2 Corinthians 13:14 is one of the most often quoted verses in all the Scriptures. It reads, ‘The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all’.
Many a public worship service has been and is closed with this benediction. Familiarity though must not breed contempt! The verse is infinitely more than the ecclesiastical equivalent of a factory hooter signalling, ‘All out! It’s closing time!’ It is rich in meaning and rich in blessing.
We notice first that it is distinctly trinitarian. It mentions the Lord Jesus Christ, God (which implies the Father) and the Holy Spirit.
The divine Trinity is fundamental to Christian belief about God, as revealed in the Bible. ‘There are three persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory’ (Shorter Catechism).
We also notice that the blessing of this triune God is not the prerogative of a special elite, but of ‘all’; that is, of all Christians including those at Corinth, some of whom were distinctly immature in their faith.
So this blessing is the new birth-right of all Christians in all eras and in all places; of those who have been enabled to realise their spiritual need and seek the grace, love and fellowship of the triune God to meet it.
Let us now analyse this benediction a little further. If we truly grasp the reality behind it, we will see that we are supremely blessed with a blessing this world can neither give nor take away.
The benediction begins with Paul expressing the desire that his readers will know ‘the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ’.
Paul may be described as the apostle of divine grace. God’s grace permeates all his letters. In 2 Corinthians he had already written, ‘You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich’ (8:9).
Unusually, he here puts the second person of the Trinity before the first. The usual order is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Why did Paul change the order? Because it is through the Lord Jesus that we come to know the love of God, and the God of love, in our personal experience.
It is through Jesus that we come to know God, for, as God in the flesh, Christ is the unsurpassed revelation of the invisible God. Notice that Paul assumes Christ’s deity; he is ‘the Lord’. And it is through the saving work of Christ that sinners are reconciled to God.
Knowing God’s grace means knowing the gift which he bestows — his unmerited, undeserved blessing and favour. Knowing his grace means knowing the salvation which he alone can give.
‘The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Romans 6:23). ‘Everyone who believes in him [the Lord Jesus] receives forgiveness of sins through his name’ (Acts 10:43).
‘The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ’, then, takes priority of order in the triune blessing of 2 Corinthians 13:14.
There’s a way back to God, from
the dark paths of sin
There’s a door that is open, and you
may go in,
At Calvary’s cross, is where you
When you come as a sinner to
Paul’s desire is also that we know ‘the love of God’ — that is, the love of God the Father. Here, all explanations are inadequate. The love of God for his people is a boundless tide stretching from eternity past to eternity future.
The Bible though links the love of God with the sending of his Son to redeem us. God’s love is not abstract, but known by what this love does for us. It refers more to his action than his emotion: ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life’ (John 3:16);
‘God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us’ (Romans 5:8); ‘in this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins’ (1 John 4:10).
A master theologian said, in a rich and pregnant definition about the love of God: ‘God’s love is an exercise of his goodness towards individual sinners, whereby, having identified himself with their welfare, he has given his Son to be their Saviour, and now brings them to know and enjoy him in covenant relation’ (J. I. Packer).
The Spirit’s fellowship
Lastly, we note the benediction expresses Paul’s desire that we know personally the blessing of ‘the fellowship of the Holy Spirit’.
By this, he means the participation in or communication of the Holy Spirit, for it is the Holy Spirit who imparts the love of God and grace of the Lord Jesus into our hearts, so that we know and enjoy these personally.
‘God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us’ (Romans 5:5); ‘we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God chose you from the beginning to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth’ (2 Thessalonians 2:13).
The Shorter Catechism states: ‘We are made partakers of the redemption purchased by Christ by the effectual application of it to us by his Holy Spirit’. It is the Holy Spirit who convicts us of our sin and lost plight, and then enables us to trust in the crucified Saviour who died to save us from our sins. And, in trusting Christ, we are reconciled to God the Father.
And so we see the nature of Christian salvation. The Father sent the Son, and the Father and the Son send the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit leads us to Christ, and Christ reconciles us to the Father.
No member of the Trinity works in isolation. There is a perfect harmony and order in God’s salvation. The triune God brings triune salvation. The Christian’s response throughout the ages has been triune praise, to the glory of the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
So how fitting it is to close a church service on the Lord’s Day with 2 Corinthians 13:14. As we face the stresses and strains of an unknown week ahead, this blessing is all we need for a happy life, and even a happy death and eternity.
The greatest blessing which any of us can know is that of the triune God — his grace, love and fellowship. We usually add an ‘Amen’ to the blessing: ‘it is so’ or ‘may it be so’.
‘The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen!’