Week of November 20

A Checklist for Genuine Church Health

Read: Psalm 124; 2 Corinthians 11-13
“Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.”
2 Corinthians 13:11, ESV


“It’s as plain as the nose on your face” relates to something obvious. However, we sometimes overlook that which is clearly before our eyes—like my mobile phone! I find myself getting in such a hurry that I scurry right past it. We do not want to rush past the concluding remarks that Paul makes in 1 Corinthians, though. He wraps up the letter to that troubled congregation with a powerful benediction that provides us with obvious ways to revive a church in distress. His message is as plain as the nose on our faces, but do we see it?

Understanding the Bible Context

What is happening behind the scenes?
Sometimes the proper beverage for a devotional is not a warm, aromatic cup of tea, but a single shot of espresso! The clanging that follows 2 Corinthians 9 is not coins in an offering plate, but sword and shield as Paul launches into a defense of his ministry. But why? Chapters 10-13 form a thematic whole and are likely linked in some way to the arrival and influence of some anti-Pauline teachers or “super apostles” (11:4-18, esp. v. 5). These people were especially dangerous, and we do well to know why. They stealthily attacked Paul and his ministry, and he rightfully defends it (cf. 11:3; “serpent”).
I do not believe that Paul defends himself simply because these self-acclaimed “super apostles” opposed him. He confronts his opponents because the true Gospel was at stake. So, when they attack him, he saw a deeper evil in it. Truly, we cannot separate the man from his message, because to oppose the Gospel was to oppose Paul, and vice versa. Both man and message were a seamless whole. Nevertheless, here is the vital point, and it is packed with theological meaning. His opponents saw his physical weakness and falsely leapt to a flawed conclusion that the Gospel must be the same (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:10).
Paul was so sold out to Christ that he literally portrayed “the crucified life” (Luke 9:23; “must take up his cross daily”; cf. Mark 15:21). That’s the point. Paul’s knockout punch, in contrast to his adversaries, was not contained in fancy rhetoric like the sermons of those uncaring super apostles and much contemporary preaching and teaching.

The power was found in his full embodiment of the message that he preached. Christ died for Paul, so Paul dies a thousand deaths for the Savior he loved with all of his being (11:21b-28). He modeled in every respect the “cross life” and God used him to introduce countless, godless pagans to the Savior who loved them and died for them.

Therefore, Paul did not flaunt a cross like a chain around his neck. He hanged on one within his heart every day of his life (Galatians 2:20). That’s why he could say, “imitate me,” and remain self-effaced (1 Corinthians 11:1). Let’s widen the picture to include our entire church communities today and discover ways to remain strong in the Lord.
A checklist for church health
The context in 2 Corinthians holds implications for many of our churches today. The people thought they were healthy, but there were several moral concerns that needed to be addressed. Paul claims that he will certainly make another trip to Corinth and that he would deal firmly with their sin in the power that God provides (13:1-4). He concludes the letter with a series of short and crisp benedictory encouragements. These exhortations provide them (and us) with a checklist for spiritual health prior to his return (13:11-14). Let’s take them to heart.
Paul uses five imperatives to appeal to the Corinthian church. First, he concludes with a “goodbye” (lit. “rejoice”) and offers all of us a reminder that whether we are arriving or departing that our hope is for joy to be resident in abundance in the church.
Secondly, churches should be moving forward toward “perfection.” The word is used elsewhere of fishermen mending nets, but here it has the idea of furnishing completely or restoring. Paul had already encouraged them to be restored to spiritual strength and wholeness, so the idea here would be the same (13:9). He plainly wanted them to become stronger disciples so that he had to exercise less control over them. Maturity meant that they would break with all idolatry (6:14-7:1), show warm hospitality to the three guests he was sending, keep their word and give toward the Jerusalem famine relief (chapters 8-9), and change their attitude toward him as their leader (chapters 10-13).
Thirdly, Paul encourages them to be comforted. Perhaps he is aiming for their comfort as he expressed in the opening to the letter, but it is also possible that he simply wanted them to see the truth in his arguments. In other words, he desired for them to calm down and allow the truth to quiet their hearts and fellowship.
Fourthly, Paul exhorts them to agree with one another in the Lord. This reminds me of the pivotal passage in Philippians 2:1-4 where the Philippians are encouraged to be of the same mind. The idea is not uniformity; instead, it is unity in Christ. He exhorts them to live in harmony, without divided loyalties (11:2, 3; 12:20; EBC). Wow! They had some work to do, as do many in our churches today.
Finally, Paul calls for the Corinthians to live in peace. We may see that peace would naturally arrive after they had implemented the things that he has already called for them to do. If they were to heed these encouragements, then surely the God of peace would provide the richest blessings of peace by dwelling in their midst.

Too many churches resemble more the clatter and chaos of an auctioneer’s cattle call rather than the calm and comfort of the abiding God as people rush from event to event. So, Paul prays, in Trinitarian fashion, that the Father, Son, and Spirit would pour out grace, love, and fellowship on the church. Amen! We do well to follow Paul’s checklist for spiritual well-being.

Applying the Passage to Our Lives

Have you seen the “genius tests” on Facebook? These are the posts that claim that a mastermind will spot a single number or a lone letter among dozens of possibilities. Supposedly, it is difficult, but the numbers or letters are often as plain to me as the nose on my face. Believe me, I am no genius! Even so, I am often able to spot the “hidden” by looking for what does not look like all the other numbers or characters.

Oh! Even though such games appeal to our desire to be smart people, I do not complete the “tests” because the real trial often lies behind the exam. Sometimes people have ulterior motives for getting people to play the game. Once I click and play, then they have access to my personal information that they intend to exploit.
True Church health need not be “hidden” behind flashy branding or clever preaching. Our sign of health should be as plain as joy, restoration, comfort, unity, and peace in the words and deeds of church leaders and members.

Reflecting Upon and Discussing the Passage

1. Too many times we export our own personal struggles or home discord to the church. Practice growing in spiritual maturity, then ask God to use you to strengthen the fellowship within your church.
2. If your church is experiencing division and disruption, then pray for God to guide you through the checklist for health. Seek the Lord’s abiding presence by taking the steps toward spiritual health that are outlined in 2 Corinthians 13:11.

3. For Families: The Corinthian church was a house church, made up of a small group of families. One may imagine that some of the discord came from within the families who were bickering at home and infighting at church, as well as outsiders bearing a false gospel.

Your family might enjoy taking a quiz after supper some evening about how you are faring on Paul’s “checklist for health.” How are you rating in the same categories as the questions asked of the church? Do you exhibit an outpouring of joy? Are your relationships restored? Do you live in Christ’s comfort as you minister to one another? Are you living in harmony and unity, living for each other and the common goal of becoming more like Christ? Finally, is your home a place where peace lives? Take a few moments to go around the table and have an open conversation about how you are living together. Then pray, and ask God to make of you a spiritually healthy family.

May your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock