The cartoon character Snoopy from the Peanuts comic strip makes the following observations about goodbyes. He is bemoaning having to say farewell to friends and this is what he says “Why can't we get all the people together in the world that we really like and then just stay together? I guess that wouldn't work. Someone would leave. Someone always leaves and then we have to say good-bye. I hate good-byes. I know what I need. I need more hellos” (Snoopy, Peanuts comic strip by Charles Schulz).
At the other end of the literary spectrum is William Shakespeare’s carefully crafted farewell speeches that permeate his plays. For instance Claudio in dismissing Hero has this to say “But fare thee well, most foul, most fair! Farewell, thou pure impiety and impious purity!” (Much Ado About Nothing, act 4, sc. 1, l. 103-4).
Saying farewell, saying good-bye, even ending a letter, is difficult to do well. Sometimes we get to that final moment and don’t know what to say, it is a bit awkward. We have so much that we want to express but how do we do it? Well Paul as he reaches the end of his second letter to the Corinthians manages to end on a high note. He knows what he wants to say. He knows where he wants to leave the Corinthians in their thinking.
So as we come to the end of our sermon series looking at this letter, please have your Bibles open at 2 Corinthians chapter 13 verses 11 to 14, and we will have a look at how Paul says farewell to the Corinthians. I actually want to start with Paul’s very last sentence, verse 14, and then I’ll work back to some of the practical implications, in verses 11 to 13.
First, A TRINITARIAN BENEDICTION
My first heading therefore is a reference to the Trinitarian benediction with which Paul ends his letter in verse 14. That is the first heading on your outline: A Trinitarian Benediction. Look with me please at what Paul writes. He writes
14 “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Cor 13:14).
Now that is an impressive way to say farewell. It is probably the most condensed clear cut statement of the nature of God’s character and the gospel message that you are going to find anywhere in the Bible.
Paul is summarising his message as he reaches the end of his letter. In verses 11 to 13 he speaks about the practical implication of living as God’s people. But here in verse 14 he is really summing up what the whole Christian message is about. He talks about God’s grace and love and fellowship. He refers to each of the three persons of the Trinity.
His final sentence is even in some ways a description of the Christian’s experience. You and I as Christians are saved because of the gracious action of the Lord Jesus Christ, that allows us to know and experience the love of God, through the restoration and fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Grace, love, fellowship. It is the message of the gospel, the good news that transforms lives and entire churches.
But let me unpack this benediction in a bit more detail. It is Trinitarian. In other words it speaks of the three persons of the Trinity. It speaks of God the Son, God the Father, and God the Holy Spirit – three persons, one God.
The Bible teaches that God is one. There is only one God. But in the one God that we worship there are three persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Each of the three persons is fully God. Jesus is fully God. God the Father is fully God. The Holy Spirit is fully God. Yet we don’t worship three Gods, only one God. Christians over the centuries have come to refer to this mystery of 3 in 1 as the doctrine of the Trinity.
The Bible often ascribes specific roles or attributes to each of the persons of the Trinity. This benediction of Paul’s is a classic example of that. Just have a look at each of the phrases to see what I mean. Paul associates grace with the Lord Jesus Christ, love with God the Father, and fellowship with God the Holy Spirit.
1) The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ
So what does Paul mean when he says “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ”? Paul is talking about the unmerited favour, the undeserved kindness that Jesus Christ exhibited for us as human beings. It was while we were still sinners (Rom 5:8), it was while we were God’s enemies (Rom 5:10) that Jesus died for us on the cross. As human beings we deserve death, eternal conscious spiritual death, because of our rebellion, rejection, and hatred of God. It is shear unmerited grace that God comes seeking you and me, wooing us back to himself.
The story is told of a court case in America in which some Russian spies were convicted of treason against the United States and sentenced to death. The lawyer for the defence in his summation at the end of a long and bitter trial said, “Your Honour, what my clients ask for is justice.” The judge replied, “The court has given what you ask for—justice! What you really want is mercy. But that is something this court has no right to give.”
When you and I examine our lives we know we are guilty. We don’t need justice what we need is grace. Paul emphasises the grace of Christ because that is the heart of the gospel message – it is the good news, we are not treated as our sins deserve. But Paul also speaks here at the end of his letter about the grace of the Lord Jesus, because he wants that grace to overflow into the life of the Corinthian church. He is very practical in all this theology. He wants Christians everywhere to know the grace of the Lord Jesus and be characterised by grace in their dealings with one another.
2) The love of God
As well as the grace of the Lord Jesus, Paul speaks about “the love of God”. God the Father loved the world so much that he sent his one and only son into the world to die on a cross for our sin so that we might not perish but instead have eternal life (John 3:16). God loved us so much that he was prepared to step in and rescue us.
The Bible attributes the saving initiative, the plan or will of salvation to the person of God the Father. He initiates and the Son implements. It is the love of God the Father that leads to God’s plan of salvation.
