For our proud confidence is this: the testimony of our conscience, that in God-given simplicity and sincerity, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God, we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially toward you. For we write nothing else to you than what you read and understand.
– 2 Corinthians 1:12-13
At the time he wrote 2 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul was facing false accusations against his character and ministry. False teachers, claiming to be Apostles of Christ, infiltrated the church of Corinth and, in order to weaken Paul’s influence for the sake of growing their own, launched a full-scale assault on Paul’s legitimacy as an Apostle. Much of 2 Corinthians is a defense of Paul’s integrity as a minister of the Gospel. And he begins that defense by declaring that his conscience is clear from the accusations being brought against him.
But he knows that it would have been too easy for hypocrites who have been seared in conscience to simply appeal to their conscience in order to get everyone off their backs. In 2 Corinthians 1:12–13Open in Logos Bible Software (if available), Paul explains that the testimony of his clear conscience is something more than a retreat to a private and inner sense of the state of his heart that no one can see or verify. His clear conscience is founded upon a real life of integrity. And that life of integrity is marked by a number of things.
First, Paul says he has conducted himself in simplicity. This is the Greek word haplotes. It means “singleness,” “undivided-ness.” It is simplicity as the opposite of duplicity. Paul used this term in Colossians 3:22Open in Logos Bible Software (if available) to exhort slaves to sincerely obey their earthly masters, and not just to make a good show of things: “Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity (or simplicity, same word) of heart, fearing the Lord.” In other words, don’t obey your masters in a merely external way; don’t labor in the duplicity of working heartily when your boss sees you, but then slack off when he’s not around. Obey with simplicity of heart—be the same person all the time, knowing that your aim is not merely to please men, but the Lord, before whose presence you always appear.
And so when Paul says he’s conducted himself in simplicity in his ministry to the Corinthians, it means that there were no complex parts to Paul’s character, as if he portrayed himself to be one person on the surface but underneath he was really someone else. There was no artificial exterior to Paul that you had to penetrate to get to the real him. There was no deviousness or underhanded scheming on his part to appear to be something that he wasn’t, so that he could take advantage of the Corinthians. With Paul, what you see is what you get.
Secondly, closely related to simplicity, Paul says he has conducted himself in sincerity. This is a fascinating Greek word: eilikrineia. It’s a compound word, from helios, “sun,” and krino, “to judge.” Literally: “judged by the sun.”
Now what sense does that make? Well, one of the largest industries Paul’s day was the pottery industry. And, just like anything else, the various kinds of pottery differed in quality. The lowest quality pottery was thick, solid, and easy to make. But the finest pottery was thinner and therefore more fragile. Often, when thin pottery was being fired, it would crack in the oven. Now, rather than discard those vessels that were cracked, dishonest merchants would fill the cracks with a hard, pearly wax that would blend in with the color of the pottery when it In ordinary light, no one could tell the difference. But when you held a piece of pottery up to the sunlight to test it, you would be able to see the imperfection, because the wax appeared darker than the rest of the vessel. Honest merchants would often stamp their products with the Latin term “sine cera,” which means “without wax.” And “sine cera,” is where we get our English word for “sincere.”