Paul wrote “Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. 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 Cor. 4:1-2).
In our desire to propagate and spread the gospel among all people, we are often tempted by the lure of popularity. We can mistake the reception of our preaching as reception of truth when at times our preaching is calculated only to attract followers.
Paul here lays down some principles that he lived by in preaching the word of God. He lists several things that he renounced and refused to engage it no matter how popularly they would have been received.
This word occurs 6 times in the NT and five times it is translated as ‘shame’ and once as ‘dishonesty’. In particular, this word would address any acts that God would condemn and its practitioner would be put to shame on the day of judgment. Illegal, illicit, and immoral actions cannot be justified on the premise that they bring good in the end. There were some cults that had their women engage in ‘holy sex’ in order to establish a ‘relationship’ with a potential convert and thus draw the convert into the ‘religion’. Many first century pagan religions used immorality and drunkenness as an integral part of their ‘worship’. Such was highly popular but Paul would have nothing to do with any such life style. One of the shining lights of the people of God should be the purity and freedom from such sexual immorality. We dare not disgrace ourselves for the sake of popularity.
underhanded [‘kruptos’ ]
This is translated from a word meaning "that which is unknown because of being kept secret, hidden.” Many religions are NOT upfront about their teaching because the KNOW that if their basic tenets were made known people would reject them immediately. So, they teach only the popular ideas and gradually, as the convert becomes more and more part of their group, they gradually reveal those secret doctrines. This was particularly true among the many gnostic cults and is still a common tactic among cults today.
WE have nothing to be ashamed of. We can openly discuss any of the teachings of Jesus openly. We may have to build a foundation that shows the premises upon which a particular teaching is founded, but we are not to hide from His teaching.
This word was used exclusively, in an unfavorable sense (rascally, evil) cunning, craftiness, trickery. For example, in Luke 20:19-23, the chief priests and the scribes sought to apprehend Jesus and deliver him up to the Roman authorities. In order to do so, they needed a charge. They sent spies who pretended to be sincere, and asked him a ‘loaded question’ in order that they might catch him saying something worthy of condemnation. This caused them to ask if it was ‘lawful’ (Jewish law) to give tribute money unto Caesar. They were NOT interested in the truth concerning this; they just wanted to trap Jesus. Luke writes that Jesus ‘perceived their craftiness’ (the same word as here in 2 Cor.). Paul said that he simple refused to engage in such a practice in discussing the gospel of Jesus.
tamper with God’s word
He had previously affirmed that “...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 Cor. 2:17). There he spoke of those who would ‘water down’ the teaching as an innkeeper would water down the wine in order to increase profits. Such innkeepers peddled as wine that which was water.
Here he speaks of those who would ‘change, misuse, or falsify’ the word of God. The word is defined as “to make false through deception or distortion, falsify, adulterate.” If God’s word would offend then they would simply ‘modify it’ to fit public popularity. God’s word is God’s word and no one, not even an apostle, had a right to change, add, or subtract from it (cp. Gal. 1:8-9; Deut. 4:2; 12:32; Isa. 55:8-9; Prov. 30:5-6; 2John 9-10, etc.).
SO, how DOES one teach the gospel? By the open statement of truth. You speak the truth in love. You preach the word ‘in season and out’ - when it is popular and when it is not. The goal is to conform men to the word of God and not to be popular. Yet, the temptation of such popularity is ever-present. Be careful in handling the word of God.