Corinthians 1:12-17. “Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, in the holiness and sincerity that are from God. We have done so not according to worldly wisdom but according to God’s grace. For we do not write you anything you cannot read or understand. And I hope that, as you have understood us in part, you will come to understand fully that you can boast of us just as we will boast of you in the day of the Lord Jesus.
Because I was confident of this, I planned to visit you first so that you might benefit twice. I planned to visit you on my way to Macedonia and to come back to you from Macedonia, and then to have you send me on my way to Judea. When I planned this, did I do it lightly? Or do I make my plans in a worldly manner so that in the same breath I say, ‘Yes, yes’ and ‘No, no’?”
What a Christian is is far more important than what a Christian says. What a Christian is is more important than what a Christian does. What we are always comes first. “Every good tree bears good fruit,” says the Lord Jesus (Matthew 5:17). He says again, “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings forth good things out of the good stored up in him,” (Matthew 12:35). There is an enormous difference between an apple tree and a Christmas tree which is draped with silver-paper-covered pieces of hollow chocolate oranges. The fruit of the apple comes from within the tree itself. It produces apples because it is an apple tree. The Christmas tree merely has decorations hanging upon it.
What sort of religious people are you? Do you possess the inner life of God which is conceived in a birth from above, imparted to you by the Holy Spirit, resulting in your being made new creations? Every true Christian has that. Or is your religion cosmetic? Jesus met such a person one night. His name was Nicodemus, and he was a Pharisee and a member of the Jewish ruling council. He had his own informed judgements about the Bible and he said to the Lord, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God” (John 3:2). He felt that he knew about religion, and he had acquired all the outward trappings of ‘spirituality.’ But it was to that particular man the Lord Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (John 3:3).
The student who lived in the next room to me at Westminster Seminary in 1961 was a man called Gerald Hamstra. His father was a very earnest preacher, and one Sunday as he stood at the door of his church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, bidding his congregation good-bye the Rev. Hamstra seized the hand of every one of them, looked them in the eyes and said to each of them in turn, “Are you born again?” “Are you born again?” I might not be able to do that, but I admire his concern that there be something deeper and more real to these people than church attendance, and participation in the forms of worship. He longed for the inner life of God to be implanted in their souls. There is a book which has been greatly used in the history of Christianity written by a man called Henry Scougal. It is called, “The Life of God in the Soul of Man,” and reading it led to the conversion of George Whitefield, and many others. The Bible’s great concern is with what we are at the very centre of our beings: “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (I Samuel 16:7).
This is the great lesson the apostle wants the Corinthian congregation to learn, and our own church must have a teachable spirit and learn it too. Paul’s critics had bad-mouthed him to the Corinthian church. He had not returned to Greece – as his plans had been, and because of that absence they were condemning him as a vacillator, saying one thing and doing another. It was so terribly obvious for them – such a simple matter. He was absent when he said he would be present, and because of that they attack the whole man. They condemn him for that, and Paul is warning the Corinthians about making superficial judgements. How little we have to go on in evaluating a man. We can’t extract his soul, weigh it and give it a clean bill of health. It is not difficult to mislead an entire congregation. Ananias and Sapphira did. Judas deceived the eleven other disciples. How different it is when you deal with the undeceivable God. Paul sets this whole matter before God. He looks at the heart, and what a God is he!
1. God Possesses Single-mindedness and Sincerity.
Paul speaks here in verse 12 of “the holiness and sincerity that are from God.” There is a little textual question here about that first noun, and I think the preferred word should be ‘single-mindedness’ or what the AV translates as ‘simplicity.’ Now Paul is telling us that the source of this particular single-mindedness and sincerity is God: they “are from God” (v.12). In other words, this is not the single-mindedness and sincerity that the local teachers or the scouts or the army or one’s parents teach you if they should exhort you about such virtues. We are considering here God’s single-mindedness and sincerity. Of course, the fulness of every grace is found in God, like a measureless reservoir – love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness faithfulness, meekness, self-control – they are all in his treasury of grace. But Paul singles out two of his graces, that God is single-minded and God is sincere.
i] Firstly, the Lord is a God of single-mindedness. The Lord Jesus speaks in the Sermon on the Mount about “a single eye” – that is the memorable phrase in the King James Version. He said, “If your eye is single then your whole body will be full of light” (Matthew 6:22). When the famous martyred missionary, Jim Elliot read those words they meant so much to him and he cries to God that he would always have a single eye, that is, have a single vision for the glory of God as his chief end. God is ‘simple’, in other words, God is straight. The god called Baal wasn’t like that. His followers never knew what he was doing, nor why he was ignoring them. They could shout to him all day, and cut themselves with knives until the blood gushed out, but he still ignored them and didn’t tell them why. He wasn’t straight with them. But the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is a God of integrity. He always keeps his covenants. What he says he does. James describes him as “the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17). The Lord Jesus said, “I am the truth.” So he is an utterly reliable God.
