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Paul Answers Slanderous Accusations

2 Corinthians 1:12-2:4

Jim Davis

Satan was vigorously working in the church at Corinth to blind the eyes of those choosing to believe in Christ. Satan was out to blind their eyes by assassinating Paul's character. Having your credibility attacked can be personally devastating. It may also devastate other Christians. This is especially true if you are a leader of God's people.

2 Corinthians 4:1-7
Therefore, since through God's mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. (NIV)

In the verses for this lesson Paul is defending himself from the attacks from within the Christian community at Corinth. Satan was out to destroy Paul and the church at Corinth. We noticed in the previous lesson (2 Corinthians 1:1-11) that Paul was under such great pressure that he was in fear of his life. This despair came from physical threat. It was Satan’s attack from without.

However, Satan was also attacking from within the church. Paul sees Satan trying to outwit and take advantage of the Corinthians in their difficulties (2 Corinthians 2:11). Later in this epistle Paul speaks of his thorn in the flesh, which was given to him by a messenger of Satan (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Paul was alluding to a personal fleshly struggle in his own life. Satan was attacking the great apostle on all fronts. The world was attacking the church from without . The brethren were attacking one another from within the church. Satan’s messenger was attacking Paul personally.

Remember, when trouble comes, regardless of its source, you can bet that Satan will be present to take advantage of the situation. This is especially true when churches begin to have conflict from within.

Do you know the easiest way for Satan to overcome the church? Paul tells us in Galatians; "If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other" (Galatians 5:15 NIV). Tongues were wagging in Corinth. They were wagging accusations against Paul. Someone said that the tongue is the only weapon that gets sharper through use. Things that are used to cut usually get dull with use, but the tongue gets sharper through use. The more it is used, the sharper it gets. The potential threat for sharp tongues is in every church.

James 3:6
The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. (NIV)

Tongues were ablaze in Corinth.

Paul's Sincerity Is Attacked

There is no better way to destroy a message than attacking the sincerity of the one giving the message. We see this in every political campaign. The credibility of the messenger is crucial. It is here in 2 Corinthians that Paul defends himself against Satan's attacks.

Paul was accused of being carnal minded. He was accused of using deception and dishonesty in his approach to preaching the gospel at Corinth.

2 Corinthians 1:12
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. (NIV)

2 Corinthians 4:1-2
Therefore, since through God's mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. (NIV)

Paul had commended himself to every man's conscience by setting forth the truth plainly. He did not write to them anything that they couldn't plainly read and understand. Paul had not used worldly wisdom as a means of persuasion. He had not used deception to accomplish God's purposes. He had not distorted the word of God. He had simply spoken the truth about the grace of God. His character witnesses were holiness and sincerity. Both his written letters and his life testified to his character. They needed to examine how he writes and how he lives.

The first eleven verses of this book display such sincerity as Paul salutes the Corinthians through his own suffering for them. Paul interpreted his suffering as sharing in Christ suffering for them. I don't believe that you can ever see your suffering as a benefit for others without holiness and sincerity. A carnal minded person would resent suffering for others. That was not the case with Paul. Paul’s words drip with the nervous sweat of sincerity.

2 Corinthians 1:8-11
We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many. (NIV)

Paul isn’t asking the Corinthians for anything, except to share in his suffering through prayer on his behalf. Even half-hearted Christians ought to be able to see the sincerity in this request.

Paul was accused of saying one thing and doing another. In 1 Corinthians 16:5-9 Paul was hoping to visit the Corinthians.

1 Corinthians 16:5-9
After I go through Macedonia, I will come to you-- for I will be going through Macedonia. Perhaps I will stay with you awhile, or even spend the winter, so that you can help me on my journey, wherever I go. I do not want to see you now and make only a passing visit; I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me. (NIV)

The Corinthians had interpreted this as a firm promise not to be broken. So when Paul changed his mind about visiting them, they thought that his message was vacillating. Perhaps they were thinking that he would say what ever was necessary at the moment as a means of persuasion to make himself look concerned and interested in them. Paul writes:

2 Corinthians 1:16-17
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"? (NIV)

Paul's desire to visit the Corinthians was just that, it was his desire. His desire was prefaced by the words, "if the Lord permits" (1 Corinthians 16:7). Paul made his plans in accordance to God's plans. Do you remember when Paul received the Macedonian call to go to the cities in Macedonia?

Acts 16:7-10
When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. (NIV)

Paul had learned to stay in a frame of mind so that God's plans could interfere with his personal plans.

James 4:13-15
Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that." (NIV)

It wasn't that Paul was vacillating; rather he was endeavoring to make his plans in accordance with the will of God. His letter to them was plain and simple. He had sought to make his plans in accordance with God's grace. He did this by sincerely searching his own mind and heart as to what God wanted him to do. There is no better way to conduct your life as a Christian than to reflect upon how God wants you to relate to the world and those with whom you are having difficulties.

2 Corinthians 1:17-23
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"? But as surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not "Yes" and "No." For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by me and Silas and Timothy, was not "Yes" and "No," but in him it has always been "Yes." For no matter how many promises God has made, they are "Yes" in Christ. And so through him the "Amen" is spoken by us to the glory of God. Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. I call God as my witness that it was in order to spare you that I did not return to Corinth. (NIV)

God called Paul to preach to Corinth. They knew that Paul was anointed by the Spirit of God to preach the gospel in Corinth. The Corinthians knew that Paul had demonstrated the power of God as he worked among them (2 Corinthians 4:1-4). They knew that Paul's strength came from God. It wasn't a frivolous jester for Paul to call God as his witness concerning his sincerity toward them. His message to the Corinthians was as faithful as God had been to them. Therefore Paul called God as his witness to testify to his sincerity.

