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II COR. 1:12-14
September 9, 2000
I now invite you to turn in your Bibles to second Corinthians chapter 1 and follow along as I read verses 12-14. Hear what the spirit is saying to the churches.
12 For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward.
13 For we write none other things unto you, than what ye read or acknowledge; and I trust ye shall acknowledge even to the end;
14 As also ye have acknowledged us in part, that we are your rejoicing, even as ye also are ours in the day of the Lord Jesus.
Amen. The Word of God. Thanks be to God.
The verses before us today are about rejoicing, about our rejoicing. So long as we abide in Christ, so long as we abide in faith and love. We walk not in darkness but in the light, and we rejoice in the light. As we have received the Lord Jesus Christ, so we walk in christ; and he walks in us. Thus, day by day, we"Rejoice in the Lord.
But that we may not build our house upon the sand, (lest when the rains descend, and the winds blow, and the floods arise and beat upon it, it fall, and great be the fall thereof;) I intend today to talk about Christian joy. We know, in general, Christian joy is that happy peace, which arises from such a testimony of the conscience, as is described by the Apostle Paul in these verses from II C0R, but, in order to understand this, we need first to understand what the conscience is.
Let me describe in this way: God has made us thinking beings, capable of perceiving what happens in our own hearts or lives; of knowing what we feel or do; and what we have felt and done. We have an inward perception, both of things present and past, relating to ourselves, of our own inward moods and outward behavior. But what we usually term conscience, implies somewhat more than this. To remember, to bear witness either of past or present things, is only one, and the least office of conscience: Its main business is to excuse or accuse, to approve or disapprove, to acquit or condemn.
Some philosophers have given a new name to this faculty, calling it a moral sense. But the old word seems preferable to the new, simply because it is more familiar to us, and therefore easier to be understood. And to Christians the word conscience is undeniably preferable, because it is a scriptural word. The greek word for conscience is suneidhsis which means literally "knowing with" that is a coknowledge with oneself, it is that faculty by which we apprehend the will of god as that which is designed to govern our lives. The biblical definition of conscience is a power, implanted by God in every soul that comes into the world, capable of perceiving what is right or wrong in each persons own heart or life, in their moods, thoughts, words, and actions.
But what is the rule by which we are to judge of right and wrong? By which our conscience is to be directed? The Christian has only one answer to that question. The Christian rule of right and wrong is the word of God, the writings of the Old and New Testaments. The Bible is a lantern unto Christian feet, and a light in all their paths. the Bible alone Christians receive as the rule of right or wrong, of whatever is really good or evil. The christian esteems nothing good, but what is enjoined in the scripture, either directly or by plain consequence, the Christian accounts nothing evil but what is forbidden in the scripture, either in terms, or by undeniable inference. Whatever the Scripture neither forbids nor conjoins, either directly or by plain consequence, he believes to be of an indifferent nature; to be in itself neither good nor evil; this being the whole and sole outward rule whereby his conscience is to be directed in all things.
And if a persons conscience is directed by the scripture then that person has what the Apostle Paul calls in acts 24:16, "a conscience void of offense." Now in order to have this conscience that is void of offense, we need three things. First, a right understanding of the word of God, of his "holy, and acceptable, and perfect will" concerning us, as it is revealed in the Bible. For it is impossible we should live by a rule, if we do not know the rule. Secondly,we must have a knowledgde of ourselves (which how few have attained!); a knowledge both of our hearts and lives, of our inward nature and outward actions: For if we do not know ourselves, we cannot possbily know whether we are keeping Gods law or not. Thirdly, to have a clear conscience there must be an agreement of our hearts and lives, of our inward thoughts and outward actions, of our words, and works, with that rule, with the written word of God. For, without this, if we have any conscience at all, it can be only in evil conscience.