Again, single-mindedness means that there is an instinctive and instantaneous recoil from all that is polluted, and from anything that has adhering to it the filth of sin. He is always ‘Holy, Holy, Holy!’ That is the message of Sodom and Gomorra. It is also the message of the 70 years the people of God spent in their Babylonian captivity. They trifled with God. They trifled with marriage, and idolatry, and greed, and God was straight with them, and, as he had warned them, off into exile they went. In God there can be no compromise with sin. Dr James Denney once said, “God condones nothing, even in his forgiveness.” There is mercy with God, but the Lamb of God must perish to obtain it. There is forgiveness with God – that he may be feared! Yes, God may choose to forgive a sinner his sins, but not because that’s his job, but because of the job that Christ took 33 years to do, fulfilling all righteousness and making atonement for us on the cross. God is single-minded
ii] Then the apostle also tells us that there is a sincerity that is from God. God is open. What you see in God is what you get. When the Son of God appeared he did not hide in a Himalayan cave. He did not make a occasional appearance to utter a series of enigmatic sentences with a quizzical smile playing at the corner of his lips. The Lord was open. God does not tantalise. The Lord doesn’t wear a mask. He doesn’t need to play-act at being God. He doesn’t bluster, and he doesn’t need to intimidate. He doesn’t cry wolf. None of the men he sent was a false prophet. Not one of his apostles was a pseudo apostle. Those who are called by him to preach his word declare eternal realities to men and women. What a contrast between them and all the spin-doctors of today.
On the day of President Kennedy’s assassination the playwright and novelist, David Lodge, was in a theatre watching a performance of a satirical revue he had written. There was a sketch in which an actor played a man demonstrating his blase indifference and nonchalance when being interviewed by switching on a transistor radio and listening to that while answering the interviewer’s questions. The actor always tuned in to a real radio broadcast, but that night as he switched it on there was the dramatic announcement cutting across the station’s output informing the listeners that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas, Texas. The actor himself was stunned and quickly turned off the radio, but it was too late. All the audience and the other actors had heard that grim reality and suddenly everything changed. The utter superficiality and irrelevance of everything they were mocking in the review became evident. Some people wept; many left the theatre. The night was effectivly over. So it is when the message from heaven comes not in word only but in power and in the Holy Spirit and in assurance. Scoffers are sobered. Doubts go and men are brought into contact with the ultimate reality of God himself. Worship, prayer, the Bible and sermons are no longer a nonchalant charade but life and death. Sinners see their lostness, and that Christ is the only Saviour. They are made conscious that are heading for an open-ended confrontation with the living God at the day of judgment. Everything else pales into insignificance.
When in that great day he will weigh us in the balances then the scales of justice won’t be tampered with. The word ‘sincere’ literally means ‘without wax.’ The word came from the ancient practice of falsifying weights by replacing some of the metal with wax. God will not do that. He is sincere. His weights are the ten commandments. He will weigh us in his scales and judge us exactly. His justice is perfect justice.
In other words, he is the sincere God through and through. He protests, “Is there any God besides me? No, there is no other Rock. I know not one” (Isa.44:8). He pleads his sincerity to us, “I am the Lord, and there is no other. I have not spoken in secret, from somewhere in a land of darkness; I have not said to Jacob’s descendants, ‘Seek me in vain.’ I, the Lord, speak the truth; I declare what is right” (Isa. 45:19). So you can always rely on him, and because he is sincere, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (Provs. 3:5&6). So God is a God of single-mindedness and sincerity.
2. Christians receive the Divine Single-mindedness and Sincerity.
In other words these attributes of God are not there simply to be admired by men and angels. He plants them in our souls in the new birth – in the life of every single born-again believer. If you are a true Christian today then this single-mindedness and sincerity which is from God is also in you. You see what Paul says here? “We have conducted ourselves … in the holiness and sincerity that are from God” (v.12). Now we may not comment, “Good for you Paul, but you are an apostle.” Every Christian must conduct himself in the single-mindedness and sincerity that comes from God. Maybe our graces are not like mature oak-trees today but oak-trees in a nursery, or even an acorn, yet if we are in Christ the graces are there and they must grow, and we must see to it that they do grow. In fact, God will put us in circumstances where those graces have to grow.
