A Sermon by The Rev’d Adrian Stephens
11 “Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. 12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.”
– 2 Corinthians 13:11-12
Paul is an interesting character in that as he writes we can see into his very soul. His conversion to the faith was dramatic and sudden. He was struck blind and then healed of his blindness. Paul is now totally dedicated to the ministry of our Lord. Nothing will stop him. In Chapter 11 of 2 Corinthians, he describes some of the hardship he faced as he taught the message of the Cross of Christ. “Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea;”
There can be no doubt that Paul was committed to his role of teacher and example of faith. Hardship and punishment were not foreign to him, in fact his ministry is constantly placing him in situations that most people would happily avoid.
As Paul prepared once again to travel to Corinth, he sent this letter before him so that the people would know that he was coming. Paul is apprehensive because this bohemian society made his life very difficult during his first visit. He disapproved of their unwillingness to put aside their bohemian lifestyle, which Paul described as sinful, and to replace it with a more respectful, Godly, and courteous approach to life. It is as if he is demanding that they change their lifestyle before he arrives.
Paul asked that they examine themselves to see whether they are living by faith, or not. They are to test themselves, and hopefully not fail. More importantly, he prayed that his efforts to convince them of the blessings of a life of faith have not failed. He requested that the Corinthian people may avoid doing wrong but rather will live by the truth of Christ.
Importantly he has written this letter to forewarn the people, so that when he comes, he will not be forced to be severe in correcting them. Rather, he would prefer to build the people up, not tear them down.
Finally, he pleaded with the Corinthians to listen to his appeal and to put their lives in order. They are to live in peace with one another, and they are to greet each other with respect.
This message for the Corinthians should not be lost when it comes to how we live our lives. We may not be leading a Bohemian lifestyle, but there may be areas of our life that do need testing and correcting. There may be occasions when we fail to greet each other with the equivalent of a Holy Kiss. There may be times when we have had uncharitable thoughts about other people. There may be past events that require reparation and reconciliation.
We need to remember that in these situations someone needs to make the take the first step. In our age it is tempting to declare that there are two ends to a phone, and they know my number. This is true, and we know their number. Someone will need to take the first step for reconciliation. Is this not what God has done for us? Is this not what our Lord did when he hung upon that cross so that we might be reconciled with God? Perhaps in this instance we could suggest that there are two ends to prayer. God at one end and our hearts and soul at the other. Yes, we are in many ways imperfect. There are situations that appear to be impossible to reconcile. And yes, we are to strive to be as Christ in this life. We are called to imitate Christ in all things.
There is little doubt that true perfection is a quality which remains only in the realm of God. We strive for perfection in this life, but we must accept that we will never achieve it. The fact that we cannot achieve it does not mean that we are to stop trying. There are many challenges in our life in which we will strive for perfection. If my golf game were perfect, I would be on tour, rather than trying once again to reduce the maximum handicap that is allowed. If my driving were perfect, there would be no scratches on my car. The fact that I am not perfect in these areas will not stop me from trying to do better in golf and to stop hitting things with my car.
It is the same with our lives. We strive to be perfect, and when we discover that we are not perfect, we are to seek ways to improve. Hence the challenge from Paul to test ourselves. We test ourselves to see whether we are living by our faith. We test ourselves to see if our Lord is within and with us. We test ourselves so that we can stand before a mirror without flinching. We test ourselves so that we can look to the person near us and not be embarrassed or shamed.
This is what Paul wants for the Corinthians. His wish for them is that they may have Christ within them. He does not want them to fail, nor does he want to be placed in a position where he must chastise and correct them.
His specific wish for the Corinthians is summed up in the final verse. We flippantly call this “The Grace”. We say it to conclude meetings and to conclude some church services. There is nothing more wonderful than our wish for our trinitarian God to be a part of the lives of every person we meet. Paul concludes by writing this, “The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” Is there anything else in this world that could be more precious. Grace, Love and Fellowship. These are the very foundation of all relationships, but especially so in our relationship with God.