2 Corinthians 13:11–13 (NRSV)
Final Greetings and Benediction
11 Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. 12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.
13 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.
This week I have spent a lot of time thinking about life, church, and what the future might hold. I do this from time to time. Luckily, I have some friends that are willing to listen to my random ramblings, otherwise I would probably have some manifesto written somewhere. And I really do not have the time to write everything so my random ramblings will probably never be spread too far beyond a text message. But on Wednesdays we have been watching a series called, “Drive Thru History” and this week we watched the episode about Corinth. I read through the letters that Paul wrote to this church and it just got me thinking more.
In Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, he spoke a great deal about problems they were having as a church and as individuals within the church. It is filed with hard sayings and inspirational musings. The second letter is a bit different, it is an appeal. An appeal for unity, and participation in the continued ministry of Christ through the saints. It is almost a plea for the church of Corinth to come back into communion with the other churches, letting go of resentment that they may hold and to move forward with renewed hope.
I needed to read this letter this week. For many that have vocal ministries, we often feel as if we have offended more people than we have encouraged. Which is easy to do since the Spirit of God uses scripture to convince us of weaknesses in ourselves and where we need to rely on God. When these things are revealed to us sometimes we are not too excited about it. The truth of the matter is that often the one convicted the most is the one speaking. And this passage is one such passage that really hits home.
Right off the bat Paul writes words that hit me squarely. “Finally, Brothers and Sisters, Farewell.” The first thing that comes to my mind is Brothers and Sisters. This letter is one that follows at least one other letter sent to this church. We know in 1 Corinthians, that Paul was heavy handed with some of the issues this community was facing. The use of the word brother, which can mean physical or spiritual sibling. Shows us something important. First of it is plural, it is usually translated brother because it is a masculine word, but in grammar most plural words like this are written in the masculine form even if it is referring to a mixed gender group. So most contemporary translations use brothers and sisters to inform us that in the ancient church women were present in worship. Older translations use the term Brethren which is still a plural word referring to mixed genders. What is being said is we are all in this together. We are family, as well as friends. And just like with any relationship there are times where there is closeness and other times where we are not very pleasant to be around.
The second part that strikes me is the word “Farewell.” Other translations translate this phrase, “Finally, Brothers and Sisters, rejoice.” Do we make it our custom to live rejoicing? I sat considering this single word for quite a while. Rejoice. So often we can get so distracted with life that we forget to rejoice, we forget to be glad in this moment. Rejoice.
Many of you know, that I will use scripture in my times of prayer. I use the words that God inspired the people of ancient times to write to assist me in drawing closer in conversation with God. So, I sat considering this word for a while. I found that many days I fail to rejoice, at times I get very far from rejoicing and spend more time doing the exact opposite. I worry. I complain, I get irritated, and often I have been so consumed with these feelings that I forget how to rejoice. When I notice this, it scares me because we have much to rejoice in.
What Paul is getting at is this, “Finally, Brothers and Sisters, don’t get distracted by everything going on in the world around you, instead be intentional in finding something to rejoice in.” Make this intentional search for gladness become a holy habit among you. One that will lead you to even greater things. Things like reconciliation.
The next phrase, “Put things in order.” Could also be translated as restore or mend. He is speaking in terms of spiritual siblings so what he is speaking of is restore our relationships. Just as we should develop a holy habit to find something to rejoice in, we should also find some way to make amend our relationships and rejoice in them. Some of the most hurtful and lasting emotional, physical, and spiritual wounds are inflicted by those we are closest to, this is because we make ourselves vulnerable around those we are comfortable with. We let down our defenses, and we stick our necks out only to find ourselves ridiculed and rejected. So, we withdraw and we mount defenses around ourselves because trust has been breached.
This is the greatest plea that Paul makes, in all things make every effort to restore, mend, and strengthen our relationships. Be intentional about them, just as intentional as your jobs are or were. Just as intentional as a meal you prepare, or intentionally microwave. If you are not actively seeking to mend, restore, and strengthen relationships around you and encouraging them to seek God we are living in sin. Sin is any and every action that hinders our relationship with God and with others. It is a lack of love. If we were to look at the list of commandments we would find that each one of those commands are relational. Do not use the lords name in vain, is respecting our creator. Do not kill is respecting and preserving the life of other because they are created in the image of God. Do not bear false witness means we not only need to be honest but we need to protect the reputation of others from slander. Ever commandment is relational. So, if we focus on intentional healthy relationships we will honor the commands.
