The MOST Theological Collection: Commentary on the Pauline Epistles (The Thought of St. Paul)
"Chapter 7. Second Letter to Corinth"
Paul must have written at least four letters to Corinth. In our First Corinthians at 5:9 he says "I wrote to you in a letter," which obviously came before our 1 Corinthians. Hence our 1 Corinthians is at least the second letter to Corinth. Again, in 2 Corinthians 2:3-4 he mentions a letter written in tears -- which is surely not our 1 Corinthians, but one in between our 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians. Therefore there must have been at least 4 letters to Corinth, and our 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians are actually 2 Corinthians and 4 Corinthians. Still further, some commentators, e.g., V. P. Furnish in the Anchor Bible Second Corinthians, think what we call 2 Corinthians is actually two letters, with the division after chapter 9.
Is there any possibility of finding the lost letters? In our own day finds have been made in Egypt, at Oxyrhynchus, of classical literary works, and at Nag Hammadi (1946-47) of Gnostic works. So there is some possibility.
Could these lost works have been inspired? They could have been. If found it will be for the Catholic Church to decide whether or not they were inspired. For there is no other method of determining which books are inspired.1
Turning to what we call Second Corinthians -- we will use the usual names hereafter -- it is difficult to reconstruct the date and situation with certainty. It seems that Paul's first letter was not well received, and relations between him and the church at Corinth got worse. It is likely that Paul made a hasty visit to Corinth2 which accomplished little if anything. When he got back to Ephesus, he wrote in tears the third letter, which we do not have. Finally Paul sent Titus to try to smooth things out.
While Titus was away, there came the riot of silversmiths at Ephesus mentioned in Acts 19:23 -- 20:1. Demetrius, who made miniature silver copies of the great temple of Diana there, found the fact that Paul was making converts hurt his business. So he led a mob into the theatre against Paul. Paul therefore decided to leave for Macedonia. There, perhaps at Philippi, he met Titus, and found a reconciliation had been made with the Corinthians. From Macedonia he wrote our Second Corinthians, probably in the fall of 57, on the trip reported in Acts 20:1-2.
We do not know who were the opponents or trouble makers at Corinth. Paul does not give a detailed description, for they were well known to the Corinthians. It may have been only two or three persons. It seems likely they were outsiders, who came with letters of commendation, claiming to be superior to Paul. They seem to have called themselves something like superhebrews. Perhaps they claimed ecstatic experiences. They also attacked Paul as unimpressive in appearance and in speaking. They probably had the skills of Greek rhetoric. We do not know at all what doctrinal specialties they may have had.
The way Paul deals and pleads in these troubles makes Second Corinthians the most human of all his Epistles.
Summary of 2 Corinthians, Chapter 1
Paul who is an Apostle of Jesus by the will of God, along with Timothy, wish grace and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ to all the Christians of Corinth and all Achaia.
Paul blesses the God and Father of our Lord. He is the merciful Father, the God of all consolation. He consoles Paul and them in all their troubles, and so Paul is able to console those who are in every trouble with the consolation that God gives him. Just as the sufferings of Christ abound in Paul, so through Christ, Paul abounds in consolation. If he suffers trouble it is for their consolation and salvation. If he is consoled, it is for their consolation, which they experience when they patiently endure the same sufferings as Paul does.
As a result, Paul's hope for them is strong, since he knows that just as they share the sufferings, so will they share the consolation.
He most earnestly wants them to know the trouble he had in the Roman province of Asia. He was weighed down immensely, beyond what he alone could bear. He even despaired of living. It was as though the sentence of death had been passed on him. God arranged this so Paul might learn not to be confident in himself, but in the God who even raises the dead. God rescued Paul from so great a danger of death, and Paul is confident He will continue to rescue him, God in Whom Paul has hoped, that God will still deliver him, since many are working by their prayers for him, so [when the favor has been granted] God may be thanked by the many for the favor given to Paul through the prayers of many.
What Paul can boast of is the testimony of his conscience that he has lived in this world in holiness and purity, and not following the wisdom of the flesh, but the love of God. He has acted in this way especially abundantly towards the Corinthians.
He writes to them only what they can understand, and he hopes they will understand fully. It is only partially that they have understood that Paul is their glory, just as they will be his glory on the day of the return of the Lord.
Because he was sure of this, he wanted to come to them first, so they could have a twofold grace: that is, he wanted to go by way of Corinth to Macedonia, and again to come to Corinth from Macedonia, so they could send him on his way to Judea. In wanting to do this he was not acting with fickleness. He does not act in a merely human way or contradict himself. God is faithful: Paul's word to them is not both yes and no. The Son of God, Jesus, whom Paul preached to them along with Silvanus and Timothy -- that Son of God was not a vacillating yes and no. Rather, He always says yes to the Father. All Gods' promises have their yes, their fulfillment, in Him. And so it is through Him that Paul says Amen, yes, to God for His glory.
The one who has confirmed Paul with them in Christ and has anointed him is God. God has also sealed Paul and them as His property, has given both Paul and them the pledge, namely, the Spirit, in their hearts. Paul calls to God to witness that he did not at once come to Corinth, in order to spare them. He is not lording it over their faith -- rather, he is a fellow worker for their joy. They are standing firm in the faith.
Comments on Chapter 1
Paul says that God consoles them in all their troubles. The word he uses for troubles is thlipsis. He used the same word in First Thessalonians 3:3, saying that "this is our lot" to have such troubles. Behind this seems to be Paul's great framework of the Christian regime: we are saved and made holy if and to the extent that we are members of Christ, and like Him. There were two phases for Him, first, a hard life, suffering and death; second, eternal glory. The more we are like Him in phase one, the more shall we be like Him in phase two. So God consoles us when we are the most like Christ. Hence he adds verse 5, that if the suffering of Christ -- that is suffering in imitation of Him and as His members -- abounds, so consolation also abounds. So he says in verse 7 that he has firm hope for them, knowing that if they share in suffering, they will also share in consolation.
This consolation in times of deep distress may be only on the peak of the soul -- we mean that there are many levels of operations in a human. Just as it is possible for a very high mountain to have darkness and storm on all the lower slopes, while the peak projects up into sunlight, so it is possible to have great distress on all the lower levels, but great peace at the peak3
Then he speaks of his troubles in the Roman province of Asia, most likely referring to troubles in Ephesus. There he had persecutions from the Jews, and it seems also that when in prison in Ephesus, there was danger of a death sentence from the Romans (in verse 9). His condition seemed humanly hopeless, but God rescued him, through their prayers for him. (Some think he refers to a nearly fatal illness -- this is less likely).
