2Cor.1:12-14 - "Sunnyhill" Herne Bay Evangelical Free Church

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2 Corinthians 1:12-14



Paul wrote to the church in Corinth in his capacity as a Christian apostle.

Although he had been used by the Lord to found the church his relations with a significant number in the church had now become very strained. The church had seen an influx of vocal newcomers who, to say the least, were not impressed by the apostle Paul. These new folk had a very different take on the nature of the Christian faith to that of the apostle and they were influencing others in the congregation against Paul. Paul found both his ministry and his person coming under attack.

The stakes were high. It wasn't a simple question of personalities that was the issue, it was the future spiritual well-being of the congregation at Corinth. Paul represented the true gospel of God's grace while the interlopers were pushing down another line.

Now if you want to undermine a person's influence one of the sure-fire ways of doing so is to find out some inconsistency in their life. (Similarly if you want to ruin your own sphere of influence then make sure there are some glaring inconsistencies in your own life!) If you can demonstrate that a person says one thing in public and then does something completely different in private you are well on the way to succeeding in your attempt to destroy any influence the other person might be trying to bring to bear.

In the same way you will limit the effect a person may have if you can make it appear that he is primarily out to serve his own interests rather than the interests of those he is seeking to affect.

Paul was being subjected to just such a series of efforts by his detractors in the church in Corinth. These folk were ready and willing to interpret Paul's life and ministry through a negative filter and they were not backward in sharing their criticism of him with others.

Paul himself seemed to have played into their hands by altering his previously announced travel plans. How easy it was for his detractors to cast this is a poor light – oh yeah, Paul, he says one thing and does another, he's so unreliable, you know you really can't trust him. It didn't work out for him last time he showed up and now he's running scared etc. etc.

If Paul were to continue to exercise any healthy spiritual influence upon the Corinthian church he would have to respond to this type of criticism and this is just what he sets about doing with his first "boast" of this letter.

Boasting – Good or Bad?
I imagine that most of us will react negatively towards the whole idea of boasting. We associate it with a crass competitiveness that shows itself in the child's "I'm better than you are" or "My Dad's bigger than your Dad". Some adults have made a big thing too out of boasting – just think back to Mohamed Ali with his "I am the greatest" which also contains this element of competitive comparison.

So how are to we understand what Paul says here as he introduces the whole theme of boasting? And make no mistake boasting in one form or another is very important as Paul writes this letter to the Corinthians. There are three different words that belong to the family of boasting words that are used in the NT. If you were to do a word count you'd find that these words are used some sixty times. 52 of these uses are to be found in one or other of Paul's writings. (Paul's writings account for about a quarter of the NT so you can immediately see that the "boasting word group" is particularly important to Paul). Then when we breakdown further the distribution of this word-group within Paul's writings we find that more than half of the references are to be found in this Second Letter to the Corinthians.

Why is this whole theme treated so seriously in this particular letter?

Well, the simple answer is that Paul has to counter an inappropriate boasting of others and replace it with a proper and much more appropriate boasting of his own. Indeed in order to counter the wrong kind of boasting Paul would have to do some of the right kind himself.

The OT already made it clear that not all boasting was wrong. Listen to what Jeremiah had to say about this:

Jer.9:24 "but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD."

As Paul reluctantly develops the theme of boasting in this letter he will actually turn the boasting that characterises the unbelieving world on its head. The boasting of this world emphasises the strengths, abilities and capabilities of the one doing the boasting. The so-called super-apostles followed this worldly pattern and spoke in glowing terms about their own prowess as wise and clever, spiritually experienced speakers.

The apostle Paul will boast but not in anything like the same manner. Paul's boasting will not be taken up with what he could do but with his weakness and his failures. If he must boast about personal achievement he will boast only about what God has done through him. Paul's focus will be on God and on his grace.

And in boasting in this way Paul is actually functioning in line with earlier Biblical examples. See for example the words of Samuel after the people of Israel had won a victory against the Philistines:

1Sam.7:12 "Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, "Till now the LORD has helped us.""

Yes, victory had been won, it had been won by the Israelites but the reason they had won was because the Lord had helped them. Samuel's boasting gave the honour and glory to God and so must our boasting.

The word that is translated here in most translations as "boast" is also translated as rejoicing or glorying. Perhaps if we keep this in mind then we might begin to shed some of those purely negative feelings we have about boasting.

What is Paul's Boast? or What makes Paul rejoice?
In these verses Paul tells us about two of his reasons for boasting and then tells the Corinthians that they too in turn will have reason for boasting.

Firstly, Paul rejoices in that God's grace has rendered him capable of conducting himself with transparent honesty and integrity in an anti-God environment! Paul is proud to be a "wysiwyg man".