Let’s take this grace of single-mindedness. The New Testament says, “A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.” We all know such people. For a while they are regular in every meeting, then they are always absent. For a while they say they have the best preacher in the world, then they are mute about him. They are consistent in their personal Bible-study, and then they don’t read Scripture for months. They resist temptation for a year, but then they give in and live like worldlings. They keep Sundays special, and then they behave as if it were like any other day of the week. They are out and out for Christ for a while, and then they start mocking their own earlier zeal. The extraordinary example is the man who wrote Psalm 23 and who later took another man’s wife and had him killed. David failed to be single-minded. Jesus talked about some people that were neither cold nor hot. They were double-minded people. Were they ever truly converted? Paul did not behave like that. He was single-minded from the Damascus Road onwards. True Christians are tested by God again and again. What are you going to do? Are you going to keep on, to walk along the narrow path, to resist the devil, to overcome the world, to say no to sin, to love God with all your heart, in other words, be a single-minded man, or are you going to be double-minded? Paul said, “This one thing I do.” He said, “For to me to live is Christ.” That is single-mindedness. That is not the mark of a super-Christian. That is the mark of a mere believer. A true follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. He doesn’t fool around. He does not halt between two opinions.
Or take this grace of sincerity. God tests us here too. He tested Peter’s sincerity. It was easy for Peter to speak up at Caesarea Philippi with the other disciples around him and say, “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.” It is easy for us to sing when surrounded by Christians, “I’m not ashamed to own my Lord nor to defend his cause.” Then God puts Peter in a position where it is exceedingly hard to sincerely confess him, by a fire, in the night, in the world where there are no other Christians about. “Do you belong to Jesus?” That is the question that comes, and Peter is tested, and we are tested too. It may be in the factory lunch-break. It may be in a tutorial group .It may be the in-group at school. It may be with your family. How sincere is your trust in the Lord? We are tested by God and it is through being tested that we grow strong. A weak muscle does not get stronger by being wrapped in cotton wool and the arm put in a sling. It gets strengthened by being used. So God puts us in places where our single-mindedness and our sincerity are tested. How are we going to respond? Are we going to keep going, utterly sincerely, or are we going to fall away?
“Yield not to temptation, for yielding is sin.
Each victory will help you some other to win.”
Are you going to be single-minded and sincere in your faith in every possible relationship? You notice what Paul says here: “We have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you in the holiness and sincerity that are from God” (v.12). He says that both in the world, where there were no other Christians to impress, or when he was in the pulpit he was still one man. You remember how Peter is giving advice to Christian slaves and he says, “submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh” (I Peter 2:18). That is single-mindedness. Not just a selective submission to my mistress who is a sweet old lady, but to my master who carries a whip. Or Paul writes to Christian slaves and says to them, “Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men” (Ephs. 6:7). That is exactly the New Testament ethic. If the fulness of God is filling you, and if you have the divine single-mindedness and the divine sincerity in the well-springs of your life then it will be impossible to glance around and see if the boss is looking before deciding how you are going to act. When no one is about, when the money is there on the table, when that sick video has been left in the VCR, when you are alone with a member of the opposite sex, when no one is checking up on the quality of your work – then you are called upon to be single-minded and sincere. In the world as much as in the church.
That is our great calling. The Lord Jesus called this group of young men together and he said to them, “You twelve men are the light of the world. You are the salt of the earth.” They must have been amazed. What did the Saviour mean? He meant that just as it only takes one small light bulb to light up a big room, so one small group of Christians can bring illumination to a whole city lying in darkness. The illumination is the life of a single-minded sincere Christian. Think of the day of Pentecost and how wonderfully these words of Christ were fulfilled. The entire church was filled with the Spirit and Peter preached the word and the whole city of Jerusalem was affected. Think of Latimer and Ridley being burned at the stake in Oxford and the impact of their words – “we will light a candle this day that will not be put out” – and their bravery at death, on the whole history of Great Britain and the USA. One small light, but the darkness in a vast area driven away.
Or think of the preservative power of salt. One portion of salt is enough to prevent a piece of meat 100 times as great in volume from putrefying. God will spare Sodom if there are but ten single-minded and sincere people in it. That is our great calling. To show God’s light and God’s life to a dark and rotten world.
