2 Corinthians 13:7-10
Paul was really heartbroken… the church God had used him to plant in Corinth was in dire need of repentance and renewal because many had fallen back into their old sinful lifestyles. They were being deceived by false teachers who had entrenched themselves in Corinth and had effectively undermined the work that Paul had accomplished, perverting the message of the gospel and slandering the apostle’s authority, integrity and sincerity. And it was out of his grief and concern for his spiritual children that the Holy Spirit led him to write this letter we know as Second Corinthians.
Throughout this letter he has poured his heart out to these people and you and I have been granted the privilege of peering into the soul of this great man of God. In my humble opinion there is no other book in the Bible that so clearly reveals the passion of God’s servant. It is my favorite book in the Bible for three main reasons:
1) Because of the raw honesty of Paul
2) Because of the richness of doctrine
3) Because of the revelation of God’s gracious provisions
This will be the forty-sixth message I’ve preached from this book. We have one more next week and we’re done… but I pray that it has challenged and encouraged you as much as it has me.
Last week we saw Paul issue a strong call for the people to repent because he would rather not have to come to a sinful, rebellious people to apply divine discipline. He said in verse 2, “if I come again I will not spare…”…” What he earnestly desired instead was for these people to humble themselves before God… to respond in submission to God’s authority and obedience to His Word.
And then with one final warning, he exhorted them in verse 5 to, “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?–unless indeed you are disqualified.”
Why would he do that? Why would Paul have them do a little self-examination to see if their faith is genuine?
Don’t you think they would know whether they are really saved or not? Sure they should… but he wants to reinforce the fact that if Jesus Christ is truly in them then there will be the fruit of His presence in their lives. Judging by the severity of Paul’s rebukes in this letter there were more than a few of them who might not pass the test.
Last week I gave you eight questions to ask yourselves as a guide to give yourself self-examination to see if our own faith is genuine. But the fact of the matter is that when a person is truly born again, he’ll see the evidence in his own life and have the assurance that Christ is in him. That’s probably why Paul didn’t tell them how to examine themselves… because it’s a simple test really… summed up by John in his first epistle, “He that has the Son has life and he that does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (1 John 5:12). Do you have the Son? If you do you’ll know it. But let me caution you too… anybody can say they have Him… it’s even possible to think you have Him when you really don’t. But ultimately it’s an examination where only you and God know the answer. Those questions I gave you last week were given simply to help you confirm it in your heart.
Now let’s get past Paul’s strong warning to look what he does now:
7 Now I pray to God that you do no evil, not that we should appear approved, but that you should do what is honorable, though we may seem disqualified.
8 For we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth.
9 For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. And this also we pray, that you may be made complete.
10 Therefore I write these things being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness, according to the authority which the Lord has given me for edification and not for destruction.
As Paul anticipates coming to them again, he acknowledges that one of his primary responsibilities as an apostle… as their spiritual shepherd… is to pray for them. I know many of you pray very faithfully for me and I want you to know how deeply I appreciate it. But also know that one of my main jobs as the pastor of LBC is to pray for you. All through Paul’s letters he has penned some of his prayers for the spiritual growth of the believers. On occasion God has prompted me to read some of them back as prayers for you. Listen to the focus of some of his prayers.
Phil. 1:9-11 9 And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, 10 that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, 11 being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
Col. 1:9-11 9 For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; 10 that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy;
Eph.1:17-20 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, 18 the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power 20 which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places,
2 Thess.1:11,12 11 Therefore we also pray always for you that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness and the work of faith with power, 12 that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I’m not sure how you pray for me but I hope some of you are praying those kinds of prayers… because that’s pretty much the way I often pray for you.
It’s OK to pray for physical, financial, emotional and relational needs… I know all those things are important to us… but loved ones, our greatest need as God’s children is to be strengthened in the inner man… to mature spiritually and to grow in holy character! Because everything we do as God’s children will flow out the spiritual well of our lives. If we have a shallow or empty well then our lives will fall far short of the abundant, fulfilling life that God desires for us.
