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The Trustworthy Character of God

One old adage says: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” According to this sentiment, no amount of taunting and insult can really cause us harm.

The truth is, attacks on our character do harm us, and Paul’s accusers deeply wounded him by spreading lies about his motives and sincerity. Paul continued his epistle by defending his character and explaining his change of plans.

First, he asserted his upright conduct. He could be trusted, he said, because his sincerity applied both to his actions toward the Corinthians and to his letter writing. But notice where Paul grounded his self-defense: not in himself, but in God. His “holiness and sincerity” were “from God,” and his actions relied not on worldly wisdom, but “on God’s grace” (1:12). God, not Paul, was the foundation of Paul’s trustworthiness.

That emphasis on God’s character emerges again in later verses. Although Paul’s plans did change, the message of the gospel of Christ, the very promises of God, did not. There is no ambiguity in Christ (“yes” and “no”), but a resounding “Yes!” If the Corinthians were to trust Paul, they should do so because of the steadfast faithfulness of God Himself. What makes Paul (or any Christian) stand firm, but God Himself, who anointed us, sealed us, and deposited His Spirit within us? Our character should be a reflection of God’s character.

Thus, Paul’s decision to write a letter rather than make a second painful visit, was made out of love for the Corinthians, not out of insincerity. This is the mark of a true minister of Christ— one whose conduct is driven not by personal interest, but by a strong love for the body of Christ.

Apply the Word

Paul described a high standard for spiritual leaders of the church—to ground all conduct in the grace of God and be motivated by love for the body of Christ. Without God’s grace, no church would ever know spiritual growth. As your pastor prepares for Sunday worship tomorrow, pray for him that his character and ministry would reflect the character of God.

BY Bryan Stewart

Bryan A. Stewart is associate professor of religion at McMurry University in Abilene, Texas. His particular interests are the history of Christian thought and the way that early Christians interpreted the biblical canon. He is the editor of a volume on the Gospel of John in The Church’s Bible series (Eerdmans), and he has done extensive research on the ways that the early Church preached on this Gospel. He is an ordained minister. 

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