Paul’s Defense of His Apostolic Authority, Part 5 — Paul issues warnings of judgment upon the Corinthians on his third visit to them if they fail to repent.
Paul is coming to the end of his argument for his apostolic authority and to the end of his letter. This passage is much more pointed in terms of what the Corinthians can expect on his next visit. The warning is basically “Repent or suffer the power of Christ in discipline.”
14-15 Here for the third time I am ready to come to you. And I will not be a burden, for I seek not what is yours but you. For children are not obligated to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls. If I love you more, am I to be loved less?
- For the third time I am ready to come to you. What do we know of Paul’s first two visits?
- On his first visit Paul had planted the church at Corinth (Acts 18:1–18).
- His second visit was the “painful visit” (2Co 2:1; also see the Introduction).
- I will not be a burden. Paul mentions one last time his refusal to burden the Corinthians financially (11:7–12; 12:13; see 1Co 9:18) as the loving act of a spiritual parent for his children (1Co 4:14–15; 2Co 6:11–13; 11:11), since acting this way embodies his message and life as an apostle (2:17) and calls into question the claims of Paul’s opponents (11:12, 20).
- Children are not obligated. Grk “children ought not,” but this might give the impression that children are not supposed to support sick or aging parents in need of help. That is not what Paul is saying. His point is that children normally should not have to pay their parent’s way.
- Paul announces here that his third visit is imminent and that his policy regarding support will not be altered.
- Paul is determined always to be financially independent of the Corinthians. They will have to continue bearing the “injury” he is inflicting upon them (v13).
- In defense of this refusal to accept support from the Corinthians, Paul appeals to the self-evident truth that it is no part of children’s obligation to save up for their parents, but only parents for children. This principle is not universally applicable, however.
- Paul has already defended the right of apostles to be supported by their spiritual children (1Co 9:3-14).
- Paul himself had received financial support from some of his converts (2Co 11:8-9; Php 4:15-16).
- If I love you more, am I to be loved less? Paul is seeking filial love to his paternal affections.
- Cf 2Co 11:10-11. As the truth of Christ is in me, this boasting of mine will not be silenced in the regions of Achaia. And why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do!
16 But granting that I myself did not burden you, I was crafty, you say, and got the better of you by deceit.
- It seems there was a rumor circulating that because Paul was unscrupulous by nature, he had exploited the church’s generosity and had gained surreptitiously through his agents what he had declined to accept personally. The collection for the poor in Jerusalem was simply a convenient way to get access to their money.
- Though there is not explicit reference to accusations of fraud, I believe this is a likely interpretation.
17-18 Did I take advantage of you through any of those whom I sent to you? I urged Titus to go, and sent the brother with him. Did Titus take advantage of you? Did we not act in the same spirit? Did we not take the same steps?
- The Greek construction of this question anticipates a negative answer. This question is rhetorical.
- I urged Titus to go. The words “to go” are not in the Greek text but are implied. Direct objects were often omitted in Greek when clear from the context, and must be supplied for proper English grammar.
- Did Titus take advantage of you? The Greek construction anticipates a negative answer.
- Did we not take the same steps? Grk “[Did we not walk] in the same tracks?” This is an idiom that means to imitate someone else or to behave as they do.
- Paul emphatically rejects the idea that he used the collection to craftily take money from the Corinthians, since there is no evidence for such a charge. All of those who worked with Paul, including Titus, were men of unimpeachable integrity.
- Since Paul knew the charge had been maliciously made and was couched in general terms, he refutes it in two ways.
- First by appealing to the Corinthians to provide specific evidence.
- Then by referring to a particular occasion on which his chief agent had been sent to Corinth on a mission involving finance.
- If Titus was guiltless, so was Paul, for all their conduct had been governed by the same principles.
19 Have you been thinking all along that we have been defending ourselves to you? It is in the sight of God that we have been speaking in Christ, and all for your upbuilding, beloved.
- Paul repudiates the suggestion, which might have occurred to any Corinthian who had heard this long letter being read aloud, that he had all along been seeking to defend his conduct and protect his reputation before a panel of Corinthian judges.
- It was to God, not the Corinthians, that Paul was ultimately accountable, so that self-defense before others was never his primary concern.
- Paul had been speaking as a man “in Christ” whose words and motives were open before God.
- All for your upbuilding. Paul’s self-defense is fundamentally for the Corinthians’ sake, not his own (see notes on 10:8), and is pleasing to God, for he has been speaking in the sight of God.
- Paul’s aim in all his relations with the Corinthians—especially his correspondence—was not personal vindication but their upbuilding, i.e., the strengthening and stabilizing of their individual and corporate faith and the enriching of their Christian lives.
20-21 For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish—that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder. I fear that when I come again my God may humble me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality that they have practiced.
- Fear. It seems that Paul’s fear is primarily that this letter to them might be unsuccessful in its purpose to strengthen the church at Corinth. He lists three objects of this fear.
- The outcome of his third visit.
