How ought we to approach issues of church discipline? Paul gives us some hints in this passage. He stated before hand as he planned a visit to the Corinthian community that he did not plan on “sparing” those who persisted on sinning? Not knowing exactly what he was referring to, a good guess might be the incident in 1 cor. 5, the situation where someone who was living an immoral life was expelled from the fellowship as was directed by Paul. In the same way, those who were persistent on sinning were to be expelled from the fellowship.
In order for that to occur the stipulations of Deuteronomy 19:15 were to be followed (also see Matt. 18:16; 1 Tim. 5:19). When such stipulations are followed charges of unfairness and lies would be greatly reduced because of the two or three witnesses to the evidence presented. Paul had a consistent position on sin whether he was present or absent and it was not going to change with his third visit. As a result,he approached that visit with a mix of “power and weakness.” After all, the community looked forward to seeing God speaking through Paul.
Paul told the community that God is not week in dealing with his people but that he is powerful in his work among them. The evidence for this is the cross. Jesus was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God among God’s people. Although his people are weak in him, they live through his power. Paul believed that his ministry was rooted in the mixture of power and weakness (13:3). He came to them in that same way challenging them to examine themselves to see whether they were living in faith. Was Christ indeed among them? or were they convinced by the false apostles among them that he wasn’t? They ought to examine their lives in order to make such a determination.
In this passage Paul demonstrates the very delicate balance which most people face in ministry. Some pastors and leaders take their positions too seriously and throw their power and authority around crushing people in the process, while others are so timid to address issues that needs to be addressed in the community; they have a hard time leading. From Paul in this text we learn that we need a proper balance between power and weakness as we minister.
The community had challenged Paul and called him to the carpet before to test him. Now Paul returns the favor. Before this third visit they needed go through their own checklist for signs that indicated Christ’s presence among them; his life, death and resurrection. According to Paul, this is what it means to be a Christian (See Rom. 8:9-10 and Gal. 2:20). When you look at yourself, does your life reflect Jesus? Or are you just like everybody else? Such a question ought to reveal to us where Christ is at in our lives.
Paul hoped and longed to see the Corinthian community pass such a test. His longing for their success far superseded his own desire to pass his own test (v.7). After all what would it mean for his apostleship if all the people failed the test and only he pass? He had no interest as he had made it clear in the letter of proving himself to be special; he was simply an apostle of the crucified and risen Lord.
This was not about him elevating himself above others; he was simply interested in working for the truth (v.8). Even if that meant that he was considered weak while they the Corinthians strong, that was okay (v.9; cf (4:12). He simply wanted this church to grow to full maturity. He longed to see the body working together and witnessing for Christ and living in peace with each other. Paul’s approach in this letter is personal, prophetic and missional. He saw himself in light of prophet Jeremiah who was commissioned both to ‘pluck up and breakdown’, and ‘to build and plant’ (Jer.1:10).
He quoted Jeremiah 24:6. In Jeremiah, God promised the exiles in Babylon that he was going to bring them back to their land and build them up once again. Paul believed that what God promised the exiles was coming true in the lives of the Corinthians if only they submitted their lives fully to Jesus. Ministers of the gospel have authority. It is up to them to use that authority either to tear down or build up the ministry. The real test is whether Christ is actually living in us. If he he is, then like Paul, we will learn this delicate balance of power and weakness in our ministries.