A Reflection on II Corinthians 13:14
Do you, like me, find it difficult to know how best to end a letter or an e-mail to a Christian friend? Yours sincerely or Yours faithfully may be a bit too formal, while Lots of love might be too familiar! I often use Every blessing, but does that sound paternalistic? Your brother in Christ says what I want to say.
Paul had an excellent way to end what we call II Corinthians; it is a great prayer and summarises all the richness of the Christian faith. Yet they are words with which we have possibly become almost too familiar. They are words with which we conclude most, if not all, services; but what do they mean?
“May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all”.
A few verses earlier Paul wrote: “our prayer is for your perfection (literally: ‘mending’)”.
This ‘benediction’ is a prayer for completion, for mending!
1 “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ”.
“grace” means God’s undeserved love; God’s love in action; God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. This grace, culminating in the cross, makes reconciliation with God possible.
II Cor 5:19 “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.”
Our nation is divided over Brexit; Parliament is divided over Brexit; nations are torn apart by civil unrest and war; knife-carrying youths are alienated from their families, their schools, their peers. Many individuals suffer mental illness, or crippling guilt; single parents feel helpless against the system; tenants are made miserable by uncaring landlords; some people bear the scars of sexual or domestic abuse, or suffer bitterness because of marital unfaithfulness. And so one might go on.
Secular-humanist society has no room for God, therefore no higher point of reference or authority than itself. Self-interest and pride lurks in the hearts of the very best and noblest of us. So our great need is to be reconciled to God. And he has himself provided that for us!
On the cross Christ “took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows…he was pierced for our transgressions…the punishment that brought us peace was upon him” (Isaiah 53).
That is the amazing grace of our Lord Jesus Christ!
We can do nothing to improve, or ‘mend’ ourselves or to earn God’s approval or acceptance.
We come to him on the merits of what Christ has already done; we are accepted in him.
2 “the love of God”
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ shows us the love of God, the love which longs that rebels be reconciled, defiled sinners restored. This is a message for our times if ever there was one.
So many feel they are insignificant cogs in an impersonal machine; those who sleep in shop doorways have no-one to love or cherish them; imagine being a young person excluded from school in case their exam failure spoils the school’s achievement record; or the divorcee trying to come to terms with being rejected by the one they thought loved them.
Can we, for one moment, put ourselves in the shoes of the refugee fleeing a cruel regime or an old person who has outlived all their relatives and friends, and about whom no-one cares?
What does the cross of Christ say to such? God loves them, with an active love; he has a place in his heart for them. But even the loved need the love of God, for only that love can meet the deepest of needs.
3 “the fellowship of the Holy Spirit”.
Finding the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ opens up for us the experience of the love of God and that brings us into “the fellowship of the Holy Spirit”.
‘Fellowship’ means sharing with, having something in common; in this case, the Holy Spirit.
So, far from God being non-existent or irrelevant we are united with him in the Holy Spirit!
This has at least two important and encouraging implications:
a “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Rom 8:16)
b “you yourselves are God’s temple and…God’s Spirit lives in you” (I Cor 3:16).
Christians are ‘mended’ people, or rather, we are in the process of being mended.
What a timely encouragement that “we are God’s children” with all that that implies!
If we are God’s children then we are also brothers and sisters to each other, because the same Holy Spirit lives in each one.
The aim and substance of our prayer as we pray for one another should be for our perfection (mending). It is my prayer that the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all – now and always. Amen
Warmest greetings in Christ,
Chairman, Saffron Walden Bible Focus