A. It seems that almost every day we see a politician or prominent figure defending himself from some accusation of misbehavior.
1. Now, some of them might be innocent of the charges, but it’s obvious that most of them are very guilty and just unwilling to admit it.
2. And so it may be surprising to us when we come to this passage where Paul is defending himself.
II. Let’s walk through 2Corinthians 1:12-14 and see what’s going on.
A. 12 For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you.
1. Remember, a small group of men had arrived on the scene in Corinth, and wormed their way into the church’s affections, critical of Paul but portraying themselves as super-apostles.
a. Paul faced two possibilities.
(1) He could either capitulate and lose the congregation to false apostles.
(2) Or, he could fight for his relationship with the Corinthian congregation. He could fight for his reputation in their eyes.
b. And that’s what he does, for he does want them to be taken in by whatever false gospel his opponents are preaching. So, he toils in this letter to restore his relationship with them.
c. But it is a delicate task.
(1) How do you boast in accordance with the gospel? How do you defend yourself humbly?
2. “For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity”
a. The fact is, boasting is not always wrong. There is a time when love demands self-defense.
b. Paul does not boast about what a great and successful person he is. He boasts in the fact that he served them with integrity and sincerity. He boasts about the very thing he was being criticized about: his meekness, humility, gentleness, peaceableness.
c. They thought him unimpressive and not dynamic and sort-of pathetic.
d. But instead of arguing with them about this, Paul boasts in something very different.
(1) He boasts in his integrity, that he did what is right even if it is risky, unpopular, or unpleasant.
(2) He boasts in his sincerity, that he did not try to fool them or con them.
3. “not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God”
a. The Corinthian complainers were thinking according to earthly wisdom.
(1) The wisdom of the world tries to take advantage of others, whereas the wisdom of Christ gives oneself freely to serve others.
b. They were egocentric and self-serving, which was the culture of the city of Corinth.
c. They despised the divine wisdom of the cross that accepts weakness and suffering and refrains from manipulation.
d. This is why they were critical of Paul. And this is why Paul doesn’t just take their disfavor in stride. This is why he pushes back against it.
e. They did not understand the paradox of God’s power manifesting itself in weakness and suffering, which means they didn’t understand the cross.
(1) If they had understood the cross, they would have seen its fingerprint on Paul’s ministry.
(2) Cruciform: architecture, baking — Paul had a cruciform lifestyle.
f. The reason they were critical of Paul, the reason they didn’t value Paul was because Paul was like Christ, and they didn’t value Christlikeness.
g. The way of Christ is humility & meekness & enduring suffering & God’s power working in our weakness.
h. Paul did not rely on eloquence but on the power of God’s word to persuade others.
(1) He did not resort to rhetorical tricks to gain success.
(2) His message was true, straightforward, and sincere, not pretentious or fake.
i. They had no patience for this. They were only-the-strong-survive kind of people.
j. They didn’t think a person so weak, so humble, so impoverished, and so afflicted as Paul could be a legitimate apostle to help bring about a worldwide revolution.
k. Paul represented the way of Christ to them, and the reason he so wanted them to understand him as Christ’s apostle was so they would understand the way of Christ and the nature & power of the cross.
l. In this passage we see Paul discipling his children in the faith. He’s giving them what they need, just like Jesus gave His disciples what they needed, even though at times it was painful and humiliating.
m. This is why he commends his own behavior as Christ’s apostle. This is why he wants them to commend him: not because he needs encouragement but because it will demonstrate that they’ve finally got it. It will show that they can understand that God’s power works through weakness.
n. By criticizing Paul because of his afflictions the Corinthians revealed ignorance of the gospel. Paul needs to reacquaint them with the gospel he preached to them.
