"Living Life in the Open"
2 Corinthians 1:12-14
(Delivered Sunday, November 12, 2006 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)
This past week and a half has been a difficult period of time. Yet another very public evangelical preacher has fallen. The truth of his secret life has been brought out into the open; and the news of it has brought embarrassment upon the organizations he led, and dishonor to the cause of the gospel he preached.
This fallen leader has removed himself from ministry, and has submitted himself to the examination and counsel of other church leaders. I believe that we should be praying for him and his wife, and for those who are engaged in the difficult work of dealing with his sin and restoring him to a holy walk with Christ. And my desire in mentioning his fall today is not to add any further to the misery he has already brought on himself and others. Rather, I mention his fall in order that we might learn from it. All of us have the potential of falling too.
This leader has communicated publically about his fall into sin. Let me read a very important portion of his public letter. He wrote to his church and told its people:
I feel a deep sorrow when I read those words. He says in them that the public person that he was wasn't a lie. But clearly, that fact is that what he was in public and what he was in private were two different things. He was willing to lie about his secret struggles and problems; and he deceived the people he was charged with serving in order to publically present himself to be the kind of man on the inside that he was not. In other words, he did not live his real life out in the open. That's something that we all have the potential of doing; and when we do so, the results can be tragic.
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As I thought about these things, I was drawn to the example of the apostle Paul.
Paul was a great leader in the early church who—among other things—was distinct in that he lived an utterly opened and transparent life. Paul was not a far-away, 'untouchable' man—even thought he was clearly one of the 'busiest' church leaders who ever ministered. He was not an apostle who taught from a distance, but actively lived among the people he taught in an up-close and personal way. He intentionally passed on to them the example of his own life—a life that could be thoroughly examined and scrutinized by those around him.
Our public life and our private life are not two distinct things; but are inseparably joined to one another. What we are in private is what we are! And Paul didn't separate what he taught publically from what he was privately. He both taught and practiced the truth. They fit together in Paul like the two sides of the same coin. He once told Timothy, for example,
He told the Thessalonian believers,
Paul was able to dare to tell the Philippian believers,
And as I thought about Paul this week, my attention was drawn to what he said about himself to the Corinthian believers in 2 Corinthians 1:12-14. He lived a completely transparent, completely “out in the open” kind of life before the Corinthians; and in this passage, he describes the basic elements of that kind of transparency.
Please turn there with me, and let's learn together from what he said.
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Before we actually get into our passage, I need to tell you that 2 Corinthians is a letter in which Paul was seeking to restore a relationship of love and trust with the Corinthians. Without getting into the details—which you can read for yourself if you read this letter—it was clear that there was tension between them.
He had written some difficult things to them in a previous letter (which we do not have in our Bible—although portions of it may be contained in this letter); and that letter, coupled with the fact that many false teachers were also calling his ministry into question, made it necessary for him to seek to win back the trust of the Corinthians. One of the things that he relied upon in that process of restoration was the fact that he had been very careful to live a life of integrity before them. They knew him; and they knew by experience that—unlike many of the false teachers—his personal life and his public ministry were the same. He had been open and transparent before them; and they knew the kind of man he truly was.
I'm fascinated with how he begins his letter to them. He is very open and vulnerable. He didn't seek to hide his struggles or troubles; but lived in such a way that the people he loved could see them and learn from those struggles. He told them about the trials he had experienced in his ministry in the regions of Asia (probably the events mentioned in Acts 19); and told them,
Think of that! Paul and his ministry associates were so burdened under the trials of their ministry in Asia, and they were so 'over their heads' with it all, that they wanted to die. He was, of course, able later to testify that the Lord had graciously strengthened them and delivered them. But if he were trying to put on his best face before the believers in Corinth, and fool them into thinking he was something that he wasn't—that he was some kind of 'super saint'—he certainly wouldn't have told them that that had suffered a trial in which he was so burdened that he wanted to die!
But this just underscores the honesty and integrity with which he conducted himself before them. And I wonder; do you and I live that way? When people ask us how we are doing, do we put on a fake smile, thrown in a phony, “Hallelujah! Praise God!”, and make people think that we are without struggles and temptations and burdens in our Christian life—when in fact, we're desperate inside, and are almost wishing we could die? In other words, do we basically lie to people about who we really are and what we really struggle with—thinking that in doing so we're somehow “protecting” the witness of Christ? That's a dangerous path to start traveling!
Paul didn't do that kind of thing. He was real. He was honest. He was a transparent man. He was 'the real deal'. And he lived in such an up-close and personal way with the people under his care that they could see for themselves that he was true to his testimony! They could see his victories; and they could see his inward struggles. Please, dear brothers and sisters in Christ; let's do the same! Let's be real!
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Now how can we do that? As we read on, we can see three ways that Paul and his ministry associates lived transparent, open lives before people. First, we can see that they lived . . .
