2 Corinthians 13:11-13
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2 Corinthians 13:11-13 Biblical Commentary:
First, let me mention the problem of verse numbers. Some translations divide this chapter into 13 verses (following the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament of 1520 A.D.), while other translations divide it into 14 verses (following the Bishop’s Bible of 1568 A.D.). Verse 11 is the same in both systems. The World English Bible, which I am using in this exegesis, has verse 12 as “Greet one another with a holy kiss” and verse 13 as “All the saints greet you.” The NRSV and some other translations combine those into verse 12. Verse 14 in the World English Bible (see below) is verse 13 in the NRSV.
In chapters 10-13, Paul deals with the issue of hyperlian apostolon—arrogant apostles—super-apostles (11:5; 12:11) who have challenged Paul’s credentials and authority. They say that Paul’s “letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech is despised” (10:10). Paul calls these opponents pseudapostolos—false apostles (11:13).
The usual way of dealing with that sort of situation would be to outline one’s credentials and achievements to demonstrate that the challenge is unfounded. Paul does that, saying:
“Seeing that many boast in the flesh, I will also boast…. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? (I speak as one beside himself) I am more so; in labors more abundantly, in prisons more abundantly, in stripes above measure, in deaths often. Five times from the Jews I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I suffered shipwreck. I have been a night and a day in the deep. I have been in travels often, perils of rivers, perils of robbers, perils from my countrymen, perils from the Gentiles, perils in the city, perils in the wilderness, perils in the sea, perils among false brothers; in labor and travail, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, and in cold and nakedness. Besides those things that are outside, there is that which presses on me daily, anxiety for all the assemblies” (11:18, 22-28).
But then Paul turns the tables on his critics by saying, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that concern my weakness” (11:30). He tells of a thorn in his flesh that he asked God to remove. However God replied, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (12:9). He goes on to remind the Corinthian Christians that Jesus “was crucified through weakness, yet he lives through the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but we will live with him through the power of God toward you” (13:4). He goes on to challenge the Corinthian Christians to test themselves to see whether they are “in the faith…that Jesus Christ is in you” (13:5).
Paul’s purposes in these chapters, then, are:
• To answer the challenges of the “arrogant apostles.”
• To remind the Corinthian Christians that arrogance (as manifested by the “arrogant apostles”) is the opposite of the weakness through which God prefers to work (as manifested by the cross of Christ).
• And to call the Corinthian Christians to practice the soft-skills (rejoicing, being perfected, being comforted, being united, and living in peace) that will bring out the full potential of their discipleship (13:11).
2 CORINTHIANS 13:11: FINALLY, REJOICE!
“Finally, brothers (Greek: adelphos), rejoice” (Greek: chairete) (v. 11a WEB). The word adelphos can mean a sibling by the same physical parents, but in the New Testament adelphos is often used metaphorically to mean a spiritual sibling—a brother or sister by virtue of being children of the same Heavenly Father. Christians in the first century referred to each other as brothers or sisters (Acts 6:3; 9:30; 10:23; Romans 8:29; 1 Corinthians 5:11; Ephesians 6:23; 1 Timothy 6:2; Revelation 1:9; 12:10). Some Christians today still use that sort of language. The rest of us would do well to recover it.
The Greek word, chairete (from the root word, chairo), is a common greeting, and means “Rejoice!” Joy and rejoicing are common themes throughout both Old and New Testaments. Paul has maintained a joyful spirit in spite of the adversities that he has faced (Acts 16:25; Philippians 1:18; 2:17; 4:10). His joy is based on his relationship to Christ. Now he calls on these Corinthian Christians to rejoice for the same reason.
