BE’s of the Bible, Part 2

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Our second “Be” of the Bible only works if you’re reading the venerable King James Version, and it’s taken from 2 Corinthians 13:11 –

Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you. (2 Corinthians 13:11 KJV)

“Be perfect.” This our second Biblical “Be,” and on the surface of it, it’s a scary one. It’s scary because who thinks they can “be perfect?” In fact, when you go to church and sing hymns like this one, being “perfect” seems like an impossibility:

Alas! And did my Savior bleed,
And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?

If you’re a worm, how can you be perfect? Modern translations help us out with this “Be.” Here’s how the hard-to-find TNIV translates 2 Corinthians 13:11 –

Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.

“Strive for full restoration?” What does that mean? The always entertaining Message translation looks like this –

And that’s about it, friends. Be cheerful. Keep things in good repair. Keep your spirits up. Think in harmony. Be agreeable. Do all that, and the God of love and peace will be with you for sure. (2 Corinthians 13:11 MSG)

“Keep things in good repair.” Well, what things? Your car? Your washing machine? If we want to understand this idea of being “perfect,” we need to look at this verse, and in particular the admonition to “be perfect,” within the overall context of purpose behind this letter to the Corinthian church.

A troubled church

Bible scholars view the letter we call “2 Corinthians” as the apostle Paul’s most personal and most pastoral letter. It’s not at all like 1 Corinthians or Romans, but 2 Corinthians contains some of Paul’s most profound theology. At the same time, it’s not strictly a theological treatise. In this letter, Paul reveals more of himself – his feelings and thoughts – than in any other letter.  It was written to prepare the congregation in Corinth for Paul’s third visit and to defend himself and his ministry against the false teachers some in the Corinthian church seemed to have embraced. The key verses of this letter are found in 2 Corinthians 5 –

Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart. (2 Corinthians 5:11, 12 TNIV)

He and his preaching had been called into question by this church. Any pastor or Bible teacher whose credentials have been called into question or their ministry denigrated by others knows how hurtful that experience is. Paul was hurt by what he heard coming out of Corinth. In the past, he had spent a lot of time with these people. He loved this church. And now it had come to this: He had to defend himself, his associates, and even his preaching in the face of unwarranted and unreasonable criticism.

This letter was written relatively early in the history of the apostolic church, in the early to mid 50’s AD, to a large, metropolitan church made up of believers who had come out of a very pagan culture. Like many large churches, the Corinthian church had its share of problems, including a burgeoning split brought on by leadership problems. Tied to this were frequent immoral practices that were not being dealt with. But at the same time, there was an enthusiastic group of members flaunting their spiritual gifts while another equally enthusiastic group of members were hung up on reintroducing and practicing some old religious dietary laws. Some members were abusing the Lord’s Supper and others were passing around some false teachings regarding the Resurrection. This great congregation, made up of Greeks, Romans, and Jews, was a complete mess by any measurement.

Paul’s third visit

This will be my third visit to you. “Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” (2 Corinthians 13:1 NIV)

So to this troubled church, Paul tells them – maybe “warns them” would be a better way to put it – that he’s coming to visit them for the third time. But some members in the church thought he was coming, not so much to see them, but to get something out of them.

Now I am ready to visit you for the third time, and I will not be a burden to you, because what I want is not your possessions but you. After all, children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. (2 Corinthians 12:14 NIV)

He didn’t want their money. He wasn’t looking for a quick buck. He didn’t want to be a burden to them. Paul loved these people and he would spend his own time and money getting to them. These people were in big trouble, and that’s why he quoted from Deuteronomy 19:15 –

One witness is not enough to convict anyone accused of any crime or offense they may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. (NIV)

His was a serious visit. Who were the “two or three witness?” Some think he is referring to this, his third visit. Most scholars think Paul has in mind three people who had witnessed the various sins of this congregation. If that’s the case, then Paul may be thinking of himself, Titus, maybe Timothy, or even the “brother” whose name isn’t mentioned. The point is a simple one, however. At least three people had seen the shenanigans going on in the Corinthian church and it was time for Paul to pay them a visit.

