2 Corinthians 13:11-13,
Watching the news on television and the internet, we see daily reports of murders. The horrific nature of human beings to kill is illustrated in the story of Cain and Abel, the children of Adam and Eve, the ancestors of mankind. Cain, the elder brother, killed Abel, the younger brother. This murder is described in the Old Testament Genesis 4:1-8. Let me read the passage.
Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD.” And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.” Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.
The motive for the murder was Cain’s jealousy toward Abel. Cain’s job was to cultivate the land and Abel’s job was to herd sheep. They each offered what they had gained from their work as an offering to God. Cain offered the harvested grain and Abel offered the sheep that had been born. However, there was a subtle difference between the two men when they presented their offerings. Cain offered only a portion of the harvest, while Abel offered “the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions.” A “firstborn” is a child born for the first time. Abel had the attitude of offering the first and best of what God had given him. This shows an attitude of deep gratitude to God that Cain did not have. Of course, Cain also gave an offering, so it is not that he did not have a sense of gratitude at all. But it seems that he did not have the same deep gratitude as Abel.
And this difference in attitude of thanksgiving caused a great difference in outcome. That is, God “had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard.” It is not clear what exactly is meant by “had regard” and “had no regard.” At any rate, God showed some sign to Abel that he was willing to accept the offering, but not to Cain that he was willing to accept the offering. Cain then “was very angry, and his face fell” at God’s response. Imagine if you were Cain, it is not hard to understand how Cain would have felt. But before he fell his face in anger, he could have asked, “God, why didn’t you have regard for my offering?” Or he could have said, “This is the offering I can give this time, so please accept it. Next time I will give more wholeheartedly.”
However, Cain “was very angry, and his face fell” without talking to God. He then became jealous toward Abel, and killed him out of hatred. Before Cain committed this sin of murder, God asked him, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.” God is giving Cain the opportunity to talk. Cain could have used this opportunity to ask, “God, why didn’t you have regard for my offering?” Not only that, but he could have also said, “It is too much for you not to have regard for my offering!” He could have told God how he honestly felt. But Cain killed Abel out of jealousy and hatred, without any dialogue with God.
This story of Cain and Abel eloquently illustrates that people who lose their peaceful relationship with God commit the sin of murder against their neighbours. And the converse of this is that people who are at peace with God can also be at peace with their neighbours. Peace does not mean a calm relationship that is free from any disturbances. As long as we are alive, it is natural for human beings to have feelings of joy, anger, sorrow and pleasure. However, we have a “peaceful” relationship with God when we first ask God to hear our feelings of joy, anger, sorrow and pleasure, and walk in dialogue with him. If you read the Old Testament psalms, you will hear people who believe in God lamenting, questioning and appealing to God in the midst of their sufferings. People who can talk to God do not amplify their feelings of joy, anger and sorrow inside themselves, or do not suddenly vent them against their neighbours. First of all, they can talk to God and maintain a “peaceful” relationship with God, and then they can create a “peaceful” relationship of dialogue with their neighbours as well.
Today, it is the end of the second letter to the Corinthians, which we began studying together in September 2020. As we studied this letter, we were taught that there were serious problems in the church of Corinth, such as conflicts amongst the believers and conflicts between the believers and the apostle Paul. And when you get down to those problems, you get to the most fundamental problem: the relationship of the Corinthian church with God. So, in chapter 5 verse 20 of this letter, Paul wrote about the reconciliation of God and man through Christ and says: “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” And in verse 11 of chapter 13, the closing verse of this letter, Paul said, “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.” These words of exhortation are appropriate, given the problems of conflict in the Corinthian church. And there seem to be two points to note in this verse 11.
Firstly, in Japanese Bible, it is written “kanzenna mononi narinasai” i.e., “be perfect” instead of “aim for restoration. When you say “be perfect” in Japanese, it sounds as if you are saying “be perfect and blameless.” But the nuance of what Paul is saying here is different. A little earlier, in the second half of verse 9, Paul said, “Your restoration is what we pray for.” As I told you in my commentary on these words, the verb katartizo (καταρτίζω), which expresses the same meaning as the Greek noun katartisis (κατάρτισις), means “to cause to be in a condition to function well, put in order, restore.” In other words, what Paul is praying for here is that the congregation of the Corinthian church would be restored to a right relationship with Christ, with Paul, and amongst each other. And in verse 11, Paul encourages the congregation to do what he prays for in verse 9. So the original nuance of verse 11, would be translated as “restore the relationship.” If translated as such, the exhortation in verse 11 would read: “Rejoice. Restore the relationship, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace,” we can see that it is written on the consistent theme of “peace.”