Consider the great mistake of the ecumenical movement which has taken up the energies of the liberal church for fifty years. It claims that if only big denominational groupings can join together and there is one super denomination that then the world will believe in Jesus Christ. But at no point in the history of the church has the mere unity of large numbers ever made a transforming impression upon others. Less than three hundred men and women were burned at the stake but the whole country was affected by them. Look at the Great Awakening 200 years later. It began with a few preachers who began to call sinners to repentance vehemently. In two or three years they had sounded an alarm throughout the whole nation. Many thousands gathered to hear them. There was an extraordinary change throughout the British Isles. There was not a city or town where there were not gathered together people whose lives were changed by their gospel. What does Paul say? “God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty” (I Cor.1:27). That is the principle. One spoonful of salt, or one little light and the effect is totally out of proportion to the size. It is the great principle that Gideon discovered, that numbers in his army had to be stripped down and down until there were just a few hundred, and they were enough under God to drive the enemies out of the land. The principle is this: “If God be for us who can be against us?” Let me take these two graces here. Our point is that a Christian is to be characterised by God’s own single-mindedness and sincerity, and then the impact on the church and the world would be immense.
We are saying that the Christian calling is to live in a different way, in the single-mindedness and the utmost sincerity of God himself, not just in the church but everywhere with all men. That is God’s plan for us, and in nothing must we lose sight of that. A very large part of my life is to be spent making sure that I am living like this.
3. It is by God’s Grace that We Continue in Single-mindedness and Sincerity (v.12)
Paul adds, “We have done so.” What a wonderful claim. “We have actually achieved this,” he says. Living in this way is not a hopelessly futile ambition. It is not an unattainable dream. Paul says, “We have actually conducted ourselves in the single-mindedness and sincerity that comes from God.” I cannot believe that the God who made the world, and knows it so much better than anyone else, has given to us a hopelessly impractical set of ethics. In fact you and I have been favoured during the years in which we have followed the Saviour to have met hundreds if not thousands of men and women, young and old, in every continent in the world, who have conducted themselves in single-mindedness and sincerity. They have been our heroes. We have known miners, and steel-workers, and farmers, and taxi-drivers, and teachers, and housewives, and widows, and pilots, and scientists, and professors, and artists, and preachers and pensioners whose lives have been controlled by this divine single-mindedness and sincerity.
How have they achieved this? Not by their superior intelligence, not by a favoured secure upbringing, not by their material well-being, not by external pressures, not by drugs, not by fanaticism, not by delusion, not because they have lived through revivals or sat under an awakening ministry “but according to God’s grace” (v.12). By the grace of God they are what they are. There is always the possibility of trying to ape such behaviour, “according to worldly wisdom” Paul says. The Pharisees did it by law. They listed out hundreds of rules, one for every possible circumstance, covering every reaction, spelling out your every response, hemming you in to a certain way of life – like tithing herbs, and ceremonially washing before you had a meal, and walking a certain distance on the Sabbath – and then they pronounced that that was so pleasing to God, and that it was the life of holiness and sincerity. Christ called them white-washed sepulchres and a generation of vipers. It was all according to worldly-wisdom. It had nothing to do with the living God.
Then the Judaizers who had slipped in to the church at Galatia to change its whole religion told the Christians there that the life of single-mindedness and sincerity was attained through outward ceremonies, keeping the seventh day of the week as well as the first, getting circumcised, and abstaining from eating certain foods. But that too was all “according to worldly wisdom.” It is not by human laws nor by human ceremonies that we conduct ourselves in the holiness and sincerity that comes from God. Then how? Paul tells us, “according to God’s grace.” Grace is God’s sanctifying energy working in and upon utterly unworthy and impotent sinners who have put their trust in Jesus Christ. God’s grace is not his affection, nor is it his attitude. It is his power. It is the result of his determination to transform these people who have come to his dear Son, and to make them like his Son. He does so by changing their very natures, giving them new life and wisdom, enabling them to live by utterly different standards.
Grace is God’s power to change every circumstance, to strengthen every weakness, to cheer every distress, to lift every burden, to carry every responsibility, and take on every privilege. God puts forth his invincible might – all the energy that once said, “Let there be light!” – focusing it upon his people and delicately and personally making them single-minded and sincere men and women. When we say that amazing grace ‘saved a wretch like me’ we are not saying that a great sentiment has gripped us, but that the God who raises the dead is in control of my life. He keeps me trusting, looking, believing, persevering, forgiving and persevering. All my hope of being one day with him in heaven and being like him is derived from this. Should an angel there in heaven inquire as to how had we got there we should answer in these words, “We have done so not according to worldly wisdom but according to God’s grace” (v.12).
