Paul’s Conscience is Clear – 2 Corinthians 1:12-14

Paul does not think the church at Corinth is maturing as they should. First Corinthians outlines several problems which were due to not fully applying their status in Christ (factions, sinful behavior, questions about key doctrines). In 1 Corinthians Paul was straightforward and confrontational, to the point that some in the church were offended. He therefore wrote another “tearful letter” and made what he calls “a painful visit” to the church in order to deal with these sins. This correction left many in the church with raw feelings, and Paul himself was angry and perhaps humiliated by the audacity of the church and their challenges to his authority.

Image result for godly sincerityIn this opening section of 2 Corinthians, Paul tries to explain where his heart was during these difficult times. He claims to have acted with pure motives for the good of the church, even if the church was offended by Paul. Ultimately, his goal was to “help the Corinthians make the necessary corrections themselves” (Garland, 2 Corinthians, 111).

Although it seems strange from a modern perspective, Paul boasts he has acted in good conscience (1:12). It is possible Paul could be accused of acting rashly in the way he attacked the church for the treatment of the sinful member of in 1 Corinthians 5. Later in the letter Paul will defend himself against people in the Corinthian church who are attacking his authority as an apostle. This boast at the beginning of the letter sets the tone for his later defense, he has acted properly and does not have anything weighing on his conscience as a result of previous confrontations through letters and visits.

First, Paul acted with integrity, or simplicity in the ESV. The word he uses here (ἁπλότης) is very flexible, which is why there more difference in the translations than usual. It is used in the New Testament for “personal integrity expressed in word or action” (BDAG), for behaving properly, without ulterior motives, or “without ambiguity,” or “simple goodness…‘without strings attached’, ‘without hidden agendas’” (BDAG). For example, it appears in Eph 6:5 and Col 3:22 in the context of how slaves ought to obey their masters. They ought to act sincerely, not simply to curry favor with their master.

Second, Paul’s relationship with Corinth is based on godly sincerity. This word (εἰλικρίνεια) is rare in the New Testament, it only appears in 1 Cor 5:8 to describe sincerity of worship (in contrast to the sinful man) and again in 2 Cor 2:17, sincere motives in contrast to certain “peddlers of the word of God.”  The word connotes purity, and can be used to describe something that is “unmixed” (“a pure and clear air” in Hippocrates, Vict. 2.38.5, for example). Spicq contends that the word does not connote “so much an absence of duplicity or hypocrisy as a fundamental integrity and transparency; it can be compared to innocence”(TLNT 1:423).

Was there an accusation of inconsistency from the Corinthian church? Perhaps someone said Paul “passes himself off as strong in his letters but comes off as weak in person (10:1–11; 13:2, 10). He threatens the rod (1 Cor 4:21) but runs away when discipline is necessary (2:1–4).” As a modern analogy, people tend to be much more bold and aggressive on the internet than in real life, especially if they are in some sort of anonymous forum. People say things in an email they might not say face-to-face!

Third, he did not act according to earthly wisdom. “Earthly” can be translated “fleshly” since the noun (σαρκικός) has the sense of human frailty. In the New Testament the word usually has a negative connotation, as it does here in contrast to the grace of God. This “mediocre, transitory, or sinful” human way of thinking is a theme which comes up often in 2 Corinthians. In this context, Paul is saying the way he treated the church was not the way people in the secular would have done it.

Perhaps he implies his condemnation could have been far more painful, or that his attack could have caused them a great deal more pain. He may simply mean his extension of grace to the church was unexpected—most would have written off the church as utterly corrupt and sinful, no longer able to be corrected and restored to fellowship. If a major theme of the letter is reconciliation, then “conventional human wisdom” would be reconciliation is impossible in this case, why even try?

It is possible someone in the church accused Paul of writing obscure, difficult letters, as if he was trying to display his “worldly wisdom.” Think of a young pastor who tries to demonstrate his theological education by referring to the Greek too often, or quoting obscure intellectuals (“as Kierkegaard says…”)

On the other hand, Paul was indeed sensitive to how his letters were interpreted. As Furnish comments, Paul was concerned someone “in Corinth was deliberately trying to turn Paul’s letters to the apostle’s own disadvantage” (II Corinthians, 130). Perhaps the charge against Paul was that he intentionally preached an unclear gospel out of impure motives. If a teaching could be interpreted in a favorable way, then Paul stands to gain honor. Like a modern political speech, maybe Paul was being evasive and vague to be “all things to all men” and gain favor of all men.