Let me challenge you here… would you choose any one of these prayers and make it your own? When you pray for me or anyone else would you first ask the Lord for things like Paul has recorded for us. Add some spiritual depth to your prayer life by praying the way Paul did. Pray the Word of God back to Him. One of the great benefits of such a prayer is that it is the mind of God… and your way of thinking will be affected by God’s way of thinking.
Now here Paul prays for their behavior… but the reason Paul had to confront their behavior and attitudes was because they neglected to let God’s truth and His Spirit transform their lives into the likeness of Christ. That was their need! That is our need!
1. Paul’s prayer for their need (vs.7,9b)
Notice he prays first of all to the Lord about their behavior
A. He prays that they act right (vs.7)
He asks that they do no wrong but do what is honorable or right. He doesn’t want to have to wield his apostolic authority for discipline. In spite of how badly they may have treated him, he still wants the very best for them… just like the Lord Jesus. Remember how they mocked, brutalized and crucified Him? And yet He prayed, , “Father forgive them because they don’t know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) Paul is modeling the grace and mercy of the Lord Jesus by praying for good on behalf of those who caused him pain. He is still their spiritual father and as such he wants them to behave… not for his sake but for theirs. I like the way the New Living Translation reads in verse 7
We pray to God that you will not do anything wrong. We pray this, not to show that our ministry to you has been successful, but because we want you to do right even if we ourselves seem to have failed.
He would agree with the apostle John who said, , “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.” (3rd John 4) Like a loving father he was more concerned with his children’s obedience than with his personal reputation. That’s the heart of a true shepherd!
Then he adds, “For we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth.” (vs.8) His great concern is that truth would prevail… not just that it is proclaimed but that it is lived out in the lives of Christ’s followers. And whatever Paul had to do when he arrived in Corinth, it would be to promote the truth and even enforce it through discipline if necessary. Hopefully they would repent… do no more wrong and do what is right by obeying the truth again. Listen to what one author wrote in explaining Paul’s point:
The primary purpose of the church is to proclaim the truth. 1 Tim.3:15 says, “but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” Our role is not to do whatever is necessary to grow larger and larger. Our goal is not to provide a wholesome social atmosphere. Our goal is not to provide religious entertainment or an environment in which people can feel better about themselves
The only way people can be saved is to hear the truth. The only way we can grow in grace and be obedient to the Lord is to know the truth. The only way we can overcome the law of sin that strives against us is to obey the truth. Genuine Christianity is founded upon propositional truth. The Gospel is telling the truth about God, man and our Mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ. Rightly did the Lord say in John 8:32, “And you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
So Paul is simply praying that they might do what is right by obeying the truth. But then in verse 9 he adds to his prayer
B. He prays that they be made complete (vs.9b)
This word “complete” ” is an interesting word that sheds more light on Paul’s desire for them. For them to do what is right speaks of what they should do by obedience… to be made complete speaks about what God can do in making them useful for His purposes. The Greek is “katartisis” ” from the verb “katartizo” which basically means to put in place, or to put in order. It was used to refer to restoring something that was broken or torn like in Matthew 4:21 where it is translated “mending nets.”
Paul is asking God to restore these misguided, wayward believers so they can once again be useful to the Lord. One of the tragic realities of sin in the life of believers is that it ruins our usefulness and effectiveness for the Lord. But by the power of the indwelling Spirit we can stop doing wrong and begin to do right through repentance and obedience. Then the Lord continues His work of perfecting us… of maturing us… of restoring us and making us more and more like His Son in holiness so that He has a restored vessel of honor to use for His work to bring Him maximum glory.
I’m all for counseling… I do much of it myself. But you know, truthfully, the “counseling ministers” can get so caught up in what I’ll call “the psychology of dysfunction and recovery” that we can spin our wheels trying to figure out why people do what they do so we can develop a strategy for recovery… and unfortunately, it often becomes an all consuming obsession that becomes a lifetime struggle and we can forget the power of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God to completely heal and transform us. God commands and we obey by His indwelling Holy Spirit… and He restores us and makes us useful to Him once again.
