The Expository Files

 

Paul's Good Life And Clear Writings ~ Affirmed For All To Consider

2 Corinthians 1:12-14


The apostle Paul suffered a strained relationship with some in Corinth. He had to write some hard things to them, for their good (see 1 Corinthians). Second Corinthians is dominated by Paul's response to his opponents.

Two things are probably at work in the history of Second Corinthians: {1} The carnal attitudes exposed in the first epistle, and {2} some hardened enemies of the cross of Christ who came into Corinth, offering their bold derision of the apostle. Here is part of Paul's response:

"For our boasting is this: the testimony of our conscience that we conducted ourselves in the world in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom but by the grace of God, and more abundantly toward you. For we are not writing any other things to you that what you read or understand. Now I trust you will understand, even to the end (as also you have understood us in part), that we are your boast as you also are ours, in the day of the Lord Jesus," 2 Cor. 1:12-14.

There is a kind of boasting that is legitimate. Inordinate pride that expresses itself in self-elevation is wrong (see Rom. 1:30). Boasting of one's evil is evil (Psa. 52:1). Boasting arrogantly of the future is sinful (Jas. 4:16). But there remains a very specific realm of boasting that is legitimate. In 2 Cor. 10:13, Paul teaches that there is a very narrow area of legitimate boasting. He calls it "a sphere which God appointed us - a sphere which especially includes you." That sphere is the work and faithful workers who "preach the gospel" (see 2 Cor. 10:13-18).

The content of 2 Corinthians shows, when men speak against the cause of Christ, that demands that we boast about the Lord's work, and that we defend legitimate efforts to advance the cause of Christ. The only boasting Paul participated in was this defense of the work and the workers.

In that context he said, "...our boasting is this: the testimony of our conscience that we conducted ourselves in the world in simplicity and godly sincerity..." The opponents of the work and the workers put Paul in this position. His response is to say to the Corinthians: Here is the testimony of our conscience, confirmed by our conduct in the world and our consistent writing!

The work of Paul and his coworkers came from a good conscience, and in practice that work was the simple matter of sincerely doing the work of the Lord.

While we must vigilantly shun self-centered boasting, there are times when we are really obligated to defend our participation in the Lord's work, our efforts to enlarge the borders of the kingdom and spread the truth. There are times when we are justified in stating our good motives and calling attention to the testimony of our work. This is not the immature, embarrassing bragging of self-righteousness (battles won, enemies defeated, a resume of accomplishments with a demand of praise)! No, this is simply the response to charges against your involvement in the Lord's work, asking that people consider our conduct. Of course, all such matters will ultimately be settled "in the day of the Lord Jesus." But there is nothing wrong with defending our present involvement in the Lord's work.

When people question what we do, we are within our rights and actually under obligation to explain: "I'm a Christian. What I'm doing is, obeying Christ. I read and study the New Testament and join with others who want to be obedient to Christ. I am not involved in any human religious order, denomination or cult. I'm simply a Christian, and I want to do what the New Testament teaches we are to do."

We need not walk around with a placard. But when misunderstood, misjudged, accused or misrepresented, we can respond as Paul did.

Met by charges from enemies of the cross (and perhaps not fully understood by his friends), Paul simply states the testimony of his conscience and life. There is no claim of perfection, no boast of personal successes, no expression of malice toward detractors. Rather, a straightforward testimony of conscience.

One expression of Paul's sincerity was, the clarity of what he wrote. He said to them: "For we are not writing any other things to you than what you read or understand. Now I trust you will understand, even to the end (as also you have understood us in part), that we are your boast as you also are ours, in the day of the Lord Jesus."

We can infer, some of those who were opponents of the apostles, claimed that Paul's writings were not sufficiently clear and subject to multiple interpretations.

People continue to say such things about the writings of Paul today. On the subjects of women, marriage, the second coming and even grace and law, modern critics like to talk about inconsistencies, errors and human agenda.

While some of Paul's writings may be "difficult," (see 2 Pet. 3:14-16), when faithful Bible readers do the work, read the text and maintain objectivity, the writings of Paul are both clear and consistent. He is calling attention to that here in 2 Cor. 1. While men with their agendas are disposed to put wrong constructions on what Paul wrote, that is not the fault of the inspired writer. Paul's motives, sincerity and authority all came together in his good life and his clear, powerful writings.

In doing the Lord's work today, we may face similar challenges and threats. Second Corinthians is a valuable handbook for us in knowing how to respond - without self-centered boasting, but with legitimate boasting about the value of good work done by good people.

Barnes wrote about this: "I trust that my conduct will be such as to convince you always that I am actuated by such principles. I trust you will never witness any departure from them -- the language of a man of settled principle, and of fixed aims and honesty of life. An honest man can always use such language respecting himself."

 

By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 13.11; November 2006

 

 

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