2 Corinthians 13:11-13

This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on June 11, 2017.

The benediction in 2 Corinthians comes after Paul’s passionate defense of his ministry in chapters 10-13.  Though he had visited the church in Corinth numerous times, in his absence super-apostles moved in claiming Paul’s teachings were inferior to their own.  The work of this rival group had proven divisive in the church.  The congregation was fractioned and fractured. Thus, Paul was considering a return visit in light of a likely schism in the church.

Congregational conflict is not new to churches in the twenty-first century.  The first-century church knew all about it.  There was sexual immorality, idolatry, cliques, false teachers, and disunity in the Corinthian church. It was a mess. And God met the congregation in their mess.  Likewise, struggles in ministry aren’t new either.  Paul loved the church in Corinth so much that their unhealth caused him physical grief.  “For I wrote you out of much distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain, but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.” (2 Corinthians 2:4) Pastor, has your love for your congregation ever brought you to literal tears? Have you ever gone to great lengths to help your congregation grasp God’s dreams for them, only to be met with blank stares and indifference- or worse, criticism and rejection?  You are walking in Paul’s shoes. Ministry can be a real struggle. And God meets pastors in their struggle.

When Paul comes to the benediction, the weary apostle offers up his final words for the fractured church to hold on to with him.  “Put things in order, agree with one another, and live in peace.” It is easy to miss the link between these exhortations and the closing Trinitarian benediction, but to do so would be a mistake. The very qualities that should characterize the church’s life together already characterize life within the Trinity: order, mutual agreement, and peace. While the interworkings of the Holy Trinity are indeed mysterious, we do have glimpses of the Father, Son, and Spirit’s life together.  One of these insights comes from John 17.  In this prayer, Jesus reveals the relational dynamic within the Trinity as involving endless, mutual self-giving, deflecting attention one to another, and joyful love.  Because Jesus’ disciples live in the overflow of this love, they are invited to participate in the same quality of relationships that exist between the Father, Son, and Spirit.

Also in his prayer, Jesus says the Son is in the Father, and the Father is in the Son, and the disciples are in both. Love has dissolved clear boundaries that might keep the Father, Son, and disciples separated. Jesus prays that the love shared in heaven will flow down, dissolving divisions and obstructing barriers among his people. He is praying for the kind of love that frees his disciples to be distinctly themselves while sharing the fullness of themselves one with another.  They are not called to be uniform in gifts, personalities, skills, or interests, but rather, to be One in their resolve to live in the reality of grace, love, and peaceful communion.  These are impossible for any community to attain by mere restructuring and goal setting. These are reflections of the Holy Trinity, and gifts of God’s goodness poured out upon God’s people. When the church lives in these gifts, it is then set apart as something more than a social club.  It is then we truly live as a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation/church.

So, Paul says, “Church in Corinth, I give you one final appeal! Get your stuff together. Agree with one another and stop the bickering and splintering. Live in peace. Put an end to the chaos and anxiety among you.” Before we sit known rivals down at a table to hash it out, let us remember any movement of grace, love, and communion among us will always be a gift from God- an overflow of the Trinity’s love poured out to us.  So let us all sit at the table together, in awe and in worship first. Let us marvel at how our God lives in communion within the Trinity. Let us remember how each person of the Trinity serves the others- how in their unique roles they maintain one, holy passion. Let us notice how they busy themselves pointing the spotlight on the others- how they love freely and fully. And being moved once again by that divine love, our church will be empowered to love one another in way bigger than us. A weary pastor will be renewed to believe new life is still possible among us. So long as the Holy Trinity is still sharing grace, love, and peaceful communion, there is still an overflow of that goodness somewhere. We don’t have to try harder to be nicer to one another. We need only put ourselves in place to gather up this overflow as it pours out among us.

There are other directions the preacher might go with this text apart from the church’s call to life together as a reflection of and empowered by the Holy Trinity.  This call to be at peace followed by the promise that the peace of God will be with you is profound.  Choose to step into the suffering and turmoil in our churches, communities, and world, offering peace in those places, and see how God’s peace fills those very places.  Too often we stand back, waiting for God to step into the mess. We shake our hands at God in the face of violence, asking why He isn’t doing more. All the while, we have God’s permission to step right into the mess ourselves, trusting he’s well on his way.

Then there’s the greeting from all the saints.  This is a customary Pauline statement, but its significance is paramount for the church today.  Each individual congregation is accountable to the church universal.  What happens within our walls on Sunday mornings, and even Monday through Saturday affects the entire body of Christ. We are called to pray for one another, seek unity together, and humbly acknowledge that when our congregation gets caught up in sin, the universal church suffers with us. Likewise, when our congregation flourishes and grows into Christlikeness, the universal church receives the overflow of our flourishing.  We do not worship in silos. We are part of a people that span all of history and all of geography.  What we do in here indeed matters out there. So by the grace of God, let us worship God and love one another well.  It has universal and eternal consequences.

Jamie McCallum
Pastor of Belfair Community Church
Belfair, Washington





Tags:  Trinity, unity, church conflict, universal church, peace


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