The prayers of Paul
This is a series on the prayers of St Paul found in the letters attributed to him in the order he is believed to have written them. Letters to the same place or person will be treated together with the first letter to that destination.
It’s often good to have a look back at the purpose of any of Paul’s letters. They were all written for a reason. In 1 Corinthians the church was small and had all sorts of problems that Paul wrote to fix. People who think that the Apostolic Age was a time when the church was perfect and want to return to those times cannot have really studied 1 Corinthians in this context.
2 Corinthians was different. The Corinthian church is reaching out and churches have been planted in surrounding towns and villages. The early part of this book mentions and gives thanks for this growth. But it is also a far more personal letter than the earlier one. Some of the people in the Corinthian church have been asking, “How do we know that Christ is speaking through Paul?”
7 But we pray to God that you may not do wrong—not that we may appear to have met the test, but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed. 8 For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. 9 For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. Your restoration is what we pray for.
14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.2 Corinthians 13:7-9, 14
I’ll tackle the last part first. Paul’s prayer for grace, love and fellowship is well known in liturgical churches where it is used as a blessing at the end of a service.
Grace, because what Jesus achieved in becoming human, teaching and healing during his time on earth, being crucified in weakness, being raised from death by the power of God and ascending back into heaven are given to us free. We have not done, nor do we need to do, anything to deserve it.
Love because even though we are fallen, even though we mess up frequently, even though we repeat our mistakes again and again and again, it makes no difference. God loves us no matter what.
Fellowship because the Holy Spirit in our hearts makes us one, We are united in the Holy Spirit. But please do not confuse unity and uniformity. We have different needs, likes, different theologies and different politics but we are one in the Holy Spirit.
Back to the earlier prayer, verses 7-9 and the background to that prayer.
How do we know that Paul’s ministry really is from God? Paul gives no answer other than that proof will come if they challenge them in person. Christ was crucified in weakness but was raised by the power of God, says Paul in 13:5. Then he turns the tables: “Examine yourselves,” he says, “Test yourselves.” My question should not be looking for proof that Jesus Christ is speaking in Paul, or in any other church leader from back in Paul’s day or today. My question should be, “How can I be sure that Jesus Christ is speaking in me?
Now comes the bad news about that test. YOU WILL FAIL.
Now comes the good news about that test. It doesn’t matter if you fail the test. We all fail the test. Even Paul failed the test.
That is what Paul is praying for in the prayer above:
But we pray to God that you may not do wrong—not that we may appear to have met the test, but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed.2 Corinthians 13:7
Jesus Christ became weak and was crucified in weakness so that he could be raised in the power of God. In the same way we, both collectively and individually, should become weak so that the grace and power of God can work in us and through us. Let the answer to Paul’s own prayers for strength in the previous chapter become our prayer:
9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”2 Corinthians 12:9
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