2 Corinthians 13:14
Paul’s relationship with Corinth began during his second missionary journey. He was responsible for taking the faith into the city, and spent eighteen months there, building up the church and teaching them about God (Acts 18:11). He then moved on and returned to Jerusalem.
About eighteen months later, Paul wrote a letter to the church, to encourage them in the faith. And the church wrote back asking for direction on certain matters of life and theology.
In the meantime, information from several sources came to him, telling him that things weren’t as well as they might be in the Corinthian church.
So, not being a position to go to the church, he wrote what we know as 1 Corinthians to chastise them for their abuses and practices, and to encourage them to put aside their differences. He also advised them that he would be visiting them shortly, to make sure they had responded positively to what he was saying, and that everything was O.K.
Unfortunately, this attempt at fixing the problems in the church wasn’t that successful. And so he made an urgent visit to Corinth to put things right. And this was followed up by a third and painful letter, which seemed to ease the situation.
As a consequence, he began to write a fourth letter—which we know as 2 Corinthians—although it appears as though as while he was writing it, more bad news regarding the state of the church was received. So much so that the last four chapters of the letter have a very different tenor to the first nine.
And it’s at the conclusion of what we know as 2 Corinthians that we find the words, that we now know as “The Grace”.
And the purpose of that little line at the end? Well, it wasn’t just a nice Trinitarian formula to say at the end of a meeting—or at the end of a service like we tend to use it today. Rather, it was Paul’s way of saying: whatever your problems, whatever your differences, whatever your arguments, there’s a much better way. He was saying that if only you’d put all the worldly things behind you and experience the grace of Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, then all your differences would come to naught. You would then be the people that God intended you to be.
And, of course, with that, the point of the grace takes on a whole new meaning.
Because, firstly, the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now whichever part of the bible you read, man is constantly shown to be a sinner—he just can’t get it right. And the reality is that the Corinthians couldn’t get it right, and we can’t get it right today either. However, the message of the New Testament is that in a sense it doesn’t matter. Because by grace—the free gift of God—God is able to treat every believer as though he (or she) has never sinned.
It’s not something we can do for ourselves. But it is something that God does for us, made possible through Jesus. And if we accept that free gift, then that is something that will spill out into every aspect of our lives. Including, our response to God, and our consequent responsibilities to be obedient, with all the moral attitudes that go with it.
Secondly, the love of God.
Now one of the odd things about the gospels is that Jesus is not recorded as speaking about God’s love very often at all. However, in a sense he didn’t need to because Jesus expressed God’s love in action. And he did this through his countless acts of compassionate healing; through his teaching about God’s acceptance of the sinner; through his grief-stricken attitude to human disobedience; and by being a friend of tax-collectors and outcasts. Jesus demonstrated God’s love. And that has to be worth more than any words could say.
And with that in mind, what Paul was trying to say was that each of us has been given many things by God. And what we need to do is to express our love and our thanks to God. But not just in words. We need to express our love in action, firstly to God—who has made all it possible—but, as a consequence of this, to the people around us as well.
And thirdly, the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
Now this, in particular, is the one with which Christians so often get stuck. Because to some people, “fellowship” is nothing more than a group of people meeting together. Indeed, some churches even call their congregations “fellowships”.
And yet the kind of fellowship that Paul was referring to was the idea of communion with one another. Enjoying close relationships and being partners in a common enterprise. In other words, being 100% involved and 100% committed to letting the Holy Spirit work within us. And being 100% involved and 100% committed to the common enterprise which is the responsibility of every believer. And that is: Christian work, the corporate Christian life, and the responsibility of sharing with others.
As you can see, then, there’s a great contrast between the church, as it was at Corinth—with all its many faults and failings—and the idea that none of those things should be part and parcel of the Christian church at all. As far as Paul was concerned, there was no room for a divided church, or a church where love and compassion had been thrown out of the window. And there is no room for it now.
In its original context, then, this one short phrase was an attempt by Paul, to show the church at Corinth that there was so much more to faith than to simply continue their divisions, with all the problems that naturally followed. And the same is true for us today too.
Posted: 10th June 2021
© 2021, Brian A Curtis
2 Corinthians 13:14