In contrast to the flawed way humans think and behave, Paul was motivated by the grace of God. Despite the sins of the church and Paul’s anger and humiliation over their behavior, they are still people who God has saved by grace. Paul acted to restore them to fellowship, even if he treated the sin boldly and hurt some people along the way.

It is always difficult to use Paul’s difficult relationship with Corinth as a “model for ministry.” But Paul’s claim here is that whatever happened, he was motivated by a sincere desire to extend God’s grace to the congregation.

How would this attitude change the way we “do church”?

11 thoughts on “Paul’s Conscience is Clear – 2 Corinthians 1:12-14

  1. Paul’s relationship with the Corinthian church may not be the perfect model for ministry, but I believe the primary principle behind it is sound. Paul’s wish for the Corinthians, as stated in the blog post above, is a “sincere desire to extend God’s grace to the congregation.” Paul was seeking the best for the Corinthian believers, and according to 2 Corinthians 2:17, he truly was sincere and spoke “in Christ.” I believe that we can apply this principle to the modern church as well. Many people, myself included, often worry about other people’s feelings and reactions before they worry about whether they are living according to God’s word. It may cause more conflict, but sometimes, seeking the best for someone does not mean doing what they want, but rather, what God would want for them, which can be a sensitive message to deliver. For this reason, Longenecker notes that Paul commands the believers “to exercise care and caution” in these situations, so that those who are disciplining do not “get caught up in the satanic grip of establishing themselves as moral superiors” (154). As we seek to restore and edify the body of Christ, it is important to recognize that we are all helpless apart from Jesus. We must stand boldly against sin, but we also must be sensitive to the souls of others.

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  2. Paul was completely and unapologetically sincere in his motivation to spread and extend the grace of God into the congregation. Paul is kind of the poster boy for evangelism but past his methods, his heart is the ultimate example to us. His attitude is completely positive and genuine in what he wanted. He cared so much for the church and he wanted for them to know the grace of God so badly. “His physical separation from a church did not curb his spiritual concern for a church of his desire to be present with its members.” (TTP, 45) This is not the case for the church today. There are many times when the attitude of the people is condescending and negative. Some aim to get in and out as fast as possible without having to interact with others or the teaching. Others get upset over little things that really in the long run, don’t affect us very much. Paul was on fire for God and his sincere attitude, even through everything he went through, is something we should aim to have today. The way we “do church” has become a bit fuzzy. Tradition and blending of culture and Christianity has left us with a sort of skewed version of what church really should be. Rather than trying to impress we should be aiming to grow closer to God, for ourselves and not for show, which the church has become.

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  3. Rachel Smith

    “But Paul’s claim here is that whatever happened, he was motivated by a sincere desire to extend God’s grace to the congregation. How would this attitude change the way we “do church”?” (P. Long, blog – Paul’s Conscience is Clear – 2 Corinthians 1:12-14). If we as a church took up the same motivation as Paul, to sincerely desire to extend God’s grace to the congregation, the way we “do church” would change. If we were to extend God’s grace by speaking the truth about sins bluntly, even hidden sins such as pornography, individuals would probably be angry and upset because of the truth. They might also be upset because they as individuals feel like they have the right to do and be what they want to do and be. Individuals may also be upset because they may feel that judgment is being passed onto them; this is something that those who “desire to extend God’s grace” must be very careful to not fall into. Some individuals may be upset because they know their sin, hate their sin, yet they struggle to escape their sin. Yet, this whole scenario has another aspect as well; we as the church must speak the truth in love! If we sincerely desire to extend God’s grace to the congregation, we should seek to speak the truth in love, accepting all individuals and praying with and for them. If we desire to extend God’s grace to the congregation, I think we should speak the truth in love, especially in regards to sin. However, I think that the truth would be much more accepted if we pray with, support, encourage, pray for, and confront individuals on a personal level rather than on the corporate level of the whole assembly. We can and should also encourage individuals with Scripture. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” 2 Cor. 1: 3 – 4.

