The Ideal Church According to 2 Corinthians  
By Paul Robison

Here are three interesting statements about the church.  The first statement says: “There is a subtle false teaching that says we can be Christian without being evangelistic.  And it has us to believe that ‘attending’ the church is more important than ‘being’ the church” (Lyons modified in Rowell).  The second statement says: “A congregation is only a congregation when the majority of its members are making the transition from ‘the congregation for myself’ to the new outlook of ‘myself for the congregation’” (Vanier in Rowell).  The third statement says: “Ideally, when Christians meet as Christians to take counsel together, their purpose is not—or should not be—to ascertain what is in the mind of the majority but what is in the mind of the Holy Spirit—something which may be quite different” (Thatcher in Rowell).  Being the church, giving ourselves to the church, and letting the Spirit guide the church are all important concepts.  Someone has come up with this interesting definition of the church: “It is an interdependent life-pulsating people under the Spirit’s guidance who realize this truth: ‘We don’t have it all together without Christ, but together in Christ we have it all’” (Ogden).  Someone has calculated that there are about 95 images in the New Testament for the church (Ibid.).  Today, we want to focus on some characteristics that we discover about the church from the book of 2 Corinthians.  Before we examine them, let’s take a brief look at the background of this letter.

Someone has
noted that this letter is most autobiographical (and perhaps the most emotional) of all of Paul’s letters (Weed).  He writes to a troubled congregation that lives in “the Las Vegas” of the ancient world.  “Because of the riot of the silversmiths in Ephesus (Acts 19), Paul fled from there and headed to Macedonia in the spring of 55 A.D.  In the process, he made a preliminary stop at Troas hoping to meet with Titus so that he could get an update on the situation in Corinth.  Not finding Titus there, Paul pushed on and probably stopped in Philippi.  There he met Titus, who brought him not only good news about the general well-being of the Corinthian church but also bad news about a group who were standing in opposition to Paul and his authority” (Keathley III).  So Paul then writes this letter.  A good two word summary is “Be complete!” or we might say, “Strive for perfection!”  The letter can be divided into three major sections.  In the first, Paul explains his apostolic ministry of reconciliation (chapters 1-7).  In the next, he exhorts the brethren at Corinth to do their part in helping with the collection for those in Jerusalem (chapters 8-9).  In the last section, he expects the brethren at Corinth to recognize and to obey his apostolic authority (chapters 10-13).  He explains, he exhorts, and he expects.  As was noted, this letter has much to say about Paul as a minister, and it has much to say about the church in an indirect way.  So let’s look at these characteristics of the church that Paul gives.

First of all
, the church suffers for Christ.  Let's read 1:6-7: “Now if we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effective for enduring the same suffering which we also suffer.  Or if we are comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation.  And our hope for you is steadfast, because we know that as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also you will partake of the consolation.”  This is one of the greatest texts on God's comfort.  But notice how comfort is also linked with suffering for Christ.  Abundant suffering and abundant comfort are signs of authentic Christianity (Hughes).  Our afflictions also enable us to be more effective in helping and comforting others when they are afflicted.  Someone gave this advice: “Are you suffering afflictions because of your commitment to Christ?  Do not run.  Do not curse your circumstances.  Instead, patiently endure and your comfort will overflow” (Hughes).  So the first reality is that the church suffers, but we are comforted by God so that we can comfort others.

Secondly, the church forgives the penitent.  Let's read 2:6-7 and 10: “This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man, so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow. ... Now whom you forgive anything, I also forgive.  For if indeed I have forgiven that one for you sakes in the presence of Christ, lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices”  The text doesn't reveal exactly who this person is; it could be the brother mentioned in 1 Corinthians 5 or it could be someone else.  But the text does reveal that the Corinthian members had withheld forgiveness from this penitent member.  We see that forgiveness is not an option, but an imperative.  If the Corinthian members failed to forgive, it would show that they had never known Christ's forgiveness themselves!  If they did not forgive, they endangered their own souls because Satan loves to see unforgiving churches since he knows that they soon become embittered and ineffective churches.  If we as a congregation are unwilling to forgive a penitent member, then maybe we had better take inventory of our own salvation!  Both church discipline and congregational forgiveness take much hard work and humility.  The church forgives the penitent.

