Be joyful. Grow to maturity. Encourage each other. Live in harmony and peace. Then the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet each other with Christian love. – 2 Corinthians 13:11b-12
This is how Paul ends his second letter to the Church in Corinth. It is a pretty soft ending for what was a very strong letter. Paul spent much of this letter defending his ministry and scolding the church. In humility, Paul highlighted what could be seen as weaknesses to his ministry. But in strength, Paul came down hard on the church for continuing to live a life of sin instead of holiness.
Paul compares weakness with strength over and over again in the letter. Christ may have seemed weak by submitting to the cross but His resurrection showed just how powerful He was! We, too, experience difficult situations at time that show our human weakness but, in that weakness, the strength of God can be evident and God can be glorified.
Christ in not weak when he deals with you; he is powerful among you. Although he was crucified in weakness, he now lives by the power of God. We, too, are weak, just as Christ was, but when we deal with you we will be alive with him and will have God’s power…We are glad to seem weak if it helps show that you are actually strong. We pray that you will become mature…For I want to use the authority the Lord has given me to strengthen you, not to tear you down (13:3b-4,9,10b).
Even when Paul is showing the strength of his ministry in this letter, he is showing how that strength came from God and His weapons. His strength is in spiritual warfare and not human weapons.
We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ (10:3-5).
If I must boast, I would rather boast about the things that show how weak I am (11:30).
Paul went on to boast of the many things that have made him appear weak in the eyes of the church. He was imprisoned and whipped, facing death again and again. He received 39 lashed at 5 different times from the Jewish leaders, 3 times he was beaten with rods and once he was stoned. 3 times he was shipwrecked. Once he spent a whole night and day adrift at sea. He has faced danger from rivers and from robbers, as well as from both the Jews and the Gentiles. He has faced danger in cities, deserts, and on the sea. He has faced danger, worked hard and long, endured sleepless nights, been hungry, thirsty and cold.
If I want to boast, I would be no fool in doing so, because I would be telling the truth. But I won’t do it, because I don’t want anyone to give me credit beyond what they can see in my life or hear in my message, even though I have received such wonderful revelations from God. So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.
Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong (12:6-10).
Paul was faithfully serving God yet he experienced more hard times than any of us will ever know. Had God abandoned Paul? Did these hardships lessen his ability to serve God or weaken his testimony? No, for it showed the strength of the God who rescued him over and over again. The power of God was demonstrated each time Paul got up again and continued to do what God had called him to do instead of giving up or avoiding the possibility of another persecution down the road.
Paul stated that everything he had gone through was to show the strength of God so that the believers could be strengthened, so they could choose righteousness instead of sin. Paul showed them they serve a strong God who is able to help believers overcome temptations and the urgings of the sinful nature, yet he continued to hear of the Church’s “quarreling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander, gossip, arrogance, and disorderly behavior” (12:20).
Now his ending makes so much more sense. Now we understand why he was telling them to grow to maturity – to live in harmony and peace with each other, encouraging each other and loving each other. We serve an awesome God who is able to take our weaknesses and demonstrate strength! When we submit to God and let Him do a work in our hearts, His power is displayed.
“My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” Grace is not an excuse to keep on sinning but rather the only way we can overcome our sinful nature and demonstrate the power of God to help us not to sin.
Paul had one last thing to say to the Church – a reminder that people should look at our lives and look into the Church and see the evidence of the Trinity at work in our lives instead of arrogance and sin.
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the love of God, and
the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all (13:14).
Lord, that is my prayer today. May others look at us and see your power at work in our lives. May they see maturity instead of sinful attitudes, harmony instead of quarreling, grace instead of gossip. May they see the evidence of the grace of Jesus, the love of God and the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Amen.