- Would they be mutually disappointed and embarrassed—Paul by the church’s questioning of his apostleship and their refusal to break with the sins he lists here, and the Corinthians by Paul’s vigorous exercise of church discipline.
- That the sins that seem endemic to Corinth should continue unabated.
- A repetition of the humiliation under God’s hand that he had experienced during his second visit. (More on that below.)
- The outcome of his third visit.
- Find you not as I wish. That is, still unrepentant, rebellious, and anchored in their sinful lifestyles, all of which will indicate that they are not, in fact, genuine believers (see 13:5).
- Find me not as you wish. If the Corinthians are not repentant, Paul will be called upon to exercise God’s judgment rather than continuing to wait patiently for their repentance as in the past (see 1:23–2:4).
- My God may humble me before you. God may humble Paul by using him as an instrument of their judgment, probably by way of excommunication, which will mean Paul may have to mourn over the rebellious.
- The Corinthian libertines, the ones who asserted that “Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, but God will do away with both,” as a way of justifying gross immorality (1Co 6:13), were apparently still justifying their behavior. Paul’s response then, “The body is not for sexual immorality, but for the Lord,” will turn into judgment on his third visit.
- Again. An adverb, such as this, modifies a verb or another adverb. In this case we need to determine what again is modifying. The ESV has it modifying when I come. Perhaps there is another possible translation.
- I fear that when I come my God may humble me before you again.
- There is no joy in judgment for an apostle, who under the new covenant is called primarily to build up the church (see 10:8; 12:19; 13:10).
13:1-2 This is the third time I am coming to you. Every charge must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. I warned those who sinned before and all the others, and I warn them now while absent, as I did when present on my second visit, that if I come again I will not spare them—
- Every charge must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. Paul is quoting Dt 19:15 (also quoted in Mt 18:16 and 1Ti 5:19). According to Dt 19:15, this was the legal requirement for accepting evidence at a trial.
- Dt 19:15. A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established.
- Mt 18:15-17. If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
- 1Ti 5:19. Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.
- Who or what are the two or three witnesses that Paul is referring to here? There are four main views.
- Some believe that Paul is referring to the legal strictness that would apply to the judicial investigation he or the assembled church would conduct at Corinth.
- Others find a reference to Paul’s three visits to Corinth (2 past and 1 imminent) as three separate witnesses.
- A third view sees the threefold testimony or warning that Paul would not spare the Corinthians.
- 1Co 4:21. Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?
- 2Co 13:2. I warned those who sinned before and all the others, and I warn them now while absent, as I did when present on my second visit, that if I come again I will not spare them.
- The third visit itself.
- A fourth view is that the witnesses are three different people: Timothy, Titus, and Paul.
- I lean toward the second view.
- Whoever or whatever the three witnesses are, it’s clear that sufficient warning has been given: that punitive action would come if the rebellious did not repent.
- I will not spare them. He did not specify what form the discipline would take, and perhaps he himself did not know exactly, but it certainly would not be pleasant (cf. Ac 5:1–11; 13:8–11; 1Co 5:4–5).
3-4 since you seek proof that Christ is speaking in me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God.
- Following the pattern of Christ’s own weakness (1:5; 8:9; Php 2:7–8), Paul too has been weak for the sake of God’s people, making evident to them God’s Spirit and glory in Christ through his own sufferings (2Co 1:3–11; 2:14–16a; 4:7–15; 6:3–10; 11:23–33; 12:7–10).
- Also like Christ, Paul will manifest the power of God in judging the Corinthians’ behavior and beliefs (see 1Co 5:12–13; 6:1–3).
- Crucified in weakness. The preposition here (Grk ek) indicates cause in the Greek (NASB crucified because of weakness).
- Jesus Christ was crucified because of weakness. This weakness was not, of course, physical frailty or moral failure, but rather the weakness of non-retaliation or non-aggressiveness before people and the “weakness” of obedience to God.
- But the “weakness” of Christ is past. Now he lives a resurrection life sustained by God’s power.
- The relationship between Christ and Paul with regard to weakness and power is not clarified.
What Paul hoped not to find at Corinth on his third visit is described in 12:20-21—factions and immorality. What he surmised the Corinthians would not want him to be on that visit is stated in 13:1-4—someone who administered punishment. His purpose in expressing these fears about his forthcoming visit was to encourage a change of attitude and behavior before his arrival.
It seems that in their immaturity, the Corinthians were unimpressed by Christlike gentleness and meekness (10:1), but were awed by arbitrary displays of power (11:20). In their misguided judgment, Paul’s gentle demeanor, so unlike the temperament of the false apostles, raised doubt about his claim to apostolic authority. They demanded of Paul proof that Christ in his resurrection power was speaking through him. His reply was that though he had been weak in the Corinthian estimation (10:1,10), his impending severity would afford the proof they demanded. The Corinthians had, in effect, challenged Christ who would not disappoint them as he exhibited his resurrection power through his apostle.
People who are weak in human estimation because they seek to obey God are, in fact, supremely strong. We live by the same power that created the universe and that raised Christ from the grave.