Next we begin to see Paul is having severe troubles with the community at Corinth. He pleads with them. He says that on the day of judgment they will be a glory for him. He hopes they will realize it is a glory for them to have him -- some there seem to have realized this.
They seem to have accused him of vacillating in his travel plans. So he explains. He did not make a change for merely human reasons. He even takes an oath "God is faithful." He says that Jesus did not vacillate -- He was not both yes and no. But He was always yes -- now Paul shifts to mean Jesus always said yes to the Father, obeyed His will. All God's promises are fulfilled in Christ.
He says that God has sealed them and him. In those times people would mark something as their property by a seal. By Baptism God has sealed them as His property. So they should act according to it -- and should never break the seal by sinning again after the forgiveness given in Baptism. We see an echo of this attitude of the seal in The Shepherd by Hermas, brother of Pope St. Pius I, when the vision tells Hermas: "The one who has received remission of sins should never sin again" (Shepherd, Mandates 3.3.2).
Paul also speaks of the Holy Spirit as the pledge God gives them. A pledge is a sort of first payment, as a guarantee that the rest will be given also. If we have the Holy Spirit in our heart now, that is an assurance that -- unless we cast Him out by mortal sin -- we will receive the beatific vision in the next life, which comes from direct union of the soul with God. His presence now is a pledge, for it is really the beginning of that heavenly presence. The veil of flesh prevents us from seeing Him at present.
In verse 23 he says he avoided coming to Corinth at that time to spare them. If he had come, the evils there would have made it necessary for him to be very firm. Even so, he adds (verse 25) he is not domineering over their faith -- he is a fellow worker with them for their joy.
Summary of 2 Corinthians, Chapter 2
He decided not to come to visit them with grief. He fears he has grieved them by a letter. But they are the ones in whom he should be happy: clearly he did not like to grieve them, and so bring grief to himself too in the process. He wrote that way so that when he would come, he would not have to have grief from them, from whom he expected joy. So in much distress he wrote a tearful letter to them, not to grieve them, but so they might know of his love for them. If some troublemaker has caused grief to Paul, there has been grief for them too.
But now that they have punished the troublemaker, he wants that not to be continued indefinitely. Rather, let them now pardon and console him, so he may not be crushed by great grief. So may they affirm their love for him. Paul wrote to see the results of their testing the troublemaker, to see if they were obedient to what he said. If they forgive, so does Paul. Whatever forgiveness he has given it is for their sake, so Satan may not succeed with his tricks.
When he came to Troas to preach, even though there was an opportunity for preaching in that important place, he could not be at ease because of the trouble in Corinth, and Titus had not yet come back [from a mission to Corinth]. So he decided to move on, and to go to Macedonia.
He thanks God, who always makes them part of Christ's triumphal procession and through Paul makes known the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ everywhere. For we are the fragrance of Christ for God -- for some, leading to salvation, for others, to eternal ruin. For on encountering the Gospel, some advance on the way of life, others, on the way of death.
So who could feel equal to this assignment? We are not like shopkeepers who water down the wine to make more money. No, Paul speaks from purity, for the sake of God, in the presence of God in Christ.
Comments on Chapter 2
Paul continues with a personal kind of pleading. He did not come to Corinth at once, for if he had done so, he would have had to be stern, which he did not want. If in that way he would grieve them, then it would rebound on him, for they are his joy. But he did write a tearful letter, in constriction of heart. This letter of course is not our First Corinthians. So there must have been another letter in between our first and second ones. We saw before there was also one before our First Corinthians.
We gather that the Christians at Corinth have in some way punished the leader of the trouble. Now Paul tells them that is sufficient -- he fears the offender may be crushed by excessive grief, and Satan may win. He forgives whomever they forgive -- in a completely selfless attitude.
We gather too that Paul had sent Titus to Corinth to try to resolve the problem. Since Titus had not yet met Paul by the time Paul got to Troas, Paul left there for Macedonia, even though there would have been a good opening for preaching in that important city. But it seems by the time he wrote this letter, Titus has met him, and given a generally favorable report on conditions in Corinth. So Paul gives thanks to God, who always makes him and workers like him part of the triumphal procession of Christ as He conquers the world. In Roman triumphal parades, the major officers of the army of the conquering general would ride on horses behind his chariot.
Paul compares his work to the sweet odor of an Old Testament sacrifice. Yet that odor can have opposite effects: for some it means advancing on the road to eternal life; to others, on the road to eternal death. Paul feels that of himself he is not capable of such an assignment from Christ. Yet he is dispensing the word of God in all purity, and is not like a cheating tavern keeper who waters the wine.
Summary of 2 Corinthians, Chapter 3
Is Paul now as though just beginning, presenting his credentials to the community of Corinth? No, he does not need credentials. For the community itself is his commendatory letter, written on their hearts, known and read by all. They are the letter of Christ which Paul delivered, not written with ink, but with the Spirit of God, not on stone tablets, but on the tablets of hearts.
Paul has great confidence through Christ. He does not mean he is able by himself to get even a good thought. His ability to do that is from God. God has made him capable of being a minister of a New Covenant, not of the old letter, but of the new spirit. The old letter brings death, but the new spirit gives life.
If the ministry of death, the old regime, which was written on stone tablets, was so glorious that the people could not even look on the face of Moses because of the glory of his face -- which is now gone -- how much more will the ministry of the spirit be in glory? The ministry of condemnation, the old law, came in glory -- how much more does the ministry that makes souls righteous abound in glory? For the glory of the old if put before (compared with) the surpassing glory of the new, is nothing. If that which is now gone came in glory -- how much more is the abiding regime glorious?
Since we have such hope, we use much freedom. Moses put a veil over his face, so the people might not see that the glory of his face faded (until he went back again to God). But the minds of those people were dulled. Even today, their hearts are still veiled when the Old Covenant is read. The veil could be removed if they accepted Christ. But even to this day, when the old law is read, their hearts are covered with a veil. But when they, or their hearts, turn to the Lord, the veil will be taken away.
For the Lord, Jesus, brings the new spiritual regime, instead of the old letter. And that spirit gives us freedom from the letter, the old law.All of us, our faces unveiled, see the glory of the Lord, and this transforms us more and more in glory by the action of the Lord of the spiritual regime.
