What the world needs are men and women of character and integrity. It’s been said that who you are in private is who you are. What the church needs are men and women of a gospel-gripped character. D.L. Moody noted that character is what you are in the dark. In a day of scandals, backroom deals, retraction of false statements, followed by retractions of retractions, one wanders the earth to find a person, much less a leader of character. Even Calvin Coolidge, one of our presidents, noted, “We do not need more knowledge, we need more character.”
It’s easy for us to display character when things are going smoothly for us, when things are going as we wish. But when the adversity hits, when something comes up in your life that you did not expect, that speaks volumes. C.S. Lewis once said,
Surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of man he is. If there are rats in a cellar, you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness does not create the rats; it only prevents them from hiding. In the same way, the suddenness of the provocation does not make me ill-tempered; it only shows me what an ill-tempered man I am.
I provide these quotes from secular and religious sources alike to show that there is a worldwide craving in all corners for people of character. But the question is, do we wish to possess that integrity as well? Or are we willing to do whatever it takes (lie, cheat, steal, keep up appearances, etc.) in order to maintain our outward reputation?
As we approach 2 Corinthians 4-5 for the next few weeks, the Apostle Paul gives us some needed characteristics for what a man of character should be. This morning, we are going to look at how a believer needs a clear conscience, or to put it another way, clean closets.
A person of character …
1. Refuses to dilute the truth for personal gain (2 Corinthians 4:1-2).
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.
The apostle Paul received a particular ministry by God. What was that ministry? In 2 Corinthians 5:18, we see that this is a ministry of reconciliation! Paul’s entire ministry was to show us the only way we may be in good standing before God, and that is to be reconciled—where the warring sides no longer war. In fact, the stronger of the sides has set forth the terms for reconciliation. And Paul would serve as an ambassador of the victor’s side to bring forth the terms.
How did Paul receive this ministry? “By the mercy of God.” You see, he too at one point was on the wrong side of the war. Paul tells the Galatian church:
12 For I did not receive [the gospel] from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. 13 For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it.14 And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers (Galatians 2:12-14).
But Paul goes on: “But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles” (Galatians 2:15-16a). By the mercy of God, Paul is now in a position of favor. And he recognizes the nature of his ministry.
In the previous chapter, Paul speaks of this ministry. In verse 6, he notes that the ministers of the old covenant were about the letter which kills, while the ministers of the new covenant is of the Spirit which gives life. He was a part of the ministry of death, now he is a minister of life (vv. 7-8). He was a part of the ministry of condemnation, but now the new covenant is the ministry of righteousness that God provides us in Christ.
You see, one is received by our ability to keep the letters, the other is about Christ ability to give it to us by His mercy. Because of this great mercy bestowed on Paul, we remains strong. How so? By staying true to the Word of the one who called Him. He has “renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s Word.” Many were simply “peddlers of the Word” (2 Cor. 2:17)
Thomas Watson wrote:
Though sin lives in him, yet he does not live in sin. . . . In this sense, a godly man does not indulge sin. Though sin is in him, he is troubled at it and would gladly get rid of it. There is as much difference between sin in the wicked and the godly as between poison being in a serpent and in a man. Poison in a serpent is in its natural place and is delightful, but poison in a man’s body is offensive and he uses antidotes to expel it. So sin in a wicked man is delightful, being in its natural place, but sin in a child of God is burdensome and he uses all means to expel it.
Do you see here the connection? Those truly outside of Christ have no qualms with their sins. But those who are in Christ or are convicted by the Spirit to see who Christ is, do not want anything in their hearts or minds to take away from the glory of him—for sin is, as Watson eloquently put, poison to our systems. We look to kick it out by prayerful, Word-driven means.
- How do you view sin in your life—something to tolerate because “you’re only human” or something to kick out because you are a follower of Christ?
- Do you preach the Word in order to glorify our Savior and to bring eternal good to the listener—or do you peddle the Word for personal gain and a tangible return?
- Do you see your calling as a believer in Christ one received by mercy, or something you believe you deserve? Why? How does this passage change or reinforce what you already believe?
Thomas Watson, The Godly Man’s Picture (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1992—first published 1666), 146.