A. We come to a passage this morning that no one would choose to preach if they were preaching through 2Corinthians.
1. But that’s the great advantage of expositional preaching: it helps us to look at the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27), not just at our favorite passages.
2. Preaching is not just saying encouraging things about our Lord, but discovering what the Bible says to us about Christ and about ourselves.
3. That way, we’re not just repeating the things which people like to hear, or the things which the preacher likes to say. But we’re looking at all the things the Bible says to us, even the things which aren’t so popular.
B. Because he had changed his plans about when he would visit them, the Corinthians had falsely accused Paul of vacillating and operating out of self-interest. Paul has already claimed innocence (2Cor.1:12-14), telling them he did not change his plans lightly or as a result of human fleshly reasons (v.15-17). Here in v.23 (and in the following verses) he is explaining WHY he did not visit when he said he would.
1. Thus the title of the sermon: Why Paul Changed His Itinerary
C. Who cares why Paul changed his itinerary?
1. Sometimes we tell people more than their interest allows. We tell them all the details of something which happened to us, and don’t realize that they really don’t care about the details. Is that what Paul is doing here? Is he going into detail about his life that’s sort of irrelevant to us? No, no, no.
2. Of all the millions of changed itineraries in human history, God wants us to know about this one, because He wants to teach us something we need to know, something we need to think about.
3. Here we have Paul’s wonderful example of how to handle false accusations. And remember, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul said, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” – 1Cor.11:1
D. 2Corinthians 1:23–2:2 But I call God to witness against me—it was to spare you that I refrained from coming again to Corinth. 24 Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith. 1 For I made up my mind not to make another painful visit to you. 2 For if I cause you pain, who is there to make me glad but the one whom I have pained?
II. 2Corinthians 1:23–2:2
A. But I call God to witness against me—
1. Look how desperate Paul is to get them to believe him!
2. Sad that an apostle is so under suspicion by the very people he brought the gospel to and spiritually fathered!
3. ?Helps us interpret Jesus’ warning against swearing in Matt.5:33-37.
B. it was to spare you that I refrained from coming again to Corinth.
a. Story of a couple coming home from a trip, stopping by the grocery store to pick up some groceries, calling their high schooler to see if he needs anything and to tell him they’ll be home soon. They hear many voices and noises in the background. It’s clear there’s a big party going on at the house in spite of the fact that they made it clear that he couldn’t have anyone over without permission. But they sit talking about it in the parking lot and decide to give a little time for the partiers to clear out so their son isn’t humiliated by their outrage in front of all his friends. Then they come home and their son accuses them of not coming home when they said they would.
2. What’s the real reason Paul didn’t come? It was to spare them. It was because of love for them.
3. What did he want to spare them from? A premature confrontation/rebuke. They needed more time to repent, humble themselves.
a. 1Cor.4:19–21 “I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills... What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?”
b. He wanted to come in a spirit of gentleness and not with a rod.
c. He had sent them a severe letter. Now he thinks it best to give the Corinthians time & space so his exhortations could sink in & have their effect before he visited them again. For their sakes and for the sake of his relationship with them, he did not want another negative visit. So, he did not visit them when he had originally expected to. He will come later when they have had some time to come around to obedience. In the meantime, he will send Titus to check on their welfare.
d. In Colossians 3:21 (and Eph.6:4) Paul instructed fathers not to provoke their children to anger, lest they become discouraged. And here he is trying to not provoke his spiritual children to anger, so that they don’t become discouraged about the Christian faith.
4. But let’s think about the reality of false accusation.
a. Sometimes it’s misunderstanding (e.g. the Jordan pillar of stones)
b. Sometimes it’s intentional deception (e.g. accusing Jesus)
c. Sometimes it’s thinking the worst, as seems to have been the case with the Corinthians and Paul.
5. It’s very hard to be falsely accused, especially when we’ve worked hard for someone’s happiness and they turn and accuse us of being selfish and uncaring.
6. Godly self-defense
a. They might accuse him of being defensive.
C. 24 Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you
1. Paul is referring back to the words of Jesus in Matt.20:25-28 “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
2. Paul wants to avoid giving the impression that he is interested in using any high-handed authoritarian tactics to bring them into line. Rather, he is working with them for a faith that springs from joy, not from intimidation.
3. This is not the only time Paul shrinks back from authoritarianism in his letters (e.g.1Thes.2:6).
4. How he uses his authority is one of the things which distinguishes him from the superapostles who are undermining him (2Corinthians 11:19–20 “You gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves! 20 For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face.”)
5. He doesn’t want to coerce them but win them.
6. Sometimes it seems easier to force the issue.
7. Like with parenting, the goal is not outward compliance, but inward character development.
8. We don’t lord it over you, we work with you. In one sense, Paul wasn’t an equal: he had more authority, more knowledge, more power, more godliness. But he came to them as if he were equal.
