Scripture Reading: 2 Corinthians 13:1-13, John 15:1-8, Colossians 1:9-12
Think about the words you would use to describe the Church today.
When Paul wrote his letters to the Corinthian church, he didn’t know what the Church today would look like. Designations like Catholic and Protestant, Reformed and Arminian, even conservative and liberal, didn’t exist. And yet, in the newly formed Church of Paul’s day, they still needed to pursue unity. Dissension fractured the new body of believers, much as it has for centuries. The study of Church history is the study of fractions, disjointed parts that make a whole.
The last chapter of 2 Corinthians is Paul’s plea to his Corinthian brothers and sisters. A brief review of Paul’s relationship with the church at Corinth might be helpful here as we close our study of both letters.
First Corinthians is Paul’s instruction manual to Corinth. He clarifies new Christian traditions and social positions (everything from spiritual gifts to marriage to the Lord’s Supper). Factions in the church had begun to form around different interpretations of these traditions. Church leaders who opposed Paul began to gain traction around their interpretations, and Paul responded with a strong letter of rebuke (which was lost).
Many Corinthian believers responded well to Paul’s rebuke, and found sure footing again. But dissenting factions remained, and it is to these people that Paul addressed 2 Corinthians. Paul really puts himself out there in this letter. It is his apologetic for himself as a leader, but also for the cause of Christ. 2 Corinthians is emotional and strong, like the closing arguments of a political debate or a courtroom drama.
Many scholars and commentaries refer to 2 Corinthians as Paul’s apologia pro vita sua, a latin phrase which means “a defense of one’s life.” He defends himself, he defends the body of Christ, and he defends the faith. Church unity is one of Paul’s soapboxes. He returns to it over and over, and in his closing statements to the Corinthians, he says this:
Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace.
—2 Corinthians 13:11
Restoration, comfort, agreeableness, peace—as the body of Christ, Paul calls us to these things in this important epistle. Can you imagine if those words described the Church today, let alone the Church throughout history?
Here’s what I believe about the Church, in a rather church-y metaphor. When you look at a piece of stained glass, you see one of two things first. You can see the whole beautiful picture, or you can see the hundreds or thousands of smaller pieces of glass. All of those different pieces of glass have a purpose; they bring a unique color, perspective, shape, or function to the whole piece of art. But the primary goal of all of those little pieces is to come together to present one beautiful message to its audience.
Until Christ returns, the Church will always be made up of thousands of pieces, expressions, or denominations. Each one brings something different to the body, yet all too often, we err on the side of contentiousness, distrust, or outright anger toward those other parts of the body. But our prayer should always be, as Paul’s was, that we present a mature, unified picture of the body of Christ, being of the same mind, at peace with one another and with God. In this way, we will display the glory and the heart of our King, Jesus Christ.
Melanie Rainer is a bookworm from birth who makes her days writing, editing and reading in Nashville, where she also joyfully serves as the editor of Kids Read Truth. She has an M.A. in Theological Studies from Covenant Seminary, spends as much time as she can in the kitchen, and can’t wait until her two daughters are old enough to read Anne of Green Gables.