“Be perfected (Greek: katartizo), be comforted (parakaleo), be of the same mind (auto phroneo), live in peace (eireneuo), and the God of love and peace will be with you” (v. 11b web). Paul gives a four-part program to enhance these Christians’ experience of God’s love and peace:
• “Be perfected” (katartizo): The word katartizo is a craftsman’s word, and means to be fit or restored or perfected. The idea here is that the Corinthian Christians need to be spiritually fit. This is a helpful word for us today. We know that physical fitness can make quite a difference in our lives—both with regard to the quality of our day-to-day lives and to our longevity. Fitness centers are full of people on treadmills and stationary bikes. I see more articles on nutrition than I will ever be able to read. But I don’t hear that same kind of emphasis with regard to spiritual fitness. Unlike the disciplined nature of our physical fitness programs, we tend to assume that the best spiritual route is simply to follow our natural inclinations. Jesus, however, warns that “wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter in by it. How narrow is the gate, and restricted is the way that leads to life!” (Matthew 7:13-14). The question, then, is how to develop spiritual fitness. Traditional spiritual disciplines such as worship (public and private), scripture reading, devotional reading, and fellowship with other Christians are important. So also is service to God and neighbor. Jesus promises blessings on those who feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, and visit those who are sick or in prison (Matthew 25:31-46).
• “be comforted” (parakaleo): The Greek word parakaleo combines two words, para (to the side of) and kaleo (to call), and means “to call by the side” or “to encourage” or “to comfort.”
• “be of the same mind” (to autos phroneo): The phrase to autos means “the same.” The word phroneite has to do with our mind—our understanding—our attitudes—our values. How can Christians have the same mind? In congregations, we see how differently people see things and how vigorously they try to get their way. In the church-at-large, we see the differences among denominations that make unity an impossible dream. Paul offers a clue to the resolution of this problem when he says to the church at Philippi (and to us), “Have this in your mind, which was also in Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, didn’t consider equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:5-7). If we will focus on Jesus—to seek his will for our lives—to adopt his attitude of service and sacrifice—the impossible dream can become possible. Paul offers another clue in his letter to the Roman church, where he says, “Don’t be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). The kosmos world is opposed to God. We are surrounded by that kosmos world. It is the ocean in which we swim. Its proponents bombard us day and night with kosmos values. It is impossible not to be affected. This is another place where traditional spiritual disciplines can help (see the comments on “be perfected” above.
• “live in peace” (eirene): Peace (eirene) is a significant word, occurring nearly a hundred times in the New Testament. It has its roots in the Hebrew word shalom, which was used frequently in the Old Testament. The LXX (the Septuagint—the Greek translation of the Old Testament) uses the Greek word eirene to translate the Hebrew word shalom nearly two hundred times.
Both eirene (Greek) and shalom (Hebrew) can refer to an inner kind of peace—the kind of well-being that is derived from a deep relationship with God—the kind of wholeness that comes from having the image of God, once shattered by sin, restored in the believer.
Elsewhere, Paul says, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)—in other words, “If God is for us, who cares who might be against us?” or “If God is for us, what does it matter who might be against us?” Paul’s point is that a close relationship with God confers on the believer a confidence that cannot be shaken by any opponent or any danger. It would be appropriate to call that state of mind “peace”—eirene—shalom.
But both eirene and shalom can also refer to an external kind of peace—the absence of rancor or violence among individuals or nations. This is certainly a part of Paul’s intent in this verse. Paul is calling these Corinthian Christians to live in harmony and tranquility with each other.
Eirene is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). It has its roots in the peace that we have with God, who has granted us the gift of grace through Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1-2a). Having received grace from God, we are also expected to extend grace to others. In a community where grace is freely received and given, eirene will almost certainly prevail.
2 CORINTHIANS 13:12. A HOLY KISS
“Greet one another with a holy kiss” (v. 12). See also Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 1 Thessalonians 5:26; 1 Peter 5:14). In the culture in which I live, kisses are reserved for romantic purposes or family. When we see Europeans greeting each other with a kiss to the cheek, we have to remind ourselves that they are simply greeting each other in much the same way that we would shake hands.
In the New Testament, the holy kiss was a symbol of Christian love—agape (love that seeks the welfare of the other person) rather than eros (romantic love). It was also the symbol of Christian fellowship. Jesus rebuked Simon for failing to greet him with a kiss (Luke 7:45). In the early church, the holy kiss became part of the liturgy. Over time, due to misuse, the practice died out in the Western church—although I understand that it continues in Eastern Orthodox churches.