Paul continues, “Agree with one another.” I’m sure that every one of us is beginning to think Paul is crazy right now. How is it possible to agree with each other all the time? Quite frankly it is not possible in our own strength. But that is not what these words mean exactly. The phrase means to think, or to set one’s mind on something, to form an opinion, or hold a view. Agree with one another is to come to a mutual understand and stick with it. There are areas that we will have differing opinions and that is healthy, but we as spiritual brothers and sisters, should be intentional in honoring that of God in all people and agree honor one another as family even if we do not see things the same way. It is building some form of understanding as to why we think the way we do and why they think the way they do and respect their perspective. If it is something all parties cannot agree on then it is a subject that is closed. We move forward as a united front in the areas of unity, and we do not proceed in the areas where there is not unity.
This concept is where the Meeting of Business in the manner of Friends comes from. We recognize that we as individuals have our own opinions, so we will not move forward until the Spirit of God has shown us a way through, a sense of the meeting. This idea can become problematic if those involved are living in sin, or are not focused on honoring and strengthening relationships with God and with humankind. If we are not focused or of one mind on that aspect we will be relying on human wisdom and opinion. And human opinion and wisdom has limited perspective.
“Live in peace; and the God of Love and peace with be with you.” Remember who Paul is writing this letter too. This is the church who had a man living in an adulterous relationship with his father’s wife. This is the church that would eat meat at the temples of idols, because they were living under grace not the law, and did not care if their actions caused someone else to stumble. This is a church that was situated in a city focused on earthly delights. And Paul is telling them to live in peace. Everything about their situation is at odds with them. Even their own spiritual siblings cannot seem to agree. Yet Paul encourages them to live in peace. Peace can only happen when there is mutual respect. Respect is progressively built over time. To build respect one must converse with one another, listening to their perspectives and expressing our own. Peace is something that should be pursued with heroic effort, because any area that lacks peace lacks the relationship required by God’s standard. Any area in personal or corporate life that lacks peace is sinful, even if we can justify it in our own minds. Humanity was created to live in unity with God and all of creation. The absence of peace is a visual reminder of sin present not only in the world but in our lives. Those that make every effort to pursue peace will be in the company of God. Those that make efforts to build peace between people express the love of God to those around them.
Call me naïve. But it is in scripture. Live in peace. It is said that the wisdom of God is foolishness to those of the world. Which is why it is such a difficult concept for us to grasp. We all struggle with this because we all have a desire to be right. We have an opinion and we want others to agree, but this does not honor the perspective and humanity of those we converse with. Which leads us right back to the beginning put things in order, restore and mend the relationships around us. See and honor the image of God carried by the humanity of each one here and everyone that we meet. Build and strengthen relationships and pursue mutual respect. Just as the lyrics of one of my favorite songs say, “Every day we go to war again, we assume we know so much more than them before we hear what they have to say. Headline breaks, and we start to hate again, calling them names again, we give our peace away.” We give our peace away. Think about that, let it sink into your very soul.
It is difficult to consider. And more so when we consider the next phrase that Paul writes in the conclusion of this letter, “Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.” Think of the intimacy of this. Who are the people we kiss? In our culture, the act of touching our lips to another human being is reserved to the closest members of our family, or in some cases people we hope would eventually become family. In the ancient church, there was a sacramental expression of faith symbolized in kissing those within the church. This was seen by those outside the church as being odd. Leading many to believe that there was something sinister and immoral occurring behind the closed doors of the church. The holy kiss was associated with the feast, and was only allowed for those that had publicly proclaimed their faith. As part of their worship they would literally kiss those around them. Some cultures are more willing to do this, ours is not one of them. But consider the intimacy factor. If you were to kiss this person, what would the relationship with them be like? Could you kiss someone you did not respect and honor? Could you give a hug to someone you were not at peace with? The person sitting next to you, the ones sitting at the back of this worship space, and at the front are all deeply loved by God with a love that is more intimate than the love we have for our closest family members. If Jesus were physically here he would grab each of us and pull us in and kiss us just as a parent kisses their child. They are loved deeply by God. Now take that a step further, while we were still sinners, while we were still enemies of God, Christ still had that same love for us. God has that love for our enemies. He loves those of differing opinions just as deeply as those that agree with us. I am not saying go kiss our enemies, because I’m pretty sure that would get you shot, but I am saying consider the love that your God has for them. And the love that he hopes we as a church can restore with them.
As I said the past few days I have really been wrestling with the idea of church. I have considered it because my deepest desire is to love as Jesus loved. To hope as Paul hoped. I want to participate in the kingdom just as Peter did. I want to be the church. And if I look at myself I see so many areas I have fallen short. I have not been in unity at times. I have not intentionally pursued peace at times. I have not loved as Christ would love. But Jesus did love for me. Jesus did come to this earth and lived a full human life, he died in my place, and rose again to ensure that way through him to overcome and redeem my own brokenness and sin. As we enter this time of open worship, examine your life, consider where we as individuals and as a church fail to pursue the restoration of relationships and repent. Let us look to Jesus and take on his life and lifestyle and rest on his power to live through us in our weakness. And let us be bearers of peace in our community and world.