Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All God’s people here send their greetings. 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 13:11-14 NIV)
If it were not for the Holy Spirit of God I would despair for the unity of the church. We are so different from one another – backgrounds, personalities, cultures, ages, educations, opinions about Scriptures, opinions about priorities and how things ought to be done in church, and these only scratch the surface.
Add on top of these the personal histories we accumulate in life and in church life, the collection of hurts and betrayals we all carry in our souls. Elsewhere we are taught to “bear with one another” (Colossians 3:13). To bear with means to endure despite disappointments and difficulties, despite the things that people say and do that hurt us, despite those pretend smiles that people put on in our presence and then say terrible things behind our backs, despite old wounds of our past, despite fatigue, and despite how manipulative some people are.
Who can do such things? Who of us can forgive everything and start afresh with all people? Who can pretend as if nothing was said, as if no offense was given, as if there is no cause for disappointment or, at least, for distrust, despite the fact that the paint is often not even dry on our painful memories?
Our only hope is to stand daily in the grace and power of God, to surrender our strength and to ask God to fill us with Himself. “Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I,” was the prayer of David (Psalm 61:2). Thank God that we can live in His power! Thank God that there is a way of surrender to Him, to let Him wash over us in grace and to fill us with Himself!
And we should thank God for our challenges also, for the difficult people and circumstances, for they teach us of our need for greater strength – that is if they do not drive us completely crazy first.
Strive for full restoration: Do not stop short of this goal and never be satisfied with anything less that complete transformation or complete restoration of our souls into the image of God. The King James says simply, “be perfect,” but the NIV and the ESV both take the lead from two verses earlier where Paul wrote, “we are praying for your perfection” (2 Cor. 13:9). The NIV and ESV both correctly translate the word “full restoration” and “restoration” though there is nothing wrong with the translation of “perfection.” This teaches the often emphasized goal of our conversion and transformation to be perfect like God is perfect (Leviticus 19:2 and Matt. 5:48 and 1 Peter 1:15).
Encourage one another: Paul did not have authority to tear them down, only to build them up (2 Cor. 13:10), and we also only have divine authority to build each other up (Eph. 4:29). Rebukes may be needed from time to time, but they should always be given in the context of the greatness of God’s grace. The goal is not to shame only, not to tear them down only, but ultimately to restore and perfect them.
Be of one mind: Agreement can only be found as we worship Christ and submit to His rule in our lives, and as we agree to support and follow our church leadership. We must have both in a church – surrender to the Lord and support for leadership. Being of our mind will never be experienced if everybody just voices his own opinion and demands his own way. There maybe discussions and studies and genuine questions asked, but ultimately, if we will be of one mind, we must agree to go the same direction.
Live in peace: There are a thousand things neighbors can argue about with one another. This morning, for example, I noticed that one of my young neighbors failed to properly sort his garbage – we share the same apartment building garbage containers. I decided that the most God-honoring thing I could do this morning was to simply take big bag of clothing he put in the container for general trash (and thereby using up all the space), and simply dropping it off at the proper disposal place on my way to work this morning – it took about five minutes to do that. If it happens repeatedly, then perhaps I should speak with him.
But to live in peace means to give everyone the benefit of the doubt that they mean well, to look for common interests and common goals, to exercise patience with one another, and, when necessary, to deal with differences in a clear and gracious way.
All of these things are possible only because of the grace of God and the Spirit of God. But we must keep our eyes on the goal of God for our lives and for one another’s lives. That we could desire in us and through us, as individuals and as a family of believers, that God would be glorified is the attitude that we must guard at all times.