Australian Bible Church –
May 20, 2007
II Corinthians 13:11
A CONTINUATION OF THE THRUST AND BASE OF THE
OF AUSTRALIA ON BIBLICAL LINES …
Words and the Spiritual Meaning
The Human Need and the Spiritual Life
Comfort without Coddling
"Finally, brethren, farewell. Become complete.
Be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace;
and the God of love and peace will be with you."
Paul was by no means satisfied with the Church at Corinth. A rather horrendous thing had happened, and they tended to become over-excited, rather as in some Pentecostalism today (II Cor. 12, 14). The apostle had to bring them back to the suffering and patience needed (II Corinthians 4:7-15), the rigours and vigours required, the determination, resolution and reality. At the same time, he had empathy with them, and sought to avoid needless confrontation. Hence we find quite near to our text, this charge.
"I have told you before, and foretell as if I were present the second time, and now being absent I write to those who have sinned before, and to all the rest, that if I come again I will not spare - since you seek a proof of Christ speaking in me, who is not weak toward you, but mighty in you.
"For though He was crucified in weakness, yet He lives by the power of God.
"For we also are weak in Him, but we shall live with Him by the power of God toward you. Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified. But I trust that you will know that we are not disqualified.
"Now I pray to God that you do no evil, not that we should appear approved, but that you should do what is honorable, though we may seem disqualified. For we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth. For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. And this also we pray, that you may be made complete. Therefore I write these things being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness, according to the authority which the Lord has given me for edification and not for destruction."
What a combination is that, confronting evil from a distance, challenging sin in their midst, exalting Christ as present in them, testing them that this is so with all, lest any merely presume, ascribing power to God, and showing his own intention as apostle, not to destroy but to edify. It is not cream-puff religion but reality disclosed! He would like THEM to be strong, but if necessary, he has the power of the risen Christ at work through him. It is his hope that 'sharpness' will not prove necessary when he comes.
In life, how often is there this utter disregard with foolish excuses, pretence and dubious hopes. Yet utter reality has to be faced, and must be, unless one desires confrontation by enormities! and what enormities, despite all equivocation, so often come, their prior peril discounted in vain.
God is no disciplinarian for pleasure (Lamentations 3:33), but seeks purity , godliness and the clean fear of God in warm hearts (cf. Psalm 19), alive to His power and grace (cf. Colossians 4:12).
Then we come to our text. It follows immediately after these words.
I THEIR COMPLETION
In II Corinthians 13:11, the exhortation is not to be 'perfect', but in the Greek term, rather to be complete. It means that you should reach the full stature in Christ, which is the intention and provision and design for godly man and woman. You should not hanker for soft options, ignorant substitutes, easy splendours, or live on the edge of moral enigmas so long as you are satisfied with yourself or your lot, but deal in righteousness with self-discipline and godly intention in all things seeking to please God (Colossians 1:10). You should not be satisfied with yourself - horrid thought - but constantly measure yourself against the example and beauty of Christ, seeking conformity in all things to Him, the heart of love and the essence of creativity, the Redeemer and Friend.
You don't need to be like a dragon-fly with tatty-wings, beautifully made, but spoiled without repair. Repair is available: see to it! Growth is necessary, look for it (II Peter 3:18). To be static is to be erratic; but the aim does not move!
Paul in II Corinthians 4:7ff. gives such an indication of what the 'dignity' of an apostle really meant, that it transforms what some almost seem to regard as a rest-home, in a moment into something not only a pilgrimage, but a race and an endurance feat! Love is like that: it is not seeking for itself but for what it loves. It is rather surprised if you would point out what it is doing, than wishing it didn't need so to act!
II THEIR COMFORT, CONSOLATION, STRENGTHENING
Be complete! then, says Paul, and "be of good comfort".
In this phrase just cited, there is a lot of depth and meaning. The Greek term used in it has such a variety of meanings that merely to list them is enthusing! The base verb here can mean: to admonish, exhort, beg, entreat, beseech, console, encourage, strengthen by consolation, to comfort. It reminds one of the best sort of nurse, or indeed more yet of a mother, to which Paul compared himself - a nursing mother (I Thessalonians 2:7).
Thus this contains the idea of being comforted in spirit and strengthened in heart, of yielding to exhortation, being tender-hearted towards the Lord, ready to heed, obey, understand, and with this, receiving help of a solicitous and heart-warming kind.
If you are like that with the Lord, then He is freer to be like that with you (cf. Jeremiah 14:19ff.). Not only should we all cast our burdens upon the Lord, knowing that He will sustain us (Psalm 55:22), for "He will never suffer the righteous to be moved," but cast "all your care on Him for He cares for you" (I Peter 5:7), He will not "suffer you to be tested beyond what you are able" (I Corinthians 10:13), but rather provide a way of escape. It is then, as you put your active trust in Him, waiting on Him, abiding in Him, seeking His will, that His entreaties to this or that, urgings, or even pleadings, His comforting strength and strengthening consolation move the more readily.
