2 Corinthians 13:1-14
Today we celebrate Communion with the Lord.
Today is also Trinity Sunday, when we are to reflect upon the Three Persons of God, and how as One, yet Three, He works in our lives.
And today is also Peace and Justice Sunday, when we are to reflect upon how we, as children of God, can bring peace and justice to the world around us, and sustain it.
To cover such a large agenda in a single Sunday, one would think we would have to be here until evening.
And while some churches do exactly that, not just this Sunday, but every Sunday, we will stay with our tradition of our approximate one-hour service.
So, how do we do this?
We're going to compare ourselves with the people of Corinth in the days of the apostle Paul, as he wrote to them in his second letter, in chapter 13.
1. This is the third time I am coming to you.
Then he quotes a passage from the Hebrew Testament.
Every fact [word] is to [will be] be confirmed by the testimony [mouth] of two or three witnesses.
But why does Paul do this?
If we look at Numbers 35:30, where this passage is first mentioned, it speaks of the method of condemning a murderer to death.
If we then look at Deuteronomy 17:6, which was written some time later, this same passage speaks of condemning a person, who worships other gods, to death.
This is a harsh and absolute way of purging evil from the land, but is it effective? For it speaks very little about lasting peace and justice.
Let's go on.
As we look in Deuteronomy 19:15, we begin to see a different application of this passage; for in this case this same passage is used as a means of settling a dispute, and it is followed in the next four verses with a discussion of how to deal with false witnesses.
Thus liars, who sought to subvert justice for their own gain, undermined the whole method of determining the truth.
And in Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus uses this same passage to correct evil practices among members of the congregation, that hopefully such action would bring the person to repentance, and if not, to remove them from the congregation; but not to put them to death.
In a similar way, in John 8:3-11, Jesus applies this method of verification to uncovering the people's own hypocrisy, and showing that no one is worthy of condemning anyone to death, as in the case of the woman caught in the act of adultery.
The only One who is ultimately able to condemn anyone, is the Lord Himself.
People subvert the truth; God does not.
Now, before we go on, let's think about what this passage is really saying about confirmation of evidence, or about really uncovering the truth.
The Bible, the word of God, speaks the truth, and I'm up here speaking in confirmation of this truth.
I'm the second witness of the truth, but which truth?
The truth that we are to condemn murderers and idol worshippers to death?
The truth that there are evil witnesses in the world and that they deserve the same fate as those they falsely testify against?
The truth that we are to first look at our own sinful natures, before we accuse others?
Or the truth that none of us are worthy of condemning any other person?
See, if I take God's word out of context, I can make any point I desire, but that would be dishonest; and I will not do this, knowingly.
But does this mean that we are to do nothing about the evil we see around us?
No, it doesn't; for to do nothing is to remove justice from the victims of evil, whether they are humans or non-humans.
To answer this, let's look at what Paul says to the Corinthians:
2. I have previously said when present the second time, and though now absent I say in advance to those who have sinned in the past and to all the rest as well, that if I come again, I will not spare anyone,
3. since you are seeking for proof of the Christ who speaks in me, and who is not weak toward you, but mighty in you.
4. For indeed He was crucified because of weakness, yet He lives because of the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, yet we shall live with Him because of the power of God directed toward you.
This is really going back to what Jesus is saying: that if we uncover evilness in our presence, or someone who through his or her unbelief subverts the truth about God, we are to approach that person who brought it into our presence, and try to bring them to repentance; or, if they refuse to change their ways, to ask them to leave.
No one dies; but we move closer to bringing peace and justice into the community of believers.
But if we are talking about the community we live in, we cannot force the unrepentant sinner out of our presence, but we can avoid associating with them.
It really comes back to us, says Paul:
5. Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you -- unless indeed you fail the test?
6. But I trust that you will realize that we ourselves do not fail the test.
7. Now we pray to God that you do no wrong; not that we ourselves may appear approved, but that you may do what is right, even though we should appear unapproved.
In other words, if you don't like what Iím doing, or what any other leader is doing, that is no excuse for your not doing what the Lord desires you to do.
You are still to do what is right.
We are to do nothing that subverts the truth.
8. For we can do nothing against the truth, but only for the truth.
Because as children of God, as bondservants of the Lord, we can do nothing else; for the power of the Holy Spirit is upon us.
We do this not by our own power, but by the Lord's power.
The only thing we have to do is to desire to serve the Lord, and follow through.
9. For we rejoice when we ourselves are weak but you are strong; this we also pray for, that you be made complete.
10. For this reason I am writing these things while absent, in order that when present I may not use severity, in accordance with the authority which the Lord gave me, for building up and not for tearing down.
11. Finally, brethren, rejoice, be made complete, be comforted, be like-minded, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you.
Think about the message I have been delivering to you for over eight years.
Is it not that you be filled to overflowing with the Lord's love?
Is it not that you do no harm, but seek to bring love and peace into the world?
Is it not that you be full of the joy of the Lord, that others will want what you have?
Is it not that you be like-minded, that you have the mind of Christ, and think and live as He would in your place?
Then, am I not the second witness of the truth?
But then, who is the third witness?
You are, just as Paul was telling the Corinthians.
Do others see this confirmation in you?
I pray so!
In the beginning God created a perfect world, but it became corrupted.
Then God granted some concessions to his sinful people that even while living in sin, they might learn to be less sinful and more loving, until the day we all do the will of our Father who is in heaven.
Just as we saw these Bible passages maturing in their application of the Law as it applies to peace and justice, so are we to mature.
We're not to live according to the imperfect, but to always seek a more perfect way.
Remember that it is love that brings forth the truth, and it is love and truth working together that bring about lasting peace and justice for all.
And, in closing, as Paul says:
12. Greet one another with a holy kiss.
13. All the saints greet you.
14. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.
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