Paul wants the Corinthians, and in fact every believer, to know that love of God in all its fullness, even though it surpasses knowledge. He wants them to be so full of God’s love that they are like God in character and action. And God’s love for them is to overflow into their love for God and their love for one-another.
3) The fellowship of the Holy Spirit
And finally Paul mentions in this benediction “the fellowship of the Holy Spirit”. He is talking about the fellowship enjoyed by God himself – the fellowship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – one God, three persons. But he is also talking about the fellowship that can now be enjoyed between the Christian and God himself.
It is fellowship that comes about because of the gospel. It is restored relationship that is possible because the dividing wall of hostility is broken down in the death of Christ. We are no longer alienated from God, rather as Christians we are God’s children and we have the privilege of crying Abba, Daddy. God is our loving Father and that relationship is made real to us by the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:15, Gal 4:6).
But again Paul wants that fellowship (that’s now possible between the individual Christian and God), to overflow into the life of the church. He wants the church to be characterised by the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. For Paul one of the most important effects of the gospel is the restoration of relationship.
Paul wants the Corinthians to love one another. And his letter is full of appeal that they might also love him and have fellowship with him again. The Holy Spirit builds individuals in the church into a body, a spiritual temple, holy and pleasing to God (Eph 2:21-22). He is the Spirit who brings about fellowship.
This benediction with which Paul ends his letter is really a prayer. Paul is asking God to produce these things in the Corinthian church.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all (2 Cor 13:14).
Paul wants these aspects of God and of the gospel to remain with and permeate the lives of the individual Christians and the church collectively.
Sometimes you and I recite these words together, or they are read at the end of a service. When that happens, what we are really doing is praying that grace, love and fellowship will characterise our life together. But that has some very practical implications. And Paul in verses 11 to 13 highlights several of them. In verse 11 in particular he has five final admonitions. And that is the next heading on the outline – five final admonitions.
Secondly, FIVE FINAL ADMONITIONS
Do please have a look with me at verse 11. Paul writes
11 Finally, brothers, good-bye. Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you (2 Cor 13:11).
The word that is translated there as “good-bye”, is a difficult word to work out what to do with. The underlying word is sometimes used as a greeting – literally may your day be full of goodness or joy. A bit like when we greet someone with the phrase “good-day”.
But translating it as good-bye is probably pushing it a bit, and it doesn’t seem to quite fit with the exhortations that follow. If you look at several other translations, what you find is that they translate that first sentence as “Finally, brothers, rejoice”, or “Finally brothers be full of joy”. That would probably be a better way of putting it because “finally brothers be full of joy” is really the first of the five final admonitions that Paul gives. He encourages the Corinthians first to be full of joy.
1) Be full of joy
Despite the suffering that Paul has endured and despite the pain that the Corinthians have caused him, Paul seems to have a deep joy and confidence in God’s goodness. Paul speaks of joy throughout his letter despite the suffering he has endured (1:24, 2:3, 6:10, 7:4,13). Even in verse 9 of chapter 13 (that we looked at last Sunday morning) Paul says “We are glad”, “We rejoice”. Same underlying word. “We are full of joy”.
So Paul’s first admonition to the Corinthians is to be full of joy. He wants them to rejoice always. To know the joy and peace that come from a true relationship with God. It is a joy that comes from experiencing the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. If we have been saved, if you are a Christian, Paul is saying that your life, my life, and our life together, should be full of joy.
So what might that look like in practice for the Corinthians, and for us? Well one example would be in what we say to one another. Our conversation should be full of joy and goodness. Do you for instance ever speak with joy about your salvation, expressing gratitude to God for what he has done? I think in reality we don’t do that very much, but we could. You could for instance say to your friend after church this morning that you are grateful to Jesus for his grace, or tell someone how wonderful God’s love is.
On a more basic level you and I could just be positive and joyful in talking about ordinary things. Tell people you had a nice weekend or holiday without being negative about being back at work, or making grumpy comments about the return journey. I think there is room for our conversation and indeed our whole lives to be more “full of joy”. We have much to be grateful for.
2) Be restored / made complete
Paul’s second admonition to the Corinthians is “be restored”. That is the idea underlying the NIV’s translation “Aim for perfection”. It is perfection or completeness or restoration of broken relationship. It is perfection in relationship that is in view here rather than holiness in general. The admonition is be restored.
The underlying image is of a pot or vase that is broken into pieces but is carefully put back together so that it is once more complete and perfect. You know the way if you drop a plate on the floor and it breaks into several pieces it is sometimes possible to get the glue out and stick it back together. The plate becomes usable again. It is made whole. It is restored.
Paul knows that the Corinthian church is broken. It is a mess in terms of relationships. The Corinthian church was divided in all sorts of ways. They were divided over theological issues, over who their leaders were, over wealth, over Christian experiences, over those who had and didn’t have certain spiritual gifts.
But Paul declares that the gospel has triumphed over all that. Anyone who is truly a Christian, who knows the grace of Jesus, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, will not live in broken relationship with other Christians. Paul’s prayer for the Corinthians (and even for us today as Christians in this church), is that we be mended in relation to one another and in relationship to the God who loves us. He wants us to be restored. To be put back together. To be made perfect.