Comments on Chapter 3
It seems Paul's opponents in Corinth, who are likely to be some sort of Judaizers, came with credentials from other Judaizers, making great claims for themselves -- we will see more of their claims reflected in chapters 11:1-15. They seem to have charged that Paul lacked credentials, that he made himself too important, that his letters were impressive, but his appearance not so.
In reply to such claims, Paul says the community there is his credential: a living church under the Spirit of God. His credentials are not written on parchment or papyrus, like those of the opponents, but on the tablets of fleshy hearts. We think of Jeremiah 31:33, in the prophecy of the new Covenant, where God says: "I will write my law on their hearts." For this reason Paul has great confidence.
Yet he does not claim he can even get a good thought by his own power: for even that he depends on God. Many today translate verse 5 to mean that Paul says he cannot claim credit on his own, his ability comes from God. That is true enough in itself. The key word is Greek logizomai, which readily has two meanings, to claim credit or calculate, and to think. In adopting our rendering we are following the definition of the Second Council of Orange held in 529. Because of a special approval given it in 531 by Pope Boniface II, theologians consider its canons equal to those of a general council. Canon 7 says: "If anyone claims that by the power of nature we can think anything that pertains to the salvation of eternal life, as we should, or make a choice, or consent to the preaching of the Gospel without the illumination and inspiration of the Holy Spirit . . . he is deceived by a heretical spirit, and does not understand the voice of God in the Gospel saying (John 15:5): 'Without me you can do nothing' and the word of the Apostle (2 Corinthians 3:5): 'Not that we are sufficient to think anything of ourselves as from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God'."
Some today want to say that this canon merely uses our verse 5 as an illustration. But it hardly seems that way, and for certain, the illustration should not be taken from something with a different meaning. The Council certainly does take verse 5 to have the meaning we have given. The Latin used by the Council of Orange does not have the ambiguity of the Greek.
We notice a similar situation is present in the translations of Philippians 2:13, where we also have a definition in Canon 4 of II Orange, which renders the verse of Philippians exactly as we did in our comments on that passage.
Perhaps the reason why many are so disinclined to see the sense we have seen in these two passages is the difficult picture that results: We are, of our own power, incapable of a good thought, and even of a good decision of will, and of carrying out that decision. We need grace for all these things. This seems hard to reconcile with free will. Yet it can be done. We gave a sketch of a new proposal in commenting on Philippians 2:13.4
Paul goes on to say God has made him able to be a minister of the New Covenant. We notice he seldom speaks of a New Covenant, perhaps because the Judaizers so distorted the Old Covenant.
He says the New Covenant is not of the letter but of the spirit. Here we need to recall the explanation of focusing we saw in comments on First Thessalonians 4:5, summarized in comments on 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12 and Galatians 2:15, and in the glossary. Briefly, Paul commonly takes an artificial view of the old law: It made heavy demands, but gave no strength -- to be under heavy demand with no strength must mean a fall. Then one is spiritually dead. We called this focused because it is as if we were looking through a tube, and so could see only what is framed by the circle of the tube. But in a factual view we remove that limit, and see the whole horizon. Then we see the law still makes heavy demands and gives no strength, but help is at hand, from the grace of Christ which is in no relation to the law. With grace the result is good.
We can call the focused view also a system as system view. The system of being under the law, as such, brings only death. But the system of being under the regime of the Spirit, the regime of grace, as such, can produce nothing but good. Therefore: The letter, the old law, kills, but the Spirit, the regime of grace, gives life.
Many take this saying to mean: Don't bother with what the law says, just get the spirit. But there is no basis whatsoever in Paul's words for that. He is in a very different context, as we have seen.
Within the focused perspective, Paul can call the law "the ministry of death," for in that perspective it can only bring death.
Then he made some contrasts. The old law was on stone tablets, the new is written on hearts. Even the old came in glory at Sinai, but its glory, compared to that of the regime of Christ, is as nothing, as if a candle were put outside in the glaring light of noonday sun in summer.
Exodus 34:29-35 tells how the face of Moses was so gleaming after he was with God that the people could not stand to look at it. So he put a veil over it. Paul adds a bit, in rabbinic fashion. He imagines that the glory on the face of Moses would fade after a while, and be restored only when he went back with God. To hide this fact, Moses used the veil.
Then he says that sadly, the minds of the Jews who continued to reject Christ even in his day were still veiled, unable to see, since they continued to reject Christ, who could remove the veil.
There are several opinions on the sense of every item in verse 17. The following probably is the best way to understand it: the Lord is spirit in the sense that Christ is the lifegiving spirit, of which 1 Corinthians 15:45 spoke: The New Adam became a life giving spirit. Of course Paul did not deny the reality of the flesh of the risen Christ. He meant that His humanity is an instrument giving us spiritual life, and that His flesh is completely dominated by His spirit, so that it functions according to the laws of spirits, not those of bodies.
By our contact with Him we are transformed by the glory of the Lord, going ever farther and farther in glory by the action of the Lord, the lifegiving spirit.
Summary of 2 Corinthians, Chapter 4
So, since he has this ministry by the mercy of God, Paul does not give in to weariness, but he rejects the things that are hidden and shameful. He does not live in such a way as to be willing to do just anything, unscrupulously, nor does he deform the word of God. Rather, he presents his credentials to every conscience in the sight of God, in the manifestation of the truth.
If the Gospel is veiled, it is that to those on the path to ruin, those in whom the god of this world has blinded their faithless thoughts, to keep the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ from shining for them -- Christ, who is the image of God.
Paul does not preach himself, but Christ the Lord; he is their slave through Jesus. For it is the same God Who once said "Let light shine out of the darkness," Who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God reflected in the face of Christ.
We have the treasure of this assignment to preach in earthenware vessels, so that the wonderful power may be clearly God's and not ours. In everything when we are troubled, we are not at a loss; when we do not know which way to turn, we do not despair; we are persecuted, but we are not deserted; we are cast down, but not ruined. We always bear the death of Jesus in our body so that His life may appear in our body. For we the living are always being handed over to death for the sake of Jesus, so that His life may be shown in our dead flesh. Therefore, death is at work in Paul, but life in them.
Since he has the same spirit of truth as the sacred writer who said, "I believed, and so I spoke," he too has faith, and so he speaks. He knows that the One who raised Jesus will also raise us up with Him, and will put Paul near Him, along with the Corinthians. For everything is for their benefit, so that the abundant grace may bring even greater glory to God through the prayers of thanksgiving that the many will say.
