2 Corinthians 2:17 “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.”
In 2 Corinthians 2, Paul is writing to the church in Corinth, condemning the teaching of the false apostles, and calling the believers there to faithfulness in gospel ministry. In verses 14 to 16, Paul battles his own discouragement by meditating on precious realities about ministry: that Christ our conquering general has secured the victory, and always leads us in triumph; that God is absolutely sovereign in the salvation of sinners no matter what the results of our labors; and that therefore our great concern is simply to be a faithful fragrance of Christ in our Gospel preaching. Eternal life, or eternal death, must follow the preaching of the gospel.
As these lofty truths stream into Paul’s consciousness, he cries out in the middle of verse 16: “And who is sufficient for these things?” One commentator captures the idea when he asks, “How can any frail and fallible mortal fail to be conscious of his own utter inadequacy when charged with so stupendous of a responsibility?” (Hughes, 82). God has designed to completely overwhelm you with how totally unequal you are to this task of Gospel ministry, so that you would perceive your own insufficiency, be humbled to the dust, and cry out to Him for His sufficiency, for His grace. So, who is sufficient for these things? Paul says, “Sufficient in myself? Not me!” First Corinthians 15:10: “By the grace of God I am what I am.”
But his point in this passage isn’t to say he’s unqualified for ministry.
His response is to meet the challenges of ministry by drawing upon the infinite sufficiency of the grace of God.
And he says that in chapter 3 verse 5: “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as [ministers] of a new covenant.” So, on the one hand, the faithful minister of the Gospel is not adequate in himself. But on the other hand, God has made him adequate by grace.
And then he explains why. “For we are not like many, peddling the word of God.” The kapēlos, the Greek word for the dishonest peddler, would add water to the wine that he purchased, diluting it and reducing its quality and genuineness. Dr. MacArthur summarizes the idea simply in his commentary when he writes, “A kapēlos was a huckster, a con artist or street hawker who cleverly deceived unwary buyers into purchasing a cheap imitation of the real thing” (74). Paul is teaching that the faithful minister does not adulterate the Word, by mixing divine truth with human ideas, man-made ideologies and strategies. He doesn’t water down or dilute the Word of God by softening its hard truths, by seeking to smooth out the rough edges of the offense of the cross.
The false apostles were doing that. They accused Paul of being under the judgment of God for how mightily he suffered, arguing that if he really had God’s blessing, his ministry would be easier and more people would respond to his message. Paul says that’s a corrupt gospel, "They preach a crown without the cross. That Jesus looks more palatable to you than the crucified carpenter who invites you into the fellowship of His sufferings. When you buy into that false Jesus, with that false Gospel, you’re playing right into the hands of these hucksters, and you settle for a cheap imitation of the true, spiritual riches of the Gospel of Christ.”
In our day, entire ministries are built around this very kind of hucksterism that Paul condemns. The seeker-sensitive movement watered down the more offensive and demanding aspects of the Gospel and the Christian life in order to make Christianity more palatable to fleshly people. Surveying their congregations to discover their “felt needs,” they then twist the Word of God to tickle itching ears. The emerging church and “missional” movements so thirsted after “relevance” with a culture who hates Christ and His Word that they insisted that we need to become like the world in order to win the world. In recent years, this ministerial pragmatism has taken an overtly political shape, so that if your sermon aren’t seasoned with the jargon of intersectionality and identity politics, you’re derided as a racist with no concern for justice.
The fear of man is so powerful that even the best of us are tempted to blunt the sharp edges of the doctrines of Scripture because of how foolish the true Gospel seems to an unbelieving world.
Those morsels of Scripture that are especially bitter to the unregenerate heart, the insincere peddler will be tempted to dilute with human wisdom, hoping to make them more palatable to the consumer. Before you know it, you become a peddler, haggling with the enemies of Christ about His value. That’s what happens when you’re concerned more about results than faithfulness.
Instead, he says, we speak “as from sincerity.” This term translates the Greek word eilikrineia, a compound word, made up of helios, “sun,” and krinō, “to judge.” Literally, to be sincere is to be “judged by the sun.” In Paul’s day, when thin pottery would crack in the oven, dishonest merchants would fill the cracks with an artificial wax that blended in with the painted vessel, but was visible when held up to the sun. Paul says, “By God’s grace, dear Corinthians, the message I’ve preached to you and my conduct towards you is ‘sun-tested.’ Unlike the many, who peddle God’s Word to you for financial gain, you can hold up my life and message to the searching sunlight of Scripture, and you’ll find no cracks in my character that I’ve tried to fill in with artificial wax. I live my entire life in the searching light the holiness of God!”
Fellow ministers of the Gospel: Are you men of sincerity? If your life was held up to the blazing light of God’s own face, would you be discovered to be repaired pottery, faults filled with the cheap wax of self-righteousness? Are you trying to fill in cracks in your character with artificial spirituality? Are you motivated to continue in ministry so that the glory of Christ might be displayed, and honored, and magnified, and be made famous? Or do you have designs to spread your own glory–to use Christ, His Word, and His people to make a name for yourself? Brother pastors, will you renounce all pretense and hypocrisy? Will you hold yourself open to the people you serve, exposed to the light of God’s Word, that it might be plain that you are sun-tested, who minister “as from sincerity”?
By the open statement of the truth, be sincere preachers of the Word, not cheap peddlers. As a faithful ambassador who heralds nothing other than the message he’s received, be faithful to preach the Gospel in its unvarnished purity, and leave the results to God.