April 24, 2021
1 This will be my third visit to you. “Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” 2 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, 3 since you are demanding proof that Christ is speaking through me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. 4 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 in our dealing with you. 5 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? 6 And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test. (2 Corinthians 13:1-6 NIV)
There are two pieces to this passage. The first introduces the process that will take place when Paul arrives. It could take place before he arrives, but certainly will occur when he arrives. There is division in the congregation and that division seems to come from gossip and accusations of sin. Paul will hold court. He will work through the accusations one at a time and either dismiss them or dispense discipline. He gives no indication of what the discipline will consist of. He clearly indicates what will be required for a person to be found guilty. Paul will not waste time on matters that exist only as one person’s word against another’s. Two or three witnesses to the wrongdoing must speak to confirm that the sin is real. Then and only then will Paul decide the appropriate consequence.
This is an element of church discipline that we rarely give attention to. I do not want to dismiss Matthew 18:15-17. Jesus’ goal in these instructions is restoration of relationship between two people who find their relationship broken. It is unlikely that there are other witnesses to whatever damaged the relationship, so it is recommended that the situation be worked out without drawing other people into it. Repentance and forgiveness will restore the relationship without the damage that is done when people are asked to take sides in a dispute.
I think Paul anticipates having to deal with issues that have not only broken relationships, but that are damaging the effectiveness of the congregation. Given the requirement for two or three witnesses this issue must not be dealt with in private. It is important for everyone to understand the seriousness of the sin and the consequences for the individuals involved, including the congregation. Paul will rely on the testimony of the witnesses and discernment from the Holy Spirit to make his decisions. Today, this responsibility for church discipline belongs to the elders of the congregation. I think our congregations would be healthier if these situations were more openly dealt with.
The first piece of this passage has dealt with a community issue. The second piece is much more personal. The Corinthians have been questioning Paul’s authority. They are in doubt about his claims to be an apostle. In the previous chapter Paul offered evidence of his apostleship. He instructs the Corinthians to make a similar examination of their own lives and their own relationship with God. The test is simple. Is Jesus in you? Does God through the Holy Spirit make His dwelling in you? If yes, then you are believer, you are in the faith. If the answer is no, then you have failed the test and need to decide whether you want to see a change in the results of the test.
We are tempted, when challenged with this test, to isolate ourselves and take a deep look inside. Satan loves it when we take this approach as we are most likely to discover sin we are hanging onto and become discouraged. Satan wants us to focus on where we are and not where we are going. I think God would have us look outside to see if our relationships are impacted by the presence of Jesus in us.
Let us suppose that instead of trying to find out if Jesus was in me, I wanted to test myself to find out if I was filled with team spirit as a basketball player. I could hide in the locker room and meditate on team spirit. I could look deep within to discover where team spirit resided in me. If I wanted help, I could ask the coach for an assessment I could take to tell me if I was of the team spirit personality type. Or I could go play the game and everyone would soon know if team spirit was in me. I would be passing the ball, setting screens, snagging rebounds, and working hard on defense. I would be making every player around me better.
I think our approach to examining ourselves for Jesus’ presence in us should be similar. When I get in the game and I am serving God alongside others what do people see? Do they see love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? Do they see God when they look at me? If they do, then that is a clear indication that God is present on the inside. I do not think that Paul would have challenged the Corinthians to examine themselves if he could clearly see God at work in and through them. This is one test I definitely want to pass.