledgment of the Trinity. Under the Holy Spirit’s guidance (2 Peter 1:21; 3:15-16), Paul referred to the three members of the Godhead as individual persons who are co-equal with each other. Although the word Trinity never occurs in Scripture, passages like this teach this doctrine clearly.

Notes:

  1. English translations have it marked as either verse 13 or 14.

2 Corinthians 12

Chapter twelve concludes Paul’s self-defense with his final three points. First, in 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 he recounted an experience that happened “fourteen years ago.” He referred to himself in the third person (“I know a man”), because even in his self-defense his purpose was to point the Corinthians back to Jesus rather than to himself (2 Corinthians 12:6). Probably shortly after his escape from Damascus (2 Corinthians 11:32-33; Acts 9:23-25), God gave him a special revelation through a vision in which he stood in heaven. 1 Because this was so early in his Christian life, even before his ministry began, God gave him an ailment to keep him from becoming arrogant for receiving such a revelation. The exact ailment is unknown (although there is much speculation 2); Paul simply called it “a thorn in the flesh” and “a messenger [or “angel”] of Satan” (2 Corinthians 12:7). In response to his multiple requests to have it removed, God responded only with his abiding grace (2 Corinthians 12:8-10), something Paul would learn to appreciate and demonstrate throughout the rest of his life. God’s grace became the source of his boasting, not Paul’s accomplishments.

His second point was toward his accusers again. For the second time, he called them “those ‘super-apostles’” (2 Corinthians 12:11; 11:5), a snide comment reflecting how they presented themselves compared to him. However, he reminded the Corinthians of something he had that those others did not: “the signs of an apostle” (2 Corinthians 12:12). By this, he referred to the miracles (“signs and wonders and powerful deeds,” vs. 12) that the Holy Spirit worked through his true apostles to authenticate that their message was from God. Of course, Satan can do miracles, too, but it seems that Paul thought that the believers in Corinth knew the difference between the miracles he did and anything Satan might do.

Finally, part of his critics’ accusation always included Paul’s greed for money, so he continued to remind the Corinthians how he never asked for anything from them for himself either of the first two times he was there, and that he would not ask again on the third visit (2 Corinthians 12:13-18). Basically, in these three chapters (ten through twelve), plus his remarks at the beginning of the letter, Paul thoroughly dismantled every accusation against him with a supernatural blend of authority and love, harshness and grace. 2 Corinthians 12:19 reveals his attitude throughout this heartfelt letter: “Ultimately, I’m not really defending myself here. To reject me is to reject Christ. I just want to build you up.”

Paul noted that he had three fears that would make his third visit to them painful again (2 Corinthians 12:20-21): 1) that they would no longer know each other; 2) that there would be schismatic disunity; and 3) that they would be living in unconfessed, unrepentant sin, causing him humiliation before his accusers and grief before God.

Notes:

  1. Interestingly, Paul’s response to what he saw and heard (2 Corinthians 12:4) was very different than those today who claim to have gone to heaven and return to write books and appear on television.
  2. See the notes on Galatians 4 for support that this may have been related to Paul’s eyes.

2 Corinthians 11

Chapter eleven continues Paul’s defense of himself to the Corinthian believers. Many of them had been on the verge of rejecting him, but his previous letter brought them back a little. Now he wanted to stop their retreat once-and-for-all. This chapter contains some of the harshest words we have recorded from Paul’s hand toward believers or unbelievers (other examples include 1 Corinthians 3:1-3; 5:1-5; 11:17-18; Galatians 3:1-5; 5:12; Philippians 3:2; 1 Timothy 1:20). Reminiscent of a courtroom, at this point in his self-defense he presented four accusations against his prosecutors.

First, he accused the Corinthian believers of embracing anyone and anything except Paul and his message (2 Corinthians 11:1-4), including those who would abuse them (2 Corinthians 11:16-21). Second, he accused them of scorning him because of his gentle demeanor and graciousness (2 Corinthians 11:5-6). Third, he accused both the Corinthians and the false teachers of dismissing his service for Christ, including taking support from other churches instead of Corinth (2 Corinthians 11:7-9) and experiencing great suffering for his ministry (2 Corinthians 11:23-33). Fourth, he accused his critics of being agents of Satan who were working undercover, only pretending to be apostles of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:12-15).

Although this was harsh and even full of sarcasm and contempt for those against him, Paul made sure to show his love and concern for the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 11:1-3, 9-11). This was not as much an attack on them as it was their sinful actions and those who led them astray. However, even at this Paul still had the court’s attention, and he was not done yet.