May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:14)
It is an appeal to community. After everything he had written in the two Corinthian letters, it should be no surprise to us that he would end with an encouragement like this.
Because in Paul’s mind, at least here, the workings of God are done in community. Grace comes through Christ. Love comes through the Father. Fellowship comes through the spirit.
And here’s the perception God has given me today, through Paul’s letters to the Corinthians.
We are called to give life to people. We are not called to give opinions.
The entirety of this work, to me, rests on Paul’s repeated efforts to heal their divisions. Their divisions occurred because people were sold on various and differing opinions.
Divisions are evil. They give us the fuel to sacrifice the community of God for the sake of preference. Like in Corinth, divisions generally take the form of tribes, gathered around what we’ve come to call “non-salvation” issues. For them, charismatic personalities divided their church. For us, divisions come because of all sorts of things, and they are all just as weak and petty as what divided the Corinthians.
We can’t be afraid of non-salvation issues, either. When we hide them, we still make them more important than the message of the cross.
Because the only rallying point for believers is the message of the cross. That’s it, and it’s from the Word of God:
For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (1 Corinthians 1:17)
It is the gospel message that unites us. It is the life-giving, life-altering message of Jesus that re-orders our opinions and our preferences. Until we understand that, communities of believers will continue to split over insignificant matters, which will always empty the cross of its power.
Man, that just gets me every time. You and I and our churches hold the power to completely destroy the influence of the cross in our extended community.
And we also hold the power to show our extended community how the cross can radically change lives.
Remember, too, that these divisions, around personal preferences, almost destroyed the church plant in Corinth. We have two letters Paul wrote to this community. We’ve lost two others. In all, Paul wrote four letters to this city, urging them to heal these divisions, and to realize the very specialness of God.
God knows what our hearts need. That’s why grace, love, and fellowship come from him, and not from us. From the first verse, quoted above, that is what God offers.
Grace. Love. Fellowship.
And that’s what we are called to offer.
We do not have to teach. We do not have to authorize. We do not have to placate. We simply offer people the message of the cross. In turn, that message will give them everything they will ever need.
Paul knew this. Here are his words, from 2 Corinthians 13:10.
For I want to use the authority the Lord has given me to strengthen you, not to tear you down.
We give life when we offer people Jesus. We do not give life when we offer people our way at seeing Jesus.
And we can only offer life, like Paul, when we lay down our preferences, and lift up the cross.
God does not need our help in changing lives. He’s been in the business of changing lives since he formed and fashioned humanity. We don’t need to help him do it. We need simply to exalt him.
He offers grace. He offers love. He offers fellowship. We should only offer the same.
That is life-giving.