In doing research for my previous series on the terms that Paul used to refer to other Christians (and whether or not those terms indicate a superior/subordinate relationship), I ran across a passage in 2 Corinthians in which Paul mentions his authority. I’ve come across this passage before, but I had not stopped to consider it in detail.
The statement itself is fairly short: “For this reason I write these things while I am away from you, that when I come I may not have to be severe in my use of the authority that the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down.” (2 Corinthians 13:10 ESV)
What is this “authority” that Paul is talking about? Apparently, he does believe that he has authority, and that this authority was given to him by the Lord for Paul to use to build up other brothers and sisters in Christ.
But, the question is, why does Paul have this authority? Is it special to Paul as an individual? Is it special to Paul as an apostle?
To begin with, notice that there is a particular reason that is causing Paul to use this authority. What is “this reason” that Paul plans to come and be severe in his authority? Well, apparently, there is some sin among the brothers and sisters in Corinth. Paul began talking about this sin earlier in chapter 13, and it is this sin (“this reason”) that is causing him to plan to use authority.
But, it is not only the existence of sin among the Corinthians that is causing him to plan to use authority. The main problem is that the Corinthians have not dealt with this sin on their own.
That’s right, the only reason that Paul is planning to “use authority” in this situation is that the Corinthians have not used the same authority themselves. In fact, Paul is almost incredulous that the Corinthians have not realized that they have the authority to deal with this sin because Jesus Christ dwells in them in power – just as he dwells in Paul in power.
Paul’s desire is that when he comes to Corinth for the third time, he finds that the Corinthians have found that Jesus Christ truly does dwell among them and that they have dealt with the issues of sin among them in the same authority that Paul himself would use otherwise.
So, the authority is not something that Paul has because he is Paul, and it’s not an authority that Paul has because he is an apostle. The authority is something Paul has because Jesus Christ dwells in him through the Holy Spirit.
But, guess what?!? All followers of Jesus Christ have the same authority because Jesus Christ also dwells in them through the Holy Spirit.
The Corinthians are not speaking and living according to the authority because they are not living in the power of Jesus Christ who dwells in them. But, the same authority that Paul plans to use is available to the Corinthians – and, in fact, to all believers.
What kind of authority does Paul plan to use (if necessary) when he comes to Corinth again? The same authority that every believer has – the authority of Jesus Christ who dwells in those who follow him.