13:1 4 – This will be my third visit to you. “Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses” (Deuteronomy 19:15). This is a judicial principle in both Old and New Testaments. There could not be a capital sentence in Israel without testimony of two or three witnesses. Concerning offenses in the church, Jesus taught that the offended person should first go alone to the offender and confront him. If the offender did not repent, the offended was to take one or two others along so that “every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” Should the offender refuse to hear them, the offender could take the case to the church on the testimony of these witnesses. If the offender refused to hear the church, the whole church gathered in the name of Christ could use the power of binding and loosing given by the Lord and put the person out of the fellowship – Matthew 18:15 20. An evangelist is not to receive a charge against an elder except on the testimony of two or three witnesses – 1 Timothy 5:19. It is obvious that Paul intended to “hold court” in Corinth and bring discipline based on testimony. Settling of cases is a function of the church and its leadership which was common in the first century but which our congregations today have often failed to restore – 1 Corinthians 6:1 6; 1 Timothy 3:4,5.
I already gave you a warning when I was with you the second time. I now repeat it while absent: On my return I will not spare those who sinned earlier or any of the others, since you are demanding proof that Christ is speaking through me. The Corinthians were not to think that because Paul had been gentle and forbearing and often persecuted, that he could not act with Christ’s power. Christ was gentle like a shepherd, but he could be as strong as iron when dealing with wickedness. He is not weak in dealing with you through me, but is powerful among you.
For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness. Nothing could have seemed weaker than Christ on the cross, yet he was conquering Satan and saving the world. There is tremendous power in willing sacrifice and suffering. Paul is saying, Christ seemed powerless on the cross just as I have seemed powerless because I accepted persecution and insult, yet he lives by God’s power. Things did not turn out as they seemed they would at the cross. Within three days Christ was alive and held all authority in heaven and on earth. Likewise, we are weak in him, bearing a cross of persecution, need and shame, yet by God’s power we will live with him to serve you. And we will be able to deal with sinners by God’s power.
13:5 10 – The Corinthians have been examining and testing Paul for some time. It is time for a change. Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. A Christian may think he is walking in the faith of God and not be. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you–unless, of course, you fail the test? [KJV: except ye be reprobates]. There are people who consider themselves Christians and seem to be so until tested in the final judgment – Matthew 7:21 23. It is better to examine ourselves now while we have time to make needed changes.
And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test, but that we are true servants of Christ who work for your salvation. Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong. The only desire of the true shepherd is that the sheep do right and be saved. This is not for the shepherd’s sake, but for the good of the sheep. Not that people will see that we have stood the test but that you will do what is right even though we may seem to have failed. We are not worried about our reputation, because we are not serving self, and Christ can take care of us. We only want what is good for you, whatever it costs us. Parents often make the mistake of telling their children to behave because of what others will think of the parents. That is a self-centered attitude. We should never say anything like that to our children. That will only make them resent others. Teach them to do right simply because it is right.
For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. Our lives are totally dedicated to serving Christ, not ourselves. We will not sacrifice truth and faithfulness to benefit ourselves as the false apostles do. We are glad whenever we are weak but you are strong – we are quite willing to continue suffering if it means that you are progressing in Christ. And our prayer is for your perfection [NASB: that you be made complete]. At conversion we start out with little of Christ in our characters. Belief, repentance and baptism are only the beginning our salvation from the fallen nature. Paul yearned over the growth of the Galatians: “I am in the pains of childbirth until Christ be formed in you” – Galatians 4:19; compare Philippians 1:6.
That is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority–the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down – see note on 10:8.
13:11 13 – Finally, brothers, good by. Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace – ideals that are excellent for every Christian. And the God of love and peace will be with you. That results from following that kind of ideals.
Greet one another with a holy kiss. This is one of those commands expressed in terms of first-century culture, which God intends that we obey not literally but in the spirit of its intent. When we give a warm Christian greeting by shaking hands, the normal greeting in our own culture, or hug when it is appropriate, we are doing what Paul intended in his command. Jesus’ command to wash each other’s feet is another cultural command whose literal obedience made sense in that culture but not in ours; we obey it by humbly serving one another in whatever needs there are today. See notes on 1 Corinthians 11:11-16. All the saints send their greetings. There were not many opportunities in those days for greetings between widely separated churches.
Paul closes with an apostolic benediction (blessing): May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Here all three members of the divinity or God-head are mentioned together on an equal plane, as they are in Matthew 28:19. Notice that Paul assigns a particular attribute to each person in the Deity: Christ is particularly connected with grace which he made available through his atonement; God is connected with love, for God is love and his love moved him to give Christ up for us; and the Holy Spirit is connected with fellowship or communion. Unity among Christians is “of the Spirit” – Ephesians 4:3. He produces the attitudes that make unity possible. We also have communion with God through the Spirit – Ephesians 2:18,22.