So he does not get tired. Even though his outer man is wearing out, yet his inner man is being renewed day by day. That which is at present light and momentary in our tribulations is producing for us, beyond all measure, an eternal wealth of glory for us, for we do not look at the things that can be seen with the eyes, but the things that the eyes do not see. For the things that we see are for a time; but those that are not seen are eternal.
Comments on Chapter 4
Paul has his assignment of preaching in a mortal body (earthenware vessel). God's mercy has given this to him. Mercy does not always mean being kind to someone who deserves a penalty -- it can also mean a special favor in the external order. Paul used the word mercy that way in 1 Corinthians 7:25, in speaking of the grace of celibacy. In Romans 9:15 mercy means the special favor of full membership in the People of God, the Church.
Paul is not like the charlatans who will do just anything to achieve their goals (Greek panourgia means willingness to use any means, licit or illicit).
He spoke in chapter 3 of a veil on the hearts of those who reject Christ. Now he says that veil is the work of "the god of this world," that is, of Satan, who has such striking power in this world.5 In the opposite direction, if one lives vigorously according to what faith calls for, his spiritual perception gets ever deeper and keener. Those who are on the road to ruin have the opposite effect of increasing blindness.
The light of Christ is compared to the power of creation, to what God did in the beginning, when He said: Let there be light. This implies of course that Christians are a "new creation," for it was the Creator who said that. He made them into new beings, not just old corruption, with a white cloak of the merits of Christ thrown over it, as Lutheran theory would hold. Paul will also use the words "new creation" in 2 Corinthians 5:17. He used them too in Galatians 6:15. Grace transforms the soul, making it basically capable of the vision of God in the next life. So it really is comparable to a new creation.
In 1 Corinthians 1:26-28 he said that God chose the weak things of this world to show up the strong, so that it would be obvious that it was His power, not human ability that was at work. Similarly here Paul says he is an earthenware vessel, so that it may be obvious that the great power displayed is from God, not from men. As for himself, Paul says that no matter what happens, he is not dejected or cast down. He is glad that in this way, in his sufferings and weakness, the likeness of the death of Jesus may show in him, so that effects of the life of Jesus may also be manifested. Further, Paul's sufferings are a means of life for the Corinthians -- we think also of Colossians 1:24, where he says he fills up in his body what is lacking of the tribulations of Christ for His body, which is the Church. He then quotes the words of Psalm 116:10 (according to the Septuagint) saying that since he had faith, he also spoke. Paul does the same, he speaks out of his faith, that is, he keeps on preaching the Gospel in spite of everything. For he knows that resurrection day is coming, when he and they will be with Christ. (He uses the Psalm line out of context, as the rabbis so often did. But the meaning Paul attaches to it here is a true one in itself.)
Everything -- sufferings and joys -- is for the sake of the faithful. Let God be thanked abundantly for His abundant grace.
His physical nature is wearing out gradually, but his spiritual strength keeps on growing.
Then he adds a line that is magnificent for consolation in trials: Even little things that run only a little while, if accepted for Christ, bring a rich eternal reward. If that be true of the little and the momentary -- what of the hard and the long-running! It is good to think of this line 17 along with Romans 8:18: "I judge that the sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared to the glory that is to be revealed to us!" To gain this, we must keep our eyes on the eternal things, which are seen only by faith -- for the things that our bodily eyes see are temporary and not very important.
Summary of 2 Corinthians, Chapter 5
Paul knows that if he loses his earthly house, his body, he has a building from God, an eternal dwelling, not made by hands, in the heavens. He says he groans, wishing that that heavenly dwelling could be put on on top of the earthly dwelling, the body, so he would not lack clothes at any time, never be naked.
While he is in this tent, this body, he groans and is burdened. He does not like to take off that clothing, that body, but would like to put the new on on top of the old, so that the mortal might be swallowed up in life.
It is God who prepares us for this very thing. He has given us the Spirit as the pledge.
So, in confidence, since he knows that while he is in the body he is away from the Lord -- for we all walk in faith, without seeing -- he gets up his confidence, and decides he would prefer to be away from the body and to be with the Lord. Therefore he is eager no matter where he is, to be pleasing to the Lord. For everyone must appear before the tribunal of Christ, so as to receive what is due for what he/she has done through the body -- good or evil. So, in fear of the Lord, he tries to convince men -- but God knows him fully. He hopes the Corinthians in their consciences know him too. This does not mean he is again trying to present his credentials to them. Rather, he is giving them an opening to make a defense against the claims and boasts of the opponents, who claim outward things, not things of the heart.
So, whether or not he is beside himself, it is all for God, and if he is in his right mind, it is for them. His love for Christ drives him on, for he knows that since one died for all, therefore all have died. Christ died for all so that the living might no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and rose.
From this time on Paul will not look on anyone in a merely human way, according to what is exterior. Even if he once thought of Christ in that way -- he now no longer looks upon Him in a human way. All who now are in Christ are a new creation -- the old way has passed -- everything has become new.
But all things are from God, who reconciles us to Himself through Christ, and gave to Paul the ministry of reconciliation: God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, and not holding their transgressions against them, giving to Paul the word of reconciliation. So Paul is a legate on behalf of Christ, and God is giving exhortation through Paul. Hence he begs them on behalf of Christ to be reconciled to God.
God even made Him who did not know sin to be sin, for us, so we could become the righteousness of God in Him.
Comments on Chapter 5
In a very human way, Paul expresses more than once his desire: He wishes he could have a glorious transformation without dying, so as to have the transformed body he spoke of in First Corinthians 15:42-54 put on on top of his present body.
Of course, he knows this is not possible, and so he says he gets up his nerve, as it were, and would like to be away from the body so as to be with Christ.
Even now, he says, we have the Spirit as the pledge of the vision of God in the next life -- we saw this earlier in 2 Corinthians 1:22.
This is of course the same sort of thought we saw in Philippians 1:21-26 where he could not decide if he wanted to live or to die -- to live is a chance to work for Christ; to die would mean to be with Christ. In our comments on that passage we reviewed the several strange proposals put forth by commentators, with or without an attempted base in Jewish thought. Similarly in this passage, some think Paul speaks of a resurrection body, which he would have before dying. But our answer now is the same as it was in Philippians. We add that when Paul does speak of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 he knows that the transformation of the body does not take place at once after death, but at the end of time. Also Second Timothy 2:17-18 complains against some who thought the resurrection had already taken place.
