For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you. For we are not writing to you anything other than what you read and understand and I hope you will fully understand—just as you did partially understand us—that on the day of our Lord Jesus you will boast of us as we will boast of you. – 2 Corinthians 1:12-14 ESV
It will become increasingly evident from the content of this letter that Paul’s ministry was being maligned or at least, questioned. His motives were also under the microscope, constantly being scrutinized and criticized by those who would choose to reject his authority as an apostle. But Paul responds with confidence, claiming that he and his companions “behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity” (2 Corinthians 1:12 ESV). Paul can write what he is about to write with complete confidence, even boasting about it, because his conscience is clear. He knows what he has done and why he has done it. He has no reason to question his motives, because he knows that his actions were the result of God’s grace, not earthly wisdom. Paul had made this claim to the Corinthians in his first letter.
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. – 1 Corinthians 15:10 ESV
It was God’s unmerited favor that had produced the life-change in Paul. His words, actions, and even the content of his letters were the by-product of God’s ongoing grace in his life. God was working in him and through him, and he had no reason to take credit for it or apologize because of it. Paul says that his behavior had been marked by simplicity and godly sincerity. The Greek word for simplicity is haplotēs and it refers to “the virtue of one who is free from pretense and hypocrisy” (“G572 – haplotēs – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 18 Sep, 2016. <https://www.blueletterbible.org>). Paul is claiming that his conduct and speech have been free from hypocrisy or any hint of having a hidden agenda. What he has said and done has not been motivated by selfishness or intended for personal gain. After all, as he stated in the opening verses of his letter, his ministry has not made him rich and famous, but has resulted in affliction and even the threat of death.
The Greek word translated, “sincerity” is eilikrineia and it means, “purity” or “cleanness.” Paul uses this same word again in the next chapter.
For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ. – 2 Corinthians 2:17 ESV
Paul’s conscience is clear because he knows his motives are pure. What he has done in his life has been the work of the Spirit of God. And that is especially true of his relationship with and ministry to the Corinthians. Even now, as he writes the words of this letter, he reminds them that all of his previous letters “have been straightforward, and there is nothing written between the lines and nothing you can’t understand” (1 Corinthians 1:13 NLT). It is his sincere desire that they fully comprehend what it is he is trying to say to them and what he is attempting to teach them. They might not get it right now, but he longed for the day when it all made sense to them. He wasn’t in this to win friends, but to make a difference in their faith. He wanted to see them experience all that God had in store for them – the full expression of faith in Christ lived out in everyday life. He longed for them to grow in godliness and to put off their old sin natures. He wanted to see them grow in their knowledge of God and their dependence upon the Holy Spirit.
You can get a sense of Paul’s heart as you read some of the prayers he prayed on behalf of the churches he helped start.
…we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy… – Colossians 1:9-11 ESV
I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places… – Ephesians 1:16-20 ESV
Paul knew that if they would listen to what he said and apply it to their lives, there would come a day when they would find reason to boast or glory in all that Paul had taught them, because they will see the fruit of it in their lives. The day to which Paul refers is the return of Christ, when he and all the Corinthians will stand before the Lord. It will be on that occasion that they will fully comprehend the simplicity and sincerity of Paul’s methods and message.
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience. – 2 Corinthians 5:10-11 ESV
Paul’s desire for the Corinthians was the same that he had for the believers in Philippi:
…that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. – Philippians 2:15-16 ESV
Paul wanted to be a success, not so that he could gain recognition or earthly rewards, but so that he could stand before the Lord, seeing the fruit of his labors – the countless believers who had held fast to the word of life and remained faithful to God to the end. Paul’s motives were pure. His heart was sincere. His actions were the result of God’s grace in his own life. He wanted nothing more than to see the Corinthians grow in their faith and in their knowledge of God. They might not understand it now, but the day was coming when they would.