I already gave you a warning when I was with you the second time. I now repeat it while absent: On my return I will not spare those who sinned earlier or any of the others… (2 Corinthians 13:2 NIV)

Yes indeed; this was one miffed apostle! Not only had they almost succeeded in sullying his reputation and that of his friends, but they were bringing disrepute on the whole church by their sinful actions, and it was time for them to be called on the carpet. It was up to Paul to pass judgment on them, according to his own teachings –

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? (1 Corinthians 5:12 NIV)

It was his job, as it is the job of all Christians, to take notice of how other believers are behaving and to “judge” them. That’s not to say we are to judge each other for the purpose of punishing bad behavior necessarily, but for the purpose of encouraging good behavior and to restore those who have fallen into one sin or another. Peter wrote something similar to another church –

For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? (1 Peter 4:17 KJV)

And Paul picked up on this idea –

Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? (2 Corinthians 13:5 NIV)

Paul and Peter both say essentially the same thing: Christians ought to judge themselves first, and then other believers within the Church. So before Paul gets to them with his gavel, he wants them to judge – to examine – themselves.

The arrogant Corinthians were demanding proof from Paul that Christ was speaking through him, but Paul turns the tables on them and says they ought to make sure that Jesus was living in them. In other words, were these people even saved? Because their worldly behavior certainly didn’t show it. One Bible scholar put it this way:

The test of the authenticity of their relationship to Christ is the ethical quality of their behavior.

If you’re going to join a church and run around town declaring your faith, then your behavior should correspond to your confession. Apparently the “ethical quality” of the Corinthian’s behavior didn’t measure up to their supposed confession of faith.

Christians ought to be able to detect the presence of Christ in themselves and within the members of their church, and this what Paul want them to do before he gets there.

Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong—not so that people will see that we have stood the test but so that you will do what is right even though we may seem to have failed. For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. We are glad whenever we are weak but you are strong; and our prayer is that you may be fully restored. (2 Corinthians 13:7 – 9 NIV)

Paul’s earnest prayer is that his friends in Corinth should live like real believers should. Verse eight, however, is piece of wisdom every Christian should take note of. Nobody can do anything against the truth. It seems proverbial, but it’s connected to what he’s been saying. Some in the Corinthian church had been dissing him and his ministry and were questioning the Gospel, but nobody can do anything against the truth. There will always be people who will question the Bible, who will mock you on account of your faith, but they can’t stop the truth. Christians should do what Paul did – boldly declare the Word of God and not waste a lot of time defending it. We are to declare the Word of God, not worry about going on the defensive all the time.

Clearly Paul loved this great church. His prayer was that the erring members would be “fully restored.” He wants these people not to be kicked out of the church but to grow up – to become mature believers. He wants them to grow in grace and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ.

On being perfect

And that’s really what this second “Be” is all about.

This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority—the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down. (2 Corinthians 13:10 NIV)

Paul has all kinds of authority given him by the Lord, but he’d rather not have to exercise it; his hope and prayer is that these people will take responsibility for themselves and their actions, and change or modify their behavior. It was time for these people to put on the long pants and grow up. That brings us to our “Be” –

Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you. (2 Corinthians 13:11 KJV)

Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. (2 Corinthians 13:11 NIV)

“Be perfect,” grow up. Stop acting like baby Christians. The kind of “perfection” Paul is writing about here is a kind of renewed strength or determination to live right and to behave like mature Christians.  “The God of love and peace” will remain in a church when its members strive for maturity; who are encouraging one another; who live in unity and in peace. Apparently, with all the church splits and ecclesiastical discord across the land, a lot of church members have Bibles without this particular, yet essential “Be” in them.

 

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