Who are you relying upon?
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. 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—that on the day of our Lord Jesus you will boast of us as we will boast of you.
Our verses this morning continue the broader section of chapters 1-7 where Paul is giving a defense of himself as a New Covenant minister. And let us mark, again, that ministry is not simply what pastors do; it is what all the saints are to be equipped to do (Ephesians 4:12). 2 Corinthians must inform how each of us think about this local church’s ministry and our own ministry within it and without.
A Godly Model of Self-Defense
In the process of Paul’s defense of his own ministry he begins to lay out principles of God-honoring ministry. So this week as we begin to look at Paul’s defense of himself and his ministry my focus is going to be on trying to bring out the principles of ministry that should be shaping the ministry taking place here at WBC. Paul is the godly minister defending his Christ honoring ministry.
So I’ve broken this passage into just 2 principles of ministry and both of these should be used to assess our own ministry.
- Ministry that honors Christ must look to the Day of Christ.
- Ministry that honors Christ must be done with a clear conscience
1. Ministry that honors Christ Looks to the Day of Christ (v13-14)
Notice that Paul points the Corinthians to the Day of Christ in verse 14. Paul has this Day in his thoughts and he directs those to whom he is ministering to consider that Day.
In verse 14 Paul is giving a reason for why he hopes that the Corinthian believers will understand that he is a genuine ministers. And here is the reason: (so) that on the day of our Lord Jesus you will boast of us as we will boast of you.
In 2 Corinthians this idea of boasting will come up again. Paul seems to mean here, reason for bold confidence when he speaks about boasting.
In other words, as Paul speaks to those to whom he as ministered he says, ‘I want you to be sure that I am a genuine minister of Christ because I want you to have bold confidence on the Day of our Lord because of me – just as I will have bold confidence on the Day of our Lord because of you.’
What is Paul talking about?
When we stand before the Lord of lords, Jesus Christ, and this short life is over, and suddenly what is really important and valuable becomes crystal clear – one of the things that I will want around me and which will be a source of full-hearted joy and bold confidence are those who have genuinely ministered Christ to me – those who have demonstrated in word and deed the power of Christ and have taught me of Christ and whose lives and teachings I have followed as they have followed Christ. When I stand before Christ my mom and dad, my step-dad, my senior high Sunday school teacher, my pastor Mike, and many many other godly saints who have poured Christ into my life during our sojourn here will be a source of confident joy on that glorious Day.
Another thing we will want around us on that Day of days, which will be a source of full-hearted joy and boldness is the fruit that Christ has produced through our ministry – people we have had the privilege of bringing the Word of Christ to – people Christ has rescued using even us. They will shine like the Sun in the everlasting Kingdom on the Day.
Ministry that honors Christ must be done with the Day of that Lord in view.
Now we must back up to verse 12.
2. Ministry that honors Christ must be done with a clear conscience (v12)
2 Cor 1:12
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.
Paul says that his boast is this: the testimony of his conscience. Paul seems to be saying, not that his reason for self-glorification is the testimony of his conscience, but rather his reason for boldness and confidence is the testimony of his conscience. As Proverbs 28:1 says,
The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion.
Paul begins by telling the Corinthian believers that his boast, that is his confidence, is this, the testimony of his conscience. Here is a fundamental necessity in any ministry that pleases the Lord: ministry must be done with a clear conscience.
What is the conscience?
The idea of conscience is a fully biblical idea. We read about it in Acts 23:1; 24:16; Romans 2:21, 1 Corinthians 8:7,12; 10:25, 29 and other places and here in 2 Corinthians on multiple occasions. The conscience is that instinctive sense that each of us have of right and wrong. The conscience is that sense which bears witness to our thoughts, words, and deeds either accusing or excusing us. We all know the accusations of our conscience bring guilt when we sin and the vindication of our conscience when we do what is right.
Now, as we think about the place our conscience should have in our lives and ministries it is important to realize that the conscience can be disordered and damaged so that it becomes either hyper-sensitive or numbed. The conscience is a God given sense, but like all our human faculties it has been affected by the Fall.
But as we will see, that doesn’t mean we can or should just disregard it.
The Normal Work of The Conscience
Paul tells us in Romans 2:15 and 16 that there is a day when God will judge the secrets of men by Christ Jesus and each one will give an account of himself to God (14:12). And on that day the conscience will serve as an eye witness, accusing or even excusing. So, I gather from this that you want your eyewitness on your side. Your conscience here is sort of an indifferent third party in some ways watching and letting you know today if on that day he’s going to accuse you or excuse you.
The Weak Conscience
That is fine as far as it goes, but the Scriptures let us in on the fact that this witness can be tampered with. For example, in 1 Corinthians 8 Paul talks about those who have come to have weak consciences. That is those who have associated with something in the past, in 1 Corinthians 8 it’s idol worship and food sacrificed to idols, and now that former association affects how the conscience assesses the moral acceptability of eating food offered to idols. Their conscience has become extra-sensitive.
I think it’s important to note though in that 1 Corinthians context the person with a weak conscience should still listen to their own conscience. The one who goes ahead and does what his conscience says is wrong has defiled his conscience. And Paul sees this as a big deal and loving your brother means you will not do things that encourage him to defile his conscience because he will answer for it someday.
