The New International Version calls this chapter "Final Warnings." Paul has filled his letter with the love of a spiritual father. He has humiliated himself by comparing himself with the false teachers. He had no desire to toot his own horn, but he did it for the sake of the church. His great hope is that the Corinthians will set aside their pride and foolishness and repent and grow in Christ. Sometimes we must defend ourselves because the stakes are bigger than our own reputation. If someone wrongly accuses a servant of the Lord, it reflects on the Church, on the gospel, and on Christ Himself. What people think of us is not important except as it relates to what they think of Christ. This is Paul's dilemma. Whatever they think of him he cannot allow his Savior and the gospel he has preached to be despised. And so, he concludes with this solemn appeal. We may find in this appeal three things that he wants the Corinthians to think about. They must think first of all about confrontation, then about their condition, and finally about their charge.
Paul warns in verses 1-4 that when he comes he will not be impotent, This will be my third visit to you. “Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” 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. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him to serve you. They have said his letters are strong, but he is weak when present. The false teachers and their disciples have tried to convince the church that Paul will not be consistent in confronting their sins. He was a man afflicted, suffering, and physically weak. He was not an orator and did not seem wise, but he had determined to renounce the wisdom of this world, and to know nothing in their midst but Jesus Christ and him crucified. Herein lay the secret of power. It was not in Paul but in what he preached. It was not in the man but in his Master and his message as he says in verses 3 and 4. If they say the Apostle will be weak in dealing with their sin it is tantamount to saying that Christ will be weak in dealing with it: not so. Paul says Jesus was crucified in weakness, but was raised in power. There is no difference between the weakness of Jesus and Paul in the sense that both are dependent upon the vindication of the truth. The hidden agenda in Paul's reasoning is that he speaks for Christ. Christ is not powerless because He is true, He is right, and He has been exalted in his resurrection and ascension and as Paul says in Philippians 2:9-11, has been given a name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord. The Father has committed all judgment to the Son. It is typical of sinners that they think they will never have to answer for their misdeeds. Those who forget that they must answer to Christ in the future mistakenly conclude that they do not have to answer to the Church or the Apostle in the present. That is the height of folly. You cannot escape the confrontation, for as Jesus said, What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul or life? Those who have children will undoubtedly concur that bedtime is often a problem. Parents say “Go to bed.” They say “Go to bed now.” They say ‘If you don’t go to bed there will be consequences.” All the warnings are ignored until they raise their voice and show their frustration. Ultimately there will be an accounting.
Paul next refers to the spiritual condition of those to whom he is writing. Verses 5-11 make this appeal, Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test. Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong. 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. For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. We are glad whenever we are weak but you are strong; and our prayer is for your perfection. This 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. Paul will not fail the test. What is the test? The test is whether they truly belong to Christ or not. If they do they will hear Jesus’ voice speaking in the gospel and teaching of the Apostle. It is obvious that their gross sins and backbiting raised doubts about their salvation. It is not so obvious that these were the result of not listening to the authority in the Church. This is exactly Paul’s point. If they were truly children of God they would obey the gospel that Paul had brought with signs and wonders. The gospel carries with it great assurance of forgiveness. The Spirit witnesses with our spirits that we are the children of God as Paul says in Romans 8:16, but only when we obey. As the apostle John writes in I John 2:3, We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. the man that says I know him but does not do what he commands is a liar and the truth is not in him. A twentieth century distortion of the gospel portrays faith as mere assent to a series of propositions and then proclaims that we are saved. Never, God forbid! True children of God are those who hear his voice above the clamor of the devils' lies and they obey. They obey failingly, imperfectly and with frequent repentance, but ultimately they obey. Examine your condition says the Apostle. Test yourselves, not me! In other words, Paul has asked for nothing except what Jesus asks, Therefore obeying Paul is obeying Jesus. We must answer to Christ and we must answer with our lives.
This means we will take the charge seriously. the charge is given in verses 11 and 12, Finally, brothers, good-by. Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. Aim for perfection. The perfection of which Paul speaks is not individual perfection! He has already told them to examine themselves. but self-examination is not an end in itself. Our personal salvation is not an end in itself, rather the end is God being glorified in the Church. So the perfection of which Paul speaks is the perfection of the body. That this is his aim is clear from the following commands in verse 11. They are to receive his admonition, but from the beginning in Chapter 1 of his first letter that admonition has been for unity in the body of the Church. He further says be of one mind. this is not an artificial uniformity which he seeks but an agreement in the truth. In Romans 15:1-6 we read, We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Notice God gives endurance and encouragement through the Scriptures, not so that we can be happy Christians individually but so we can relate properly to our brethren. You can buy thousands of self-help books. We need church help. We need a vision of the City of God. Paul is concerned with the Church as Christ's bride and as the temple where God dwells on earth. The power is not in our individual witness but in the witness of the community. When are people going to see this? A truly solemn consideration. We must answer to Christ, we must answer with our lives and the ultimate test is do we love the brethren as we read in I John 2:9 and 10, Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble.
As they pondered these things in Corinth, so let us ponder them today. True commitment to Christ understands His authority in the Church, which is apostolic and scriptural, examines our obedience, and aims to glorify him in the unity of that church. Upon such rests the benediction of verses 13 and 14, All the saints send their greetings. May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.