1. WITH SINCERITY OF CONDUCT (v. 12).
It's interesting that Paul began by saying that he was “boasting”. The false teachers that were accusing him were also “boasting”; but they were boasting in something different than what Paul was boasting in. They were insisting to the Corinthians that they should be regarded with the same authority—or even with a superior authority—than that of Paul and the other apostles (11:12-13). But they were being deceitful, and were boasting “according to the flesh” (11:18). They were boasting in their polished speaking ability, and in their skills in the culturally accepted standards of rhetoric (see 10:10; 11:6). They were also boasting in false “visions” and “revelations” (see 12:1). And yet, they were not at all what they claimed to be.
Now contrary to their accusations against him, Paul was “not inferior to the most eminent apostles” (11:5). But that's not what he boasted in. Instead, he boasted in how he conducted himself—his “conversation”, as it's translated in the King James Version.
Have you ever read Pilgrim's Progress? Perhaps, if you have, you'll remember the character “Talkative”. I think he's one of the most interesting characters in John Bunyan's great classic. In the story, as Christian and his traveling companion Faithful were strolling along on the road, they met this man named “Talkative” journeying along the way. He was certainly well-named; and as Christian started to chat with him, the new traveling companion did a wonderful job with his “talk” of convincing Christian that he was a man of great spiritual stature.
But Christian noticed that his friend Faithful was lingering back on the trail and avoiding Talkative. As it turned out, Faithful had heard about Talkative; and he knew that the man was just all “saying” and no “doing”. And so, as Christian asked Faithful about it, Faithful advised Christian “. . . Go to him, and enter into some serious discourse about the power of religion; and ask him plainly . . . whether this thing be set up in his heart, his house, or conversation [that is, his personal conduct].” In other words, Talkative should be asked about how he puts all his great “talk” into actual practice in his personal conduct. Christian did so; and soon found that Talkative grew angry at him and wouldn't have anything further to do with him.
People are always more than happy to boast in “talk” about spiritual ideas, or in deep theology, or even in personal holiness. They love to chat about the Christian life. But they don't like it when you ask them about whether or not they're actually living it! But that's what distinguishes a phony from the real thing! Paul made his boast—not in his words—but in his actual conduct. He was actually living it.
Now, It wasn't just that Paul boasted with his words that his Christian faith had found it's way into his conduct; but he boasted that his own conscience—that deep, inward sense of right and wrong that God has put into us—testified that he was conducting himself rightly before God.
That 'inner preacher in his breast' had testified to Paul that he was living the real Christian life. He could say, “I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day” (Acts 23:1). He said, “I myself always strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men” (Acts 24:16).
And what's more, he was able to so live that the consciences of other people who knew him could also testify to them about him! Later in this letter, he tells the Corinthians, “. . . [B]ut we are well known to God, and I also trust are well known to your consciences.” Dear brothers and sisters; do you and I live in such a way that our Christian life isn't just a matter of our words, but our conduct? And does our own conscience before God testify to the genuineness of that conduct? And what's more, can the conscience of others who know us testify to the genuineness of our conduct? If we boast in anything about ourselves, let it be with a clear conscience in the sight of God, others and our own selves!
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Look at how he further elaborates on his conduct. He testifies that his conscience testified to him that he had conducted himself “in simplicity and godly sincerity”. The word translated “simplicity” conveys the idea of there not being any duplicity about him. He wasn't 'one kind of man' in one setting and 'another kind of man' in another setting. He was one kind of man in his conduct all the time. And the word “godly sincerity” conveys the idea of “cleanness” or “purity”. This was no mixture of anything in his life that didn't belong; but his conduct was characterized by the kind of “purity” that is from God—a “godly” sincerity.
We might say that these two things described the nature of his conduct—“simplicity and godly sincerity”. And now, notice what he says about the means of it: that it was “not with fleshly wisdom but by the grace of God”. He did not live his life and express his conduct on the basis of the principle of his own fleshly human efforts or insights. When someone does that, they can define their conduct however they want it to be or according to whatever the cultural standards might allow. But that was not the means by which Paul lived his life.
Instead, Paul sought to live his life by means of the grace of God. Paul lived on the basis of the fact that God not only knew his sins, but also had completely forgiven those sins—having placed them on Christ when He died on the cross. Paul no longer sought to live his life on the basis of his performance before God, but rather on the basis of God's complete acceptance and love through Christ. His standing before God in Christ was the great motivation for how he lived. He lived his life in grace! He had been a sinner, but was now forgiven; and now, out of gratitude to God, he wanted to live a life of obedience to His holy commandments in the power of the strength God gave him. As Paul wrote elsewhere, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
So, the nature of Paul's conduct was “in simplicity and godly sincerity”; and the means of it was “not with fleshly wisdom but by the grace of God”. And finally, notice the sphere of his conduct. First, it was “in the world”. Paul lived in an “out in the open” manner before the unsaved people of this world. As a good leader in the church, he lived in such a way as to “have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into the reproach and the snare of the devil” (1 Timothy 3:7). He lived in such a way as to follow the standard that Peter wrote about with respect to unbelieving people; that is, “having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed” (1 Peter 3:16). Paul sought to so live that, when unbelieving people said bad things about him, the things they said turned out to be lies.
