The word of the day is “in.” We often use the expression “in Christ” or “in the Name of Christ.” What do we mean? Today in our reading of 2 Corinthians 13:3-14, Paul uses the term “in” in two senses. He writes, “since you seek a proof of Christ speaking in me, who is not weak toward you, but mighty in you” (OSB vs. 3). He also says, “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” (OSB vs. 5)? Today we will analyze today’s passage according to the meaning of these two uses. Our study will help us expand our understanding of our relationship to Christ.
Today in 2 Corinthians 13:3-14, Paul closes what we now call his second letter to the Corinthians. We find that the apostle is preparing the members of the congregation for his third visit. It seems that after his “painful visit” in about 55 A. D. and his letter (called 1 Corinthians), the situation has improved. But Paul worries that not every conflict has been resolved in the congregation and that not everyone practicing open and shameful sin has repented.
Paul Will Come “in the Power of God”
If either one of these is the case, Paul will not back down. He will exercise his apostolic authority in the Name and power of God (vs. 4) and correct those at fault. We find the key to this passage in a boast of his opponents. They charged that “His letters… are weighty and powerful, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible” (2 Cor. 9). The apostle responds that he will not come to Corinth in weakness but in the power of God (vs. 4). The sentence construction, however, is complex. Paul says that “you seek a proof of Christ speaking in me…” (vs. 3). Then he says that though Christ “was crucified in weakness, yet He lives by the power of God (vs. 4).
In these verses, Paul plays on this contrast between weakness and strength. In a sentence that is parallel to the verse above, he goes on, “We also are weak in Him, but we shall live with Him by the power of God toward you” (vs. 4). In other words, in his first visit Paul had said that he did not come to Corinth with powerful words and compelling wisdom but with the message of the seeming weakness of the cross. But if the apostle returns, he will come with the power of God, who raised Christ from the dead and who lives eternally. In short, Paul will come “in Christ” and manifest both the Lord’s weakness and His power. Therefore, he says that his visit will demonstrate that Christ is indeed “speaking in me” (vs. 3).
“In the Power of Christ” Means Paul Will Be the Instrument of Christ
What does it mean that he will not come in weakness but in the power of God? Paul’s use of the term does not refer to location but function. He comes as the means of God’s power and as the instrument of Christ. Therefore, he will show that Christ is “speaking in” him. That is, Christ will speak through the medium of his voice.
But then, Paul turns the whole matter around. The question to be answered is not whether Christ is “in” the apostle and that Paul is Christ’s instrument. The question is whether Christ dwells “in” the members of the Corinthian church. It is a matter for self-examination. If Jesus Christ is “in” them, then Paul’s visit will be a blessing. However, if they believe and act as if the Lord is not “in” them, then they are already “disqualified.” That is, they are already spiritual failures.
Being “In Christ” is a Spiritual State of Being
Whether one is “in” Christ refers to a location within a boundary such as a container. To be “in” Christ is, of course, not a physical position. It is a spiritual state of oneness with the Lord. Since it is an inner condition, no one can say whether another is “in Christ.” But one must know that by “self-examination” (OSB vs. 5).
For Reflection: “Being in Christ” and “Living in Christ”
The study of our reading raises the same matter for our self-examination. Are we living “in Christ”? Paul wrote in Philippians, “Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and to be found in Him…” (OSB Philippians 3:8). To be “in” Christ” means that He becomes “our wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30). When we are “in Him,” we have the gift of eternal life (Romans 6:23). When we live “outside” of the boundaries of His life, we are also “outside” the benefits of God’s grace.
Likewise, we might ask whether we are living in the Name of Christ. Paul wrote, “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (OSB Colossians 3:17). To conduct ourselves in the Name of Christ means that we speak and act with the divine power and authority of Christ as His disciples and servants. We consciously live as the instruments of the Lord’s peace, goodness, and love.