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I haven’t flown as much this year as in years past because of Covid. Many events have been canceled or rescheduled. But unexpected changes in travel plans have been impacting ministry leaders for a very long time.

In 2 Corinthians 1:12–2:4, Paul discusses his own itinerary changes. Seems like a rather mundane topic, but his change in plans created quite a problem, and in addressing it, he drops in some rich gospel truths and gives us some important characteristics of missional integrity.

Paul loved the Corinthian church deeply, but that love was often met with criticism, attack, slander, gossip, false accusations, betrayal, relational hurt, and grief. Paul was being attacked in Corinth for a number of reasons.

His critics claimed:

  • His appearance is weak
  • He suffers too much to be an apostle
  • His motives aren’t pure
  • His speaking ability isn’t that great
  • He’s not successful
  • He has no reference letters
  • He handles money poorly
  • His methodology is weak

Despite these hurtful claims, Paul never gives up on these cantankerous Corinthians.

But he does have to defend his integrity because the gospel was at stake. Even though defending himself was awkward (as it always is), to fail to do so would mean spiritual ruin to a young church that was being misled by false teachers. As we observe Paul defending his integrity—and really, all true gospel ministry—we find seven marks of integrity that ministry leaders should pursue today.

1. Grace-enabled Godliness (1:12)

In Corinth, people were drawn to human strength and impressiveness. There was much boasting and many showy speakers. But Paul says his boast is that his conduct has been godly and his motives pure “by grace.” He attributes his pure motives to the grace of God—not in his power, but God’s, and so God gets the glory.

A clear conscience doesn’t mean sinless; it means you’re living in the light, and that when you are aware of sin, you’re confessing it to the Lord. Live with a clean conscience before God. If you don’t please Jesus, it doesn’t matter who you please. Further, we should remember that godliness makes up for a lot of gaps in our gifting. Shepherding challenging people requires you to take the long view. It requires patience—eschatological patience. Click To Tweet

2. Eschatological Vision (1:13–14)

Shepherding challenging people requires you to take the long view. It requires patience—eschatological patience. That’s what Paul is doing when he says, “On the day of our Lord Jesus you will boast of us as we will boast of you” (v. 14). To quote Luther, we need to do ministry “this day in light of that Day.”  On that Day, we will be glad we invested in others. We will see that it was worth it.

One day in the presence of Jesus Christ, we will be filled with joy as we see other believers that we invested in. Because that day is coming, what we do matters! Our eschatology shouldn’t lead us to fanaticism but to everyday pastoral faithfulness.

3. Truthful Speech (1:15–18)

The Corinthians didn’t get the long visit from Paul they were expecting. This change in plans caused a rift. Some began accusing Paul of being fickle and untrustworthy. In these verses, he’s simply saying, “That plan really was my intention. I am an honest minister.”

Paul ties his integrity to God’s faithfulness: “As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No.” Let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no.” Be a person of your word. Paul is saying he did that, and that’s why his conscience is clean. Let us do the same—by the grace of God.

4. Christ-centered Proclamation (1:18–20)

Paul says his integrity is due to God’s faithfulness, and then he gives a great “Jesus juke.” Most Jesus jukes are cheesy, but Paul provides a Spirit-inspired one here! Having talked about his “yes” and his “no” he says, “All the promises of God find their Yes in him” (2 Cor. 1:20). Jesus is the Father’s “yes” for every promise, every need, every hope. Linger on these promises. Click To Tweet

And as he makes this claim, he’s continuing to defend his ministry, this time with a greater to less than argument. “If I proclaimed the true gospel to you” (the big thing), then surely you can trust me on a change in travel plans (a little thing).

In this statement, Paul shows us something of how the whole Bible testifies to Jesus, and why we must stay committed to proclaiming Christ from his Word. Jesus is the Father’s “yes” for every promise, every need, every hope. Linger on these promises. We stand in this great tradition, declaring God’s promises from his Word, exalting Jesus in every message.

5. Spiritual Authenticity (1:21–22)

In a wonderfully Trinitarian passage, Paul adds to his defense by highlighting the work of the Holy Spirit, reminding the Corinthians that they are established together in Christ by the Spirit. In other words, he’s saying, “I’m a real apostle, and you are real Christians because of what the Spirit has done in our hearts.

He highlights four blessings that the Spirit brings to believers: we are secure, anointed, sealed, and given a guarantee of glory to come. Praise God for the ministry of the Holy Spirit, who secures us and empowers us for church planting and all ministry endeavors!

This is the power we have for living on mission faithfully. We’re not powerless, but rather indwelt with power. By myself, I am not a minister of integrity, but by the Spirit, I can be—and so can you.

6. Joy-focused Labor (1:23–2:3)

There are many things we could do for someone, but here is a crystal-clear passage from Paul about what we’re to be about in ministry: “We work with you for your joy.” Similarly, Paul told the Philippian church he labored for their “progress and joy in the faith” (Phil. 1:23–25). Everything he did was bound up with a sensitivity toward their well-being and joy. Caring for each other means caring for each other’s joy in Christ. There is great joy to be found in serving Christ’s people, especially when we see their joy abound in Christ. Click To Tweet

Caring for each other means caring for each other’s joy in Christ. There is great joy to be found in serving Christ’s people, especially when we see their joy abound in Christ.

7. Heartfelt Love (2:4)

It would be easy to just cancel the Corinthians, but Paul doesn’t do that. This severe letter didn’t come from a place of hostility, but of wounded love. He’s filled with anguish, not anger. The world is filled with anger, and there’s not enough anguish that comes from a place of love. We have too many outbursts of anger and not enough pastoral tears.

Consider this bundle of terms in verse four: affliction, anguish, tears, and pain; but also, abundant love. That’s ministry. True love bleeds; that’s what we see in our suffering Savior, the Lord Jesus.

Oh, for a thousand tongues to sing our great Redeemer’s praise! Let us live and minister to his glory, and let us do so with missional integrity.

Tony Merida
Written by: Tony Merida on November 22, 2021

Tony Merida is the founding pastor of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, vice president for theological training for Acts 29, dean of Grimke Seminary, and a Council member of The Gospel Coalition. He is the author of a number of books, including Love Your Church, The Christ-Centered Expositor, Ordinary, and Orphanology. He and his wife, Kimberly, have five adopted children.

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