Then there is no excuse for ever being double-minded or for being insincere. Not once. I may not plead that I was feeling down, or tired, or under pressure, or that there were no other Christians around. God will say, “Did I not give you my grace? Did I not implant in your life my own single-mindedness and sincerity?” And every mouth will be stopped. The Olympic Games are on, but the African hammer-thrower record-holder is not there. His name is Chris Harmse from South Africa. Though he reached the qualifying distance in a throw he made in an athletics context in Croatia on July 15 he discovered that the Olympics finals of his event were actually today and the Lord’s Day has always been more important to him that throwing hammers because the Lord is the most important reality in his life, and he wants to please him more than anything else. It is because of God’s grace Chris Harmse said no to the Olympics. The same grace that is in him God has also put in you. It makes men and women strong in spirit.
Paul gives us two illustrations of what the divine single-mindedness and sincerity did for him.
i] Firstly, they caused him to make himself absolutely clear in what he said and wrote: “For we do not write you anything you cannot read or understand” (v.13). Hudson Taylor said that he judged a man’s holiness by being able to read and understand his handwriting on an envelope! What was Hudson Taylor saying? That one consequence of being a Christian was a new concern for being straight and lucid in every area of life. Think of the great problem to the pulpit humourists all the children in the congregation present. The little boy looks up at his mother and says, “Why are the people laughing?” If preaching is all about communicating the divine truth to men and women then humour is a very tricky medium to employ. It is not hard to get some people to laugh out loud. That is a dangerous criterion for measuring whether one has truly served the Word of God. Paul’s boast was, “We do not write anything you cannot read or understand.” His passion to be clear in his words. He tells them, “I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue” (I Cor. 14:19). What was Paul’s great mark of the Spirit powerfully working in a congregation? “Everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way” (I Cor. 14:40).
I would suggest that your problem is never with what you can’t understand in the letters of Paul. Your problem is with those parts you can understand only too clearly. Your problem with my preaching is never with the parts where I might use some long words. Your problem is with my short words. People stop attending not because they can’t understand what I am talking about but because they understand only too well, and they don’t want to change their attitude or their behaviour. Paul believed that Adam was a real man who had a real fall into sin. The apostle believed in the second coming, in hell, in the headship of the husband, in women not having the office of preacher in the church, in the full truthfulness and inspiration of the Old Testament Scriptures, in his own authority as Christ’s apostle to be believed and obeyed, in the Lord Jesus’ death as the propitiatory sacrifice for our sin, in salvation by faith alone in Christ alone and that that faith was a gift of God. He taught predestination, and also reprobation, and in holy living as the mark of those who professed faith in the Son of God. The apostle Paul made these things spectacularly clear. If you read his writings you will quickly realise that he urges these things upon every Christian. If you come to this church for a month you will quickly understand that I believe them and teach them too for this one reason, because I am a Christian. This is what every Christian is taught by God.
My task is to make these things clear so that you can understand them. I want a good conscience about my preaching, and I must be single-minded in serving this Book and also you as a congregation. The apostle Peter acknowledges that Paul’s letter “contain some things that are hard to understand” (2 Pet.3:16). “Some things,” he said. But I am saying that those hard things are not your problem. We often use the analogy of eating some fish: we come across a bone or two: we do not throw away the whole meal because of one or two bones. Put them on the side of your plate and eat the rest. You do not reject the letters of Paul because you find some of Romans five or Romans nine or Romans eleven hard to understand. Devour all the teaching of Paul you can and then you will understand more. What you do not understand will get less and less. Ask the pastor, buy a commentary, look at other clearer sections. We do not expect people to understand all the preaching the first time they come here, but come again and you will understand more. The people who brought you will explain things to you. Are you going to throw everything away because there are some things you do not understand? See what Paul says in our text: “you have understood us in part, you will come to understand us fully” (v.14). Their growth in understanding was incomplete but growing, and he was conscious of this and trying to help them. In his prayers he is concerned for the growth in wisdom and knowledge of the churches he writes to.
I first heard Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones in September 1958 in Cardiff. All I came away with was that this kind of ministry was tremendously important and I needed to know more: “I do not know why this is different and grave and inspiring, but I must find out somehow.” Years later he tried to jog my memory by reminding me what he preached on that day – it was the raising of Jairus’ daughter – but I could not remember a word, only that that ministry was very important. I took one sermon to adjust to him and after that I was on his wave-length and learned from him.