Commentators are really strangely dull: it is admitted that the Pharisees of Paul's day knew of an intermediate state, between death and resurrection, without a body. Paul beyond doubt was a Pharisee before his conversion. So there is no need to try to force his thought into a strange mold, different from what the Pharisees held.
As a natural result of this desire, Paul says he should try to please the Lord, for we all must appear before Him for judgment, and receive our due.
The thought returns that he is fully known to Christ -- he wishes he were so well understood by the Corinthians. But even so, he is not going to present credentials again. Rather, he tells what qualifications he has as a countermeasure to the false boasting of his opponents. He will rehearse these outward credentials later in 11:22-12:10.
Then it seems some have charged him with being beside himself -- the Greek exestemen can have that meaning, though it can also mean to be in ecstasy. Paul says no matter what, he works for God, and for their sakes. For His love for Christ drives him on.
Since Christ died, and we are members of Christ's Mystical Body, His death is beneficial to us, as if we had died. Christ died so that the living may live for Him, and not for themselves.
At one time Paul looked upon Christ in a merely human way, looking at externals -- this would have been before his conversion, whether or not he had seen Jesus before His death: probably he had not seen Him then. But now he no longer looks at externals, but at the interior.
So anyone who is now a member of Christ is remade, is a new creation (we recall 4:6 above). The old things are gone, all is new. (Again, this hardly fits with Luther's idea of total corruption).
Everything comes from God who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and gave Paul the mission of promoting the carrying out of this reconciliation. Paul is a legate for Christ; God exhorts through him.
Even though Christ was sinless, God made Him to bear the sins of all. God "made Christ to be sin" in the sense that He caused Him to bear the weight of all our sins. He overcame sin, and became instead righteousness: we as His members are also made righteous. Paul's astoundingly bold language here is much like what we saw him write in Galatians 3:13 where he said Christ because a curse for us. Please review the comments on that passage.
Summary of 2 Corinthians, Chapter 6
As Paul cooperates with God, he urges them not to receive the grace of God in vain. Scripture says: "I heard you at the acceptable time, and helped you on the day of salvation." Yes, now is that acceptable time, now is the day of salvation. For his part, he gives no offense to anyone, so his ministry may not be blamed.
Rather, in everything, he establishes himself as God's minister, in much endurance, in troubles, in necessities, in tight spots, in blows, in prisons, in tumults, in hard work, in loss of sleep, in fastings, in purity, in knowledge, in long-suffering, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in unfeigned love, in the word of truth, in the power of God, through the weapons of righteousness on the right and on the left, through glory and dishonor, through being ill spoken of and well spoken of, considered as a deceiver, yet well known, as dying, and yet alive, as being punished, but not put to death, as grieved, but always rejoicing, as needy, but enriching many, as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.
He held back nothing from them, his heart has been enlarged in love for them. There is no lack of room for them in him -- but there is a narrowness or lack of room in their hearts for him. In return -- he speaks to them as his children -- he begs them to enlarge their hearts to take him in too.
He asks them not to be yoked together with unbelievers. He asks: What do righteousness and wickedness have in common? What in common between light and darkness? What agreement is there between Christ and Belial, Satan. What has a believer in common with the unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and that of idols? For they are the temple of the living God, as God said: "I will dwell in them and walk amongst them, and I will be their God and they will be my people. Therefore, go out from their midst, and separate yourselves, says the Lord. And do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you, and will be a Father to you, and you will be as sons and daughters: says the Almighty Lord."
Comments on Chapter 6
In urging them not to receive the grace of God in vain, Paul clearly implies that in some way they determine whether or not it comes in vain, a statement of free will. So many places in Scripture imply the same, where we are called on to repent, to turn to God, etc. We compare these with 2 Corinthians 3:5 where we hear we have not even the power to get a good thought by ourselves, and Philippians 2:13, where we find we cannot even make a good decision of will or carry it out on our own. The two sets of texts seem to clash. Yet they do not. For data on how to reconcile them, please see this author's Our Father's Plan, chapter 18. We gave a summary of our new proposal in connection with comments on Philippians 2:13.
The quote about the acceptable time is from Isaiah 49:8 according to the Septuagint. God is always ready to receive our adherence to Him.
Paul then describes how an authentic minister of God should act: these are his credentials, in contrast to the boastfulness of his opponents in Corinth. Then he pleads with them to be open to him, as he is to them.
Starting at verse 14 we find a passage which some commentators think does not fit, and so they suspect it came from a different Epistle of Paul. Not impossible. But there is a connection. He is telling them how to conduct themselves in the pagan atmosphere of Corinth. They should not conform themselves to this world in order to gain acceptance, a common and strong temptation. He reinforces his plea with a string of Scriptural texts and illusions -- identification can be found in the margin of any good edition.
Summary of 2 Corinthians, Chapter 7
He says that since they have such great divine promises, they should cleanse themselves from everything in flesh or spirit that could defile, seeking perfect holiness in the fear of God.
Again he pleads that they may make room for him in their hearts. He says he has wronged no one, ruined no one, has defrauded no one. He is not saying this to condemn them. For he has already said that he has room for them in his heart, to live and die with them. Really, in spite of some troublemakers there, he has great freedom in speaking to them. He even boasts elsewhere about them, and is filled with consolation, and has superabundant joy in all his troubles.
When he came to Macedonia, he had no rest; he was troubled much -- fears inwardly, struggles outwardly. But God who consoles the lowly consoled him when Titus came. It was not just his arrival, but the consolation Titus could report he had from them. He told Paul of their longing for him, their weeping over him, their zeal for him. So Paul rejoiced instead of being sad.
Even if he grieved them by the tearful letter, he does not regret it -- though he did not like to do it at the time -- but that letter grieved them only for a while, but then led to repentance, and so he is happy. They had the kind of grief God wants, one that leads to repentance. Grief of this kind in God's way leads to salvation; the grief of the world leads to death.
He tells them to consider the kind of grief they had, the kind God wills -- it made them eager, led to defense, caused indignation at evil, fear, desire, zeal, punishment of the offender. They showed themselves right in everything in the matter.
He wrote not so much because of the wrongdoer, but to bring out their solicitude in the sight of God. This consoled Paul. And he had added happiness at seeing the joy of Titus, for they refreshed his spirit. Thus Paul has not had to be ashamed over the fact that he had been boasting about the Corinthians. It turned out that what he said about them was true.
The heart of Titus goes out to them abundantly, when he remembers their obedience, how respectfully they received him. So Paul is happy that he can have confidence in them in everything.
