May 4/5, 2013
Jason Meyer | Daniel 1:12-14
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. For we are not writing to you anything other than what you read and understand and I hope you will fully understand—just as you did partially understand us—that on the day of our Lord Jesus you will boast of us as we will boast of you.—2 Corinthians 1:12–14
As I look at where we are in our life together, I am amazed at where God has us in 2 Corinthians. It looks planned, but at one level it was not. I say at one level because I did not plan it this way, but it is planned at another level because I firmly believe that God did this. Part of the reason why I wanted to preach on 2 Corinthians is because it had become a life message to me. Another reason I wanted to preach on 2 Corinthians is because I have a book contract to write a commentary on it (just to get all of the motivations on the table).
But now I marvel when I look at some of God’s reasons for wanting me to preach on this book. Here is where we are going in the next couple of weeks. Next week we are going to talk about giving the benefit of the doubt to your brother and the vital necessity of keeping short accounts with one another as members of the family of God. Paul is going to talk about how something as simple as a change in travel plans led to relational turmoil and false conclusions in Corinth. Nothing could be more timely for us than these words. Part of me wants to go there right now.
But this week I have come to love where Paul begins long before addressing benefit of the doubt. You see benefit of the doubt is not God’s best for us in our relationships together. Far better than brotherly benefit of the doubt is brotherly boasting. Here is the reason he starts with brotherly boasting: Boasting in the grace of God at work in your brother is a higher calling than merely giving your brother the benefit of the doubt when you are tempted to find fault. Both are needed because both sin and grace are at work in every Christian. Both are necessary responses to sin and grace. Benefit of the doubt acknowledges that your brother or sister is a sinner, but it goes a step further. Benefit of the doubt is a decision to avoid staring at your brother solely as a sinner.
If you stare at sin, your impulse will be to assign sinful motives as standing behind what he says and does. I am not saying you should rule out sin as part of an explanation for why we do and say what we do. Sin can’t be ruled out in a relationship, but neither can sin be allowed to rule the relationship between two forgiven children of God. Allowing sin to rule the relationship would be a fundamental failure to see the cross standing between you as the fundamental reason for why the relationship exists at all. God has put you in relationship with your brother or sister. It was His will that brought them into the family and it was Christ’s cross, not their merit, that paid the entrance price.
Think about what Paul could have done if he wanted to stare at the Corinthians' sin. If he wanted to go this route, he could have brought forward a whole scroll of evidences of sin on the part of the Corinthians. But he showed them a more excellent way. He modeled how to boast in grace, not stare at sin. Rather than choosing to stare at your brother’s sin, boasting in your brother chooses to celebrate the evidences of the grace of God you see in him.
Therefore, I begin with my definition of brotherly boasting: identifying and celebrating the evidences of grace you see in your fellow Christian. This act of celebrating should happen privately in the heart, but it should also be made public so that others can praise God for how his grace is at work in his children.
I know that boasting in general can be a very troubling thing, even a painful thing for some. I am sure that some among the Corinthians were troubled by Paul’s request for them to boast in him. A whole series of questions immediately springs to the surface: wait a minute—aren’t we sinners? Should we be boasting in man? Can we boast in other sinners? I am sure the Corinthians said “I feel hurt by you —how can you ask me to boast in you? And … perhaps the most troublesome question of all: Should sinners ever make a personal boast —isn’t that a conflict of interest—it sounds self-serving.
I believe that Paul answers these questions in this text. He looks at three dimensions of boasting: (1) personal boasting (v. 12), (2) brotherly boasting in the present age (vs. 13–14a), and (3) brotherly boasting in the age to come (v. 14b).
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.
Paul’s personal boast had three things: (1) content, (2) correspondence, (3) cause (which informs who gets the credit).
First, notice the content of Paul’s boast: “We behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity.” His point stresses his own personal conduct and integrity. He was not duplicitous. He did not have a secret agenda or other underlying motives. It was “what you see is what you get” kind of righteous interaction with the Corinthians.
Second, Paul’s boast had to correspond with the testimony of his conscience. That correspondence is the essence of what he means by the word “sincere.” What I am saying about myself now does not cause any dissonance with my conscience, not pangs of phoniness—they are in harmony and accordance.
Third, the underlying cause of this conduct was the grace of God. In other words, God gets the credit for this conduct. The phrase “the grace of God,” not “earthly wisdom” is one of the most important phrases in this entire paragraph. Paul has put these two things (human wisdom and God’s power) in contrast all throughout the letters to the Corinthians.