That is quite a challenge. That means for you and me that we can’t just ignore or avoid the person in this church who we fell out with years ago. That would not be aiming for perfection or restoration. I once attended a church in which there was lots of tension and unresolved conflict under the surface. It wasn’t a very pleasant place to be. It didn’t demonstrate God’s love. They were not very effective in evangelism.
Paul wants us, just as he wants the Corinthians, to treat each other with grace, love, and forgiveness. We are to know the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ in our lives, and then treat our brothers and sisters in Christ with grace, not as they deserve. It is a big challenge but that is what it means to aim for perfection, to be restored.
3) Be encouraged / exhorted
Paul’s third admonition is be encouraged or exhorted. The NIV translates it as “listen to my appeal”. Paul has been urging and exhorting them to action throughout his letter. He has warned and encouraged the Corinthians. He has challenged and rebuked them. He has often used strong language and not held back or softened the hard things he has needed to say.
But his concern throughout has been as a loving father. He wants the Corinthians to hold to the true gospel, to not be misled, to know God and live out the gospel. To be in right relationship to God, to one another, and to him. Paul is summarising all that when he says “listen to my appeal”, be exhorted, be encouraged to put into practice all that I have been saying.
4) Be of one mind
Number four Paul says “be of one mind”. He is admonishing them to be united in thought – centred around the gospel. He wants them to set their minds on what is important not on what divides them. This is not a requirement to set aside individual opinion in matters of indifference, but rather it is a call to have a united understanding of the faith (13:5) – to really understand and be united around the grace of Christ, the love of God, the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
If you have been watching the World Cup you will have seen some very good examples of this. Teams like the Brazilian team are made up of lots of different types of player. They play most of the year in different countries. I am sure they have different preferred styles of playing football, they have different temperaments, they have different skills. But they are united when it comes to winning the World Cup. They are of one mind when it comes to the importance of scoring goals.
Paul is saying that the church should be of one mind when it comes to the importance of knowing and sharing the gospel. The church in Corinth needed to be united. We today still need to hear this exhortation to be of one mind. We are to guard against disunity.
For instance I would much prefer to have my choice of music, my style of leadership, my use of resources. But you probably have a different opinion and if we both try and get our own way we will be on a collision course. Instead of fighting about secondary matters, Paul exhorts us, as he does the Corinthians to be of one mind, and to concentrate on what is really important – the good news of Jesus Christ. We are to be willing to not get our own way on secondary matters.
5) Be at peace
Finally in this list Paul urges the Corinthians to “live in peace”. It is a very similar message to being restored, being of one mind. If you look back to chapter 12 verse 20 you can see what Paul is concerned about. He writes
“For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be quarrelling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder” (2 Cor 12:20).
Paul wants them to get things sorted out. He wants them to live at peace with one another. To demonstrate the grace of Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit in the way they interact.
Again like the Corinthians, JPC life should not be characterised by quarrelling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder. There is no room for that. Paul is thinking grace, love, fellowship. In your head do a quick check. Is any of that negative list seen in your life and your interactions with members of this church? It is a sobering list. I know I was challenged as I read it. We are to live in peace, not in quarrelling, no jealousy, no outbursts of anger, no gossip, no arrogance or disorder.
Paul’s five final admonitions end with a reference to the God who makes it all possible. For that is the good news. It is not just an impossible list of perfections. Paul indeed assures the Corinthians that it is possible to live with joy, fully restored, encouraged, of one mind and at peace, because God’s presence will be with them. The “God of love and peace will be with” them, making it possible, as they in turn put Paul’s words into practice.
Thirdly, GREETINGS AMONG GOD’S PEOPLE
And last but not least, Paul in this conclusion to his letter teaches about greetings among God’s people. That is my final heading: Greetings among God’s people. The new people of God, who have been saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, who know the love of God, and are growing in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, are a new humanity, a new community, a new church. God’s people are brothers and sisters in Christ. They are children of God. That theological understanding leads Paul to encourage greetings among God’s people.
He writes verses 12 and 13.
12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. 13 All the saints send their greetings” (2 Cor 13:12-13).
Paul often in his letters exhorts God’s people to greet one another with a holy kiss (1 Thes 5:26, 1 Cor 16:20, Rom 16:16 and 1 Pet 5:14). It is an expression of affection as between family members, brothers and sisters (13:11). Warm-hearted fellowship. The fellowship that the Corinthians are to enjoy is to be expressed in warmth and physical greeting.
There is also greeting from the wider community of believers. All God’s people who are with Paul are sending their greetings. Paul is reminding the Corinthians that they are part of a much larger church. That is important for their relationship to Paul as apostle. And it will help them as they seek to put into practice all that he has been teaching them in this letter.
Paul’s final sentence, verse 14, really is the summary of his message, and it is a good note for us to end on.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with [us] all (2 Cor 13:14).