Maybe you’ve ruined your usefulness to the Lord because of some sin. It might even be something known only to you… it doesn’t have to be something that is exposed for others to see. Sometimes it’s the small things that undermine our usefulness to God. He sees it though.
And it hinders you from being a useful instrument for God. It weighs so heavily on your heart that the guilt prevents you from serving Christ. Sometimes it even keeps you from attending church. There are probably a few folks who aren’t here this morning because they’ve let sin get in the way. Paul’s prayer is for you too… that you do no wrong… that you do what is right… and be made complete… that you come to the cross with that burden of sin in repentance and give it to Jesus… and He’ll be “faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9) And He’ll restore you so He can use you once again. That’s was the compelling need of these sinning Corinthians that stirred his heart to pray this way. And if they do what is right and are made complete then Paul says in the first part of verse 9
For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong.
Paul rejoices at the thought that his prayers would be answered. He is saying that if the Corinthians are “strong” because they repent and are restored then Paul will appear “weak”because he will not have to enforce his apostolic authority by carrying out church discipline in God’s power. Nothing would give him greater joy and pleasure than to see them respond to the truth with their obedience.
How many of you are parents in here? Then you ought to know exactly where Paul is coming from. This spiritual father would be overjoyed to see his spiritual children walking obediently to the truth. It is the joy of every parent… and it is the joy of every pastor.
One reason for this is because then, instead of having to punish, he’ll be able to encourage. That’s Paul’s purpose for writing this letter. Look at verse 10 again as we draw this to a conclusion.
Therefore I write these things being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness, according to the authority which the Lord has given me for edification and not for destruction.
2. Paul’s purpose for this letter (vs.10)
As confronting and severe as this letter sounds at times, Paul wants them to realize that God’s authority is behind him… he just doesn’t want to have to use it for the purpose of punishing their disobedience. NKJV uses the word “destruction”. Other versions use the words “tearing down.”.” (NASV, NIV, NLT) Yesterday Susan and I were watching the construction of a log cabin. They had one log that they just couldn’t get down all the way no matter what they did. Finally they had to pull it out… they had to tear it down so they could start building again to make it right. Paul didn’t want to have to tear down what he had worked so hard to build… but he would if he had to.
It is not a pleasant thing to exercise authority for the purpose of punishment and discipline. If there is it is an abuse of that authority. But unfortunately, there are times when it must be done. We would tell our kids, “This is going to hurt me more then it hurts you.” They never believed it… but it was always true. And for that reason Paul was hopeful that they would do the right thing.
If they did, he would have the pleasure of using his authority with a much better purpose… to build them up… to edify them… to teach them the truth of God’s Word so that when they submit to it as their authority for life and faith and obeyed it, their lives would demonstrate the grace, the mercy, the love and the power of God. And they would continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ and discover the true joy of their salvation.
So he’s finally pleading, “Please, folks, please deal with these issues so that when I come it can be a time of building up.”
I want to close with some sober remarks written by Kent Hughes in his excellent commentary:
Today the warning stands over the church, and especially those who have transmitted the present cultural values into the church, so that church is little more than a Christianized version of modern culture. The warning stands where leadership is built on the cult of personality… where image is everything. The warning looms where worship is showtime… where preaching is entertainment… where God’s Word is muzzled and the pulpit panders to itching ears. The warning echoes where we are the focus of worship… our feelings, our comfort, our health, our wealth… where super-apostles are preferred over Paul.
Paul’s warnings do have relevance. Christ does come and judge His church. See the wrecks of time! Those who honestly test themselves to see if Christ is in them will enjoy the wonder of His presence. God does answer the prayers of those who pray for others, even their critics, will not do wrong but rather right.
It was the Corinthians last chance. And the decision rested with them… as it yet does with us.