Plans and Pastoral Care, Part 1
2 Corinthians 1:12–22 – 2 Corinthians: A Testimony to Suffering in the Power of God
Third Sunday of Easter – May 5, 2019 (am)
Paul addresses unjust criticism in this text. Ever been there? It can be excruciating. But Paul shows us how to handle it in a manner worthy of God. It is criticism of his methods as an apostle. And in the end, it’s not so much an answer in words as an answer seen in the quality of his life and of what motivates him. The answer shows up in where his eyes are fixed and what his heart [desires].
Let’s take a moment for a brief review. Paul builds this paragraph (12-14) on the one just before it (8-11) which, in turn, is built on the one just before that (3-7).
In vv.3-7, he is essentially reminding the church in Corinth that the gospel doesn’t come without affliction, but also that affliction doesn’t come without comfort. Our salvation was accomplished by the affliction of Christ on our behalf. And now, being aligned with Him, we feel the same affliction He felt—the opposition of sinful people in rebellion against God in [this] world, but also the pain and suffering of life in a fallen world that is eagerly awaiting the day of our redemption (Rom.8:22-23). But this same gospel which is characterized by affliction is also characterized by comfort. As surely as those who are saved by a [suffering] Savior will themselves suffer, they will also be comforted, now and forever. Paul is calling the Corinthians to bless (praise) God for this comfort.
Then in vv.8-11, he calls them to prayer so that many will give thanks to God as they see their prayers answered in Paul’s life, as they see him delivered by God from his trials and [burdensome] circumstances again and again, as they see him [strengthened] in his trust and hope in the Lord. And by that they are moved to [thanksgiving].
They’re able to [praise] and give thanks to God because (12) He enables Paul to [behave]… with simplicity and godly sincerity, … toward [themselves especially] (supremely), but also toward [everyone else] (in the world) in his life. Paul’s own conscience is clear on this point (12). The way he treats people, the way he manages his work, his (travel) plans, reflects a simplicity (holiness NAS, NIV) and godly sincerity (purity [WSDNT], without hypocrisy [NUBD]) that can only be born of God. These qualities come not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God (12). And they’re the basis of Paul’s boast in the Lord—the Lord has done this in him!
Paul’s writing reflects the same qualities (13). He’s plain-spoken and direct. He’s not trying to hide anything from them or blow anything past them. Ultimately, he operates this way [so] (that) they can rejoice in one another’s salvation (14). The [holiness] and sincerity he displays toward them are just as worthy of their boast in the Lord as they are of his. And that is so because their genuine conversion, which is also their boast in the Lord, doesn’t just insure their final salvation, but also authenticates his genuine apostleship—that which shows itself in Paul’s [holiness] and godly sincerity (12).
But even so, there are still some who oppose Paul in Corinth, despite the authenticity of his [behavior] (12) and writing (13). And their opposition targets more than his sufferings and affliction (3-11). In the remaining paragraph we’ll look at today (15-22), Paul is answering accusations that his apostolic credibility is undercut by the fact that he changed his travel plans! His defense continues on into the next paragraph (1:23-2:4), but we’ll hold off on that until next week. Paul actually changed his plans more than once, so he has to talk about it for a while. And in the process, we learn a lot about the different encounters that marked Paul’s relationship with the Corinthians. But I’m not joking about the fact that alterations in his itinerary were seized upon as evidence of his unworthiness. Paul’s opponents… pointed to his apparent change in plans regarding coming to Corinth as further evidence of his illegitimacy as an apostle. They also seem to have argued that [his] first change in plans, in which he decided to come to Corinth twice instead of making one extended visit, was part of an elaborate scheme to use the collection for the believers in Jerusalem as a front to defraud the Corinthians (cf. 1 Cor. 16:5–7 with 2 Cor. 7:2; 8:20–21; 11:7f.; 12:13–18) (Hafemann 83), even though Paul supported his own work there (cf. 12:13-14).
Let’s unpack this a bit, then draw some lessons from it for today, for surely there are matters as foolish as this still tearing at the fabric of the church today, undercutting the credibility of the gospel, and doubting or denying the work of God in people’s lives, and separating genuine believers from peaceful fellowship with one another. Let’s divide this into three parts.
