Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.  Greet one another with a holy kiss.  All the saints greet you.
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
There are many ways to evaluate Christian maturity. One way is to examine how we react when we are down, things are tough, we don’t agree, when we don’t get our own way or like what is happening in church life. If we are honest with ourselves, we toss in some “God has been leading us,” “we feel God is saying,” and we leave the church. We justify our actions with spiritual overtones and never face the issues and the blessing that occur when iron sharpens iron.
I don’t know how many of the Corinthians took the moral high ground and left the church. I do know Paul was not going to let them off the hook so easily. He would be the first to admit that what he wrote was hard and demanding. He confronted behaviour and rejected their opinion of him as an inferior apostle. He opposed their super spiritual attitudes and warned them they may face discipline. (In today’s church would you wait for his visit?)
I wonder if Paul had the same things said to him that over time have been said to me, “lower your standards.” For Paul there was never a reason to compromise on the fervency with which he would pursue wholeness in the body of Christ.
That is why he says to a moaning church “rejoice”. That is why he says to a church who won’t work anything though “aim for restoration.”
Without the slightest hesitation he calls on them to, “comfort one another, agree with one another” and “live in peace!” And he expects those who gossip and have harsh opinions about folk in the congregation to, “greet one another with a holy kiss!” If you want a great description of church then here it is!
There are six instructions that could make up some great sound bites for a church website, but they are much more than trendy publicity.
- Rejoice. As difficult as it may seem and understanding the reasons for sulking, being justified in your complaint or self pity we are to rejoice. That’s it! Philippians 4:4 tells us “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice.” Paul described his purpose for serving the church in chapter one it was to deepen their joy in Jesus. Whatever they thought of Paul, he was actually working to remove the obstacles to genuine joy and re-directing their lives to a place where the fullness of God’s blessing and power and grace could be felt. One can almost hear the Corinthians respond: “Rejoice? Are you mad? After what you’ve just put us through? How do you expect us to experience joy? You’ve rebuked us, questioned our understanding of the gospel, disciplined us and now you tell us to rejoice! There has got to be a better apostle and church than you and this.” Rejoicing will mean breaking though and seeing the bigger picture of Christ and His Church. Rejoicing in Christ is bigger than a vision statement or style or a lack of resources. It is the foundation we build everything else on. When rejoicing goes, it’s surprising how much you notice what seems to be wrong.
- Aim for restoration! Be made complete! Many divisions and disagreements will always exist. Don’t settle for differences. Unity and mutual forgiveness are essential. Look closely for the relational damage that has been inflicted and heal it. Search out the spiritual stress fractures in your body and mend them. Look for the things that unite rather than separate. Remember our maturity and growth comes in the context of the body not outside of it. It’s not what they have to learn, but what are you learning about you? If you’re hurt then forgive.
- Comfort one another. Simply notice others, stop talking about yourself. Many are hurting and some are lonely and feel cut off. Put their comfort above your own. People get into messes for all sorts of reasons, in the case of the Corinthians false teaching had hurt and deceived people. And when you think that you’ve run dry of comfort or that it is too demanding or that you’d be happy to comfort others if only they’d comfort you first, recall that God is the “Father of mercies and God of all comfort” and that he will comfort you in all your anguish so that you “may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the very comfort with which you are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
- Agree with one another. Does that mean I have to like pink when I hate pink or like jazz when I prefer hip hop! Wear the same clothes etc. D A Carson: “Modern evangelicals who share a common allegiance to the Scriptures, would do well to foster this sort of attempt to come to one mind and thought as to what the Scriptures mean. Too many of us are so threatened by our fellow believers or are so bound up with our denominational distinctives, that we are afraid to be reformed by the word of God or too proud to be corrected by those with whom we disagree. The apostle expects us to work at the business of being of “one mind” This does not mean, of course that community life is impossible unless we all agree on eschatology or that our witness for Christ will be forever ineffective until we achieve a consensus on every minute doctrine. But it does mean that we must strive for unity on the essential truths of the faith and that our common vision as a church and our commitment to the gospel must never be compromised. It’s agreeing together about the things that matter!!!
- Live in peace! Literally means you chose to live in peace. So you try not to cause conflict, or looking at it the other way, seeing how your actions could potentially cause conflict. Some may question Paul’s sincerity on this point. After all, has he not been disruptive in Corinth by challenging the false teachers? Has he not created turmoil by identifying unrepentant sin and holding all accountable for their complicity in it? Take this a little further, you can’t have peace without their being disruption and disagreement, it means being committed to not run away but work things through. Also peace is not that nice feeling in your tummy, it is an agreed theological position that goes beyond disagreement, difficulty, even suffering and persecution.
- Greet one another with a holy kiss. Are you a kissing and hugging church or a hand shake church? Let’s be straight here; the kiss is not so the men get an opportunity to kiss the ladies they really shouldn’t, it has no erotic overtones but rather it transcends indeed ignores, gender and race and social status and rather signifies reconciliation and forgiveness and mutual affections. For the Corinthians, and us, this all indicates that things have been put right in their and our relationships, or were at least committed to doing so. A holy kiss is very public and being so displays the depth of relationship between the two people, to not kiss infers a breakdown in the relationship which was, and can be, noticed and seen.
I have missed out one statement, “the God of love and peace will be with you” (vs 11). Love and peace are attributes of God. Love and peace are to characterise us in our relationships with one another because they are first and most fundamentally found and seen in God.
Paul’s words are his way of identifying the resources by which the Corinthians and subsequently we ourselves are enabled to fulfil the instructions. You can’t do it by will power alone. If you think they are difficult or impossible, then consider the love and peace you have personally received. God does not merely command, but supplies the resources essential to obey and also has done it. Are we not recipients of perfect, faithful, lavish, forgiveness, love and peace. We have not been treated as our sins deserve.
As dysfunctional as the Corinthians may have been, as confused about the nature of apostolic ministry as they obviously were, God is more than ready and able to supply them with the love for one another so essential to life in the body of Christ. As divisive and cantankerous as they’ve been, the God who is himself peace can provide all the power they need to set aside petty disagreements and to overcome selfish ambition. Let us never forget that whatever God requires, God provides!