Comments on Chapter 7
The thought is too simple to need much comment. Paul shows very human emotions here: He was distressed when some at Corinth were doing wrong. He wrote them a tearful letter, which we do not have. That grieved them, but then led to their changing. He sent Titus to make peace with them. Titus brought back a fine report, and so both Paul and Titus are happy. Literally, Paul says they received Titus "with fear and trembling." But that expression is stereotyped -- overused -- and so has lost much of its force. It means merely, "with great respect." We saw it also in Philippians 2:12.
Chapters 8-9 of Second Corinthians
Because these two chapters are so easy to read, we are not giving the usual summary of them. Paul is merely announcing a collection for the Christians in Jerusalem. He calls it a grace to give -- for a grace is needed to move anyone to do anything good. He wants them to give according to their ability, not going beyond that.
In 8:18-19 he mentions "the brother whose praise is in the Gospel throughout all the churches," who has also been chosen as a traveling companion for Paul's entourage in making this collection. It is not certain who this is, but many since Origen think it is St. Luke. There is special reason, for this is one "whose praise is in the Gospel." If that referred only to preaching, many could be described that way. So it seems writing the Gospel is the reason. And we know that Acts of the Apostles was written by St.Luke, and in it we see him traveling with St.Paul several times. On the other hand, it is objected that Acts makes no mention of this collection. Probably it had nothing to do with the chief purpose of Acts, which seems to have been to show how the Church spread and even reached the capital of the empire.
Summary of 1 Corinthians, Chapter 10
Paul says that he himself begs them through the meekness and graciousness of Christ -- Paul who they say is lowly when present, but bold in letters when absent -- he begs that when present he may not have to be bold in the confidence on which he counts to be daring against those who charge he is living according to the principles of the flesh, in a worldly way. He says that even though he is still in the flesh, he does not wage war for Christ according to the fleshy way of life. For the weapons he uses are not fleshy, but powerful with the power of God, to destroy fortifications, to destroy false reasonings and every high place that exalts itself against the knowledge of God. He takes captive every mind to lead people to obey Christ. He has the ready power to correct the injustice of every disobedience, when their obedience becomes full.
He asks them: Look at what is obvious. If anyone is confident that he belongs to Christ, let him think a second time, and realize that Paul is too. If Paul boasts much about his power, which the Lord gave him to build up and not to destroy, Paul will not be put to shame. He says this in such a way that he may not seem to frighten them by his letters. For the opponents say that the letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech is of no account. So, anyone who makes such charges ought to realize that what Paul is by letters when absent, he is the same by deeds when present.
He says, in sarcasm, that he does not dare to compare or put himself alongside of the opponents who are praising themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another, and compare themselves with one another -- they do not understand.
Paul says he will not boast beyond measure, but according to the measure of the assignment God has given him -- which extends even to Corinth. For he did not overextend his sphere of operations, as if it did not extend to them. He came to them with the Gospel of Christ. He will not boast too much by boasting over another's labors. But he has hope, when their faith increases, to extend his influence over them more and more, according to God's assignment for him.
He hopes to preach, when they are well grounded, to territories beyond Corinth, but not so as to boast over territories someone else has already cultivated.
Jeremiah says: "Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord." For it is not the one who praises himself who deserves approval, but the one whom the Lord approves.
Comments on Chapter 10
He appeals through the meekness and graciousness of Christ -- this is the virtue that does not hold to merely the line of what is due, but gives more generously. Paul is now going to speak directly against the opponents in Corinth, who seem to be boastful, and attack his authority, and who say he is unimpressive even though he writes strong letters. In contrast, Paul insists he does have the authority of Christ.
He says that in person he is just as strong as he is in letters. But -- in sarcasm -- he says he will not compare himself to those "superapostles" (cf. 11:5).
When in verse 10 Paul says his opponents say his bodily presence is unimpressive, we may add that the apocryphal Acts of Paul and Thecla says he was small of stature, with bald head, and crooked legs and a hooked nose. Even though those Acts on the whole are probably of second century, and are apocryphal, and at times fanciful, it is likely that this unflattering description of Paul goes back to the first century.
He says that in preaching in Corinth he has not gone beyond the area assigned to him by Christ. (He seems to make it a point not to preach in territories already worked by others. When the Gospel is just starting out, it would not be economical for two to work the same area). He hopes to preach in more remote places. Probably he has Spain in mind. In Romans 15:24 Paul explicitly mentions his desire to go to Spain. Pope Clement I, who says Peter and Paul were of his own generation, speaks of Paul traveling to the boundary of the west -- which to the Roman world would mean Spain (1 Clement 5.7). The second century Muratorian Fragment (38-39) also speaks of Paul as setting out for Spain.
The quotation in verse 17 is from Jeremiah 9:22-23. In 1 Corinthians 4:7 Paul says that everything good that we are or have is God's gift to us. So we have nothing to boast of that we ourselves originated, but we can "boast" of His great gifts to us, by which, as 2 Peter 1:4 says, we are by grace "sharers in the divine nature." Let us recall the comments at Philippians 2:13 on our total dependence on God.
Summary of 2 Corinthians, Chapter 11
Paul hopes they will put up with some of what he calls "foolishness" (boasting of his own credentials to counter the opponents). He says he loves them so much that he is jealous over them, even as God is over His people. Paul has promised to present them as a chaste bride to Christ. But he fears that just as the serpent deceived Eve, so they may be corrupted from the simplicity and holiness that leads to Christ.
For if someone preaches a different Jesus from what Paul preached, or if they receive a different spirit, or a different Gospel -- they readily accept it.
But Paul insists he is not at all less than the "superapostles" as the opponents seem to call themselves. Even if he does not have rhetorical skill in speaking, he does have the knowledge about Christ. He has been making that clear to them in everything.
Did he do wrong in lowering himself to exalt them, i.e., by preaching the Gospel without taking financial support for himself? He "plundered other churches," i.e., did take some support from them, to get what he needed to live to serve the Corinthians. For before when he was in Corinth and in need, he did not ask them for anything, but Christians from Macedonia supplied what he needed. So he insists he has not been at all a burden to them. He will continue that way. He swears by the truth of Christ that he will not give up this pledge. Why? Is it that he does not love them? God knows he does. But he refrains from asking for support, to cut off a chance for the opponents to criticize him.
These opponents are false apostles, fraudulent
workers. They transform themselves into apostles of Christ -- not strange, for Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. So if his agents do the same it is not surprising. But their end will be like their works.