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  4. There is not going to be any perfect way to do ministry. Ministry can be messy and hard. God did not call us to do anything comfortable or easy. We is going to call us to do the unthinkable and challenging because that is what Jesus did. I think that if Paul was doing what God called him to do than we should be doing the same. Some people in the world are not going to agree with what we are doing either. The world is going to hate what we are doing at times, but that should not stop us from spreading Christ love. He was doing these ministry opportunities because he wanted to gain his own personal status. “But Paul’s goal was not to enhance his own personal status; Instead his primary interest was to enhance his Corinthian addresses in their Christian thought and practice” (Longenecker 135). I think that this would change our view on ministry today because many people out there do many things because they want to grow bigger in their personal statuses instead of what God has for them. God does not call us to become popular. Jesus was not even close to popular in his time on earth. He was hated by many because He was doing what God called Him to do. We should be doing just that.

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  5. Paul’s attitude would change the way we do church radically. It would challenge the congregation to be transparent and push them to a new standard of accountability which reminds of James 5:16 which says we are to confess our sins to each other and pray for each other. We cannot be afraid to discuss hard topics with our brothers and sisters if its out of love, as my husband often says, “Iron sharpens Iron’ (Proverbs 27:17) and this is what Paul seems to be trying to do for the better of the congregation. However we also have to remember that we are all only human and misunderstandings easily occur, especially when we involve any from of critiquing or rebuking. Though we may have the purest of motives when we try to help people, we can also still hurt them as well (like the Corinthians). We should always remember that we can never really know someone’s true motives and others never really know ours, because only Christ really knows where our hearts are at and this is what makes this model tough to follow. Though when it comes to ministry there really is not perfect model but again, I think Paul really challenges the Corinthians to be more open and honest with themselves and he teaches us the importance of learning how to effectively communicate with those around us which is something we desperately need because our churches are getting too comfortable. We get too hung up on the little things to see the big issues in the church and Paul was bold enough to weed out those issues regardless of what others thought because in the end he does it out of love. While most people aren’t as brave and direct as Paul in ministry, there’s nothing wrong with being a little more straightforward, but there is also nothing wrong in being gentle either. There are many different people who respond better to some strategies over others and learning those things are a part of becoming a effective communicator as Paul was learning.

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  6. To some extent, Paul’s ministry was not a good example of how to do church, but it still holds truth. If his ministry were to change our attitude in how we “do church,” there might not be as many people who go to church. 1 Corinthians 11:20 says, “If I must boast, I will boast of things that show my weakness” (NIV 1 Corinthians 11:20) In church today, a lot of Christians are afraid to boast about themselves or to share their story in a way that Paul did. At the same time, Paul was just like all of the students at Grace Bible College learning how to effectively serve Christ in church and society. Paul had a good heart and intentions behind everything that he did.

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  7. My question from this is why must offending someone be a bad thing? Concerning Jesus, Peter recalled, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone, and ‘a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.’ They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed.”

    These people were to live in congruence with God. Yet, they rejected him (Jesus, the Word). this also can add to what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 11, He said, “This is why you must examine the way you eat and drink. If you fail to understand that you are the body of the Lord, you will condemn yourselves by the way you eat and drink. This is why so many of you are sick and weak, and why a lot of others are dead” (1 Corinth. 11:28-30 CEV). The Corinthians were living in disobedience and they were okay with that. As a result, they grew weak, sick and others died. So then, why is it a bad thing to confront others who are in a relationship with God? Did Paul not say that that it is our responsibility to judge those in the church but not the outsiders? (I do not speak of the judgment God tells us not to do such as in Matthew 7 or Romans). Paul truly loved these people and whether they liked him back or not he could care less because to not confront them was to not truly love them. This is a reason why the presence of God in our lives can be so minimal and as a result, we feel ineffective. It is when we willfully sin and not rely on God’s grace that our condition becomes fruitless.

    If this were an attitude of the Church today, that of speaking the truth in true love then you would see communities changed by the Gospel. John mentioned how it is by our love for one another that they will tell that we are His disciples. Well, if we are afraid to confront and encourage each other to draw near to God, to draw near to his consuming fire and let the Word of God penetrate our hearts like a double-edged sword that transforms us from the inside out and becoming more like Jesus Christ. This is what would happen if we just embraced correction! The world would be truly changed because although in Christ we have found what our heart thirsts for, that is no reason to act like you have fully arrived and no longer need to pursue God (Philippians 3:12). Grace changes everything in our lives. But, we refuse to lean into grace and instead in our own awareness and ability.

