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A Vacillating Apostle?

2Corinthians: Paul Most Underappreciated Epistle

Nov 26, 2017


by: Jack Lash Series: 2Corinthians: Paul Most Underappreciated Epistle | Category: NT books | Scripture: 2 Corinthians 1:15–1:19
I. Introduction
 A. The Corinthians had a number of complaints against Paul. We have already seen him responding to the complaint that he was too afflicted and too humble.
 B. Now we see that they complained that he was irresolute/indecisive/vacillating because he had changed his travel plans and thereby failed to visit them as he said he would,
  1. You see, while in Ephesus, Paul had written them in 1Cor 16:5–9 that he would come to them after he went through Macedonia.
  2. For some reason, Paul changed his plan and made an emergency visit to Corinth (2Cor.1:15-16). Perhaps he got news that the situation in Corinth had taken a turn for the worse.
  3. This visit didn’t go at all well, and was painful for everyone involved (2:1). It seems that during this visit someone in the congregation abused Paul in some way (7:12), made worse because the church either supported this abuser or stood by silently & did not defend their apostle (2:5; 7:12).
  4. In response to this incident, Paul departed and did not return (1:23), probably to defuse the situation and let things cool down, not wanting to risk more damage.
  5. Even now, in this letter, he is still apprehensive about returning to Corinth and shares this with them in 2Cor.12:21. 
  6. In the meantime, he had written what is called "the severe letter” (2:1–4), a letter now lost.
  7. Though this severe letter had been largely successful (2Cor.7:6-13), moving the congregation to discipline the abuser (2Cor.2:6-10), it apparently did not win over the entire church (see 7:6–13).
  8. Nevertheless, matters had been sufficiently improved for Paul to plan another visit to Corinth (Acts 20:2). Paul sent Titus ahead with this letter of Second Corinthians to prepare for his arrival.
 C. And one of the things Paul wants to address in anticipation of his visit is the changes in his itinerary which had led to accusations about his so-called vacillation.
  1. Someone in Corinth had seized on Paul’s postponed visit and twisted it in much the same way politicians use negative campaigning to embarrass their opponent. They cast his failure to come as a broken promise, giving it the worst possible interpretation, claiming that his change of plans was a sign that Paul was operating out of human motives & direction, and not being led by the Lord.
  2. A few verses later (2Cor.1:23-2:2) Paul explains why he changed his plans. Here he argues against their accusations that he’s not a man of his word. He agrees that he changed his plans, but he rejects the negative conclusion drawn from the change.
 D. ?2Corinthians 1:15–19 begins with the phrase: “Because I was sure of this” referring back to what he’s been talking about in the previous verses. In the two verses before our passage (2Cor.1:13-14), Paul has been expressing confidence that the Corinthians will recognize that he, as their spiritual father, was worthy of their pride, just as they would be his boast on the last day.
 E. 2Corinthians 1:15–19 “Because I was sure of this, I wanted to come to you first, so that you might have a second experience of grace. 16 I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia, and to come back to you from Macedonia and have you send me on my way to Judea. 17 Was I vacillating when I wanted to do this? Do I make my plans according to the flesh, ready to say “Yes, yes” and “No, no” at the same time? 18 As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No. 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.”
II. Lessons to learn from this passage
 A. Lessons about defending oneself in response to criticism
  1. Our proud hearts are prone to defend ourselves whenever we are accused. Like anger, most of the time self-defense is sinful – but not always. There is a godly time & way to defend oneself against false accusations. That is exactly what Paul is doing in this passage and in much of this letter.
  2. Even the most godly of men, even the ones who live in what God Himself calls “holiness and godly sincerity, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God” (2Cor.1:12) are prone to be criticized, not just by the world, but by God’s people. 
   a. And Christian leaders in particular should expect to be criticized at times by the very people they are trying to help. TE charge: playing the harp for those who are throwing spears at you.
   b. This is living out the gospel. Loving those who hate you or disrespect you is what the Lord did.
   c. Think about how much Jesus experienced this. “Father, forgive them.”
   d. And now it is part of the cross each is called to bear in following Him.
  3. It may sound egotistical for Paul to say these things. But remember that the Holy Spirit inspired him to say it.
   a. Certainly, we must be very cautious when it comes to defending ourselves. The human heart is deceitful and desperately wicked (Jer.17:9). Only fools are quick to trust it.
   b. HOWEVER, there is a time when defending oneself is the godly (and most loving) thing to do.
  4. But notice also HOW Paul responds. He does not retaliate or write them off on account of their accusations. He does not take offense like often we do. There is no, How dare you! here. Rather, he comes appealing to them, pouring out his soul in this letter to work toward reconciliation.
 B.  There’s a lesson here about changing plans.
  1. Paul’s defense makes it clear that it is not necessarily ungodly to change one’s plans.
  2. God is much bigger than that. Just as your directions might say, "Go on Route 66 toward 495," without intending to lead you all the way to 495, so God often will lead us by sending us toward something He never intends for us to get to.
  3. God led Abraham to make plans about Isaac, only to subvert them all by asking Abraham to sacrifice his son. Then He changed THOSE plans by saying NOT to kill Isaac. God’s unchanging plan includes the changing of human plans, even the ones based on His guidance and wisdom.
  4. Decision-making can be very messy. Changing your mind doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not in-tune with the Lord. Paul was doing God’s will by making plans to visit Corinth and he was doing God’s will by changing those plans. It didn’t mean he was out of step with God.
