“The fourth and final major section of Paul’s letters—the closing—is the ‘Rodney Dangerfield’ section of the apostle’s correspondence: it doesn’t get any respect,” says Jeffrey Weima in his new book Paul the Ancient Letter Writer (165). Perhaps it’s because pastors, church members, and daily devotional readers are just ready to finish the book by the time they get to the closing section that they don’t want to work at just how the closing section finishes off Paul’s letter. Perhaps.
As he does in the rest of his book, Weima “recognizes that the letter closing, like the other major sections of Paul’s letters, is a carefully and cleverly constructed unit” (165). The closing section intentionally recalls themes and echoes concerns from the letter as one last fitting reminder before Paul finishes his letter. “Consequently, the letter closing potentially has great interpretive value, providing important clues for understanding the key issues and themes addressed in the body of the letter, as well as our understanding of the apostle’s readers and their historical situation” (165).
2 Corinthians 13.11–14
11 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. 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.
Finally, brothers, rejoice.
13.9a, “For we are glad [“we rejoice”] when we are weak and you are strong. Your restoration is what we pray for.”
Paul rejoices when the corinthians are strong, but this word also rehearses Paul’s earlier statements of joy over the Corinthians (1.24; 2.3; 6.10; 7. 4, 7, 9, 13, 16; 8.2).
Aim for restoration,
Paul prays that his divided congregation would be healed and made a unified community, something that has been a battle for a long time (1 Cor 1.10; 12-14; 2 Cor 5.12; 6.14).
Comfort one another,
This reiterates a host of Paul’s language all throughout the letter. His entire letter oozes of “comfort” and “encouragement” in the face of suffering. George Guthrie cites the following passages (1.3–7; 2.7–8; 5.20; 6.1; 7.4–13; 8.4, 6, 17; 9.5; 10.1; 12.8, 18; 13.11).
Agree with one another, live in peace;
These both repeat the command to “aim for restoration” only at different angles. Living in peace and unity has been almost impossible for the Corinthians, but these relate directly to Paul’s concerns over the “quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder” among them (12.20).
And the God of love and peace will be with you.
This line is Paul’s regular peace benediction (Rom 16.20; Gal 6.16; 2 Thess 3.16), only now he has included “love” into this benediction (the only other occurrence is in Eph 6.23). Weima says, “It can hardly be doubted that ‘love’ has been deliberately added to the peace benediction so that this closing formula better echoes and reinforces the [entire] letter’s appeal for love and harmony to characterize relations within this fractious church“ (192).
Greet one another with a holy kiss.
This greeting, an actually kiss of some kind, was meant to challenge them to lower the defenses they have set up against each other, to remove any hostility, “and to exhibit the oneness that they share as fellow members of the body of Christ” (192).
All the saints greet you.
Reminds the Corinthians one last time that they are not the only members of God’s family on the earth. They are not the solo church. They are only one part of Christ’s church. Paul began his letter by saying,
1.1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
To the church of God that is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia:
1.11 You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.
9.1 Now it is superfluous for me to write to you about the ministry for the saints, 2 for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year. And your zeal has stirred up most of them.
The Corinthian has a whole family surrounding them. The Corinthian church was an established church (though not without their major problems), and the surrounding churches were looking to them! Paul reminds them, “You’re not alone. Your character is seen by all. If you defect to the false teachers, you will not have these saints as your family (cf. 6.18).”
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
Weima, “These supplementary wishes of ‘love’ and ‘fellowship’ fit the thrust of the rest of the letter… peace and harmony must exist within the Corinthian church” (192). The repetition of “love,” “comfort,” encouragement,” and “fellowship” would be the final sounding of the gong in their ears that has been echoing all throughout Paul’s letter.
Will the Corinthians reject Paul’s divisive opponents and seek reconciliation between their own? If they have fellowship with the Holy Spirit, and if it was “in one Spirit” that they “were all baptized into one body” (1 Cor 12.13), there should be harmony among them. But if they don’t separate from the false teachers, and if they have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality they have practiced, if they examine themselves and fail to meet the test, they will no longer have a Father who will welcome them (2 Cor 7.18) nor an apostle to weep for them (2.2, 4).