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  8. Throughout reading this blog post it made me realize that mankind misinterprets conversations easily if we are not clear about what we mean to one another. I have found myself in situations where I have not expressed in vulnerability and honesty what I am feeling to friends and family, it then came back and burned me in a sense. Those feelings build up and it pushes people away from one another. We are called to be open with one another and express our honest thoughts. Proverbs 16:13 says, “Righteous lips are the delight of a king, and he loves him who speaks what is right”. When we know in our hearts that we are hiding something we did wrong, we should be real with one another. As Christians we are called to be honest and I think in the church we aren’t vulnerable, open and honest enough. The way others view us always seems to matter most I have noticed. Being aware of how we act is important because others are watching. Scripture says that they will know us by our fruits (Matthew 7:20). How we act, respond and spend our time is noticed. It is noticed when we least expect it.
    Paul in 2 Corinthians 1:12-14 was open and vulnerable with the Corinthians. Paul loves God and when we love God so much, we care and love for others the same. We love as Jesus loves us and died for us. John 3:16 speaks volumes as it starts “For God so loved the world”, He loves us so much and He wants us to understand the good He wants for us and has for us. Paul chose to obey and proclaimed to the Corinthians the truth of sin. The ways they should act and shouldn’t. To those close to us we can easily get offended because of our flesh. We are not in the Spirit when we jumped to defending ourselves. The Corinthians were in the wrong as they got offended. Paul was giving his opinion in love and I do not think had bad intentions. The motives behind Paul confronting the Corinthians was all done in grace. God is gracious to us when we do not deserve it and He uses others to bring to light what we do not see. Paul out of love and grace, confronted them to help open their eyes.

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  9. Paul is personal on a heart level with the Church of Corinth as he explains himself genuinely and openly to them. Paul was not trying to hurt them through his letter, but his opponents were making it sound like he was against them. Paul was reasoning that he wanted them to clearly understand what it was that he was writing to them (2 Cor. 1:13). Paul was straight forward to the Corinthians, which could have came across as insensitive, but Paul was sensitive to the Church of Corinth. Paul cared deeply for the Churches he ministered to as he had a daily pressure and anxiety for them (2 Cor. 11:28). Paul said that God knows his heart and Paul seems to be confident and stand firm in that (2 Cor. 11:31). Paul was being sincere and honest as challenging and correcting sin he saw that was displeasing to God. If no one ever spoke up about the sin they saw in the Church, they would be hindering the Church by not using what God gave them. Paul was obedient in using his voice to speak out of Godly love to the Corinthians.

    Adopting a similar attitude of Paul’s in today’s Church may change it in the way of reflecting God’s kindness to the rest of the world. Being corrected in a straight forward way may feel rough, but Paul did it in a way that gave grace. Repent from your sin, have a restored relationship with God and do what is pleasing to Him. People in the modern Church would not be so sensitive and be sweeping “things” under the rug. Paul set a good example of being honest with his correction and his open expression of love for them and that he meant well.

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  10. Paul’s relationship with the Corinthian church before the writing of 2 Corinthians was broken. In 2 Corinthians 2:1 Paul alludes to a “painful visit.” The Corinthians also seem to be questioning his intentions towards them (TTP, 154). Some thought that he only came to the city to build their trust, take their money and leave (TTP, 154). In spite of these serious accusations against Paul’s character, Paul did what he could to mend the relationship. He wrote an emotional letter to address some of the accusations against himself (TTP, 150). Paul sent the letter with Titus to Corinth. Through this letter and perhaps influenced by Titus’ recommendation, Paul writes 2 Corinthians with the knowledge that the relationship had been restored (2 Cor 7:6-7). Even though Paul knew his letter would cause pain, he knew that it had to be written so they could move on. As a result, their sorrow led them to repentance and Paul wrote that he did not regret his actions (2 Cor 7:9-10).
    Like Paul, Christians today must be willing to do what is difficult to repair broken relationships. Christians today often give up too easily. They are insulted by another church member so they switch churches instead of trying to work it out. The abundance of churches and ease of transportation make it easy to avoid the people we don’t like. Instead, we need to be willing to have the difficult conversation and extend grace to each other.

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