Day 17: May 19, 2018: The Open Statement of the Truth
2 Corinthians 4:1-4: Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. 2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
The church of Jesus Christ is, as theologian Jurgen Moltmann wrote, “apostolic” in two important senses. First, the church is apostolic because its “gospel and its doctrine are founded on the testimony of the first apostles, the eyewitnesses of the risen Christ…” As disciples of Jesus today we are obviously not eyewitnesses of his life, suffering, and resurrection; but we have inherited the apostolic testimony and teaching about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus: this testimony is collected for us in the writings of the NT.
Second, the church is apostolic because “it [the church] exists in the carrying out of the apostolic proclamation, the missionary charge.” The entire body of Christ – each of us personally and all of us collectively – are sent into the world to serve the mission of God.
2 Corinthians is a thoroughly apostolic text. It was written by the apostle Paul and, because of its largely autobiographical nature, it gives us a tremendous amount of insight into Paul’s understanding and experience of his apostolic ministry. In today’s passage Paul wrote of his commitment to “the open statement of the truth.” This determination to proclaim the gospel in a sincere and straightforward way stood in contrast to “disgraceful, underhanded ways,” “cunning,” and “tampering with God’s word.”
Commentator Colin Kruse explains that the word for “cunning” is used again by Paul in 2 Corinthians 11:3 where he referred to how the serpent deceived Eve. Paul, therefore, “asserts that there was no attempt to deceive by cunning in his preaching of the gospel…” Next, Kruse says that “tampering with God’s word” probably referred to diluting it by mixing it with ideas which were foreign to it. Paul refused to make the gospel something less or other than it was in order to make it more palatable to his hearers.
As we fulfill the apostolic task of preaching the gospel today, we must follow the example of the apostle Paul. We can never use deceptive or underhanded practices in our personal witness or our congregational ministry. If we do, we will bring the gospel into disrepute and we will be accountable to the judgment of God.
Neither can we “tamper with God’s word.” This temptation is perhaps more difficult for us to resist. Adding to the gospel unbiblical promises – such as “God wants you happy, healthy, and wealthy,” or “God helps those who help themselves,” – can seem attractive ways to embellish the simple message about Jesus. However, these “embellishments” are really dilutions which distort the true gospel.
There is another way to tamper with God’s word, and it has a long history in the life of the church. Recently a very well known and influential evangelical preacher brought this heresy into the open again. It is the heresy of disconnecting Jesus from the Old Testament. In a recent sermon this preacher said that what God did in Jesus is a “stand alone event” that is detached from everything which came before it. He said that “God has done something through the Jews for the world… But the ‘through the Jews’ part of the story is over, and now something new and better and inclusive has come.” He also stated, “God’s arrangement with Israel should now be eliminated from the equation.”
These statements are undoubtedly motivated by an evangelistic desire to make the message of Jesus more palatable by disassociating it from the difficult and troubling passages in the OT. Nevertheless, they are a tampering with and distortion of God’s word. The Old & New Testaments belong together as “the whole counsel of God,” and the person and work of Jesus cannot be understood apart from everything in the Old Testament which led up to and prepared the way for him.
As Paul notes in verses 3-4 of our passage, Satan is doing a fine job of blinding the minds of unbelievers to the gospel all on his own. He certainly doesn’t need our help in creating confusion about or rejection of Jesus. However, when we use cunning deception or when we tamper with God’s word that is exactly what we do – we aid Satan in his work of keeping people away from the truth that is in Jesus.
Let us rather be committed to openly stating the truth about Jesus through both our words and deeds so that we will “commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.”
Take time now to seek God. This brief prayer can help you get started: “Heavenly Father, help your church to avoid all underhanded and disgraceful ways. Help us to flee deceptive practices. Help us never to tamper with your word. Holy Spirit, give us strength and wisdom to openly share the truth of the Gospel. And Lord, please remove the veil which blinds the minds of unbelievers. Please open their eyes so that they can see and love the light of the glory of Christ. In His name, Amen.”