Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Pastor's Heart in Paul's Letters, 3

A boasting pastor is a hard thing to withstand.

A man in the pulpit that is taken with high estimations of himself and his efforts will shortly shipwreck the faith of others and perhaps crash on the jagged rocks of humiliation himself. Pride goes before a fall. God opposes the proud. It's horrifying to contemplate the opposition of God poured out against one of His ambassadors.

And, therefore, it's surprising to find the Apostle Paul boasting. If there is anything worse than a boasting pastor it's a boasting apostle.

However, what Paul boasts in makes all the difference. We may see one of his boasts in 2 Cor. 1:12--"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." Then the apostle moves on to say, "I hope you will fully acknowledge--just as you did partially acknowledge us, that on the day of our Lord Jesus you will boast of us as we will boast of you" (vv. 13b-14).

In this passage, two boasts are appropriate for the pastor.

First, conducting ourselves in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity by the Grace of God toward our people is a worthy "boast." That's the gist of verse 12. Paul could say that his conscience was clean when it came to his behavior both in the world and toward the Christians at Corinth.

I read and re-read this passage, and I ask myself, "Could I write to the congregation the Lord has put in my charge and say with a clean/agreeing conscience that my life in the world and especially my treatment of the congregation is marked by simplicity and godly sincerity?"

Can I with confidence say I deal with people with singleness of mind (simplicity)? Or, have I been duplicitous in some way? Does my conscience produce evidence of sincerity that comes from God? And is all of this amplified toward the congregation ("supremely so toward you")?

Certainly not apart from God's grace. For the apostle is aware that the semblance of these things can be manufactured by "earthly wisdom." Am I trying to "fake it 'til I make it," but still faking it. Is there anything of the power of God, not mere form, in my interaction with the world and the saints? The life the apostle is here "boasting" in is the life of God in the soul. It's the genuine article produced by the grace of God, not a form denying the power thereof.

At least two things seem necessary from verse 12. First, it's necessary that I am listening to my conscience as it inspects my actions and my motives. Severing the conscience is an egregious attack against the self and the saints. Repudiating conscience destroys the ground of confident "boasting;" perhaps this is why the unexamined life is not worth living. The unexamined life provides no testimony of conscience and therefore no evidence of simplicity and godly sincerity, no account of integrity that springs forth in joyful assurance.

Our lives need examining. And yet my pride wars against examination. Better to assume I'm okay and doing all things well. This is a challenging passage for me. I'm aware of the interactions where I'm tempted to take the low road of compromise, to fear man more than God, to seek comfort in this life rather than holiness. And conversely, I'm aware of how even my more zealous moments are sometimes salted with self-righteousness, arrogance, unforgiveness, and the hellacious "pleasure" I derive from being right. And I'm aware of the pride that even now says, "If you play the grace card, you're actually participating in cheap grace." Which brings me to the second thing that seems necessary.

Second, it's imperative that my conscience be shaped by the word of God. It's entirely possible to inspect our lives with a poorly informed or misinformed conscience. For some, the conscience is too sensitive. For others, it's filled with "earthly wisdom" but not the knowledge of God's grace in Christ. Still others have a conscience ordered by all kinds of standards and expectations that have nothing to do with what Christ requires of them. So, shaping the conscience by the word of God is as important as listening to the conscience in self-examination. It's how we know which grace is costly and which cheap, what's zeal according to knowledge and what is not, worthy boasting in Christ and worldly boasting in self.

A second boast: "on the day of our Lord Jesus you will boast of us as we will boast of you." There is to be on that Great Day a mutual boasting before the Lord between pastor and people. In this life and the next the pastor and the saint can expect to fellowship together. In this life, they were his commendation, epistles written on the heart by the Spirit of God (2 Cor. 3:1-3). And in the next life, raised together with Jesus, the apostle expected to be presented together with the saints at Corinth (4:14). This is ministry today in light of eternity.

And this is Corinth Paul is writing to! Despite all their terrible failures, elsewhere he could say that they were the seal of his apostleship!

Surely it must be in the pastor's heart, no matter the condition of his people, to live well before the world and his people and to boast together in heaven with his people. Over the years I've kept coming to this passage. As a pastor, I want to live this kind of life and I want to rejoice together with my people in mutual testimony of faithfulness and godliness on the Day of our Lord. I love Paul's heart and pray for one like it by God's grace.

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