Speaking the Truth in Love
Robert Wurtz II
Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience. (2 Corinthians 5:11 ESV)
In our past studies we have discussed faith, grace, and the love of God. We touched upon Christ’s call to believers to come boldly unto the Throne of Grace to obtain mercy and grace to help in the time of need (Hebrews 4:16). It is an expression or the goodness of the Lord. It is this goodness that should also lead sinful men and women to repentance (Romans 2:4). We are then told in Romans 11:22 to consider both the goodness and the severity of God. This plays out in the Revelation as we watch over the course of the book a transition taking place. In Revelation 4:2-3 John writes, At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. (Revelation 4:2-3) We observe here the throne of Grace. The rainbow signifies mercy, and the promise of God to Noah (man) that He would not destroy the earth again with water. But as we read the back of the book we find a different reality. John writes, And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. (Revelation 20:11-13 KJV)
Knowing the fear of the Lord
Paul gives an explanation in our text (2 Corinthians 5:11) of what motivates him as a servant of God; Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. He then goes on to say of himself and his fellow laborers, “…what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience.” This last phrase “I hope that it is known also in your conscience” is key to understanding Paul’s preaching. He preached before the conscience from a position of the fear of the Lord. He set his life out before the people to measure it against what they knew to be true conscientiously. What does that mean? We read in 2 Corinthians 4:2, “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.” (2 Corinthians 4:2 ESV) Paul’s objective was to set truth before the conscience of the people for their consideration. It was all he could do. It was his means of persuading them. With an eye on the fact that we are all going to stand before God and give an account of our lives, he persuaded men to repent and himself to keep on preaching truth.
The two sides of man
God has given to every person a conscience. This is an inward mechanism that speaks on behalf of God. Some have called it an inward smoke alarm. Some have called it an umpire as in baseball. It is an inward judge that speaks to our thoughts, attitudes, actions, etc. It also judges the behaviors of others against what it believes to be right and wrong. You can sear it or load it up with false ideas, but when working properly it is a good indicator of right and wrong. This presumes the person has been spending time rightly dividing the word of truth- before their conscience.
There is another side of every person that constitutes the “I”. It is what “I” want. It is “my” will, “my” ambitions, “my” intentions. The “I” or the “me” in a person will either be submitted to Christ and have His mind or they will be moving to a greater or lesser degree in their own will. The old-timers would call this side of man “the heart”. It is that place that the prophet declared to be “…deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9 MKJV) It is summed up in the attitude of Satan,… “For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.” (Isaiah 14:13-14) This is an impenitent and rebellious heart.
Preaching to the choir
“Preaching to the choir” is an expression that means that you are making your case to your supporters. Paul knew that “his supporter” in man is the conscience. Why not the heart? Because the heart of man is corrupt and useless to God until He comes in by His Holy Spirit and replaces it. (Ezekiel 18:31, Ezekiel 36:26, 2 Cor. 5:17, Galatians 6:15) This replacement heart and spirit that constitutes a “new creature in Christ” will work in the person a desire to will and to do God’s good pleasure. (Php. 2:13) Christ may have sweat as it were “great drops of blood”, but in the end He still declared “not my will but thine be done.” That is to say, the new heart will strive against sin. (Hebrews 12:4) In this way the new heart comes into agreement with God and the conscience. If the mind has wrong ideas, the new heart will search out truth and make corrections as necessary. Why? It lives by every word of God; it lives by the written word and by the very thing God is speaking to it at the present moment.
A divided man
Paul preached to many people that were at war within themselves. They had the light of conscience that was placed within them by God at birth, as a combination of the a priori knowledge of God (the law of God written on the heart), and an unaffiliated judge (the conscience) to measure their actions by. On the opposite side of their humanity was a heart in rebellion against God. One side rejects truth and the other side embraces it. Paul understood this, so he preached to the conscience. When a person agrees with their conscience they are unified, but when they rebel against God and His word, they are divided internally. This is why we are told that in the last days men and women would have a conscience seared with a hot iron. Searing deadens the nerves; it takes the battery out of the smoke alarm. But in the process of searing the conscience, a person will still recognize truth when they hear it. When light is shed on the conscience, it will rise up once again. This may infuriate the rebellious heart, but the conscience will give its approval.
A shaft of steel
Knowing the terror of the Lord Paul persuaded men. His mind was fastened to truth with chains that could not be broken. As the late Dr. Ken Connolly said concerning men like William Tyndale, “they had convictions that ran like shafts of steel through their bodies not allowing them to bow to pressure.” They paid with their lives. Paul was tethered by the fear of God and the love of God.( 2 Corinthians 5:14) Notice again, “he persuaded men….” The Greek word means “to convince”. Paul did not frog-march men and women into truth; he used great plainness of speech. (2 Corinthians 3:2) He set truth before their eyes in love, and that is a mighty combination. Knowing the terror of the Lord; that is to say, knowing that God is a righteous judge- Paul was constrained by the love of Christ to see men convinced of the Gospel, repent and live holy lives.