This is how the Message puts it:

v.12 "Now that the worst is over, we’re pleased we can report that we’ve come out of this with conscience and faith intact, and can face the world—and even more importantly, face you with our heads held high. But it wasn’t by any fancy footwork on our part. It was God who kept us focused on him, uncompromised."

Paul wasn't trying to claim that he was perfect much less was he saying that it was because of his exemplary behaviour that God had accepted him. No, Paul was simply expressing his joy and delight that God had enabled him to live out his life well as a Christian apostle amongst both unbelievers and believers. Paul's conscience was clear, it didn't tell him off – he knew he had nothing about which to hang his head in shame over the things that he had said and done in relation to the Corinthians.

This matter of integrity and of sincerity is precious to Paul and resurfaces again and again in this letter:

2Cor.2:17 "For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ."

2Cor.4:2 " But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God."

Now, if Paul can make this a subject of joyous boasting then it is right for us to pursue the same lifestyle as we live out our Christian lives. We too should seek, by the grace of God, to live transparent and honest integrity.

It will not always be easy for us to do so, there will be pressures and temptations to round corners and to say or do what others might like to hear but we are to remember that we are not called to be men-pleasers. This was the kind of behaviour that Paul commended as appropriate for Christians:

Eph 6:5-66 "Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart,"

Col 3:22 "Slaves, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord."

People in the world won't necessarily appreciate such behaviour but the Christian is to live as the salt of the world and salt stings in an open wound.

The apostle Paul behaved well, his conscience didn't trouble him. And he is quite happy to go into some detail to explain exactly what he means. In the words of the Message – no fancy footwork had been involved. He hadn't had to be economical with the truth, he hadn't given way to creative accounting, he hadn't relied on no-one reading the small print. Paul had functioned openly and honestly! Nor had he said something different in his letters to what he would say in person – others might accuse him of that but he knew his conscience was clear.

However, having a clear conscience did not mean that life was easy for him. Whether it was done wittingly or unwittingly, others misinterpreted his motives and his deeds causing him much concern and anxiety. Though even when writing to address some of this confusion and misrepresentation Paul can still write positively – he knows the folk to whom he is writing are fellow-believers and he fully expects them to recognise the truthfulness of what he says. Some do already but he expects others to come to the same understanding.

The second cause for boasting that Paul tells us he has is of a very different kind. He says that on the day of our Lord Jesus when the Corinthians will boast of him and he will boast of them!

What are we to make of this?

Paul had confidence that the people to whom he was writing, the people amongst whom he had ministered, the people to whom he had preached, had become Christians, they were genuine believers. And as such he had confidence that they would not be lost. He believed that the one who had begun a good work in them through his own labours would bring that work to completion and that none for whom Christ had shed his blood would be lost.

And with this confidence Paul declares that they will be his boast on that great day. He will rejoice greatly in them as the fruit of his own ministry. It's not that Paul believes that he will have saved them but in the hands of Christ he will have been the instrument that was used to bring these Corinthians to faith and trust in Jesus. How thrilling to see folk there on that day and to know that Jesus used us to bring them – the honour all his but will we be sad? How could we be? Paul thinks of the Corinthians to whom he presented Christ and looks ahead and imagines the day when their salvation will be complete and he can't do anything but rejoice.

And these are the very folk who at the time of writing were in danger of being led astray by the so-called super-apostles! What confidence Paul expresses in the work of Christ – it will be successful and Paul will minister in the light of that confidence.

How that should encourage us to work and serve with expectancy especially with those who have made a profession of faith. Yes, they may fall out with us for a time perhaps, they may look as though they're abandoning the faith altogether, but Christ will save his own and keep his own! Small wonder then that Paul hasn't turned his back on these ungrateful Corinthians, small wonder he hasn't washed his hands of them!

And finally what does he mean when Paul writes that the Corinthians will boast of him? Well it means that they recognise joyously that they have heard the gospel through him, the true gospel. They will not do this coldly and unemotionally but they will be glad and ready to openly acknowledge that they had been brought to faith through the faithful labours of this man.

No competitiveness, no rivalry, but a joyous boasting that God has worked by grace in the lives of preacher and recipient alike!

Paul's confidence does not lead him into passivity but is rather a spur for action. But we will need to leave this until a later occasion.

Well let me remind you what we have seen from this passage as we close:

  • We have seen the difference between a good kind of boasting and a bad. The bad tends to contain a competitive/comparative element and puts the focus on us and our supposed achievements and abilities. The good on the other hand does not have the unhelpful element of rivalry and the good sees clearly that our boasting is to be in the Lord!

  • We have seen the importance of transparent honesty and integrity, and the great value of having and keeping a clear conscience.

  • We have seen too that this combines to provide us with a healthy well-grounded optimism as we await the day of our Lord Jesus.

May God bless his word to us.


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