May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:13)
By Bob Regazzoli, Pastor, Australia
This scripture listed above is found in Paul’s last letter to the believers in Corinth and is often used as a benediction – the invocation of a blessing upon the congregation at the end of a worship service. Within this one verse we see the life of the Triune God and how our participation in this life is a key to being a healthy church. Gordon Fee, biblical scholar, theologian and Professor Emeritus at Regent College, said:
In many ways this benediction is the most profound theological moment in the Pauline corpus…. As Barth put it with extraordinary insight, “Trinity is the Christian name for God.” Here we begin to glimpse Paul’s understanding of that reality, namely, that to be Christian one must finally understand God in a Trinitarian way.
I see three key take-aways from this verse and I add three correlated questions:
- The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is always with us, but are we conscious of it?
- The love of God is who God is, and his unconditional love is always there, never diminishing, but are we mindful of our continually living in his love?
- The Holy Spirit is in us at all times, enabling us to fellowship with Jesus and the Father in love and unity, but are we aware of his indwelling presence and his guidance and prompting?
The great blessing this verse describes is that we live in the awareness and the ongoing experience of the communion of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This inspires and encourages us in our life of worship, community and mission. We become like what we worship! “At the center of the universe is a relationship…. The center of reality is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” We are included in this most awe-inspiring relationship.
Let’s look at this verse in more detail:
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ
Our Christian life begins with grace, and we never stop living in his grace. We, as sinners, are saved by the grace of God. His grace was personified in the incarnation of Jesus. The Word became flesh and was full of grace and truth. We come to the Father through Jesus. Tom Wright describes grace this way: “Paul can also use the word ‘grace’ to describe not only what God freely and lovingly does for us, but also what he does in us and also through us; …in Jesus grace became human.” We exist by the grace of God. We live by his grace, and we are motivated to good deeds by the grace of God. This glorified body of grace, Jesus, is always with us. As Paul often wrote, our life is “in him.”
The love of God
We are blessed as we live in the love of God. Why do we sometimes think that God doesn’t love us, or doesn’t love us as much as we would like? We grow up living in a world where much of our experience is conditional love, and it is difficult for us to believe at times that God loves us unconditionally – no matter what our lives are like at any given moment. We continue to be reminded of the unconditional love of God, demonstrated through his beloved Son, in coming to this world to die for us. “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9). Jesus died for us while we were dead in sins, so how can God’s love ever waver because of our failings and sins? God’s love for us is perfect love at all times. God is truly for us.
Fellowship of the Holy Spirit
The Greek word translated “‘fellowship” is koinonia, which is also translated “partnership,” “participation,” “sharing,” and “communion.” We see this emphasis through Paul’s letters to the Corinthians. Koinonia is describing intimate fellowship. The Corinthians were having difficulties in a number of areas of Christian living and in their relationships with one another. There were factions, social divisions, immoral living, doctrinal confusion, abuse of the Lord’s Supper, criticism of the apostle Paul and a lack of generosity. As Gordon Fee explains: “This remarkable grace-benediction is the only one of its kind in the extant Pauline corpus…. It seems more likely than not to have directly resulted from matters in this letter.”
The answer to all the issues the Corinthians were dealing with is contained in this one verse. They needed to continually be aware of the blessing of participating and living in the communion of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is the same “need” we have today – to be continually aware of what it means to participate and live in the communion of the Father, Son and Spirit. In his first epistle to the Corinthians, Paul gives us great insights into the work of the Holy Spirit and experiencing life in the Spirit. The Holy Spirit renews us each day, drawing us closer to God.
Be with you all
This letter was written to the church community, so that the whole community may know they are invited to be drawn into closer fellowship with God. God wants everyone to experience the love and joy of living in communion with him. “The very nature of God, therefore, is to seek out the deepest possible communion and friendship with every last creature on this earth.”
So let’s summarize this benediction. Through the grace of Jesus, we come to know and experience the God who is love, and we enjoy the fellowship of the Triune God through the Holy Spirit. “It is by the Spirit that the Father has eternally loved his Son. And so, by sharing their Spirit with us, the Father and the Son share with us their own life, love and fellowship.” The Trinity is the most intimate loving relationship that can possibly be experienced.
What a magnificent prayer of blessing Paul gave the Corinthian church and for all Christians with this beautiful conclusion. “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” Amen!
 Gordon D. Fee, God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994), 363.
 Darrell W. Johnson, Experiencing The Trinity. (Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 2002), 37.
 N.T. Wright, Paul for Everyone: 2 Corinthians (London: SPCK, 146.
 Fee, 362.
 Catherine LaCugna, God for Us: the Trinity and Christian Life (San Francisco: Harper, 1991), 411.
 Michael Reeves, Delighting in the Trinity (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2012), 96.