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.
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. 2 Corinthians 2:17
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.