  5. Even apostles generally made their plans based not on supernatural guidance (and even supernatural guidance doesn’t mean plans won’t change, as the example of Abraham and Isaac shows), but on godly wisdom. Sure, God told the church at Antioch to send Paul on his mission.
   a. Sure, the Spirit directed Paul to go to Macedonia through a dream.
   b. Sure, the Spirit directed Paul not to preach in Asia (Acts 16:6-10).
   c. But it’s clear from Acts and from his epistles that the vast majority of Paul’s planning and direction was from God by means of godly wisdom, not supernatural guidance.
  6. Some Christians have the idea that if they were really following God closely, if their hearts were really open completely to Him, they would avoid all the messes and all the uncertainty. This is very wrong-headed. If we were really close and open to God, we would still struggle over decisions – like the apostles did, we would still face dilemmas and encounter messes, though we would probably know more joy and peace in the process.
  7. God’s lovingkindness doesn’t take away all of life’s quandaries, perplexities and hard choices, but it does help us to be more content and trusting in the midst of them, confident that the One who has called us is faithful and He will do it.
 C. The lesson about being a ‘Person of Your Word’
  1. 2Corinthians 1:17 Was I vacillating when I wanted to do this?
  2. Even though Paul argues here that changing his plans to visit them does not constitute a failure to keep his word, he makes it clear that sticking to one’s word is an important feature of godliness. 
  3. To make a plan and inform someone of that plan does not constitute a promise. Plans are changed all the time, because circumstances & perspectives change. However, this doesn’t mean promise-keeping is unimportant. "God is faithful," Paul says, therefore "our word to you is not yes and no."
  4. Saying yes when you mean no, or saying just what people want to hear is not consistent with belonging to Christ.
  5. We can see how important honesty and integrity were to the apostle Paul from his writings:
   a. "I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying." (Rom.9:1)
   b. "He who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying." (2Cor.11:31)
   c. "In what I am writing to you, I assure you before God that I am not lying." (Gal.1:20)
   d. "I am telling the truth, I am not lying." (1Tim.2:7)
  6. We must also take very seriously the words that WE speak, to make sure they are true. There is a strong temptation to say what people want to hear, to adjust the truth to make ourselves look good.
  7. "But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil." (Matt.5:37)
  8. "Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self." (Col.3:9-10a)
  9. Numbers 23:19 “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?”
   a. Because our God is true, we must be true. Because our God keeps His word, we must keep our word. Otherwise, our lives contradict our testimony.
  10. But this is especially true for an apostle.
   a. Did you notice v.18? “As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No.”
   b. How could Paul’s honesty be as sure as God’s? The height of arrogance?
    (1) The NT church is built on the foundation of the apostles of Jesus (Eph.2:20; Rev.21:14).
    (2) The apostles were Christ’s official spokesmen, and just as their writings were inspired by the HS & kept from error, so were their oral teachings: Lk.24:46–48; Jn.15:26–27; 20:21; Ac.1:8.
  11. Christ’s official spokesmen had to be truthful or Christ is shown to be a liar.
  12. This is why the disciples of Jesus were so determined to cross Judas off the list (Acts 1:15-25) before they were anointed as apostles.
  13. So, because Christ is faithful and true, the apostles can be trusted to faithfully speak the truth.
   a. And because the apostles can be trusted to faithfully speak the truth, the NT can be trusted to be faithful and true.
  14. But Paul doesn’t leave it there. Because Christ’s gospel is not about living right and telling the truth. The gospel is not ultimately about what we do or are supposed to do.
  15. The gospel is about Jesus and what He did. And so, Paul moves on to talk about Jesus, who does not just tell the truth & keep His promises, but is Himself the fulfillment of all of God’s promises.
  16. 2Corinthians 1:20 “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.”
  17. We’re going to spend the next four weeks of advent talking about how all the promises of God find their Yes in Jesus.
 D. But perhaps the biggest lesson here is a lesson about the gospel and human nature..
  1. 2Corinthians 1:15–16
   a. Because I was sure of this,
   b. I wanted to come to you first, so that you might have a second experience of grace.
   c. I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia, and to come back to you from Macedonia and have you send me on my way to Judea.
  2. This is the heart of Jesus reflected in Paul: love-driven help, love-driven blessing.
   a. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son... John 3:16
   b. Paul wanted to be with them, Paul wanted to bless them.
   c. This is amazing. Why would a man come all this way from Antioch in Syria to Corinth in Greece?
   d. It wasn’t business travel to acquire new clients.
   e. He came in love, at great personal sacrifice. He came to bless, he came to help.
  3.  And yet, they had all of these complaints and criticisms of Paul.
   a. Instead of, “Wow! These men came from far away just to bring us the Treasure of life!”
   b. It was, “We don’t like the way you speak” and “We don’t like the way you are so afflicted.” and “We don’t like the way you sometimes change your plans.”
   c. This is human nature. This is us. We are so difficult.
   d. Romans 10:21 “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.”
   e. Luke 13:34 “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
  4. But Paul had once been difficult himself, so he understood. He kept extending himself to them, compelled by the love of Christ, living out the gospel.
  5. I can understand those who get frustrated with the church. But this is all of us. The problem is that if you leave, you take yourself with you.