The clearest example is 1 Corinthians 2:1–5:
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
Because Paul wants to give credit to the grace of God for his conduct it should not be construed as trying to draw attention to himself. He wants all the credit and the attention to go to God. Paul’s boasting is really an act of pointing—pointing people to the grace of God. He is not smuggling praise that belongs to God alone. Paul is helping people interpret the help that they get from people like Paul who are not God. God gets the credit and people get the help, but there is more: The body is held together more tightly in mutuality. They need to boast in him if they are to understand the way grace works and the way his church works.
For we are not writing to you anything other than what you read and understand and I hope you will fully understand—just as you did partially understand us ...
Paul pointed out that he now wanted brotherly boasting. They had already partially joined that boast in their partial acceptance of him, but he wanted full participation and acknowledgment. Paul says he is “not writing anything other than what you read and understand” (v. 13). What does that mean? I think he is saying, “Look, I am not saying anything different than what I wrote in my prior correspondence with you. I think his reference to what he has already written includes passages like 1 Corinthians 15, where he says he worked harder than any of the apostles, but it was not him, it was the grace of God.
For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.—1 Corinthians 15:9–10
He brings them back to this point. And says, “This is what I have been trying to say all along. I am just trying to say it in a different way.” I am bringing this up again in a slightly different way because though you seem to say you agree—I do not think you are getting it fully. There seems to be a disconnect. I want to keep moving you toward full acceptance.
This begs the question: “What would full acceptance look like?” What are they missing? If they really came to grips with what Paul is saying, where would they end up together in their relationship? To understand that he needs them to switch their view from the present to the future, which brings us to our third point.
... That on the day of our Lord Jesus you will boast of us as we will boast of you.
What is missing in the Corinthian assessment of Paul is eternity—specifically the interrelated role they have in eternity. They have forgotten what he said in 1 Corinthians 3:5–7:
What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.
It was through me that you believed. In God’s plan, I am one of the reasons that you will be in eternity. How can you turn against me now? I am not asking you to boast in me—I am asking you to boast in what God did through me—which will be patently obvious when we are standing in glory together.
You see they have fallen into the trap of worldly thinking once more. They are looking too much at this age and not enough at the age to come. Remember the discussion in 1 Corinthians 3:18–22:
Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.
Paul says, “You do not know how to boast because your category for boasting is only boasting in men. All true boasting is boasting in God! God opposes all other boasting. They should too. They do not need to boast in men because boasting in God includes everything that God has: Whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours in the inheritance that Christ has that you come to share in.
They need the perspective of eternity. They need to look and see where history is heading. They need to understand the stupendous thing that is going to happen on the day of Christ. We will boast in one another. Present brotherly boasting is based upon future boasting. That thought is meant to change everything. If you look ahead and see the glorious future you will have, it means something for the life together you currently have.
The prayer “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” means something for our relationships. Do we really believe that is what is coming? We are going to stand shoulder to shoulder with all the redeemed with nothing separating us. Think about it: we say we believe that nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Christ, but in the same way we believe that there is nothing that can separate us from each other on that day because of the love of God in Christ. It will conquer every conflict. It will. They will all be conquered on that great day. Which means one very powerful thing: if the blood will conquer every conflict on that day, it means that we must believe the blood can conquer our conflicts today. It can. Yes! It can.
Paul is calling for humility in this passage. It might not look like it because boasting and humility do not seem to fit together at first glance. But they do. It takes humility to boast in the grace of God and risk people thinking that you are just trying to talk about yourself. It also takes humility to get your eyes off of yourself so that you can identify evidences of grace so that you can boast in others. It takes grace to do this because sometimes evidences of grace cause envy toward our brother, not boasting in him.
But more than humility is needed. We also need to deal with the hurt and reconcile so the hurt can be healed. If you are in a relationship with any sinner, you will be on the receiving end of sin more than a time or two. But humility comes back into the picture at this point because of the recognition that you as a sinner will be on the giving end of things more than a time or two.
Show me a good relationship between two sinners and I will show you two very good forgivers. Sinners must learn to keep short accounts with one another or else the first thing to go will be the ability to identify and celebrate the grace of God that is really there. Unresolved hurt will blind you to God’s grace in them. The hurt becomes so front and center that it crowds out evidences of grace and makes them practically invisible. The relationship is on thin ice at that point. At those times, we must allow what we will be to inform how we relate to one another.
