God is smarter than us. Okay, I realize that this isn’t exactly a news flash, but it is an idea that, though obvious, should be given careful consideration. Because God is smarter than us, it is absolutely reasonable that there would be things about His person and purposes that we simply don’t understand. These unknowables are mysteries that are beyond us, and one of the greatest mysteries of the Bible is that of the Trinity—that God is three persons yet one at the same time.
Admittedly, the word trinity never appears in the scriptures, but the concept does. And, while we may not be able to discern the nuances of how the Trinity exists and while the way the Godhead functions may be beyond us, the scriptures give us glimpses of our Triune God so that we can understand that this is who our God is—even if most everything about God’s three-in-one nature is a mystery.
One example of the biblical teaching of God’s trinitarian nature is found in one of the benedictions of the New Testament. What is a benediction? One online source says that a benediction is “the utterance or bestowing of a blessing, especially at the end of a religious service.” As such, biblical benedictions often come at or near the conclusion of the New Testament books that contain them. The benediction we will consider here is found in the final verse of 2 Corinthians, which reads:
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. (13:14; emphasis added)
Before we begin to examine this rich benediction, it would be helpful to establish some context. First, Paul is writing to the church at Corinth—a church with which the apostle had a history of tension. Although Paul himself had established the new assembly there (see Acts 18:1–18), he had written a rather strident letter (1 Corinthians) that had directed correction at a number of problems, excesses, and failings in the congregation at Corinth—a letter which, apparently, had not been received well. This prompted another letter, but with a very different tone.
In this second canonical letter to Corinth (2 Corinthians), Paul sought to respond to that tension by sometimes challenging them and at other times being very conciliatory toward them. The letter winds down with Paul describing what he has endured for the gospel (ch.11–12) and with words of challenge and encouragement for them (ch.13). It is in that spirit of encouragement that Paul wrote the concluding verse of 2 Corinthians—his closing benediction. Of this blessing, The New Bible Commentary says:
The closing call for God’s blessing is especially significant because it is the only place in the NT where God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are explicitly mentioned together in such a blessing.
First, notice how the Trinity is presented in Paul’s prayer of blessing. We are accustomed to hearing the Godhead presented as Father, Son, and Spirit—in that order. In 2 Corinthians 13:14, however, the order is Jesus, Father, and Spirit. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary suggests a possible reason for this order of presentation:
This order also reflects Christian experience: we come to Christ and so encounter God and then receive his Spirit.
If that is the intent behind the ordering of the members of the Trinity, it makes perfect sense for this benediction. So, then, what is the blessing Paul bestows on his sometimes-contrary friends at Corinth? Pastor and author Warren W. Wiersbe presented this pastoral view of the blessings of the benediction:
The closing benediction in 2 Corinthians 13:14 is one of the most beloved used in the church. It emphasizes the Trinity (see Matt. 28:19) and the blessings we can receive because we belong to God. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ reminds us of His birth, when He became poor in order to make us rich (see 2 Cor. 8:9). The love of God takes us to Calvary where God gave His Son as the sacrifice for our sins (John 3:16). The communion of the Holy Ghost reminds us of Pentecost, when the Spirit of God came and formed the church (Acts 2).
That is quite helpful. But, another way of looking at this benediction is to see these blessings as a review of some of the main themes Paul has developed in this letter.
The actual blessings each member of the Godhead bestows upon the children of God would, of course, include grace, and it comes through Jesus. As a young follower of Christ, I was taught to understand grace through the acrostic G-R-A-C-E, which represented “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.” We see this grace clearly in 2 Corinthians 5:21 where Jesus is giving us what we could never earn (i.e., grace) and what we desperately needed—right relationship with God:
He (the Father) made Him (Jesus) who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness (right relationship) of God in Him. (clarifications added)
It was at Christ’s expense—the bearing of our sins—that our standing with God was made possible. For the blessing of God’s love, we travel back to the opening stanza of this letter where we read:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (1:3–4)
While we are most surely saved through the love of God (see John 3:16), we must never lose sight of the fact that we are also sustained by His love—often expressed in His comfort and mercies during our most difficult moments in life.
This brings us to the fellowship of the Spirit, which is possible because of the spiritual freedom we have received in and from the Spirit:
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. (3:17)
Such amazing blessings these are from the Godhead to followers of Jesus! With all the mystery surrounding the Trinity and how to define or describe this three-in-one God, one thing is clear—the Triune God cares deeply for us and for this world, and has worked together to come to our rescue.
And He blesses us, not merely with blessings, but with the fullness of Himself—because He is the blessing that we need most.