The words of the benediction found in 2 Corinthians 13:14 are familiar — perhaps so familiar that we stop really hearing them. Yet it reflects some of the most profound mysteries of the faith and provides rich comfort.
The Triune God blesses you. Receive God’s blessing. God is speaking well to you (that is what “benediction” means). The text is more than Paul’s wish. As God’s spokesman he is extending God’s blessing. This benediction, like the Aaronic benediction, involved placing God’s name on his people. You go from God’s house with his name. You face the joys, challenges, sorrows, and temptations of the week ahead as those who bear God’s name. Do you receive this blessing with faith? Or are the words simply a formula that means that the service is ended? How much of the perfect love and fellowship of the Trinitarian relationship is reflected in the conversation around your dinner table on Monday evening? Or does a lack of appreciation of the Trinity carry through to a self-centered series of snacks in front of the TV instead of meaningful fellowship with your family? The benediction forms the basis for Christian fellowship. Paul has just extended greetings to the Corinthians, verses 12, 13. He has shown his deep concern for the body of Christ and its unity, 1 Corinthians 12–14. All this grows out of God blessing his people.
As you get to know this God, you find that God is eternally Triune (three in one). The Old Testament presents God’s plurality along with his unity. God is One, Deuteronomy 6:4. The Scriptures clearly leave no room for polytheism. Yet there is evidence of plurality: the name Elohim, the Angel of the Lord (Genesis 32:30; Judges 6:12,16; Psalm 45:6), and the separate identity of the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 11:2). The mysterious truth of the Trinity is reflected in God creating mankind in his own image. The God who is both three and one, plurality and unity, creates mankind, male and female, in his image. Both Adam and Eve are image of God. It is not good for Adam to be alone, and God creates Eve from his side. Eve is like Adam, yet different from him. They are called together to have dominion, to fill the earth, and to enter God’s rest. That first marriage in the Garden, and every marriage after it, is intended to picture the relationship between God and his people, both in the Old Testament and the New — culminating in the great wedding feast of the Lamb, in which redeemed humanity, the new creation, is the beautifully appointed bride of Christ. The teaching of the New Testament is even clearer. The emphasis on monotheism continues, 1 Corinthians 8:6. Christ is the eternal Word, he is God, John 1:1–3; 20:28. The Holy Spirit is divine, John 6:63; Romans 8:11. All three persons are active, and act together, Matthew 3:16, 17; 28:19. At the beginning of your life as a Christian is your baptism into the name of the Triune God. Baptism seals your union with this God. No, you are not saved by getting wet, but there is a connection between the sign and the reality it signifies. There is comfort in that Triune name as you are discouraged. There is strength as you are tempted. The doctrine of the Trinity is crucially important. Although the word “Trinity” is not used in Scripture, you cannot reject what it represents without rejecting Scripture. The economic Trinity reflects the ontological Trinity. Ultimately the Trinity is a mystery which is accepted by faith, rather than being exhaustively understood. Yet it is basic for all of your life and thought. The ultimate resolution of the philosophic question of the one and the many lies in the Trinity.
“The seeds that developed into the full flower of New Testament trinitarian revelation are already planted in the Old Testament. Elohim, the living God, creates by speaking his word and sending his spirit. The world comes into being by a threefold cause. Similarly, YHWH, the covenant God, makes himself known to, saves, and preserves his people by his word and spirit…. A threefold divine principle underlies creation as well as re-creation and sustains the entire economy of Old Testament revelation.”
“The true development of the trinitarian ideas of the Old Testament is found in the New Testament. In the incarnation of the Son and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the one true God is revealed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These three are identical with those who revealed themselves to the Old Testament saints in word and deed, prophecy and miracle. The threefold principle in operation in creation and salvation is, however, made more clear in the New Testament. All salvation, every blessing, and blessedness have their threefold cause in God—the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The New Testament revelation is trinitarian through and through.”
“It is in the doctrine of the Trinity that we feel the heartbeat of God’s entire revelation for the redemption of humanity. We are baptized in the name of the triune God, and in that name we find rest for our soul and peace for our conscience. Our God is above us, before us, and within us.” (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol 2, pages 256 & 260)Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol 2, pages 256 & 260
God is eternally Triune, but Paul’s emphasis is on God’s activity in history. All three Persons are active in your salvation. You are redeemed by Christ’s grace. Christ’s grace purchased you. Grace is a free, undeserved gift, Ephesians 2:8–10. Your salvation was purchased at the cost of Christ’s life. As the God-man he is your Savior. His grace is efficacious. The Scriptures don’t present you first with the doctrine of the Trinity, and then summon you to get to know the separate persons. Rather, first you are called to trust in Christ, the one who reveals the Father, the one who pours out his Spirit. As you come to depend on Christ, then you begin to grasp his relationship with the other persons of the Trinity. Christ’s grace continues to uphold you. Christ’s work did not stop once he accomplished your salvation by his death and resurrection. As the ascended Lord he continues to uphold you. He invites you to come to him continually, to drink of him, and enjoy eternal life.
Christ does not work alone. You are the object of the Father’s love. Out of his love the Father sent his Son. It is not that the Son forced (or persuaded) the Father to change his mind. The persons of the Trinity work together. Rather, the Father sent his own Son to propitiate his holy anger against you, the anger which you justly deserved because of your sin. Although the Heidelberg Catechism will come back to God’s work of creation, here it points you to it as specifically (though not exclusively) the work of the Father. The Father’s love is directed to you. He loved you before the foundation of the world, Ephesians 1:4, 5. He gave Christ up to die in your place. The Father sent Christ, together they sent the Holy Spirit. Do you grasp the wonder of the fact that God the Father loves you? Those of you who are married, can you think back to the very first time that you realized about your spouse-to-be, “he loves me” or “she loves me”? Do you remember the sense of awe, the marveling that he or she might be willing to spend the rest of his or her life with you? Perhaps you felt unworthy of being loved that way (and perhaps your spouse-to-be did likewise). Magnify that 1,000 times, and you begin to sense something of the wonder in this benediction. And just as a young couple in love are concerned, not about me and my interests, but how can I please my beloved, so the love of the Father to you drives you to joyful obedience.
You share in the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit plays a vital role in your redemption. God does not merely open the door to heaven and make your salvation a possibility. He draws you to Christ by his Holy Spirit, John 6:35, 44; 1 Corinthians 2:14. You enjoy the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. You share in and are controlled by the Holy Spirit, Romans 8:9. The Spirit empowers you to live in obedient trust. The Holy Spirit lives in you and makes you God’s temple. Let the truth of that sink in. You are the temple of the Holy Spirit. How can you possibly defile it with sin? That fellowship with God is what Paul focuses on in the third part of this benediction. Flowing out of it is a fellowship with other believers. There is something tragic about a family that is torn apart by divorce or, even short of that, a harshness and bitterness that separates people from one another. Even more tragic are attitudes that disrupt the church of Jesus Christ. But just as sweet as a harmonious family is a body of believers who know that they are knit together in the fellowship of the Spirit. They know that the other members are at least as important as they are. They know that they are called to reflect the love and fellowship that shines out of the Triune God.
The Trinity is not some speculative, philosophical, abstract doctrine which might or might not be relevant to your life as a Christian. Rather, knowing God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is crucial to your salvation. Knowing the Father, Son, and Spirit, really knowing them, is your salvation.