So let me do something a little risky. Paul’s words are deeply personal to me right now. What is so striking is that God is taking me deeper into what I call Paul’s predicament in 2 Corinthians. Paul does not want to defend himself, but he finds himself facing accusations that need to be answered—not for the sake of defending his reputation but for the sake of loving the Corinthians. Paul finds that he has to address some suspicions head on and dispel some false conclusions. Paul is a model for me of what biblical authenticity looks like.
I see now that I have been put in a similar situation. This is risky because I don’t want to give the impression that I see myself like Paul. Frankly, I see a bit more of the Corinthians in myself and not enough of Paul most days! But I certainly aspire to be more like Paul than the Corinthians. What I aspire to in this moment is a Paul-type authenticity.
So this is my best attempt at personal authenticity as it relates to David and Sally’s resignation. Others can answer questions on their role in this matter, but I have received several questions about my role in all of this. I hope what I am about to say will decisively answer at least some of these questions.
You need to know that I have not wanted to defend myself in this process. I had no problem serving as the voice for the elders in confessing sin last week even though it was not my personal confession of sin. It was a corporate confession of the sin of Bethlehem’s leaders. It puts me in a bad light, but I do not care. I never want to be seen as standing apart from your elders. I am one of them. Period.
I also knew that without further clarification, I was running the risk of the false conclusion that David Michael’s departure was an old guard/new guard issue. I did not want to bring that up because I feared it would sound like being defensive. I thought that others would clear that up, but the questions I have been getting (and others are getting about me) show that that question has not been answered sufficiently.
I see now that a direct answer is needed—from the horse's mouth as the saying goes. So here goes. When I spoke last week about imagining that some of you were feeling blindsided, it was not hard to imagine. I am going to invite you into my world for a moment because I think it would serve the needs of love. I was blindsided back in the candidating process nearly a year ago with the news of these staff tensions. I am not overstating it—I literally had no clue about what was happening. I was told that the desire was that the relational tensions would be addressed before I started my role as Pastor for Preaching & Vision so that I would not take the “fall” for the past. When January 2013 rolled around and I took the helm of leadership, that resolution had not happened by a long shot.
I knew coming into this position that I would potentially be in the position that I am in right now. You may remember me describing that moment by the sink as I was washing dishes and I broke down in tears. I told God that I did not want this. There were a lot of reasons why I did not want this position and now you know a lot more of the reasons why I wanted to run from it. When God conveyed to me that I would have more of him through it all, I decided to stop running away from it and I set my face and my feet to run toward it. I have not looked back ever since. I have been told that this is not a mess of my own making. I made a decision at that point not to hide behind that assessment. It may not be a mess that I made, but I feel a God-ordained call to shepherd the church through the cleaning up process.
Therefore, in January I made it my pastoral platform before the elders to bring in the ministry of Peacemakers because I believed that we needed outside help. Peacemakers came in March and have helped take us to where we are now. Some have wondered about the timing of these events. I can tell you that the desire here was to have the announcement of the resignation not precede Pastor John’s farewell celebration so that it would detract from it in any way.
So here we are today. Paul Cornwell with Peacemakers worked with our pastors and staff on Monday and Tuesday and identified some next steps for us as we seek to receive every lesson the Lord has for us in these hard days. On Monday we will email all of our members and regular attenders an update of some of the things we shared with those present at the All-Church Quarterly Strategy Meeting. We believe that those things were so important that we want everyone to have them available. June 7–8 the CEO of Peacemakers and a female conciliator from Peacemakers are going to come and work with our pastors and wives.
There are more recommendations coming from Peacemakers and Paul Cornwell. The Leadership Team has already begun to talk about some of them. An evidence of God’s grace in this process for me is what God has done in my heart. This process has seared into my heart and mind a passion for authenticity and a passion for making peace quickly and keeping short accounts. We have all been warned about the fallacy of thinking that something will go away if you just leave it alone. I am not a confrontational person by nature—I am an escapist by nature. I would much rather run away from conflict. But God has done something in my life through this.
I would ask you even now to lift up your eyes to the Lord in all of this. Look into your heart and ask him what he wants to do in your own heart and then embrace it. I truly believe that God wants to humble Bethlehem in this process. Let’s not stiff-arm this deep work of humbling he wants to do in us. I fear that Bethlehem has had a reputation because of how well known our former pastor is. We cannot rely on that reputation. I want Bethlehem to be known for its people, not for its pastor.