But whoever desires to have a conscience that is void of offense must lay the the right foundation. The foundation must be Jesus christ because as the scripture says,. "other foundation"than this can no one lay." And every person should also be mindful, that no one builds on Christ but by a living faith, that no one is a partaker of Christ, until she can clearly testify, "The life which I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God;" Faith alone is that evidence, that conviction, that demonstration of things invisible, whereby the eyes of our understanding being opened, and divine light poured in upon them, we "see the wondrous things of God. It is by faith that, beholding "the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ," we perceive, as in a mirror, all that is in ourselves, even the inmost motions of our souls. And by this alone can that blessed love of God be "shed abroad in our hearts," which enables us so to love one another as Christ loved us. By faith is that gracious promise fulfilled unto all the Israel of God that we find in Hebrews 8:10, "I will put my laws into their mind, and write" (or engrave) "them in their hearts." The Holy Spirit puts God's law into our souls thereby producing in our souls an agreement with God's holy and perfect law. Thus, the spirit brings us into obedience to Christ." And, as an evil tree cannot bring forth good fruit, so a good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit. Therefore, as the heart of a believer is, so likewise the believer's life shall be.
In v12, the ap says, "We have had our conversation:" In the original greek, this is one word, anestrafhmen, but the meaning of this word is exceedingly inclusive, taking in every inward as well as outward circumstance of our lives, whether relating to our soul or body. It includes every motion of our heart, of our tongue, of our hands, even our body language.
Thus, when Paul says "We have had our conversation in the world;" in modern english, it is more accurately translated, "we have had our life in the world." We have lived here, and then he says, how we are to live here--in simplicity. Simplicity of life is what the Lord Jesus recommends when he says, in MT6:22, "The light of the body is the eye. If therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light." The meaning is this: What the eye is to the body, the intention is to all the words and actions. If therefore this eye of the soul be single, if our intentions are focused on one thing only, then all our actions and conversation shall be "full of light," of the light of heaven, of love, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. We are then simple of heart, when the eye of our mind is singly fixed on God; when in all things we aim at God alone, as our God, our portion, our strength, our happiness, our exceeding great reward. This is simplicity; when a steady view, a single intention of promoting the glory of God, of doing always his blessed will, runs throughout the whole soul, fills all our heart, and is the constant spring of all our thoughts, desires, and purposes.
Paul also says "We have had our conversation in the world in godly sincerity." The difference between simplicity and sincerity seems to be chiefly this: Simplicity is about our intention. We should have a single intention, namely to do God's will. Sincerity is about carrying out our intention. and this sincerity relates not just to our words, but to our whole conversation, in the sense that I have previously described it, that is to our whole life. Sincerity means that we actually do what we aim at by simplicity. it implies that we do, in fact, speak and do all to the glory of God that all our words are pointed at serving Christ, that all our actions move in that direction; and that, in our whole lives, we are moving straight toward God. We walk continually on in the highway of holiness, in the paths of justice, mercy, and truth.
This sincerity is termed by the Apostle, in v12 "godly sincerity" to prevent our mistaking or confounding it with the sincerity of people. If you think about it all people are sincere about some things. Sports fans are very sincere about their particular team. Some people are very sincere about their political party. Others are equally sincere about family or money. But Paul wants to emphasize that he is not talking about that kind of sincerity. He is talking about a heartfelt earnestness that focuses on God. His point is that what ever does not have God as its object and end is ultimately unimportant. It is trivia.
Paul indicates that this godly sincerity comes from God saying that it is "Not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God." The Holy Spirit ministers to our spirit and gives us a godly sincerity.
It is "Not with fleshly wisdom:" As if the apostle had said, "We cannot gain this simplicity, or practice this sincerity, by the force either of good sense, good nature, or good breeding. It overshoots all our native abilities, as well as all our precepts of philosophy. The power of custom is not able to train us up to this, nor the most exquisite rules of human education.
Paul himself was an example of what could be attained by a good human education. He studied at the University of Tarsus, and after that with the great Rabbi Gamaliel. And he had all the possible advantages of religious education, being a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee, trained up in the very straightest sect or profession, distinguished from all others by a more eminent strictness. None of that helped him to attain the kind of simplicity and godly sincerity he is talking about in these verses.. It was all but lost labor; so much so that in Philippians 3:7, 8 he cries out, "The things which were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ: Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss, for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord."