4. “and supremely so toward you.”
a. The phrase reveals that ministering to the Corinthians involved walking on eggshells.
b. It seems this congregation was exceptionally touchy. Paul had to be particularly cautious with them, and we see this caution in this epistle.
c. I find it amazing that Paul does not retaliate or write them off on account of their accusations. Rather, he comes appealing to them and pours his soul out in this letter in order to work toward reconciliation.
d. Paul is not trying to gain personal vindication as if he were a discredited politician. Paul wants them to understand his heart. Not so they will have a more positive view of him, but so that they will grasp the way of Christ.
e. When someone doesn’t understand Paul, or falsely accuses him, he maintains a gentle and patient attitude toward them, even when it’s obvoous that the problem is a result of their own sin.
f. He fulfills his own words: "The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth." (2Tim.2:24-25)
B. 13 “For we are not writing to you anything other than what you read and understand and I hope you will fully understand, just as you did partially understand us.”
1. Verse 13 is difficult to figure out.
2. But whatever this verse means exactly, there are several things which are clear:
a. Paul is saying that when he speaks and when he writes, he’s saying the same thing.
b. The Corinthians do not fully understand what Paul has been saying, and this is their fault.
c. Paul is therefore urging them to understand him.
3. Some things a teacher communicates the student doesn’t comprehend. And sometimes this is not the fault of the teacher but of the student.
a. Just because a person doesn’t understand a teaching or a sermon or a passage of Scripture, etc. doesn’t mean it isn’t that person’s fault that he doesn’t understand.
b. There might be a sin of inattentiveness, or laziness, or stubbornness, or not really wanting to understand. There might be a critical spirit that is looking for things to complain about.
c. But here it was a spiritual problem: they didn’t grasp the way of Christ.
C. V.14 “that on the day of our Lord Jesus you will boast of us as we will boast of you.”
1. Right now they’re struggling with being ashamed of their apostle because of his meekness and gentleness. He looks forward to the last day when they see clearly and rejoice in Paul as he rejoices in them BECAUSE of his Christ-like meekness and gentleness.
2. Jonathan Edwards preached his final sermon to his Northampton congregation on this passage:
a. There will come a day when we will receive the reward of our labors in the Lord. There will come a day when every work done for Christ will be a trophy in our trophy case, a jewel in our crown.
b. “Obey your leaders & submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy & not with grief...” (Heb.13:7)
c. Here Paul says that is not only the leader/teacher/shepherd who will boast in the fruit of his labors.
(1) The follower/student/sheep will also boast in the way he responded to, encouraged, listened to, and made good use of the input of his shepherd.
d. On the last day, the leaders will give an account of how they kept watch over the flock, and the people will give an account as to how they made the leaders’ job a joy.
e. When each of us appears before Christ on that last day, we will give an account not for what our circumstances were, or who our leaders or followers were, but for how we listened to them, how we treated them, how we helped them, how we encouraged them, how we received them.
3. These Corinthian believers were given the extraordinary privilege of knowing and being taught by and coming to Christ through the apostle Paul. This should have been their high boast. Think about how many people would have loved to stand in their position. At least at this time, they didn’t seem to appreciate it much.
4. Well, each of us has been given extraordinary privileges by God in terms of leaders and opportunities and resources and helps. Let us make sure we treat these not lightly, but faithfully, as unto the Lord. Then, we will have those things/persons to boast in on the day of our Lord Jesus.
III. As church people we are still tempted to use worldly wisdom instead of walking in the way of Christ.
A. What matters in church is not buildings and programs and eloquence and fun. It’s not about being impressive in terms of success or personality or beauty or popularity or political clout.
B. How about being impressive in terms of hope, and faith, and love? How about being impressive in terms of sincerity and simplicity?
C. It’s not about protecting oneself and demanding one’s rights. It’s about laying your life down for the sake of Christ and entrusting yourself to God.
D. It’s not about having it all together and putting on a good front. It’s about God’s power being displayed in our weakness. It’s about walking in the way of the cross — dying to self.
1. Not just because it’s the right way to live, but because it is the way to truly live.
2. Jesus didn’t count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself. He became a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. In love, He died in our place, bearing the weight of the just wrath of God, and ended with a name above every name.
3. The way of Christ is the way of joy & hope & security. The way of the cross is the way of life. The way of humility is the way of glory and honor.