2 Corinthians 13:1-10 – Test Yourselves!

Though Paul has already anticipated what his third visit to Corinth might bring—whether joy or grief, he reiterates the fact that he is coming a third time.

Twice he emphasizes that his next visit is his third one (once in 12:14, and again in 13:1). Since this is his third, that means—obviously—he has had two previous visits. Perhaps this is why he quotes Deuteronomy 19:15-21. The evidence of two or three witnesses sustains a charge or verifies a case. Paul has already been to Corinth twice, and now he is coming a third time, and thus his visits—his personal presence—function as witnesses to the reality on the ground in Corinth. With three visits, the evidence is authentically heard, and now Paul will act accordingly.

He has previously warned those who have not repented of their sin in person (when present on his second visit), and he is now warning them again with this letter (absence), and his third visit will function like a third witness. The case has become clear, and now Paul must act. While his previous warnings served their purpose, this warning is the last one. As a result, he will not be lenient toward or tolerate of impenitence when he arrives for this third visit. In fact, as Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 1:23, he changed his travel plans so that he would not he would not have another “painful visit.” Consequently, he initially spared them (pheidomenos) by not coming, but now this time Paul is coming and he will not spare (pheisomai) them.

The reason for his intolerance for their impenitence is that the Corinthians seek proof (dokimēn) that Christ speaks (present tense) in Paul. They have tested Paul; they probed whether Christ was actually speaking through Paul. The Corinthian rationale is, apparently, the weakness they saw in Paul’s ministry, perhaps even his suffering as well as his inferiority (as they perceived it) in relation to the “super-apostles.”

This probing or testing, however, will reveal that Christ is powerful in the Corinthians rather than weak. It seems to me that Paul means that Christ will respond to the Corinthians in power rather than weakness. Christ, who speaks in Paul, will reveal his glory to the Corinthians. Paul will not appear weak when he visits a third time but will arrive in the power of Christ.

Paul remembers that Jesus was crucified in weakness, and the ministry of reconciliation is pursued through the cross, which participates in the weakness of the human condition. Weakness is how Jesus came, and it is how Paul came to the Corinthians. But now Christ lives by the power of God, resurrection power.  That same power is revealed in Paul, just as he shared in the weakness of the cross itself. The power of God provides the life by which Paul participates in the resurrection life of Christ. When Paul comes this third time, he will deal with the Corinthians in power rather than weakness, in resurrection life rather than death.

By the power of Christ, Paul unleashes a series of imperatives that turn the tables on the Corinthians themselves. While they had tested Paul and doubted Christ’s presence in Paul, the apostle commands them to examine and test themselves.

Testing or proof is a dominant theme in 2 Corinthians 13:5-9. Paul uses through the following three cognates fives times in a single paragraph. He had earlier used dokimēn (proof) in 13:3. Thus, in the space of five verses, he uses this root work six times.

  • Proof (dokimēn) used in 13:3.
  • Test (dokimazete) used in 13:5.
  • Fail the test (adokimoi) used 3x in 13:5, 6, 7.
  • Meet the test (dokimoi) used in 13:7.

We might imagine that while this is directed to the whole church, it is particularly aimed at those who were testing Paul since Paul uses a verb (dokimazete) that is from the same root as the previous noun (dokimēn). In other words, they ought to test themselves rather than test Paul, and they should be concerned about whether they will fail the test (adokimoi) rather than Paul failing it (adokimoi).

Paul’s hope is that they will not fail the test but discover that “Jesus Christ is in” them (13:5), just as Paul was confident that Christ is “powerful in” them (13:3). But there is a danger or risk that they might fail the test, particularly those who oppose Paul in their impenitence. The impenitent fail the test, and they will discover—and if they don’t, Paul will confront them with the reality—that they are not “in the faith.”

“In the faith” probably refers to living the life of faith through the power of Christ who lives in believers. It is not so much about what one believes but how one lives. Do we live a life of trust, loyalty, and commitment under the Lordship of Jesus and in the power of the Spirit? The impenitent do not, but the penitent do. At the same time, the resources of faith are present in us as Christ dwells in us by the Spirit. God is actively seeking us, and this occasions Paul’s prayer for the Corinthians in this risky moment of faith.

1 Corinthians 13:7-10 is Paul’s prayer for the Corinthians, and it intends to prepare them for his third visit. The prayer assumes that God will act; it is not merely a wish-prayer for the sake of human psychology and/or exhortation. Rather, Paul prays for the Corinthians that God might do something for the sake of the Corinthians to prepare them for Paul’s visit.

What is the prayer?

  • That you might not do anything wrong.
  • That you might do what is right.
  • That you might become perfect.

Three elements contextualize this prayer: Paul’s third visit, the Corinthian probing of Paul’s credentials as a minister of the gospel, and the scandal of Paul’s apparent weakness as a minister of reconciliation. The three-fold request hopes that the Corinthians will not fail the test (dokimoi) even though it looks like–at least according to some Corinthians–Paul himself failed the test (adokimoi). To Paul, his apparent weakness, his apparent failure, is less important than the sanctification of the Corinthians. Paul’s owns his weakness for the sake of the cross, though he does not believe he failed any test—he only acts according to the truth of the gospel. Rather, he would rather the Corinthians pass the test even if they think he failed.

Paul prefers their strength even if he must come in weakness. If his weakness means that the Corinthians are strong, Paul is overjoyed. He rejoices in his weakness and their strength because their strength is for what Paul prays, particularly their perfection (katartisin).

Katartisin does not refer to some kind of unblemished life such as moral perfection. Rather, it refers to their sufficiency. Paul prays that God will move among them so that they are fully qualified. Paul prays that the Corinthians will do what is right, avoid what is evil, and God will fully equip them to participate in the ministry of reconciliation with Paul. This is parallel to the sort of equipping (katartismos) Paul envisions in Ephesians 4:12 or what Scripture supplies to the people of God so that they are fully equipped (exērtismenos) for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17).

Test yourselves! Discover if you see Christ in you! Through this process of discernment, according to Paul’s prayer, the Corinthians will avoid evil, do what is right, and become fully equipped for the ministry of reconciliation because Christ is truly in them.

Otherwise, if the Corinthians do not practice their own discernment and self-discovery, Paul may have to use the authority given to him for building them up to severely confront them with their sin. Paul writes to warn them that when he comes this third time, he will come with authority to deal with the impenitent, but he hopes for reconciliation. He hopes he will exercise his authority for edification rather than confrontation.

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