Again he begs them not to think him senseless, or if they do, may they at least accept him even as a fool. What he is going to say is not the way the Lord talks. He is going to indulge in the folly of boasting. For since many opponents boast of matters of the flesh, he will do the same. For (in sarcasm) they gladly put up with fools, since they are wise. They put up with it if someone makes them slaves, if someone devours them, if someone robs them, if someone exalts himself, if someone strikes them on the face.
He says, in sarcasm, he is ashamed that he has been too weak to do as they do.
But if these superapostles boast of something -- in folly he says -- he can do it too. Are they Hebrews? So is Paul. Are they Israelites? So is Paul. Are they descendants of Abraham? So is Paul. Are they ministers of Christ? In foolish boasting Paul says: He is more. He is in labors more abundantly, in prisons more abundantly, in beatings beyond measure, in dangers of death many times. Five times the Jews gave him 39 blows. Three times he was beaten with rods. Once he was stoned. Three times he was shipwrecked. He spent a night and a day in the sea. He often has had to travel on land, with dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from his own people, dangers from the gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the desert, dangers on the sea, dangers from false brothers -- in labor and hard work, often in loss of sleep, in hunger and thirst, in fastings many times, in cold and nakedness.
Besides all this there is his daily pressure, his concern for all the churches.
Who is weak and Paul is not weak? Who is scandalized and he is not set on fire, in concern if they found any obstacle in him?
If he must boast, he will boast only of the things of his weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ knows -- may He be blessed forever -- that Paul does not lie. At Damascus the Ethnarch of King Aretas was guarding the city, to catch him. But he was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and so escaped.
Comments on Chapter 11
Paul hates to have to rehearse his own qualifications, to "boast." He calls that foolishness. But in view of the principle he expressed in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, of doing all things that are not wrong to gain souls by any means, now he is prepared to "boast," though he will take a bit of time before starting it.
Meanwhile he fears that the Corinthians have accepted another Gospel, a false one. We recall how vehemently he spoke in Galatians 1:8-9 that even if an angel were to come down from the sky bringing a different Gospel, the angel should be cursed. Paul even says here that the Corinthians readily accept such falsifications of the Gospel!
His enemies call themselves superapostles, and say he is a poor speaker, not impressive in appearance, and claims too much authority. No matter, he says, but I bring the truth of Christ.
Then to show his sincerity he stresses that he does not ask the Corinthians for his material support -- in general he does not do that, though he has gotten something from the church at Philippi when he was in need.
This practice of Paul's seems not to have helped in Corinth. Perhaps Paul was making a psychological mistake. People do not like to be in a one-way arrangement, only receiving, never returning a favor. It makes them feel inferior. So Aristotle, in Ethics 8.2, says that for friendship, there must be favors both received and given, in each direction. The fact that Paul writes under inspiration does not guarantee that he would use the best judgment. It only guarantees he will write the truth about what he is actually doing.
He says the false apostles transform themselves into apostles of Christ. He does not really mean they are such, they just seem to be such. He says Satan also puts on the appearance of a good angel to deceive people. That was happening in Paul's day, and it happens in every age, including our own. Especially today we see a distortion of love which wants to so care for material needs of others that it neglects direct relation to God. A friend of mine once said: "If I were alone on a desert island, I could have no relation to God: I can have that only through people."
After this long intermission Paul finally gets to what he dislikes to do, to boasting. He says he too is a Hebrew, an Israelite, a son of Abraham. But as to being a minister of Christ, he has very different credentials: His great continued sufferings which are needed to bring the Gospel. He was often in prison, beaten many times. The Jews stopped at 39 blows, since Deuteronomy 25:1-3 ordered a limit of 40 blows. Among other things, he mentions hunger and thirst, and then he speaks of fastings, which seem to be self-imposed, otherwise he would be repeating himself, saying, in effect, hunger and hunger.
In addition, he is under stress in his concern for the churches everywhere.
He goes further, and says he will boast of the things in which he was weak. First he tells of his escape in a basket from Damascus. In the next chapter, there will be remarkable experiences.
Summary of 2 Corinthians, Chapter 12
He says if boasting is necessary -- it is not a good thing -- he will speak of visions and revelations given by the Lord. He knows a man in Christ who 14 years ago -- he does not know if in the body or not, God knows -- that man was taken to the third heaven. He says he knows such a man -- in the body or not, he does not know, God knows -- that he was taken into paradise, and heard unspeakable words that a person is not permitted to speak.
He will boast for such a one, but as for himself, he will not boast except over his weaknesses.
But if he would wish to boast, he would not be foolish, he speaks the truth, but holds back so no one will think more of him than what he sees or hears from Paul.
Because of the loftiness of the revelations, to keep him from exalting himself -- a "thorn to the flesh" was given to him, an angel of Satan, to beat him, so he might not exalt himself.
Because of this, he very earnestly begged the Lord that it might leave him. But the Lord told him: "My grace is enough for you. Power is made perfect in weakness." As a result, Paul will boast of his weaknesses, so the power of Christ may dwell in him. So for this reason he is pleased to be in weaknesses, in insults, in necessities, in persecutions, in tight spots for Christ. For when he is weak, then he is strong.
Now he says he has become foolish -- they drove him to it, for they should have commended and accepted him. For in no respect does he fall short of the "superapostles" -- even though he is nothing. For the proofs of being an apostle have been worked among them, in patience, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds.
He asks: In what way have they been less favored than the rest of the churches except that he has not asked for financial support? He asks forgiveness for this "injustice."
Now he is ready to come there for the third time, and he will not burden them financially. He does not seek their money, but them. It is not right that children should build up treasure for their parents, but the parents for the children. Paul will most gladly spend and be spent for their souls. If he loves them too abundantly: should he be loved by them more poorly?
Then Paul imagines they admit he has not been a burden to them, but they might say he was unprincipled and "took them" by deceit. He replies that he never took advantage of them through anyone he sent. He asked Titus to go, and sent another brother with him. Titus did not take advantage of them did he? Have not Paul and Titus both walked the same way?
Have they had the impression that he was really defending himself to them? Really, before God and Christ, he insists that what he said was for their spiritual good. But he is afraid that somehow when he comes there he may find them as he does not want to find them, and so they may find him not as they wish. He is afraid that he may find that somehow strife, envy, anger, selfish ambitions, slander, gossiping, being puffed up, and disturbances have come among them. He fears that when he comes again, God may humiliate him before them, and he may have to wail over many of those who sinned before and did not have a real change of heart in regard to the uncleanness and sexual looseness and sensuality they had practiced.