2 CORINTHIANS 13:13. ALL THE SAINTS GREET YOU
“All the saints (Greek: hagioi) greet you” (v. 13). What is a saint? The Apostle Paul often speaks of hagioi—a word that means “holy ones,” but is usually translated “saints” in our English-language Bibles. Paul writes “To to all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints” (Romans 1:7; see also 1 Corinthians 1:2; Philippians 1:1). It is clear from Paul’s usage that he intends hagioi—”holy ones”—”saints”—to mean the people of God.
Saints are people who have been “sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ” (Hebrews 10:10). We don’t use the word sanctified very often, but it comes from the word hagios. Sanctified means “made holy.” When the author of Hebrews says that we have been “sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ,” he means that Jesus Christ has made us holy. That doesn’t mean that Jesus has made us perfect. It does mean that Christ has made us holy—set us apart to a Godly purpose.
As saints, we are linked to each other by our faith in Christ. The New Testament speaks of Christians as brothers and sisters, so we are one family in Christ. We are blood relatives of Godly people from other races and nations (the blood that connects us is the blood of Christ). We are blood relatives of Godly people who lived long ago—and of those who will come after us.
The word “saints” comes from the Latin sanctus, which means “sacred.” The concept of canonized saints as a separate category of especially virtuous Christians is not found in the New Testament, but was established nearly a thousand years later when Pope John XV canonized the first Roman Catholic saint in 993 A.D.
When Paul tells these Corinthian Christians that all the saints greet them, he probably means all the Christians in Macedonia—the province immediately to the north of Achaia, where Corinth was located. Paul is writing this letter from Macedonia.
2 CORINTHIANS 13:14. JESUS, GOD, HOLY SPIRIT
“The grace (Greek: charis) of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love (agape) of God, and the fellowship (Greek: koinonia) of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen” (v. 14). This verse is undoubtedly the reason why the committee that created the lectionary included these verses as a reading for Trinity Sunday. However, the exegesis above should make it clear that Paul’s intent in these verses was something other than developing a doctrine of the Trinity.
This benediction (good saying or good word) incorporates Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit. It is distinctive in that it puts Jesus first rather than second. We would more often hear, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”
Paul mentions grace (associated with Jesus), love (associated with God), and fellowship (associated with the Holy Spirit). He could have just as easily written of “the grace of God” (Acts 11:23; 13:43; Romans 5:15; 1 Corinthians 1:4; 3:10; 2 Corinthians 8:1) and “the love of Christ” (Romans 8:35). Both Father and Son offer us grace and love.
• “The grace (charis) of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Greeks often used the word charis to speak of patronage (the support of a patron, such as someone who provided financial or political support). To Greeks, the word charis connoted generosity—generosity that demanded loyalty on the part of the recipient.
It is easy, therefore, to understand why Paul would adapt charis to the Gospel. Christian charis is the gift of salvation to all who accept the Lordship of Jesus Christ. In this verse, Jesus is the patron—the benefactor. Elsewhere, the patron is more often God.
• “the love (agape) of God.” Agape love is unselfish love that focuses on the needs of the other person rather than one’s own needs, as is so often the case with eros love. The thrust of agape love is giving—not getting.
• “the fellowship (koinonia) of the Holy Spirit.” Many people today are familiar with the word koinonia. We talk about koinonia groups—and koinonia camps—and koinonia homes—and koinonia family services—and koinonia cafes.
The Greek word koinonia has a number of meanings: Fellowship, participation, sharing, or contribution. Paul uses it:
• To speak of the pillars of the church giving Paul and Barnabas “the right hand of koinonia (fellowship)” (Galatians 2:9).
• To speak of the fellowship that Christians enjoy with Christ: “God is faithful, through whom you were called into the koinonia (fellowship) of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:9).
• To speak of the koinonia (fellowship) that we enjoy with the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 13:13).
• To talk of a koinonian (offering or contribution) for the poor among the saints” (Romans 15:26—my translation. See also 2 Corinthians 9:13). Used in this way, koinonia emphasizes that those giving the offering are sharing with the poor rather than just contributing to their welfare.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Copyright 2014, Richard Niell Donovan