Series: 2 Corinthians
In this section Paul responds to the personal criticisms that some of the Corinthians had against him. We must keep this context clearly in mind. But we ought to be more than casual readers that think, “Oh, Paul answers his critics; let’s move on.” Instead, we want to listen carefully to the way the Spirit of God leads Paul to answer. If we listen properly, we will gain insight into the way he modeled the Christian way of life before his brothers and sisters in Christ.
As you read the letters to the Corinthians, you will notice that the apostle talks about boasting many times. This may seem strange, because all the Scriptures stress the necessity of humility. But there is a proper kind of boasting—a boasting in the Lord and the cross of Christ. (You can use a concordance or study Bible to search out this subject.) The Corinthians had a problem with boasting, and Paul will use this word more times in this letter than in any other NT book. What Paul wants to do is to lead them away from a human centered boasting that they were infected with to worship of the Lord that is part of spiritual maturity.
I. Live with a pure conscience (1:12a-b). This is very important to Paul, as Paul equates his boast with a conscience that testifies about a godly way of life in the world.
A. The meaning of the “conscience”
1. The conscience is the inner faculty that evaluates one’s conduct according to some norm. For the Christian, the norm or standard of the conscience is God’s revealed will that is written in the Scriptures.
2. The Corinthians knew Paul and the high regard he placed on having a pure conscience (cf. Ac 24:16). So a good conscience functions as an effective testimony in this point of controversy. Paul was accused, and so he offers this in his defense.
B. An anatomy of a pure conscience
1. Its characteristics
a. The text has two variants with equal support from the manuscripts. The text might read “holiness and pure motives” or “sincerity and pure motives” (or something similar). The current opinion seems to be in favor of the second (cf. the ESV and the NIV 2011). I tend to agree with the newest translations for various reasons.
b. Paul says that his conscience testifies that he conducts himself with singleness of purpose and pure motives. These two characteristics are closely tied in Paul’s view. (They are the objects of a single preposition.) You are only going to have pure motives if you have singleness of purpose—to live to worship God.
2. Its source – It is “of God” or “from God”. We are not resting this view on a point of grammar, but on the teaching of the NTS. We can only have a cleansed conscience through the shed blood of Christ (Heb 9:14) as we receive this cleansing through faith in him (Ac 15:9). Everything begins with a saving relationship with the Lord Christ. Then we must live in an ongoing repentance or change of mind, in which we view everything in conformity with God’s glory in Christ.
Apply: We must all ask ourselves if this is happening in us, and if it is, to what degree is it happening. “Am I living as Christ’s ambassador? Can people see that I walk with Jesus Christ?”
II. Live according to grace (1:12c-13a).
A. The way he rejects – living according to worldly wisdom
1. Some professed Christians are fascinated or mesmerized by worldly or fleshy wisdom. They listen to the gospel with one ear and to the world with the other, and often to them the world has a louder voice than the gospel. They vehemently proclaim that the gospel tells the way to eternal life, but when it comes to living now, the wisdom of worldly experts trumps the gospel every time. For example, what do you do with your time? Worldly wisdom tells you to live for yourself. Grab all the pleasure you can. Grace tells you to live for Christ and with his people and to make him known where you live.
2. We must understand what worldly wisdom actually is. It is literally “fleshly wisdom”. It is anti-God. It is a way of life that comes from the ideas, values, worldview, and cultural patterns of the world or human nature without regard for God. It is life that is devoid of the Holy Spirit’s power (cf. Rm 8:5-8).
3. The ways of the flesh must be rejected. Paul states that he has. Practically speaking, this influences how we read and talk. When Paul writes to them, there is no double intended meaning; there is no reading between the lines. He writes what he means, and they should understand that is his intent.
B. The way he commends – living according to God’s grace
1. Paul talks about “grace” many times in this letter. It is the way that God always deals with his new covenant people. Consider some examples in this letter (4:15; 8:1, 9; 9:8, 14; 12:9; 13:14).
2. Now as God has shown grace to us, we are to show it to one another. The Christian way of life is not to manipulate each other by worldly wisdom. No, it is to show unmerited favor to other believers for their benefit. For example, we are to excel in the grace of giving for the good of other believers (8:7). So then, all the plans Paul made, which they were harshly judging (see the next section), were actually for their benefit.
Apply: Each of us should think seriously about how we can improve one another. When was the last time that you showed grace to another partner in the gospel in this body of believers? What did you do? What happened? Were they actually helped?
III. Live in the light of the day of the Lord Jesus (1:13b-14).
A. The nature of our expectation
1. The day of the Lord Jesus is the consummation of God’s plan for this age. Everything is moving toward that great day. God has an irresistible purpose to glorify his Son as King of kings and Lord of lords, and no one can stop his purpose.
2. Our goals and actions must agree with God’s “endgame”. Paul was always thinking about this in regard to the Corinthians. “How will this contribute to the story of God’s glory in Christ in these people?” Our way of life is simply not about accomplishing something today. It is about building something for all eternity. It is about building something that will withstand the fire of God’s judgment. What will happen to these people when Christ proves that he is Lord of all?
Point: Our goal is not to fill a building with a lot of people. It is to make fully committed followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.
B. The nature of the Christian community
1. Paul wants them to boast about him. If this seems self-serving, it is because you don’t understand Paul. He wants them to boast about him, because God has given him grace to know Christ and to make him known, and to build people up in Jesus Christ. If they boast about him, they are actually boasting about Christ and the grace of God (1 Cor 15:9; Ph 3:7).
2. Now comes the surprise. Paul confidently expects to boast about them in the day of the Lord Jesus! He is confident in Christ’s work of grace in them (cf. Ac 18:9-10). He will rejoice in them when the Lord Jesus comes again (cf. 1 Th 2:19-20).
Apply: Do you have this community of believers in mind when you think of Christ’s return? Can you say that you will be able to rejoice in one another, because you have made positive, godly contributions to one another? Are you investing your lives in each other’s spiritual welfare? Just how are you doing this? How are you building up each other in the Lord? It is time to leave worldly, self-centered religion behind, and give your life for Christ, the gospel, and his glory in the church.