Grounds for Confidence
Brian T. Davies, Uxbridge
In his first letter to the Corinthian converts Paul has much reason to complain of their conduct, accusing them of being carnal and contentious, and of some thinking themselves a cut above others, Phil. 2. 3. In particular he rounds on them over a certain offence committed by one of their number, for its occurrence in the first place, then secondly for failing to feel remorse over it, and thirdly for not rectifying it, 1 Cor. 5. 2. Altogether the things he catalogues do not make for a good record - affected as they are by the conditions of a city noted for its luxury and laxness. They are clearly in need of much correction and guidance, and to patently divorce themselves from the corrupting influence of its culture. They failed to distinguish the difference between their ordinary natures and the spiritual one of their new birth.
When he comes to writing the second letter that we have there is a marked change of tone, greatly encouraged by the report given him by Titus on how he had found them, 2 Cor. 7. 7. Thoroughly cheered by the general improvement Paul writes of the confidence he has in them, 'I rejoice therefore that I have confidence in you in all things', 2 Cor. 7. 16-a sweeping statement that could cover past and future confidence in them. 'In all things' we might think a bold statement to make, but realistically Paul towards the end of the letter warns them that any shortcomings he finds on his next visit will be met with the force of his authority, 'not sparing them', 2 Cor. 13. 2.
Because of what then could he have expressed such confidence in them in all things?
Firstly, because the evidence Titus brought, whom they had received graciously, was that they had heeded Paul's words. They sorrowed - a godly sorrow - at Paul's strictures, and earnestly sought to redress the situation, 2 Cor. 7. 9. All that would renew Paul's confidence in the genuineness of their faith, enabling him to congratulate them on their progress. This is what he had hoped, and believed would follow. His faith in them had been justified.
Secondly, because Paul was always an encourager. We have only to note how much encouragement he gave to Timothy. Nothing perhaps is so encouraging to people as indicating one has had confidence in them from the beginning. But more importantly, also, is the declaration of confidence held about them for the future, a continuing belief in the quality of their intentions. This can be taken as even more of a compliment. Compliments are great morale-boosters, a testimony in a person's favour. This in itself generates in the individual increased confidence, thereby contributing to fulfilling one's expectations. All of us will do a better job when we feel confident rather than when we are unsure, or haven't the backing of others.
There is a third reason for Paul's confidence, basic to his encouraging it in others. It is in the knowledge that beyond having confidence in them, there is that in which to be confident. On what does he himself rely? Certainly one's confidence would be undermined from the start if there were no guarantee of success, or if the means to proceed were not forthcoming. We must be certain of success from the outset and not succumb at the first setback. How much more confident then is the person who is given the assurance of every resource for help whenever needed. As Christians we are fully entitled, without hesitation or any qualms, to 'come boldly to the throne of grace'. The inexhaustible riches of Christ, if we regard them as resources, are ever at our disposal. We can go boldly to claim them from our Lord Jesus Christ, for, as Paul writes to the Ephesians, 3. 12, 'In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him'.
Here clearly we have all that we need or could hope for; we have every assurance that we will be heard and helped from the source of all strength. Such availability is the most precious thing a Christian can have. Has our Lord not succeeded in bringing us salvation? Has He not overcome the world? There lies our optimism for success, our ground for confidence.
Every aspect of Jesus' life was free from failure. In His youth He found favour with God and man; three times God commended Him in the course of His life, speaking from heaven to His Son on earth, (1) on His private years; (2) on His public performance; and (3) to encourage Him in His last hours, in that by the way Jesus has lived, and the things He has done and said, He has indeed glorified God's name.
'This is my beloved Son' - pleased to be identified with Him; 'in whom I am well pleased' - more than satisfied; 'hear him', we should all listen to Him. This is total commendation. Therein lies supreme confidence that whatever help we need He can and will meet it.
In an unsettled world, anxious about the future, where can we have such confidence; confidence that we can surmount our problems and our failures and enable us truly to live the Christlike life?
Surely it is in the living Christ. Paul knew where his own strength lay; thus he could say, 'when I am weak then I am strong'. In ourselves we are weak, but with the Holy Spirit within, free to work in us and through us, we too, may be strong. In such strength we may inspire confidence in others to go from strength to strength by faith.