2 Corinthians 1:12-17
Greetings, everybody! God’s peace, and welcome to Friday’s edition of EDiBS. It’s my joy and privilege to be with you today as we open God’s Word for these next few minutes, and as we close off our week today we’ll be continuing on in the first chapter of 2 Corinthians. Would you pray with me one last time before the weekend?
Almighty and Gracious Father, please draw near to your people today as they draw near to your Word. We long to be made more like you – to be conformed to the image of Christ. Please bless the teaching of the Scriptures to that end. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.
As we get started today, Paul is about to begin a lengthy defense of his ministry; something we’ll be examining over the next several sessions together in various ways. Our focus: on solid ground with solid motivations.
2 Corinthians 1:12-17
12Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, in the holiness and sincerity that are from God. We have done so not according to worldly wisdom but according to God's grace. 13For we do not write you anything you cannot read or understand. And I hope that, 14as you have understood us in part, you will come to understand fully that you can boast of us just as we will boast of you in the day of the Lord Jesus. 15Because I was confident of this, I planned to visit you first so that you might benefit twice. 16I planned to visit you on my way to Macedonia and to come back to you from Macedonia, and then to have you send me on my way to Judea. 17When I planned this, did I do it lightly? Or do I make my plans in a worldly manner so that in the same breath I say, "Yes, yes" and "No, no"?
Have you ever second-guessed yourself? Perhaps you acted in a certain way toward someone or made certain decisions about something that, in retrospect, you ended up questioning. I’ve done that in life and ministry on more than one occasion, and in actuality, I’m going through a little season of that right now. I acted on a matter in concert with the clear teaching of Scripture and did my best to speak the truth in love. I had no choice but to bring it up because to leave it alone would have been irresponsible of me. Of those facts I have no doubt. But the reaction from the other party has been so strong and in some ways so vitriolic that I’ve found myself wondering whether I handled things in the best possible way. I have to say that no matter how I look at it, I sincerely believe that the steps I took were on solid ground and were taken with pure motivations. But that doesn’t mean I feel good about what has happened in the aftermath or that I’m happy with the way things are progressing. For the time being at least, my self-questioning continues, and I’m sure that many of you can relate to my quandary!
In our reading from the Scriptures today, the apostle Paul begins to address some of the things we talked about in our introductory study of 2 Corinthians a few days ago – namely, issues regarding the legitimacy of his ministry and the motives driving that ministry. Far and away the opposite of my questioning and insecurity about how I handled the recent situation in my life, Paul gives evidence here that he is absolutely secure, his conscience bearing witness, that from the very beginning of his ministry and particularly with regard to his dealings with the Corinthians, he has always acted with the holiness and sincerity that are from God. In other words, here is a man who knows who he is and what he’s about, and he has every confidence that what he has been doing as a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ has been in accordance with God’s will.
What we want to remember here is that the words Paul is writing at this point in the letter are words in response to lingering doubts the Corinthians may have of him due to the badmouthing that has gone on about him. The false teachers in Corinth had done a number on Paul’s reputation, and now he is beating back that negativity by asserting the genuineness of his call from God and the openness with which he has always dealt with the church there. Some scholars say that the congregation in Corinth was by this time so used to dealing with ministers who were calculating and manipulative, they figured Paul must be the same way. That sense was magnified among them when Paul said he was coming back to visit them in a previous letter, but then didn’t. If you go back in the EDiBS Bible Study Archive and look at 1 Corinthians 16, you’ll come to Paul’s statement in question.
Things start plainly enough in verse 5 of that chapter with Paul’s stated intent to come and visit in Corinth. He had been promising to do that at various points throughout the letter, but now in his concluding remarks he brings it up once more. Right away in verse 6, however, a kind of Gumby Doll element comes into play…lots of intent, but look closely: no concrete promise! Maybe, Paul says, I’ll stay with you for awhile – perhaps I’ll even spend the winter with you – so that you can help me on the next leg of my journey, wherever it may be that I go. And it gets even better in the next verse: Paul expresses his desire to stay with the Corinthians for more than just a brief visit, but he can’t be more firm than that. I hope, he says, to stay with you – if the Lord permits.
What’s the point here? The point is that from the beginning of his ministry as a preacher of the gospel, in everything he’s done or has planned to do, Paul has always left himself open to the will of the Lord. He has put himself in absolute submission to the desires of God for his life – even relating to where he goes and when. That seems like a radical notion to some of us in this day and age, and yet I would submit to you that in discounting this foundational, basic premise of discipleship, we often miss some of the greatest blessings that we can know as followers of Jesus. God wants all of us, not just the parts that are convenient for us to hand over to Him. That includes the everyday matters of living, not just the big, churchy matters of our faith. Paul demonstrated that all-or-nothing commitment from the moment of his conversion, and getting back to today’s text, he defends that approach to the Corinthians as he takes up the matter of the missed visit.
“I planned to visit you on my way to Macedonia and to come back to you from Macedonia, and then to have you send me on my way to Judea. When I planned this, did I do it lightly? Or do I make my plans in a worldly manner so that in the same breath I say, ‘Yes, yes’ and ‘No, no’”? It’s worth noting that while Paul indeed did not visit at that earlier time, he did send a letter and maintained communication with them – so they were still kept abreast of what he was doing and why, and they still received ministry from him through his correspondence. This first issue, the issue of integrity, is the most critical one for Paul to deal with as he begins to defend his apostleship. And having started, in upcoming passages we will see him continue.
As we wrap up for the day, pastor David Guzik, a Bible teacher from my home state of California makes a good point: Paul was being criticized as a man who couldn’t decide on a plan and who couldn’t carry through on a plan. His enemies among the Christians in Corinth seized on these circumstances to make Paul look bad. But while the Corinthian Christians were not wrong in being disappointed that Paul didn’t come to visit them, they were wrong in blaming Paul for not coming and then judging him as a result. They needed to see Paul’s heart and God’s hand in the circumstances. G. Campbell Morgan once said, "I know the fascination of having a programme, and having everything in order, and knowing where we are going; but let us leave room, at any rate, for the interference of God." With a most hearty “amen” to that, I think we’ll leave it there for the day! Have a great weekend, everyone, and God’s peace to you in Christ as you leave room for His working in your own life! Take care, and I’ll see you again next week.