Then they are the better ready to be "strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man" - Ephesians 3:16.
In this way, the bitter, arrogant or overweening harshness of the director of operations, the egotism of self-will and the dictatorial tendencies of the spiritually immature or alien (these are the real aliens, not from outer space, but far from even outer grace - cf. Ephesians 4:17-19), all are avoided. Be not LORDS over the Lord's heritage, Peter declaims, but serve one another (I Peter 5). How on earth a pope, for example, could speak as the popes were inclined to do, in view of that is one of the counter-miracles of all-time. It is one of the greatest obfuscations imaginable for anyone acting as if some sort of relationship to the Bible, other than complete denial, were in mind! Examples of such counter-text atrocities abound, and some appear in SMR pp. 912ff., 950ff., 1033ff..
How, said one of them (Boniface VIII), "shall we presume to judge kings and princes, and not dare to proceed against a worm! Let them perish forever, that it may be known that the name of the Roman pontiff is known in all the earth and that he alone is most high above princes..." (cited by Schaff in History of the Christian Church, Vol. VI, p. 16). This seems rather than a condescension to deal with a human conceived as a worm, a self-exaltation of gross pride, involving not merely the confusion of servant with master (Matthew 23:8), but this at an infinite level!
But it is not the lords of idolatrising churches, putting man where ONLY GOD is, these alone, who so defile mankind with imperious impotence, but yet with murders carried out with legislative appearance. There are endless arrays of political lords, such as Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein, Hitler, Mao, who have secured notoriety for assuming what amounts to a divine rank in their rank renegacy against all reason, and endless slaughters. And these ? it is for some inkling of power that derives from irrationality itself, often wrought in such cases with brutality and seared in inhumanity*1.
While such atrocities are abominable, and often condemned in the Bible (cf. Isaiah 51:22-23, Jeremiah 51:24,36,49-53, Psalm 50:16-23, Nahum 3:1-7,19), they are one of the pathologies of fallen mankind. Another and rather contrary one is to be so slack and liberal, so daft and unrealistic, so pampering and nauseatingly inept, that life is made into a pleasure pot, a comfort zone for infants, a fanfare for hedonists, or a haven for laziness laced with besottedness.
This is as destructive as the other. It fails to draw on the potentials given to man, allows the dissipation of dynamic and the fall of integrity and virtue.
Both of these extremes know not God.
He is tender-hearted as we see here, but not without discipline (cf. Hebrews 12), solicitous but does not elicit mere cash-register conformity for profit (as shown in Job Ch. 1, and see Trials, Tests and Triumphs in Temptation).
Rather He seeks that love which desires to serve and delights in understanding and presents an example beyond all in serving, in His own self, in sacrifice on the cross, to cancel guilt with goodness (Matthew 20:28, Philippians 2).
Thus in this very book of II Corinthians we see the tenderness of a nursing mother, the solicitude of a concerned father, the kindness of an understanding brother and the rigour of a profound teacher, seeking quality with beauty, diligence with duty. The world oscillates, vacillates, agitates and convulses, but never settles to the truth, and hence in heedless, reckless, seedy extremes, demeaning and often revolting, moves on its appointed path, irresolute and then fanatical, lax and then lordly, without either the wisdom or the power of God. That is found in one place only, and its wisdom in one place only, in the God who made us and the Book of the Lord who provided for us, though fallen into sin as all men are, it is no pleasant task to redeem (cf. Hebrews 5:7).
There is no other way: sickness needs health as deprived plants in the shade, the sun. It is the Lord who arises with healing in His wings (Malachi 4), and the endless experiments in folly to which man consigns himself are so many laboratory experiments, wrought in flesh and bought with anguish.
Let us, then, with such things in mind, the better relish what is to follow from that eminently practical and profound word of God.
The root of the word translated in I Cor. 13:11, 'be of good comfort', is the same as that used of the Comforter, as translated in the Authorised Version (John 14), or Helper as in the NKJV. It can even mean an advocate as in law. It rightly refers, in the noun form, to someone called alongside, and thus Christ in that same chapter of John indicated that He would not leave them orphans, but come to them. How does He come ? Before His coming personal advent (Acts 1:7), it is by the Holy Spirit. For Him they had to wait (Luke 24:49), and at Pentecost, He came. Now, those already in Christ (Romans 8:9) await with keen expectation His return (Hebrews 9:28).