Thirdly, the church
influences the world.  Now before we read some more verses, think of three things: letters, mirrors, and benches, which judges in courtrooms sit behind.  Believe it or not, Paul uses these things to show us how Christians influence the world.  Concerning letters, note 3:2: “You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men; clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink, but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tables of stone, but on tables of flesh, that is, of the heart.”  Christians are like letters who others read because they behave differently than in their past, and they have this new behavior because they are being led by God's Spirit (He is like an ink on the heart, which was exactly what the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel predicted would happen under the new covenant)!  Just by being yourself and obeying the Spirit, you can influence others!  Concerning mirrors, notice 4:6: “For it is the God who commands light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in your hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”  Just as God commanded the light into existence, God now uses the face of Christ, like a mirror, for us to reflect the light of His knowledge to others.  Just by being yourself and reflecting the light that you see each day in Jesus' face, you can influence others!  Concerning the benches of the judges, notice 5:10-11: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are well known to God, and I also trust are well known in your consciences.”  We must all stand before the Supreme Judges' bench one day, and we will give an account of what we did during our lives.  Because we know the Supreme Judge can either reward or punish us, we try to persuade others to repent before it’s too late.  Just by being yourself and telling others of the judgment to come, you can influence others!  As letters, mirrors, and reminders of Jesus’ final judgment, the church influences the world!

Next, the church
preaches reconciliation.  Let's look at 5:18ff: “Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.”  Someone has said, “The ministry of reconciliation is not telling people to make peace with God, but telling them that God has made peace with the world” (Hughes).  Well, how has God made peace with the world?  That's the message, we as God's  ambassadors, get to tell others, and it's spelled out very simply in 5:21: “For He [God] made Him [Jesus] who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”  Christ was made sin (or our sins were put on Him), and sinners were made righteous (His righteousness was put on us).  There's the great exchange that took place at the cross!  That's the Gospel, the good news!  Another person puts it this way: “Christ was treated as if He was us [i.e. punished for our sins], so that we would be treated as if we were Him [i.e. rewarded by being given His righteousness]” (Brothers)!  Maybe it can be put this way—Trade in your sinful life's clunker by surrendering it to God, and He'll give you a brand new sinless model, because that's what Jesus was!  Now with a deal like that, how can some of you fail to make the trade-in when the invitation hymn is sung, leave this assembly, and keep driving your old spiritual clunker?  Without Jesus, we are all enemies of God!  Won't you let Jesus make you His friend?  “For He [God] made Him [Jesus] who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”  The church preaches reconciliation.

Next, the church
perfects holiness.  Let's read 6:16-18: “For you are the temple of the living God.  As God has said: 'I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My  people.'  Therefore, 'Come out from among them and be separate says the Lord.  Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you.  I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters , says the Lord Almighty.'  Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of the Lord.” The living God dwells among us and desires to be our gracious heavenly Father, but we must cleanse our lives from whatever impacts us toward filthiness and evil.  And maybe this is why some of you don't want to make that trade-in.  Giving up the pleasures of the world is just too costly.  But brethren, now let's listen to these two judgments and reflect ourselves.  One person observes that the church is sick, and sick people are crowding to join us.  We now accept the unscripturally remarried, the blatant homosexuals, and the fun-loving pagans.  “We are no longer narrow; it's a wide road of popular acceptance for us” (Hughes quoting Bayly).  Another observes: “God's demand in this passage is personal, comprehensive, and moral – for progressive moral transformation ... The great tragedy for so many members is that as they get older, they do not get any holier. ... They left their moral apex in elementary school.  They were better girls and boys than they are women and men” (Hughes).  The church perfects holiness.

Next, the
church gives generously.   We saw earlier how Paul exhorts the brethren at Corinth to do their part in helping with the collection for those in Jerusalem in chapters 8-9.  Let's read 8:6-7: “So we urged Titus, that as he had begun, so he would also complete this grace in you as well.  But as you abound in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all diligence, and in your love for us—see that you abound in this grace also.”  Paul points out how Titus had helped them in the past with this collection, which Paul calls an act of grace.  In fact, Paul says that just as the Corinthian brethren have shown excellence in several areas, he wants them to show their excellence or generosity in their giving too!  That generosity is also seen when Paul encourages them to sow bountifully (9:6)!  The poet Whittier once wrote: “Somehow, not only for Christmas, but all the long year through, the joy that you give to others is the joy that comes back to you.  And the more you spend in blessing the poor, and the lonely, and sad, the more of your heart’s possessions return to make you glad!”  The church gives generously.

