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The IVP New Testament Commentary Series – First Complaint: Obscure Letters (1:12-14)
First Complaint: Obscure Letters (1:12-14)

In chapter 1 verse 12 Paul begins to deal with the Corinthian complaints by pointing to the overall integrity of his conduct. Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, in the holiness and sincerity that are from God. Paul's primary line of defense is personal commendation. This is our boast. The language of boasting (1:12, 14; 5:12; 7:4, 14; 10:8, 13, 15-17; 11:10, 12, 16-18, 30; 12:1, 5, 6, 9), commending (3:1; 4:2; 5:12; 6:4; 10:12, 18; 12:11) and having confidence (1:9, 15; 3:4; 5:6, 8; 7:4, 16; 10:2, 7) occurs more in 2 Corinthians than anywhere else in the New Testament. Paul also provides the Corinthians with three different résumés of ministerial credentials (4:8-9; 6:4-10; 11:22—12:6).

Even though résumés are a given in our society, many today take offense at Paul's boasting and view his self-commendation as a sign of personal arrogance. Three factors must be kept in mind. First, Paul does not engage in boasting in order to make himself look good. He is pushed to do it by the Corinthians, who placed great store in such things, and by his opponents, who enjoyed flaunting their credentials (5:12; 10:12). Paul stooped to their level in order to safeguard the church from placing its trust in those who were only out to exploit them (11:18-20). He is quite open about this. "We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again," he says, "but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart" (5:12). Second, the credentials Paul puts forward are job related. He speaks from the standpoint of his office, not his person, and phrases what he says in the plural "we," not the singular "I." It is as servants of Christ and ministers of the gospel that he commends himself and his coworkers. And, third, when Paul does boast, he boasts not in his achievements and accomplishments but in the hardships, struggles and trials of an itinerant missionary. "As servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger" (6:4-5).

Paul uses the language of the courtroom when he wants to underline the veracity of what he is about to say. Our conscience testifies (v. 12) means he has a clear conscience that is open to both divine and human scrutiny—an assertion that few indeed could make then or now. This is no idle boast on his part, for he makes this claim "before God" (v. 12; 2:17; see the note), who will judge the truthfulness of his words in the day of the Lord Jesus (v. 14). What he calls on his conscience to bear witness to is the "frankness and sincerity" of his conduct in the world and especially toward the Corinthians (v. 12). The word for "frankness" (NIV holiness, see the note) denotes simplicity of intent. Paul behaved with openness and candor, not holding anything back from them or attempting to deceive. Nor was he insincere in what he said and did—what we today would call a hypocrite. On the contrary, his affection for them was genuine. This was because he conducted himself not according to worldly wisdom but according to God's grace. In short, Paul did not allow society's standards to dictate how he spoke or acted. By society's standards his conduct would be deemed sheer foolishness. But God's standard of grace demanded that he reach out not primar-ily to the educated or power brokers of society but to the "nobodies" (1 Cor 1:28). "Not many of you were wise by human standards," he tells them, "not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise" (1 Cor 1:26-27).

Even with such mundane activities as writing letters and making travel plans, Paul maintains that he acts with complete frankness and sincerity. Far from forcing the Corinthians to "read between the lines"—as they complained they had to do—Paul's intent was to write only what they could easily read and understand (v. 13). The first verb, read (anaginosko), is used for the reading of a letter aloud to an assembly; the second verb means not only to understand but also to give assent to what has been read (epiginosko, "to recognize"; see the note). One of the functions of the letter carrier was to read the letter and answer any questions that the recipients might have. With Paul's letters, however, there are no hidden meanings or obscurities that require the on-the-spot explanations of a carrier. What he says is what he means.

Paul extends the idea of clarity in writing to a desire for complete understanding and clarity in all matters pertaining to his relationship with the Corinthians: I hope that, as you have understood us in part, you will come to understand [us] fully (v. 14). Through Titus's recent visit they have come to better understand something of Paul's motives (7:11). What Paul wishes for now is that they will have complete confidence in him, so that he might become a source of boasting for them, as they have become for him (v. 14).

Once again Paul emphasizes how intertoined their lives are—so much so that his apostleship has no meaning apart from those who have become his "children" (12:14-15). And when at last he must give an account on the day of the Lord Jesus, his basis for confidence and source of pride will be not himself but those who have come to faith through his ministry.

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