And what's more, Paul also made the sphere of his good conduct to be among his brothers and sisters in Christ. He told the Corinthians that his conscience testified of his good conduct not only “in the world”, but “more abundantly toward you”. He didn't try to live a super-godly life before the world and then relax his conduct when among his brothers and sisters. Rather, he was the real thing in the world—where his witness was on the line; and even more real within the church—where his testimony was an example.
Someone once said that a conscience is something that only a good man can enjoy. Paul lived in such a way as to enjoy a good, clear, clean conscience with respect to his conduct—first before God, then before the world, and even more so among his brothers and sisters. May God help us to do the same.
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Now, notice that he also lived . . .
2. WITH CONSISTANCY IN MOVITES (v. 13a).
He said, “For we are not writing any other things to you than what you read or understand (v. 13a).” And here, I believe Paul was making a subtitle reference to some things that he mentions later on in his letter.
If you look ahead to 10:8-11, you see that Paul wrote;
Apparently, the false teachers who were trying to discredit Paul were telling the Corinthians, “Oh, sure! Paul makes a big display of 'authority' in his letters. But that's just to scare you. All you have to do is actually see the guy! His letters make him sound 'big' and 'authoritative'; and he 'pounds his chest' a lot in writing. But in personal appearance, he is weak and puny! And his public speaking is terrible! All he is is a paper tiger!” But Paul insisted that he was not 'one kind of man' in writing—that is, from a distance; and 'another kind of man' in person. He was not trying to project an image that wasn't really true. He says that what he is in letter is what he is in presence.
That, I believe, is what he means by saying, “For we are not writing any other things to you than what you read or understand”. What they “read” was, as it were, from afar—that is, while he was absent from them; and what they “understood” was, as it were, learned by experience with him when he was present. And he was saying that he didn't have one set of motives in how he behaved in his letter, and another set of motives in how he behaved in person. He was governed by a consistent set of motives toward them—whether from a distance, where he could not be carefully examined; or up close and in person, where he could be carefully examined. He didn't write to hide who he really was or what he really wanted.
I think that one of the greatest complements that can be paid to you is that “what people see you to be in public is what you really are”. You have no hidden agenda. You have no strings attached that you are pulling behind the scenes. You are what you are. That was Paul's testimony; and may it be ours also.
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Finally, notice that Paul lived . . .
3. WITH CONFIDENCE UPON EXAMINATION (vv. 13b-14).
All that we say about what we do or try to be in front of people has to be considered in the light of the fact that, one day, we will all stand before the throne of Jesus Christ—and it's then that the truth will really be known. As the Bible says, “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13).
Paul lived with a sense of confidence in the great examination that would occur on that day. And for that reason, he was able to live with confidence under the eyes of the Corinthian believers.
Notice that he just said that he wrote nothing other than what the Corinthians “read or understand”. Then he says,
Paul recognized that the Corinthians couldn't know the full story about him. All that they could know was what they knew “in part”. But he trusted that they would know “even to the end”—or as it's translated in the New International Version, “And I hope that, as you have understood us in part, you will come to understand fully that you can boast in us”.
And when would that day come? When they stood before the Lord “in the day of the Lord Jesus”. Then, everything would be fully known; and Paul was confident that then, they would boast in him as he would boast in them. In his first letter, he told them;
Paul looked to that great day of judgment, when all the secrets will be out, and all men will be known for what they truly were. And he was confident that, when that day came, he would have no reason to fear. He lived in such a way that there would be no reason to be ashamed of him. He didn't fear the examination of the Lord on the day of judgment; and so, he had no reason to be afraid of the examination of men.
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There's a famous practical joke that was attributed to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle—the well-known author of the Sherlock Holmes stories. He sent an urgent telegram to twelve of his friends. It simply read, “Flee at once! All is discovered”—after which almost every one of them immediately packed their bags and fled. It would have been easy to see who was trying to live two lives!
Paul would not have had to flee. He was the real thing! He didn't live a double life. He lived with sincerity of conduct, consistency of motives, and confidence upon examination.
Is your life characterized by the same sort of standards, dear brother or sister? Are you the real thing? The recent fall of this church leader should make us stop and some hard questions:
May God help not to set ourselves up for a terrible fall. May he help us to live life out in the open—where it can be seen, and examined, and confronted, and so we can be held accountable for our own personal holiness before God. May there be no duplicity in us—no secret life. May God help us, through Christ, to—like Paul—live in this world as the real thing!
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