An Explanation of the Apostle’s Plans (Harris 446)
It’s from Paul’s own references that we can find his original itinerary, then trace the two changes he made with regard to his visits to Corinth. Our 1Co., which, remember, was likely Paul’s second to this church (cf. 1Co.5:9), was probably written from Ephesus. And as Paul is finishing that letter, he gives his travel plans (1Co.16:5-8). 5 I will visit you after passing through Macedonia, for I intend to pass through Macedonia, 6 and perhaps I will stay with you or even spend the winter, so that you may help me on my journey, wherever I go. 7 For I do not want to see you now just in passing. I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. 8 But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost. So, Paul planned to visit Corinth after visiting Macedonia, and then possibly on to Jerusalem with the collection (1Co.16:3-4).
However, what we see here in 2Co.1:15ff. is that, feeling sure (15) of their gratitude to God for one another (14), [Paul] wanted to come to [them] first… (15) on [his] way to Macedonia, and then to come back to [them] from Macedonia and have [them] send [him] on [his] way to [Jerusalem] (16). So, he’ go to Corinth twice.
Then, what actually seems to have happened is that Paul made that painful visit (2:1) to Corinth, likely from Ephesus, then went back to Ephesus (that’s when the events of Act.19 likely occurred), then he went to Troas (2:12-13), and finally to Macedonia (7:5, which is likely when he wrote this letter). Then he went back to Corinth (Act.20:2), fol-lowed by a few other stops on his way to Jerusalem (Act.20, 21). This, again, is how things actually unfolded.
An Extrapolation of the Corinthians’ Response
And these are the changes pointed to by his opponents as evidence that Paul wasn’t being led by the Spirit! This is what he’s explaining in vv.17ff. 17 Was I vacillating when I wanted to do this? He asks. Do I make my plans according to the flesh, ready to say “Yes, yes” and “No, no” at the same time, just changing plans on a whim? By this we can discern the Corinthians response. Paul’s opponents thought he was vacillating, making promises then breaking them, not sure what he wanted to do or should do, [making] plans according to the flesh, in a worldly manner (Hafemann 83).
But Paul said: 18 As surely as God is faithful, our word to you [is faithful. It] has not been Yes and No. But how can Paul say this when his plans did change? He’s not saying they didn’t! Rather, he’s saying that, regardless of his change of plans, his message to the Corinthians has remained the same. And his argument, as always, is be rooted in Christ. 19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. 20 For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. What is he saying? How does this address his opponents’ concerns?
He’s actually just finishing the point he started in vv.12-14. It is God who is working both in and through Paul by [His] grace. And as Paul is responding to the work of God’s grace in His life, he is applying that to the needs of the Corinthians. He made his plans with them in mind (15), not himself. He believed they could benefit from a second [visit], a second experience of grace (15), possibly meaning a second opportunity to give to the Jerusalem offering [Hafemann 84], which is what he calls this collection in c.8, or possibly meaning just a second opportunity to experience Paul’s spiritual ministry among them (Kruse 74).
Whichever it is, Paul is making his decisions in dependence on the grace of God (12), and for the benefit of the Corinthian believers (15). He’s acting, speaking, and writing throughout this time with [holiness] and godly sincerity toward them. The message he’s proclaiming—he and all his cohorts—was unchanging, for all the promises of God find their Yes in [Christ] (20), no vacillation there! But the needs of the Corinthians keep changing, that’s the piece that isn’t constant. So, Paul adjusts his plans according-ly. His method alters according to their need even though his ministry intention among them never alters. As Scott Hafemann puts it (85): [B]ecause Paul’s intention remained the same, his plans changed! That’s not vacillation!
And Hafemann went on to say (85): Thus, by his own change of plans toward the Corinthians, Paul “amens” God’s demonstration in Christ of his divine faithfulness toward his people. In doing so, [Paul] expresses God’s own commitment to keep his promises in and through Christ.
Bottom line, Paul’s change of plans didn’t reflect worldly thinking at all on his part, but rather demonstrated his heart for the Corinthians by [God’s] grace, and his willingness to do anything he could for their spiritual welfare. So, his changes were not fleshly vacillation at all. They were his amen to the finished work of God in Christ. He would do anything, go anywhere at any time to deliver and advance that message!