The phrase "the grace of God" means that unmerited mercy of God whereby I a sinner, through the merits of Christ, am now reconciled to God so that God is with me. Here in II COR 1 it means that power of God the Holy Ghost,which "worketh in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure." As soon as the grace of God that is the pardoning love of God, is manifested to our souls, the grace of God as the power of the Holy Spirit, is also present in that soul. And now that person can perform, through God, what is impossible to a human being. Now we can do all things in the light and power of that love, through Christ which strengthens us. We now have "the testimony of our conscience," which we could never have by fleshly wisdom, "that in simplicity and godly sincerity, we have our conversation in the world."
We can understand then, how people who have this testimony in themselves rejoice evermore. Their souls magnify the Lord, and their spirits rejoice in God. They rejoice in God, who, of his own unmerited love, of his own free and tender mercy, has called them to life eternal. They rejoice, because the Holy Spirit bears witness to their spirit, that they are bought with the blood of the Lamb; and that they are members of Christ, children of God, and heirs of the kingdom of heaven. They rejoice, because God enables them to have "the mind that was in Christ." God calls them to aim at Christ alone, at doing the will of Christ in all they think, or speak, or do. This then is the ground and the nature of that joy whereby a mature Christian rejoices evermore.
This is not a natural joy. It does not arise from any natural cause. It is not owing to bodily health or ease; or to strength and soundness of constitution: For this joy is equally strong in sickness and pain. Nor can this joy be ascribed to outward prosperity, to fame, or plenty of worldly goods; for God's people, when their faith has been tried as with fire, by all manner of outward afflictions, have yet rejoiced in Him, whom they loved with joy unspeakable. Believers have been in want; in hunger, in cold, in nakedness; they have been mocked by the world, imprisioned and even killed, yet they "counted not their lives dear unto themselves, so they might finish their course with joy."
The joy of Christians does not arise from any blindness of conscience, from their not being able to discern good from evil. They do not rejoice because they are stupid or dull or ignorant people. Far from it. The Holy Spirit so opens the eyes of their understanding that they are now fitted to discern spiritual good and evil. They are clear visioned in a way that they never were before. Their souls are awake. they know the truth of God and this is the very source of their rejoicing.
Nor does thejoy of a christian arise from a calloused conscience. Some people have so dulled their conscience by disregarding it, that they can pass by the harrshest injustice without a qualm. If they came upon a child starving in the middle of the road, they would just laugh and walk around the child and go their way and never feel a tad of remorse. Or they can commit crime, robbery and murder, and rejoice in it. This is a drunkenness of soul, a fatal numbness of spirit, the stupid insensibility of a seared conscience. On the contrary, Christians have the most exquisite sensibility; such as they could not have conceived before. They never had such a tenderness of conscience as they have when the love of God reigns in their hearts.
To conclude, Christian joy is joy in obedience; joy in loving God and keeping his commandments. Yet the Christian does not keep God's law, as if we were saved by keeping the law; as if by any works of righteousness of ours, we might procure pardon and acceptance with God. Not so. We are already pardoned and accepted through the mercy of God in Christ Jesus. We do not obey God in order to seize eternal life; we already have life through the grace of God. God has "quickened" us, that is to say, he has made us alive. We were dead in our sins; and now we are alive to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. But we rejoice in walking according to the covenant of grace, we live in the new covenant of Jesus Christ, we live in holy love and happy obedience. We rejoice in knowing that, being justified through God's grace, we have not received that grace in vain. God having freely reconciled us to himself, we live in his strength and in his presence, and so we live his way and keep his commandments. God has girded us with strength unto spiritual warfare, and so now we are called to "fight the good fight of faith." We rejoice, through Christ who lives in our hearts by faith. This is our rejoicing, that as our Father works in us, we also work the works of God. God's works in us are not by our might or our wisdom but are through the power of his Spirit, freely given in Christ Jesus. Thus God calls us to work his words and empowers us to work his works and we rejoice that he works in and through us. Amen.
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Last modified October 7, 2000