D. but we work with you for your joy,
1. A church leader is a facilitator of joy: by teaching the word, by encouraging with words of assurance in Christ, by showing the love of Christ, by being an example of joy, by praying for the people’s faith and joy. (Same thing for parents)
2. This isn’t just a good feeling. This is joy in the gospel. It is joy in the love and truth of Christ.
E. but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith.
1. The thing which will make the Corinthian church prosper is not the exercise of apostolic authority, but the faith of the congregation. That’s what going to make any church work.
2. “Faith must be completely free of any bondage to men. We should pay close attention to who it is that says this, for, if any mortal man ever had a right to claim lordship in the church, it was Paul. And yet he says NO. Thus we conclude that faith must have no master but the Word of God and is not subject to human control...and that spiritual lordship belongs to God alone. Pastors have no special lordship over men’s consciences because they are ministers and helpers of God’s people, not lords.” – Calvin
3. This also means that it’s not buildings, or talented leaders, or fun gatherings, or fantastic programs by which the church stands. It’s the faith of the people. It’s their love for Jesus. It’s their joy in the gospel. It’s their hope in Christ.
4. That’s why the job of church leaders is to work to foster faith and love and joy and hope in the people. That’s what pastoring and church leadership is all about. Faith cannot be commanded.
5. And it comes about not by emotional manipulation but by speaking God’s truth in love. It comes by God working in the heart, and that’s why prayer is such an essential part.
F. 1 For I made up my mind not to make another painful visit to you.
1. When Paul had been in Ephesus, it seems he received a report from Timothy about trouble at Corinth, Paul decided to make an emergency visit to Corinth.
2. “The visit turned out to be bitter and distressing for Paul (2Cor.1:23; 12:14; 13:1). He was the object of an attack by someone in the community (2Cor.2:5–8; 7:11–12), and no one from the Corinthian congregation took up his defense. Paul beat a hasty retreat.” – Garland
3. It’s no wonder he was hesitant to go back again quickly.
G. 2 For if I cause you pain, who is there to make me glad but the one whom I have pained?
1. This is remarkable show of love. What Paul is saying is that if I come and pain you again, who am I going to get my gladness from since you will not be happy but pained. You all are the ones who keep my morale up, because I love our friendship so much. But if I come and disturb that friendship, where I am going to find encouragement?
2. Words of love and affirmation
a. Finding joy in others — and telling them
b. They are especially needed when the relationship is strained.
c. The way Paul speaks here is not a formula, but an example of speaking the truth in love (Eph.4:15), of seasoning your speech with salt (Col.4:6), of answering gently in order to turn away wrath (Prov.15:1).
d. "Sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness." (Prov.16:21)
3. It is right for us to be affected by how others are doing. If our beloved ones are struggling, we’re supposed to feel it. If they are thriving, we should be encouraged by it.
a. Paul was right to be grieved by their grief and encouraged by their prospering.
(1) "Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern?" (2Cor.11:29)
(2) "Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep." (Rom.12:15)
(3) "If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it." (1Cor.12:26)
b. Our attempts to protect ourselves from experiencing pain on behalf of others is usually wrong-headed. Christ entered into our pain. He wept when His friend died. He wept over Jerusalem.
III. In conclusion, let’s think another minute about false accusations.
A. The Bible tells us often how to react when we’re falsely accused. E.g.,
1. Luke 6:27–28 “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”
2. 1Peter 3:9 “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.”
3. Romans 12:21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
B. But we’re so blessed that the Bible also gives us examples of this.
1. The apostles: 1Corinthians 4:12–13 “When reviled, we bless...when slandered, we entreat.”
2. Here we see a real life example of Paul doing just that in his relationship with the Corinthians.
C. But it all goes back to Jesus.
1. He answered back with kindness and love when He was falsely accused, didn’t He?
2. In one sense, loving those who falsely accuse you is the essence of the gospel. That’s what the Son of God did to mankind. Instead of lashing out when falsely accused, He loved, He entreated, He reached out, He overcame evil with good. He knew His goodness was greater than man’s evil.
D. The problem of evil: falsely accusing God of either being unloving or being powerless.
1. There is so much false accusation against God going on today! Even among Christians, even in our own hearts.
2. He’s being unloving. He’s being unjust! He’s being neglectful. He’s not giving me what I need.
3. Everything He does is designed to bless us and help us. But we complain as if He doesn’t care.
4. And yet, He patiently endures our complaints and keeps loving us. He may discipline us, but it’s only because His heart of love knows that’s what’s best for us.
E. All He is calling us to do is to treat others the way He treats us. And in 1Peter 2:23 we begin to see the secret to being able to live like this: “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.”
1. Remember that God is bigger than the false accusations and the ones who bring them.
2. Remember that God calls the mountain MY mountain in Is.49:11.