When this verse is read in the English Bible, there are various translations, such as NIV 2011: “Strive for full restoration,” ESV: “Aim for restoration,” REB: “Mend your ways.” The congregation of the Corinthian church had been fighting amongst themselves, rebelling against Paul, and being misled by false evangelists into turning away from Christ on the cross. It was therefore necessary that such conditions should be corrected and right relationships restored, both to Christ, to Paul, and amongst themselves. Paul prays to God for that, and encourages the congregation to do so.
Secondly, in Japanese Bible, the word “sousureba” i.e., “so that” connects the first half of verse 11 with the second half of verse 11: ‘So that the God of love and peace will be with you.” Taken literally, this means that if you do what the first half of verse 11 says, the result will be that “the God of love and peace will be with you”. In other words, it is a condition of “the God of love and peace be with you” that the congregation does the deeds recommended in the first half of verse 11. However, if you think about it, Paul was emphatically stating in this letter that in the process of reconciliation between God and man, God’s work comes first. For example, the exhortation to be reconciled to God in chapter 5 verse 20, quoted earlier, is preceded by the statement in chapter 5 verse 18: “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” This stated the prior work of God. In this light, one wonders whether it is not a strange teaching of Paul to say that “the God of love and peace will be with you” if the congregation of Corinthian church makes various efforts stated in the first half of verse 11.
The Greek conjunction kai (καὶ), which connects the first half of verse 11 with the second half of verse 11, is normally translated into Japanese as “soshite.” In English it is “and.” However, in the Japanese Bible, for some reason, it is translated as “sousureba” i.e., “so that.” When I read recent English Bibles, all the ones I have read are simply “and” (ESV, NRSV, NIV 2011, REB). According to a biblical scholar, it is grammatically possible to read the second half of verse 11 as being the result of the actions of the first half of verse 11. However, the scholar states that it is rather better to read the second half of verse 11 as the source of the power that enables the deeds recommended in the first half of verse 11. In other words, verse 11 should be read as “Rejoice. Restore the relationship, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace. For the God of love and peace is with you.” I believe the nuance of Paul’s writing is best conveyed when it is read like that.
Verse 12, “Greet one another with a holy kiss,” would apply the custom of the New Testament times, when family members greeted one another with a kiss, to God’s family, the church. The custom of greeting differs from time to time and place to place. Therefore, it should not be interpreted to mean that this custom should be done in all churches in all times and places. Verse 13, “All the saints greet you,” is most reasonably taken to mean the congregations of the churches in the province of Macedonia. This is because Paul would have been staying in a church in the province of Macedonia at this time and writing this letter.
The last words of verse 14, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all,” should be familiar to you. This is because the benediction at the end of the worship service is based on this biblical passage. The Bible teaches that the God of the Bible is a triune God who works as God the Father, the Son Jesus Christ, and God the Holy Spirit. The words “Chichi, Miko, Mitama,” i.e., “Father, Son and Spirit” in the doxology sung before the benediction at the end of the service also refer to this triune God.
It makes sense that the benediction does not begin with “the love of God the Father,” but with “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.” This is because the love of God the Father is expressed to us by the grace of the Cross of Jesus Christ, his Son. Without the grace of the cross of Jesus Christ the Son, we would not have known the love of God the Father. Paul says in Romans 5:8: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Also, in the Gospel of John 3:16, which is often read at Christmas, it says: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son.” Furthermore, 1 John 4:10 says: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Therefore, the benediction begins with “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ,” which is most familiar to us.
It is also significant that the benediction does not end with “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ” and “the love of God the Father, but is connected with “the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.” This is because without the work of the Holy Spirit we cannot receive the grace of Christ. To receive Christ’s grace, we need faith in the cross of Christ. Paul teaches in the second chapter of the 1 Corinthians that faith in the cross of Christ is not given by the wisdom of this age, but by the works of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, there is no need to be impatient when you do not understand the meaning of the cross of Christ, or when you cannot believe in the cross of Christ. All you have to do is pray and wait for the Holy Spirit to be given to you. And the Holy Spirit is always given by God the Father if one prays for it. As Christ tells us in Luke 11:13 that even an evil man gives good gifts to his children, “how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Let us receive the Holy Spirit from God the Father, believe in the grace of the Cross of Christ, and live in reconciled and peaceful relationship with God the Father. And let us strive to live in constant prayerful dialogue with God the Father, so that we may also live in peace with our neighbours, with whom we are made alive by God.