An Exploration of the Conflict Implied
So, how is this helpful to us? As we take just a moment to explore the nature of the conflict that’s implied here, I think we’ll find some help for our own Christian life and gospel witness. Central piece: there are always going to be enemies of the gospel among us. Jesus Himself told us it would be so (Joh.15:20). There are always going to be opponents to challenge our methods and argue with our intentions. And even though we have a perfect God who never fails, we’re still quite able to fail ourselves! So, what do we do to walk in the same sort of confidence Paul exhibited in his gospel ministry. How do we make sure we’re accurately representing the gospel, protecting the right things, altering only what can be altered and holding fast everything that must be held fast?
And it’s not just the antagonists of the gospel who launch unfair accusations, is it? Often times it’s people who also embrace the gospel, but have a different take on it, or different priorities for pursuing it. That’s the sort of opponents Paul had here. They didn’t reject the gospel; they were preaching a competing gospel. Some-times that amounts to a false gospel—that was the case in Corinth—but other times it’s just a different thrust, a different emphasis on the true gospel.
And as a result, so often the most unfair, most crippling criticisms come from within the church, not outside it! And that can happen even in good churches. It has happened here in the past. What do we do with this? How do we respond? How do we move through it?
What Paul modeled here, we can learn from and imitate. In short, [his] eyes are fixed and [his] heart is open. Let me draw out four quick principles from what we see here that can help us stay the course when criticisms come to us, even petty criticisms like Paul faced here. The first three are eyes fixed principles, and the last one is a heart open principle.
Paul’s eyes are fixed on grace (12) and faithfulness (18) of God. That always seemed to be the case in Paul’s life and ministry, but it doesn’t happen automatically for anyone!
Paul’s eyes are fixed on the purity of the gospel. He [lived] it, spoke it, and [wrote] it with simplicity and godly sincerity (12-13). Nothing could cause Paul to compromise the gospel. 18 As surely as God is faithful, he [wrote], our word to you [is faithful. It] has not [vacillated].
Paul’s eyes are fixed on the needs of God’s people. He’s convinced it is only the pure gospel of the [gracious], [faithful] God that can help them. In some important ways, this is part and parcel of his commitment to the true gospel. But this is a two-sided commitment here. It recognizes that the gospel is our only hope, but this principle captures the part that got Paul in trouble: his heart for the Corinthians. He changed his plans according to their need to maximize gospel-impact among them. And that leads us to our fourth and final principle.
Paul’s heart is open to anything that would advance the gospel. He would do absolutely anything to increase gospel impact and effectiveness. Wouldn’t it be amazing if the only reasons we changed plans with one another was for increased gospel impact—in personal relationships, yes, but even in community and business commitments that are within our control?
These are principles we must take to heart.
Now, Three Things: 1) Some of your are saying: I’ve felt criticism for the sake of the gospel. Some of you have felt it outside the church as your community or workplace grows less tolerant of the gospel. Others have felt it inside the church, as believers with different ideas disagree with your convictions or think you’re committed to something less or other than the gospel.
2) Others of you are saying: I don’t know what you’re talking about; I can’t even imagine the gospel playing such a role in my life. I mean, I believe it. I’ve accepted it. But I can’t imagine, for instance, changing my plans based only on the potential gospel merit that would result!
3) Still others are saying: I’ve never embraced the gospel. I’ve heard that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, but I never really understood what that meant.
To all three groups I just want to close with Paul’s closing word in this paragraph. They’re essentially calling us to re-member who we are, and why we’re even here. We belong to the God who made us and He is the one we’re called to serve. 21 And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, 22 and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.
If you don’t know Christ, just look at the opening of v.21: it is God who establishes us… in Christ. If you trust Christ as your sin-Bearer, God cleanse you from sin, credit you with the righteousness of Christ, and reconcile you to Himself.
You other two groups—you who’ve tasted of gospel criticism, and you who can’t imagine gospel-centered living—note what God has done here. The whole trinity is involved. Not only have you been established in Christ, but you’ve been anointed you for service to God [sealed] by Him, marked as His possession with what amounts to your down payment on heaven!
This is who we are in Christ! What an amazing thing it would be if our God filled this Church with such people!