2 Corinthians 1:23-2:4
I call God as my witness that it was in order to spare you that I did not return to Corinth. Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm . . . So I made up my mind that I would not make another painful visit to you. For if I grieve you, who is left to make me glad but you whom I have grieved? I wrote as I did so that when I came I should not be distressed by those who ought to make me rejoice. I had confidence in all of you, that you would all share my joy. For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you. (NIV)

The interesting thing about Paul calling God to be his witness is that he first searched his own conscience concerning his sincerity. Paul writes "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" (2 Corinthians 1:12 NIV). Before answering their accusations Paul searched his own conscience as he questioned his own sincerity. Paul question his own motives and then he gave them a sincere answer.

Instead of a visit, Paul had decided to write them a letter to address the problem. It was a one of those scorching letters. We don't have the letter alluded to, but perhaps he was taking them to task over the incestuous relationship in the church (1 Corinthians 5). Apparently, the letter caused them considerable grief. So Paul says, "So I made up my mind that I would not make another painful visit to you . . . I wrote as I did so that when I came I should not be distressed by those who ought to make me rejoice."

Paul decided that he would write a letter before he would make a visit. His visit would have been premature. Writing gave both Paul and the church time to reflect on the matter in a more responsive way.

Have you ever made a visit to someone to address a problem that you shouldn't have made? Not that there wasn't a problem, but you needed to do it when you were in a better frame of mind. Or you needed to do it when they were in a better frame of mind. Once I went to talk to someone about a problem. They weren’t at home. Later I was thankful they weren’t at home. I want to believe that God intervened, because it was a visit that had potential for trouble. The problem was solved without personal confrontation. The persons not being at home gave me more time for important reflection.

Some saw Paul as one trying to lord his authority over them. Paul writes, "Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm" (2 Corinthians 1:24 NIV). Some were thinking that Paul thought his apostleship gave him the authority to change his mind at will, with no concern for others. It would be easy for some to conclude this since Paul speaks of his authority as an apostle. However, the whole tenor of this letter reveals how Paul is struggling with them that they might stand by their own faith in God.

By Paul not visiting the church it gave them time to work out their own problems without a direct hands-on approach by Paul. This would enable Paul to make a joyous visit after they had solved their problems through their personal faith in God. Paul didn't want them to respond to Christ because someone was forcing them to. It is not a joy to have make someone do right. There isn't much joy in seeing people do things because they are forced to do so. Although, there are times it may be necessary. Paul wanted them to respond out of a personal faith in Christ.

Therefore, he refused to use his authority to lord it over them. He felt that his mere presence might be an indication that he was trying to lord his authority over them. Paul chose to exercise his authority in holiness and sincerity with an influence properly motivated by God's grace (1:12). Paul could have made a painful visit and exercised his authority, but he didn't think that was a godly way to handle the problem. He wanted them to understand that he was struggling with them in their problems. If you make a person do something because you have the authority to do so, you deprive them of the opportunity of developing their own personal faith in God. If they can’t do it out of personal faith in God, you deprive them of an opportunity for personal growth.

Too often, I have seen preachers, elders, deacons, yea, even members trying to lord authority. You have experienced the same thing in the work place. Many of you wives have experienced the husband trying to lord it over the children. Paul's example of leadership was influential rather than authoritarian.

The art of servanthood has been lost in our modern world. We can fathom the idea of wanting to be in charge, but the idea of serving others is obsolete. Jesus came to serve not to be served (Mark 10:45) Paul was laying his life on the line as a shepherd would lay his life on the line for sheep. He was trying to lead the Corinthian church through servanthood.

Conclusion:

Paul defended his integrity, but it didn't stop all the tongues from wagging. Tongues are just as sharp and relentless today.

There are times you shouldn't defend yourself. At times silence is the best response. Especially when speaking up makes the accusations look worse. In these times, ask God to vindicate you; let him handle the conflict.

Psalms 26:1-12
Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have led a blameless life; I have trusted in the LORD without wavering. Test me, O LORD, and try me, examine my heart and my mind; for your love is ever before me, and I walk continually in your truth. I do not sit with deceitful men, nor do I consort with hypocrites; I abhor the assembly of evildoers and refuse to sit with the wicked. I wash my hands in innocence, and go about your altar, O LORD, proclaiming aloud your praise and telling of all your wonderful deeds. I love the house where you live, O LORD, the place where your glory dwells. Do not take away my soul along with sinners, my life with bloodthirsty men, in whose hands are wicked schemes, whose right hands are full of bribes. But I lead a blameless life; redeem me and be merciful to me. My feet stand on level ground; in the great assembly I will praise the LORD. (NIV)

We must remember that vengeance belongs to God. The Psalmist waited in the wings and let God stage his own deliverance.

Psalms 40:1-3
I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the LORD. (NIV)

You must place your confidence in God as your deliverer.

Psalms 40:13-17
Be pleased, O LORD, to save me; O LORD, come quickly to help me. May all who seek to take my life be put to shame and confusion; may all who desire my ruin be turned back in disgrace. May those who say to me, "Aha! Aha!" be appalled at their own shame. But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation always say, "The LORD be exalted!" Yet I am poor and needy; may the Lord think of me. You are my help and my deliverer; O my God, do not delay. (NIV)

 

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