Comments on Chapter 12
Paul continues with the "boasting." It is only after a few lines that we find out he is the man who 14 years ago was taken to the third heaven. He does not know if he was or was not in the body at the time.
The astronomy of the day would speak of three realms, first, the earth's atmosphere, second, the region of the stars, third the place where God dwells. One Jewish tradition would speak of three heavens, another of seven. Paul clearly means he was taken to the highest.
When he says the words he heard were "unspeakable" he could mean either that he was forbidden to reveal what he heard or that there are no human words to express it. In normal speech, we depend on the fact that both the speaker and the listener share a common experience to which a word refers. But if the listener has nothing in common, the matter is unspeakable.
We do not know if Paul refers to a lofty experience of infused contemplation, or to a vision in the charismatic category. He probably means the latter. (We explained the two categories in comments on 1 Corinthians 12). Some think he had a glimpse of the Beatific Vision itself.
He says that he was given a thorn to the flesh, an angel of Satan to beat him to keep him from getting proud. There are three views of commentators on what sort of thing it was: 1) persecutions -- but Paul says he begged three times, i.e., very earnestly to get rid of them. He would hardly plead to be free of persecutions, which he would consider a privilege. 2) illness Only if it were such as to keep him from apostolic work could we imagine Paul pleading so much to be freed from it. And even then, he more likely would have said: "May your will be done," even if it kept him from work. Also, illness can be a means of spiritual growth, if accepted as God's will, and of reparation for sin. 3) violent sexual temptations. Some object that Paul would not be likely to have this in mind. To admit that might give an opening to his opponents. But we reply that he did not consent to them. To come through well would really be a merit. However, when good people have a siege of such temptations, having to try to throw thoughts out many times before peace returns, they often feel uneasy, wondering if they really did hold out well enough. That would be helpful to humility, which Paul says was the purpose of the thorn. And we know that in what St. John of the Cross calls the Second Night or the Night of the Spirit, there are normally very severe temptations, against any virtue, and they may be against purity.
Paul says he is pleased to be in weakness, since then the power of God is more evident, does more. Weakness, seeing himself having a hard time to keep out of serious sin, would help humility, which is so necessary. And the fact that he would experience and thereby realize his own weakness would also help humility.
There is also something modern psychologists call somatic resonance. We could explain it this way: since we are made up of body and soul, matter and spirit, and these two are so closely joined together as to form one person, the result is this: If we have a condition on either of the two sides, then for normal running (not for just survival) we should have a parallel condition on the other side. That parallel condition is called a resonance. When it comes on the bodily side -- the most usual case -- it is labeled somatic, from Greek soma, body. For instance, sometimes a person in deep black depression will think he has lost his faith. But he has not. The bad chemistry of the disease interferes with the chemistry that should serve as the somatic resonance to faith. Hence it seems to him he has no faith left.
Virtue is basically in our spiritual will. But the somatic resonance to it is on the bodily side. When the body is hard pressed and strained, and feels its own weakness deeply, then the somatic resonance to virtue is at hand. So Paul's experience of weakness would help his virtue of humility, by adjusting his somatic resonance to humility.
After all this he says with regrets that he has become foolish in boasting, but they drove him to it, he needed to do it to counter the claims of the opponents. That should not have been necessary, for they saw in him all the signs of an Apostle, i.e., miracles. And also he has not accepted money from them. Rather, he says children should not store up treasure for parents, but parents for children. This means of course he considers himself their father -- he implied the same in 1 Cor 4:15 where he said they may have many teachers, but not many fathers. He has begotten them in Christ. So the words of Christ in Matthew 23:9 saying we should call no man father, really inculcate an attitude, and do not prohibit the word father. Paul surely would not act contrary to the injunction of Christ.
In verse 16 the Greek for unprincipled is panourgos, being willing to do anything at all -- whether moral or immoral -- to get the result one wants.
At the end of this chapter we see that in spite of his complimentary words to them earlier, he really is not sure of the good qualities of some of them.
Summary of 2 Corinthians, Chapter 13
He says he is coming for the third time, and according to Deuteronomy: "Every thing shall be proved by the mouth of two or three witnesses." He said it before, and he repeats it now while he is away, to those who have sinned before, and to all, that if he comes again he will not spare them -- since they seek proof of the Christ who speaks in him. Christ is not weak in dealing with them. He was crucified in the weakness He willed to tolerate before His resurrection, but now, after that, He lives by the power of God. Similarly, Paul is weak in Him, but will live with Him by God's power towards them.
He urges them to examine their consciences to see if they are in the faith. Do they know themselves? Do they know that Jesus Christ is in them? -- unless they are rejected by Christ. He hopes they are not rejected, failing in the test. Paul prays to God that they may not do evil, but that they may come out of the test approved, that they may do good, even if thereby Paul seems not vindicated. Paul cannot do anything against the truth. He can only act to support the truth. But he is glad when he is weak, but they are strong. What he prays for is their improvement even to perfection.
So he writes these things while absent, so that when he comes, he may not need to treat anyone severely, using the power the Lord gave him to build up, and not to destroy.
As for the rest, he tells them to rejoice, to be perfect, to encourage one another, to be in agreement and at peace. Then the God of love and peace will be with them.
He tells them to greet one another with the holy kiss. All the holy ones greet them. May the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the sharing with the Holy Spirit be with them all.
Comments on Chapter 13
In a rather playful spirit he says he is coming for the third time, and that is enough to prove things to them. For Deuteronomy 19:15 says everything can be proved by two or three witnesses. Of course, the same person speaking three times does not meet the requirement. He remarks that he has said it before, and repeats it: if he comes again he will have to be demanding. Christ died in the weakness He assumed for our sakes, but now that He is risen, He is powerful forever. Similarly, Paul seems weak for a time, but will act with the power Christ gave him -- a power to be used only to build up spiritually, not to destroy.
So they should examine their consciences, and see if they could pass scrutiny by Christ. He hopes they do pass, even if that would mean that he, Paul would seem to have been wrong. He is glad when they are strong, even if he is weak.
So he is writing now in the hopes that when he does come he will not need to be severe on anyone.
The "sharing" with the Holy Spirit does not mean just "fellowship," as it is often translated. It means the state of having things in common (koinonia) with another, here, the Holy Spirit, to whom they are bound and by whom they are bound to one another.