Renounce, Refuse, Repeat (2 Cor. 4.2)
“For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.” (2 Cor. 2.17)
The fact that Paul distinguishes himself from false teachers should cause us to consider how he would do so. How would the Corinthian brethren be able to tell between the two? Like today, the false teachers of Paul’s time would seem to be sincere and would no doubt also claim to be speaking on God’s behalf. The importance of being able to tell between a false teacher and a true oracle of God is paramount, since the blind who follow the blind are likewise condemned (Matthew 15.14).
Further along in the text the readers are given the means to distinguish between those who speak the truth and those who do not: “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.” (2 Cor. 4.2)
“But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways.” (v.2a)
Paul, along with the other apostles and honorable teachers, had rejected all tricks and devices which bring shame to the LORD. His word is truth (John 17.17) and employing deceitful tactics in the sharing of the truth poisons the well. Sadly, there are many church leaders and teachers who by means of emotional arguments, fearmongering, and other methods have enchanted their audiences to follow any number of false doctrines. The word of God deserves better, and those who sincerely desire to know God’s will must demand better. Anyone who truly speaks on God’s behalf refuses to use these means to declare His will.
By renouncing deceit and artifice, we allow the Word to speak for itself and for the right reasons. Our purpose in speaking God’s word must be to accomplish God’s will of saving lost souls and edifying our brethren, and how we do so must not derail these efforts. It is God’s word, not our arguments or our appeals, that is “sharper than any two-edged sword” (Heb. 4.12). We must trust that His word will convict and convince and require any who claim to speak of God’s will to show us the word of the LORD, not the opinion or argument of the messenger. All who seek the truth must be able to detect when “disgraceful, underhanded ways” are being employed.
“We refuse to practice cunning or tamper with God’s word” (v.2b)
The King James version renders this passage “not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully”. Paul and other honest teachers used the scriptures in a way that was honorable and forthright. In that time (and ours as well) there were many who were not so discerning, and willfully so. Many of the most powerful arguments used by denominational “peddlers of God’s word” (2 Cor. 2.17) are the product of conscious tampering with the word of God. This often involves changing or twisting the meaning of words, ignoring the context of a passage, or refusing to acknowledge those parts of scripture that refute whatever doctrine is being professed.
For instance, those who argue against the necessity of baptism for salvation will use the “Thief on the Cross” (Luke 23.39-43) as their go-to example. “The Thief was saved without being baptized!” they will claim, all the while willfully ignoring the rest of the text, specifically:
1. The thief was saved before baptism for forgiveness of sins was established by Jesus and His apostles (Matthew 28.19-20; Mark 16.16; Acts 2.38; Acts 22.16; 1 Peter 3.21).
2. The thief lived under the Old Covenant (the Mosaic covenant), while all who lived after the Resurrection do so under the New Covenant (Hebrews 8-9). To claim salvation in the same fashion as the Thief is to reject the new and better covenant in Christ in favor of the old.
3. Christian baptism is based upon the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus (Romans 6.1-6), which hadn’t been accomplished at the point when the thief was forgiven.
Simply put, we too must “refuse to practice cunning or tamper with God’s word”, and demand that all who preach and teach declare to us the “whole counsel of God”, while we imitate the Bereans who “received the word with all eagerness, examining the scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” (Acts 17.10).
“but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” (v.2c)
At the end of 2 Cor. 4.2 Paul gives us the alternative to disgraceful methods and deceitful scriptural practices. The only honorable course one can follow in declaring the truth of God’s word is to repeat all that the LORD has said. For all his faults, the soothsayer Balaam hits this point squarely on the head in Numbers 22.38: “Balaam said to Balak, ‘Behold, I have come to you! Have I now any power of my own to speak anything? The word that God puts in my mouth, that must I speak.’” Micaiah the prophet is another great example of this idea: “As the LORD lives, what the LORD says to me, that I will speak.” (1 Kings 22.14). The prophet Ezekiel was told to “speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear” (2.7), and this must be our practice today as those who speak from God’s word on His behalf.
Openly stating the truth of God’s word requires us to reveal the whole of God’s word, understanding each passage in terms of its context (both local and global), and refusing to filter God’s word through philosophy, tradition, or preconceived notions. John indicates the grave danger of addition or omission in the handling of God’s word in Revelation 22.18-19. Paul’s ability to declare his innocence “of the blood of all” was founded upon his declaring to the Ephesians “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20.27)! There will be many preachers and teachers on the day of judgment who will be unable to declare their innocence on these same grounds, and we must ensure that we have not followed blind guides into the pit of condemnation (Matt. 15.14).