Having the divine single-mindedness and sincerity makes us straight with people in what we say to them about the way to God. We are sinners. God has loved the world and given his only Son. He has paid the price of our sin as the Lamb of God. Through him we may have forgiveness if we entrust ourselves to him and turn from our sins and cry to him to become our Lord and Saviour. But the divine single-mindedness and sincerity should make us straight with people in everything.
ii] The divine single-mindedness and sincerity also caused him to make his plans for the future thoughtfully (vv.15-17). The apostle is speaking here about visiting Corinth. It would be on his way to Macedonia for other Christian work, and from them he would go on to Judea and the Corinthian church could send him on his way from there to Judea, that is, they would be making arrangements for him to have hospitality, and then escort him to the boat and give him some letters of recommendation. It would not be just turning up and popping in, but it would be a particularly Christian passage through Corinth. There was nothing casual about it. The apostle is planning all this, and it is not lightly done (v.17). It is not in a worldly manner, tantalising them with “maybe I will come and maybe I won’t come.” Paul was single-minded in every area of his life.
Think of the marriage ceremony. I begin the service by talking about the serious nature of marriage, a creation ordinance, given by God, an analogy of Jesus Christ and his church, the potential for great blessing and great pain. So, I tell the couple being married and also the whole congregation that marriage ought not to be entered upon carelessly, or lightly, or unadvisedly. A couple should not quickly say, “Why don’t we live together? Why not get married?” No plans a Christian makes should be in a worldly manner. Your career, where you are going to live, what values are going to run your home, what you do with your income, your view of parenthood, the use of the Lord’s Day and the ministry you sit under, how you care for your parents in their old age need to be utterly sincere. Ultimately what decision for the future is trivial? Christian single-mindedness will affect each one.
4. We Must Rejoice that We have been Gripped by Divine Single-Mindedness and Sincerity.
Paul was aware that God was helping him. “Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, in the holiness and sincerity that are from God” (v.12). In other words, any good Paul thought he had done in the world or in the church was because God had given him stickability and genuiness. His own conscience confirmed that this was so. He had a peace of mind about his behaviour. It was not perfect behaviour but God had strengthened him to live like that. How is it between you and your conscience? In your relationships with people in the business world, the folk you work with, your family and relations, your friends – does your conscience confirm that you have lived in a godly and kindly manner towards them?
Paul was sure of this. If you asked him how he was sure that he was a son of God then he would point to how God helped him to live. He was amazed at the difference that grace had made in his life, how he got over grudges, and could love his enemies, and not be deflected from the course he had set out on. God was his shepherd and guide, and he boasted of this. People boasted in their money, or in their idols, on in themselves, but Paul boasted in the divine power that God had had over him. Consider all the hymns we sing that boast of what God has done in us. Think of John Newton’s words:-
“He who has helped me hitherto Will help me all my journey through, And give me daily cause to raise New Ebenezers to His praise.”
That is our assurance. That is a Christian boasting in his God. But more than that, Paul wanted them also to boast in what God had done for Paul. I hope, he says, that you will come to understand me fully, so that the whole Corinthian congregation can boast about what God had done in Paul’s life. Imagine you might call in at one of their prayer meetings and someone is leading and rejoicing in God’s gift of Paul and how God had blessed and used and kept him. “What single-mindedness! What sincerity! Wasn’t God great to do that in the life of someone who once hated Jesus Christ and his people?” And all the congregation join in with a hearty Amen.
That is the spirit he wants to see in them, that they are no longer cool to him and suspicious because his detractors have labelled him as a double-minded man. They have come to see his worth and they are boasting of him just as in the day of the Lord Jesus he will be proud of each one of them. He will see them all rising from the earth and coming up to God. The Good Shepherd will welcome them and say “Come ye blessed. This is the inheritance I have prepared for you.” Paul could remember the struggle he had with this person and with that person, all the objections they raised against the gospel, how often he had to go back to their homes and talk to them and keep them coming to church. How much prayer and care had been invested in them. He had travailed again in birth until Christ was born in them, and how he sees them now shining like stars in heaven, Christ-like and glorious, and he is so proud of them now in the presence of Christ.
So this chapter is all about judgment-day integrity. We live our lives each day as those who are conscious of giving an account to God in the great day. Our aim is not achievement but integrity, being straight with people in the world and with people in the church, straight with family and with friends, straight with members of the opposite sex and straight with our enemies. If Christians do not have straightforward reliable characters then what hope is there for anyone who is not a believer being drawn to the Lord Jesus?
24th September 2000 GEOFF THOMAS