We can say with confidence and a clear conscience that we have lived with a God-given holiness and sincerity in all our dealings. We have depended on God’s grace, not on our own human wisdom. That is how we have conducted ourselves before the world, and especially toward you. Our letters have been straightforward, and there is nothing written between the lines and nothing you can’t understand. I hope someday you will fully understand us, even if you don’t understand us now. Then on the day when the Lord Jesus returns, you will be proud of us in the same way we are proud of you. (2 Corinthians 1:12-14, NLT)
The remainder of chapter one through the beginning of chapter two comprises a defense of Paul’s apostleship. We do not have a copy of the accusations that were levied, but we can make a clear inference from the content even though we lack the full context.
Apparently, the Corinthians had accused Paul of not having integrity in his speech and letters. Paul offers some benefit of the doubt by acknowledging that the Corinthians may have misunderstood what he had written. But even with that allowance, the Corinthians could not rightfully levy an accusation that Paul spoke out of both sides of his mouth.
In his own defense, he pointed to his character as the first testament of his integrity. To live with “God given holiness” speaks of his position as a child of God. Holiness isn’t something we acquire through self denial. It is a pronouncement that God places upon us when we believe.
Coupled with holiness is sincerity, which is a word picture from the first century market place. For example, if you were interested in purchasing a clay jar, you would hold it up to the sun to examine it for potential cracks that had been filled with wax. Paul wanted his readers to know that he passed the sun test.
Both holiness and sincerity are dependent upon God’s grace. Neither are obtained by human wisdom. Knowing that God empowers us to live in holiness and sincerity enables us to live with a clear conscious before God. When we live before an “audience of One” versus trying to please the masses will bring clarity and consistency in our communication, which is Paul’s point.
Human wisdom will always tempt us to go along in order to get along. It will tempt us to say and do things that are pleasing to our audience. If you’re a politician, you’ll be tempted to say things simply to obtain a vote. If you’re in sales, you’ll be tempted to over promise what the product can actually deliver. If you’re a preacher or teacher, you may be tempted to preach or teach what people want to hear versus what they need to hear. You get the point. Paul wants us to know that there’s a different way to live life, and that’s to live in a way that is singularly focused upon pleasing God. When you live to please God, as Paul reported, not everyone will be pleased. But ultimately, the only regret we will carry is our failure to please God.