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There are several ways to measure Christian maturity, but perhaps none so revealing as how we respond to the demands of God when we're down. All too often we use our pain to justify sin. We appeal to how badly we've been treated or victimized or point to what we regard as injustice in order to ignore or evade our ethical responsibility.

I don't know whether the Corinthians fell prey to this temptation or took the moral high ground, but Paul wasn't about to let them off the hook. He'd be the first to admit that he wrote some hard and demanding things in this letter. He confronted them concerning their unfounded suspicions about his apostolic calling. He rebuked them for their triumphalist pretensions. He warned them of impending discipline should they choose not to repent.

One might have thought Paul would ease up a bit or perhaps display a measure of flexibility in what he expected from these people. But as far he was concerned, there was never an excuse for sin, never a way to rationalize our moral sloth, never a reason to compromise on the fervency with which we pursue wholeness in the body of Christ.

That is why here, at the close of 2 Corinthians (13:11-13), he says to a church made sorrowful by sin, "rejoice"! That is why here he appeals to a church fractured by self-seeking, "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 harbor suspicion and ill-will to set aside their differences and "greet one another with a holy kiss"! The three verses that concern us read as follows:

"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.

There are six imperatives, each of which is undergirded by the same promise.

(1) Rejoice! As counter-intuitive as it may seem, and notwithstanding the many reasons one may feel justified for sulking in self-pity, we are to rejoice (cf. Phil. 4:4; 1 Thess. 5:16). I'm reminded of how Paul described his underlying motivation in ministry back in chapter one. In accounting for his change of travel plans, he made clear that everything he did was to increase and deepen their joy in Jesus (2 Cor. 1:23-24). As much as they thought Paul was curtailing their freedom or inflicting undue distress or stepping beyond his rightful authority, he was actually working to remove obstacles to genuine joy and re-directing their lives to a place where the fullness of God's blessing and power and grace can be felt.

One can almost hear some of the Corinthians respond: "Rejoice? Are you kidding me? After what you've just put us through? How do you expect us to experience genuine joy? You've rebuked us, questioned our understanding of the gospel, and threatened to come with a rod of apostolic discipline, and now you tell us to rejoice! There's only so much an apostle should ask of ordinary folk like us!"

I think Paul would have said to them, "But pursuing joy is often painful. It frequently requires personal sacrifice and a loss of carnal comforts and a change in one's thinking and heart-felt humility and repentance from sin and a severing of unhealthy relationships and a willingness to subordinate short term worldly pleasures for long term spiritual satisfaction. So, yes, rejoice! Rejoice that God is your Father and Jesus your Savior and the Spirit your strength. Rejoice!"

(2) Aim for restoration! Be made complete! Many divisions and disagreements exist among you. Don't settle for splintering as if you can't hope for more. 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.

(3) Comfort one another! Many are hurting from sin and conviction and feel cut off and abandoned. Others are suffering the consequences of false teaching and the deception of those who say they are apostles and are not. 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 (see 2 Cor. 1:3-4).

(4) Agree with one another! Be like-minded! Think the same thing! Don't settle for agreeing to disagree (cf. Phil. 4:2; cf. also Rom. 12:16; 1 Cor. 1:10). "Modern evangelicals who share a common allegiance to the Scriptures," notes Carson, "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" (184-85).

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 secondary 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. Coming to agreement with one another would also make easier fulfilling the next imperative.

(5) Live in peace! Put an end to conflict and bickering. 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? Yes. But such "disruptions" and "turmoil" are often a necessary medicinal antidote to restoring the sort of "peace" that is peace indeed. Peace at the price of purity is no virtue. Peace attained only by theological compromise is but an artificial calm and will not sustain people through persecution and suffering.

(6) Greet one another with a holy kiss (v. 12)! There is no parallel for this action in the religious life of the synagogue of that day. The "holy kiss," therefore, was a Christian innovation (see also 1 Thess. 5:26; 1 Cor. 16:20; Rom. 16:16; 1 Peter 5:14a). This is not a kiss of erotic affection but one that transcended, indeed ignored, gender and race and social status and signified reconciliation and forgiveness and mutual affections, all indications that they had put things right in their relationships, or were at least committed to doing so.

But what is the point of Paul's statement that "the God of love and peace will be with you" (v. 11b)? Love and peace are undoubtedly attributes of God. Love and peace are to characterize us in our relations with one another because they are first and most fundamentally seen in God. But there's more to Paul's portrayal of what God is like.

Some believe that v. 11b identifies the result or perhaps even the reward of their following the six moral injunctions. If you do this, God will do that. If you want to experience his presence, obey him. There's certainly a measure of truth in this. There are numerous occasions in Scripture where obedience and holiness and fervency of faith result in greater intimacy with the Lord and a deepened sense of his presence. The assurance that "God will draw near" to us is predicated on our first drawing "near to God" (James 4:8). It is those who are "pure in heart" who are told they shall "see God" (Matthew 5:8). But I'm not persuaded that this is what Paul has in view in this passage.

I'm more inclined to think that Paul's words are his way of identifying the promised resources by which they are enabled to fulfill the imperatives. In other words, it's as if he says, "Lest you think this is an impossible task, a requirement that will never be fulfilled, I assure you that the God from whom love for one another and peace in the body of Christ come will be with you to provide the very things he requires. God is always present to fulfill in us whatever he requires from us. God does not merely command, but supplies the resources essential to obey. Thus "God is not only characterized by love and peace; he actually imparts these virtues to empower believers to fulfill what is required of them (v. 11a)" (Harris, 935).

As spiritually dysfunctional as the Corinthians may be, as confused about the nature of apostolic ministry as they obviously are, 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!