Paul in context, has been speaking primarily of anything that makes him appear weak in the eyes of those to whom he ministers. What he has learned is that when he appears weak in others’ eyes he is actually strongest, for then God works through him most effectively. In essence by labouring on about his weaknesses, his ‘successes’ might be clearly seen to be achieved in Christ’s power.
Paul does not take a back seat to the ‘super-apostles’ the Corinthians are enamoured with (12:11-13) but stresses that he loves the church more (12:14-18). This humiliating ‘defence’ is motivated only by fear that when Paul visits them for the third time, he will find them still hardened and immature (12:19-21).
Paul then concludes his letter with a warning. Chapter 11 shows that spiritual authority lacks coercive powers. How then can Paul warn and punish? The answer is Paul does not. What happens is that Paul, as an apostle and spiritual leader, is in a special way Christ’s spokesman. Christ is speaking through him and apostolic authority is real. If they do not respond to Christ, the Lord, who is ‘powerful among you’, will Himself discipline them (13:1-4).
While Paul lacks power to punish, he points out that the people draw their own punishment because of their behaviour. In his first letter Paul noted that many of the Corinthians were ill and some had even died because they corrupted the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:30). So Paul does not need any coercive power at all, as their sin provides its own punishment when Christians fail to respond. What a relief for those in spiritual leadership. Like Paul, we can love and give while the disobedient receive the consequences of their sin when they do not respond to His word.
Indeed, we all need to remember that our responsibilities stop at discharging the ‘great commission’ (Matt 28:16-20). How people respond is beyond our control and the consequences are between them and God. Paul therefore says that believers must examine themselves, if not when He comes punishment will surely follow (v.5-10).
Paul ends his second letter with a repeated appeal and a brief good-bye (v.11-14).
Prayer: Father, help me to understand where the boundaries lie in my responsibility to carry out your commission on earth. Help me to understand that it is my responsibility to tell the gospel, but it is the Holy Spirit’s responsibility to reveal Jesus. Fill me with courage in my ‘weaknesses’ so that you will be strong and others will come to a personal relationship with the savour. Amen.