We don’t want to ignore remaining issues that need to be resolved. We want to link arms together and move closer in our life together to our mission statement: Spreading a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ. We believe that we will spread that passion for joy in God through Christ more effectively to the degree that we are experiencing his joy in our life together. I am telling you for the sake of update and transparency, but also for the sake of prayer. We need God’s power to bring us to greater levels of joy together.
As it relates to the resignation of David and Sally Michael, let me say one more time why it is important for all of us to boast in our brother and sister. And by all, I do mean all of us in this church. What do you see when you think of David and Sally Michael? I told you some of what I have been seeing in the sermon where I pointed out what a model David Michael was of comforting others in the strong comfort God has given him.
I have a deep personal love for David and Sally. I have a long list of ways that they have been a blessing in my life. I could spend the rest of the sermon on this point. Their fundamental vision of God-centered children’s ministry has shaped me to the core. I have spoken at the 4:12 Conference twice because of it and I spoke on Friday at the Children’s Desiring God conference because of it. Furthermore, I have personal reasons to boast in David Michael—places in my life where he has helped me most.
I said earlier that I could spend the whole sermon boasting in evidences of grace at work in David and Sally. I am not exaggerating. You should not hear that as favoritism, I could make the same boast for all you here who are in the family of God if I got to know you well enough. I could spend the whole sermon boasting in the grace of God I see in our elders at this church as I have come to know them. Your pastors and elders are not perfect—they have never claimed to be, but I believe with all of my heart that they can be trusted. I wish you could see all the selfless hours they put in in laboring for the good of this church. I know the pastors work hard. I marvel at how many hours the non-vocational elders work in addition to their full time jobs! I honestly can say that I would put my life in the hands of any of them whom I have had the privilege of getting to know. I have worked with them in countless situations in which I have seen love, care, and integrity.
This kind of boasting is something that we better adjust our thinking to now, because this verse says that we are going to be doing it for the rest of eternity. It is harder now and none of us will do it perfectly. But that is no argument against the fact that we should do it. Something we celebrate about our future is that one day our brotherly boasting will be higher and purer on the day of Christ, because there will be no more sin to stare at. As the song says, "all the ransomed church of God will be saved to sin no more."
Right now, it is time to celebrate the blood that purchases our brotherly boasting. The fact that Jesus paid it all makes all of our boasting possible.
Why can we boast in sinners? Answer: Because they are forgiven sinners. That truth applies even to sinners who have hurt us with that sin—IF it is forgiven sin. His forgiveness enables us to forgive. Otherwise, we would be required to share God’s sentence of curse on them and on us and we would share in a horrible eternity—eternal torment together—except for the one great, glorious fact that changes everything: My King has crushed the power of death, and we are his forever. Jesus paid it all so that in him the church of Christ might stand before the throne complete—clothed in his righteousness. "O Praise the One who paid my debt and raised this life up from the dead. Jesus paid it all—all to Him I owe—sin had left a crimson stain—HE washed it white as snow." There is no higher boast than that. The best thing about our brother or sister in Christ is that they are drenched in Calvary’s love and clothed in the righteousness of Christ. We stand before the throne and sing “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain” together—shoulder to shoulder— because of the power of the gospel. We want this moment in time to be an imperfect preview of that time together before the throne.
This song will also lead us into our communion time. In the Lord’s Supper, we “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” Paul just said in this text, “On the day of our Lord Jesus you will boast of us as we will boast of you.” Here then is what Communion means at the horizontal level: A day, the Day of the Lord Jesus, you will stand beside your brother and nothing will stand between you because of his body broken for you and your brother and the blood of the New Covenant poured out for you and your brother. Therefore, if you cannot boast in someone else in the body of Christ right now at Bethlehem, if you have not taken steps to try to move toward that person to be at peace with him or her in the present, you have reasons to consider letting the bread and the cup pass by you.
Communion is a way of asking this: Are you ready for the day of the Lord Jesus? Are you ready to acknowledge that what is true then should be true now (at least in part as it depends upon you)? You will stand before the throne with them and not feel that there is an unpaid debt that separates you because Jesus paid it all—both you and your brother are washed white as snow because of what this bread and this cup represent. Do you believe that? Jesus purchased all the benefits of the new covenant with his blood—including your ability to boast in your brother. He purchased your boasting.
Closing Hymn: "Jesus Paid it All (O Praise the One Who Paid My Debt)"