If anyone does not love the Lord – a curse be on him. Come, O Lord!
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.
My love to all of you in Christ Jesus. Amen. (verses 22-24)
What a slam-bam way to finish his letter! Warning, hope, grace, and love – each coming one after the other, all of it rooted in the Lord Jesus Christ himself.
Warning. “If anyone does not love the Lord – a curse be on him.” The statement is so apparently abrupt and harsh that it takes our breath away. It is out of sorts with the letter’s beginning (“Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” 1 Cor 1:3) and with its ending (“The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you”). But, on reflection, it carries forward the urgency of many of the issues Paul has spoken to throughout the letter. Some in the Corinthian church were undermining his authority and, more importantly, the Gospel itself, and were therefore dishonouring the Lord. With this closing statement, Paul nails home the serious consequences that result. Love for the Lord Jesus is the central calling of our lives. If, by our perspectives and behaviours, we live apart from that commitment, the weightiness of curse is all we can expect. Relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ is the defining issue of life.
Hope. “Come, O Lord!” This short English sentence is the literal translation of an Aramaic phrase that Paul inserts into the text at this point – marana tha. It looks forward to the end of time, a cry of great hope for the future, rooted in the sure knowledge that the Lord Jesus is indeed coming again. Those who do “not love the Lord” will meet him, for he is certainly coming. And so, too, will those who love him well, but for them the sureness of his coming is a great reverberating hope that invigorates the present and secures the future. What joy. Marana tha.
Grace. “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.” Amid the ongoing challenges of life and discipleship experienced by the Corinthians, and by us, the sure foundation is the grace of Jesus. Ultimately, it’s not about us – it’s about him. Our weaknesses and failings would sideline us, but his grace holds us fast. It can’t be earned. It can’t be merited. It can only be received as gift, washing us clean, bringing us full forgiveness and right standing with God, so that we have peace with him and rejoice in fully reconciled relationship. “Through our Lord Jesus Christ … we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand” (Romans 5:2). As he began this letter, so now Paul ends it, with this benediction of grace overflowing us.
Love. “Love to all of you in Christ Jesus.” This is Paul’s own declaration of ongoing affection and commitment toward the Corinthians. Yes, he has rebuked them at many points. Yes, he’s spoken sharply, giving words of correction. But now he declares that all the way through he has loved them – indeed, the implication is that his love has been the motive force for all the words he has spoken, even when they were hard-edged. And it is a love that clearly sees the reality that they are “in Christ Jesus,” the Lord himself being the very atmosphere in which these relationships thrive.
Indeed, this is the appropriate destination for all that has been said. “In Christ Jesus.” He is life’s central focus. His grace sustains us. His love fills us. His soon coming stirs our hearts.
Keep eyes on Jesus.
Lord Jesus, I turn to you again that you may fill all my vision. My relationship with you is the defining element of life. Your grace is the foundation on which I stand, the solid bedrock that preserves me amid my own faltering steps. May your love so fill me that I may extend it to others. May your presence here and now cause me to yearn more deeply for the day of your coming. Even so, come Lord Jesus. Amen.
Reflect: Warning. Hope. Grace. Love. Which of these do you most need to grasp more firmly this day? How does it change your perspective? Ask the Lord to work it in you.