Summary: We should be seeking to show in our lives the grace & sincerity of God, but we do this not trusting in our own strength, but trusting solely in God’s grace & forgiveness.
By Danny Saunders
The rumor goes that when Sally Robins dropped her oars at the women’s Olympic rowing event, another member of the team threatened to throw her out of the boat. The other rowers were fuming but when the rowing authorities stepped in they quickly & publicly indicated their support & care for the failed rower. We will probably never know whether this was simply for the sake of team unity & the integrity of the Australian team; or whether this was motivated by actual love and forgiveness.
But this issue in Australian rowing has many characteristics of a Corinthian Church scandal though in Corinth the offending party is actually thrown out of the boat, told to leave the church. The authorities, represented by the Apostle Paul, have to step in to help resolve the conflict. For the sake of team integrity the offender must be punished, but only for so long as to cause repentance & sorrow – at that time the media conference is called & the church forgives the offender & reaffirms its love for the offender. The Apostle Paul is happy that joy is restored to the church, the church is happy that they are once again in Paul’s favor, the offender is happy because they’re reinstated & get another chance & the media is happy because they have a news story to exploit & everyone lives happily ever after.
Well things weren’t that simple in Corinth & perhaps this is fortunate because it meant Paul had to write his letters & these letters provide us with teaching & guidance about how issues in the church are to be resolved. & in this passage before us today Paul’s purpose is to teach & encourage the Corinthians to maintain integrity, unity & joy in their Christian fellowship.
1. Paul’s boasting – vv.12-14
Paul’s first concern is to make it clear that he is a man of integrity. His character & words have integrity.
In fact he goes so far as to boast because he’s behaved with frankness & godly sincerity. Paul had spent 18 months living among the Corinthians & he’s proud that he’s been honest & sincere in all his dealings with them & he sees this integrity as a reason to boast. But notice that although he boasts, he isn’t boasting in himself & his own strength. He can act according to God’s standards not because of earthly wisdom, but because of God’s grace. Again & again in this letter Paul reminds his readers that he doesn’t rely on himself & his own ability. Even though Paul is capable, he continually makes it clear that to live a righteous life he relies not on his own strength but on the grace of God.
Paul then reassures the Corinthians that his message is also simple & clear. There’s no secret or mysterious part that is meant to be read between the lines. There’s no deeper truth that only a privileged few can understand – what Paul writes can be read & understood. There’s no hidden agenda. His letters aren’t cryptic crosswords. He doesn’t leave clues that require careful & slow deciphering with dictionary in hand.
Paul means what he says & so his hope is that the Corinthians will continue in their understanding & grow in that understanding until the end, until the very return of Christ, called here the day of the Lord. Paul’s hope is that this will be a day of boasting. The Corinthians will boast that they were taught & discipled by the best teacher of all, the Apostle Paul & Paul will boast about their eagerness to learn & grow & so on the last day, when they stand with him in heaven, he’ll boast that the Corinthians fought the good fight, they finished the race & kept the faith.
So already in this passage there’s a lot to challenge us. Are we relying on God’s grace to maintain our integrity & Godly character? If we’re not spending time with God regularly then we’re foolishly relying on our own strength & not God’s. The temptations of our world are too great to think we can cope as Christians & maintain godly character, unless we’re regularly in prayer & reading the Bible, relying on God’s grace & strength.
So don’t let your faith be shipwrecked by losing your focus on God & trusting in yourself. Paul’s holiness & sincerity have their origins in God, not in himself. So don’t be deceived by your own goodness & strength – trust only in God & call on him to help you live a godly life & to grow in your understanding of the Scriptures.
2. Paul’s intention & change of travel plans. Vs.15-22
Paul’s next concern is to defend himself against any allegation that he is flippant, unreliable or insincere. Paul wants to make the point that his actions also have integrity.