Next, the church gets the job done.  Let's read 9:5: “Therefore, I thought it necessary to exhort the brethren to go to you ahead of time, and prepare your generous gift beforehand, which you had previously promised, that it may be ready as a matter of generosity and not as a grudging obligation.”  One commentator has this to say: “Therefore Paul sent [other] brethren to Corinth to remind the disciples of their promise and their duty. ... Paul thought it 'necessary' to send agents to get the job done.  He wanted the gift of money to be the liberal [or generous] act of willing [brethren].  He warned that if the promised contribution was not ready upon his arrival, he would lean heavily upon their purses” (Dobbs).  The brethren in Corinth had stated their desire to help with this collection a year earlier (8:10), but they had not followed through on their desire, so Paul is encouraging them, with some help from some other brethren, to get the job done.  Someone has said: “Plan you work and then work your plan.”  So do we have a congregational plan and are we working our plan?  Maybe that would be a good advice for us to follow.  The church gets the job done!

Next, the church fights the good fight.  Paul describes this fight in 10:3: “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh.  For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled.”  As Christians, our warfare does not deal with the physical, but with the spiritual.  Yet Paul shows us that this warfare is every bit as intense as any earthly conflict.  What is at stake is the knowledge of God, and there are cultural evils and false religions (or strongholds), and false teachers (who give erroneous arguments), and those in political authority (every high thing that exalts itself) which try to suppress the truth about God.  The battle is ideological as we try to exalt Christ and His teachings so that people's minds might be made captive to do His will.  One commentator stated: “The mind must be so trained that eventually good thoughts, and not evil, will dominate our hearts. This can only come about by much prayer, much training, [and much discipline].  It is a never-ending battle, but it should be the aim of us all” (James).  And then notice that Paul says he will punish the disobedient false teachers who have come to Corinth after the brethren have shown their obedience to Paul.  Paul will leave no stone unturned on those battlefields that affect his coverts' thinking to turning away from Christ!  The church fights the good fight, as Bro. Lynn so often reminds us!

Next, the church reflects on faithfulness.  Throughout chapters 10-12, Paul argues passionately about his authority as an apostle.  Undoubtedly, those false brethren who had come to Corinth were trying to persuade the brethren there that Paul was not a legitimate apostle.  So Paul gives them proof after proof of his authority as an apostle. This brings us to 13:4ff: “For though He [Jesus] was crucified in weakness, yet He lives by the power of God.  For we also are weak in Him, but we shall live with Him by the power of God toward you.  Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith.  Test yourselves.  Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?--unless indeed you are disqualified. But I trust that you will know that we are not disqualified.”  The passage could be paraphrased: “Christ may have appeared weak to others at His crucifixion, but we Christians know that He lives by God's power!  And we apostles may also appear weak to you Corinthian brethren, but when I come to visit you, then you will see God's power working through me for your benefit!  You folks who have been wanting proof of my authority as a apostle and wish to examine me, why not examine yourselves to see if your really are in Christ's teachings.  Test yourselves against the fires of persecution!  You folks who are also preaching that Grecian philosophy of “Know yourself!”, why not put it into practice, and you will see that Christ does live in you, unless you really have been led astray and have become disqualified!”  Wow, Paul was really challenging these brethren to reflect on their faithfulness.  And the church should challenge us to do the same!

Lastly, the church keeps on track.  Notice the final admonitions in 13:11ff: “Finally, brethren, farewell.  Become complete.  Be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.”  Become complete is how my version reads.  One version translated it: “Strive for perfection” (ABS)!  One brother translated it: “Mend your ways” (McCord)!  The literal idea is to restore something, like a doctor restoring a broken bone (Barrett).  Another brother said that the idea is to receive instruction so that the Corinthian brethren would rise to a higher spiritual level (Kelcy).  Perhaps “Keep yourselves on track, keep in the faith, keep in Christ” is how we might say it.  The brethren at Corinth were to work together too help each other to stay in the faith and to make progress in it as well.  And we must do the same.  Let’s help each other to be obedient to Christ’s teachings.  The church keeps on track.

Being church
is far more important than attending church.  When we are the church, we suffer for Christ, forgive the penitent, influence the world, preach reconciliation, perfect holiness, give generously, work our plans, fight the good fight, reflect often on faithfulness, and help each other to keep on track.  That’s a challenging life, a challenge that can keep you working at it until you reach your grave!  Be complete!  Strive for perfection!  Help us to be the church that Paul wants us to be!  Isn’t it about time that you gave up the world’s pleasures and made that trade-in?  It will be a good fight to the finish!  It’s a never-ending battle to be more like Jesus!