The Seared Conscience
But the conscience can also become numb.
1 Timothy 4:1-2
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared.
Here we are exposed to the real possibility that a person can have a seared conscience. That is a conscience which has been deadened and made insensitive. It no longer does its job. If you devote yourselves to falsehoods and sin long enough your conscience will eventually lose its voice and stop warning you.
Therefore, given what the Scripture tells us regarding the conscience, we should never ignore or defile our consciences and the ministry that honors Christ will be done with a clear conscience.
But Paul does not leave it at that. He tells us what his conscience is actually saying. what it Paul’s conscience testifying?
- A Clear Conscience Behaves in the World With Simplicity and Godly Sincerity
In verse 12 Paul’s conscience is saying that Paul has behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity. Let me just note that this does not say Paul behaved in the church this way and in the world another way. All of our lives in this world must be lived with a clear conscience.
But what does it mean that Paul behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity?
(By the way, some early manuscripts have the word ‘holiness’ here, but ‘simplicity’ seems to better fit the context. Paul was the only NT writer to use this word and of its 8 appearances 5 show up in 2 Corinthians. See 2 Corinthians 1:12; 8:2; 9:11, 13; 11:3; Romans 12:8; Ephesians 6:5; Colossians 3:22. This word for holiness, is never used elsewhere by Paul.)
This word simplicity means having an open and honest character and being straightforward. Paul behaved with simple honesty in this world. Open, honest, and straightforward.
The idea of godly sincerity (verse 12) is similar in meaning to simplicity but perhaps godly sincerity is emphasizing that there was no ulterior motives, nothing devious, no hidden agendas, no secret schemes. No attempt to shade the truth or misrepresent.
Paul’s conscience testified that in all his behavior he acted with integrity, honesty, openness, truthfulness from his heart. Can we say that we have and are now behaving in this world with perfect openness and godly sincerity? Do our consciences bear witness to these things? Why do you do what you do and say what you say? Is it for the honor of Christ or some other hidden motivation?
- A Clear Conscience Behaves in the World by the Grace of God Rather than earthly wisdom:
Now, I think it is important to notice where this kind of open and honest and sincere behavior came from – What produced it? Paul says it was produced, “not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God.”
If we are going to pursue ministry that honors Christ that ministry is going to be done with a clear conscience. And if we are going to have a clear conscience then we are going to need to be open and honest and straightforward, without deceit, without hidden agendas, no ulterior motives. Well, where does that kind of true-hearted, transparent behavior come from? Where does that kind of person come from? How are they produced? Paul says they are produced ‘by the grace of God.’
On the one hand this means that all our godly thoughts, words, and deeds are owing to God’s grace. He gets all the credit. Not us. The only power that produces true godliness in the life of a believer is God’s grace at work within us. “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Cor 1:31 and 2 Cor 10:17).
But I think there is more to it than that. This verse also tells us that if we are going to pursue this godliness and the kind of ministry that honors Christ we will need to turn away from earthly wisdom and live only upon God’s wisdom.
This requires that we know what God’s wisdom is as distinguished from earthy wisdom. We must be a people who are pursuing the mind of the Lord from His Word. It is the way of the Lord that will produce people full of integrity and honesty and straightforwardness and confidence in ministry.
If we start with the mindset that what we really need is to go outside the Scriptures to find the key to ministry we will be ignoring the only source of life and growth. If we spend our days reading and listening to what the world has to say about effectiveness and success and we ignore what God has said we will shrivel as effective ministers. It is the grace of God in Christ, received by faith that produces Christ honoring ministers.
If we are going to be bold and godly ministers we must be people living upon the grace of God in Christ Jesus. That is what produces integrity, openness, transparency and boldness.
- Are We Confident Ministers?
Again Proverbs 28:1,
The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion.
Are we the sort of people who are living with guilty fear that someone will discover us for what we truly are? Are we the sort of people who fear exposure? Or are we the sort of people who are as bold as lions?
Christ-honoring bold-hearted ministry can only be done if our consciences are clear. And the only way our consciences can be clear is if we are living upon the Gospel! Living by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave Himself for us, our all in all, our righteousness.
1 John 1:7-9
… if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
There is no reason for the community of faith, those who trust Christ for their righteousness, to live with nagging consciences. Is there something eating at you that you know you should confess and forsake? Confess it and forsake it – He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Live upon the grace of God! Not upon your own merit and reputation – Live upon Christ!
It is only as we learn to live upon the grace of God in Christ Jesus that we will be freed to be open and honest and full of bold-hearted integrity and therefore fit for Christ-honoring ministry.
Ministers who are not living upon the grace of God in Christ will be functioning from some other worldly-wise system of righteousness and success – and so Christ will not be clung to (something else will be) and Christ will not be honored, sin will not truly be dealt with, we will not be walking in the light, forgiven, and free and so deception and falsehood will rise and genuine Christ-honoring ministry will disappear.
Do we have our eyes and hearts looking to the Day of the Lord and what will really matter on that Day and are we people who live upon the grace of God in Christ Jesus and so have integrity and boldness? Let us press on toward Christ, each other, and the work He has for us together.