2 Corinthians 13: Passing the Test

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?– unless indeed you fail to meet the test!  I hope you will find out that we have not failed the test. (2 Corinthians 13:5-6 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

When I taught in the university, my final exam was never a surprise. The week before the final I would pass out ten questions as homework and announce that five of these questions would be on the final exam. Now these were not easy questions—my questions were designed to encourage my students to master the subject. My good students invariably typed up answers to all ten questions and simply turn all of them in on the day of the examination; my lazy students showed up empty handed and unprepared to answer the questions.

Which kind of Christian are you?  Are you prepared for your exam?

Paul’s does not hold himself up as the judge over the Corinthians.  Rather, he asks them to judge for themselves.  What is interesting about the question is that if the Corinthians believe that their faith is real, then the evangelist that brought them to faith must also be real!  And, the question of Paul’s apostolic authority would also be answered.  Clearly, Paul has this interpretation in mind when he writes:  I hope you will find out that we have not failed the test (v 6).  The use of the plural (we) implies the answer to the question reflects well or badly on Paul himself.

Paul’s use of the weak-strong motif is a reminder of what Paul sees the answer to be.  When we adopt a servant attitude with respect to others in the church, in other words are “weak”, then we are clearly strong in the faith.  A defensive or haughty attitude, in other words are “strong”, would be the opposite.  The example of Christ is crucial.  Paul writes:  For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God (v 4).  In giving his life for our sins on the cross, Christ led out of weakness and provided an example for us all.

Christ’s example also motivates Paul’s leadership style and purpose in writing.  He writes:  For this reason I write these things while I am away from you, that when I come I may not have to be severe in my use of the authority that the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down (v 10).  According to Paul, the proper use of authority is to build up, not to tear down.

In closing, Paul admonishes the church:  rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you (v 11).  If the church is to be a foretaste of heaven, these admonitions must be practiced.

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