How different was His coming from what Pentecostalism wrongly stresses, this 'speaking in tongues', the affair of I Corinthians 12, 14 which needed such discipline by Paul! Instead, He did a work of translation at Pentecost so that many of different languages, not able otherwise to understand the preaching, should know IN THEIR OWN SPEECH, what was being said. It was a functional, not a dysfunctional, a clarifying, not a confusing, an edifying and not a vague thing that the Lord there did, and to use 'Pentecostal' to name the opposite, or something very dissimilar, is mere confusion. It is however the common, confused parlance, and the very name they often take.
The work of the Holy Spirit is varied, but we are here focussing the comforting, consoling, strengthening, beseeching, entreating, encouraging work which moves through the heart to the legs, arms and feet, and in the heart to its increase in vision, depth and wisdom. "Be of good comfort" then, this means much more than the English translation here indicates. What could one say if it were amplifIed ? It is this: Be consolidated, encouraged, be sensitive to the Lord's entreaties and encouragements, do not resist His pleadings for a higher life, a better performance and a more tender heart, nor fail in strength from hopelessness. Instead, be consoled, encouraged and helped by His own power. He IS alive, as Paul had just been stressing to those of Corinth, and so be enlivened by Him, and live by the power of God (II Corinthians 13:4)!
III THEIR PEACE AND BLESSING
While the Holy Spirit acts in this strengthening consolation, it is the Lord Jesus Christ who is the only mediator (I Timothy 2), and the advocate who prevails with the Father for the very simple reason that it is He who has shed His blood, become a sacrifice extraordinary, unique and all-proficient, and by whose death, life is granted, guilt covered, penalty in abeyance, exclusion cancelled, inclusion achieved for those who so put their trust in Him, redeemer risen from the grave: for the God of all grace and of all comfort has acted in Him (II Corinthians 5:17ff., 1:3).
The Father sends, Christ pays, the Holy Spirit applies. So did the Lord act, and so does the Holy Spirit now move.
It is a lovely index to the working of God in mankind, that the apostle Paul had himself, as shown in II Corinthians 1, this very epistle! been anguished in his work, and as he tried to find his associate in a strange land, feeling a blighting burden, had almost felt condemned to death. Yet the Lord comforted, encouraged, relieved and delivered him. Thus was he comforted in his woes, being thus made aware of how to comfort others, such as those at Corinth! (1:6). Never short-circuit the wisdom of God in your own mind: HE is very DEEP!
"Now if we are afflicted, it is for your consolation ... or if we are comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation: and our hope for you is steadfast " - II Corinthians 1:6-7.
Be of one mind, says the apostle: that is, seek to find grounds of common insight and scope for common action. Do not without necessity (as was in view for the apostle himself a little earlier in this Chapter 13), take action that upsets, but rather seek to be peaceable, and LIVE IN PEACE, so that the God of love and peace will be with you.
Remember the prescription for church growth in spirit, as in Ephesians 4:15ff.:
'Rather, living the truth in love, we should grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ,
from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, with the proper functioning of each part, brings about the body’s growth and builds itself up in love.
So I declare and testify in the Lord that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds;
darkened in understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance, because of their hardness of heart,
they have become callous and have handed themselves over to licentiousness for the practice of every kind of impurity to excess.
That is not how you learned Christ,
assuming that you have heard of him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus,
that you should put away the old self (lit. 'man') of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires,
and be renewed in the spirit of your minds,
and put on the new self (lit. 'man'), created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.
Therefore, putting away falsehood, speak the truth, each one to his neighbor, for we are members one of another." (Parenthesis added - from NASB).
Putting off the old nature is like a snake-skin moulting, as the creature moves sleekly out, to continue life in brighter colours. Putting on the new nature is like dressing in armour, not vulnerable in sensitive instability, but strengthened, aware, committed, commissioned, walking with faith, in the Lord.
Thus we are to seek good understanding of each other and in the Lord, so that in peace we might walk with the God of peace and love. And consider one thing: What is that ? you might ask. It is this. It is the God of LOVE who is then with you, and therefore do not violate WHO He is but what you do. Walk in love, for the days are evil; and redeem the time, be alight with kindliness, warm in charity, effective in clarity as you tell others of Christ and live a life that speaks of Him (cf. II Corinthians 2:14). HE was made a spectacle before man; the least we can do is HEED the encouraging tenderness and RECEIVE the strengthening and consolation of His Spirit, and so walk without hurry, or flurry or scurry, but in wisdom and in hope, in radiance from the light of Christ within, so that you come not as a shadow from a passing cloud, but as the sun peeping up on the horizon in the morning, the NEW sun, adorned in fresh light.
*1 See for example:
Tender Times for Timely Truth
The Grating Grandeur ... Ch. 2; SMR pp. 925ff.;
Beauty for Ashes Ch. 6 (and Hong Kong, and the movement of nations in the last century a concern),
with News 98, News 37.