His Unchanging Plans & Purposes
For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you. For we are not writing to you anything other than what you read and acknowledge and I hope you will fully acknowledge— just as you did partially acknowledge us—that on the day of our Lord Jesus you will boast of us as we will boast of you. Because I was sure of this, I wanted to come to you first, so that you might have a second experience of grace. 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. 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? As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No. 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. 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. And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. But I call God to witness against me—it was to spare you that I refrained from coming again to Corinth. Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith. (2 Corinthians 1:12-24 ESV)
Have you ever had a situation where someone said that they were going to do something with you, only for them to bail or delay at the last moment? I am sure you have and maybe for you this is not a big deal. It is for me. I struggle with having grace for people who are regularly late or backing out on what they say they are going to do. I have often viewed being late or constant changing of plans as vacillation at best with perhaps a tinge of dishonesty. It would seem in the passage that we are faced with today that there were some in Corinth that felt or would feel this way towards Paul as they received this second letter from him.
To understand these feelings it is important to have some background of Paul’s plans in regards to the Corinthians. At the close of his somewhat less than pleasant at times first letter that he wrote to the church in Corinth, he puts forth his desire for his future journey, in 16:5-7 “I will visit you after passing through Macedonia, for I intend to pass through Macedonia and perhaps I will stay with you or even spend the winter, so that you may help me on my journey, wherever I go . For I do not want to see you now just in passing. I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits”. I highlight this last part because I will refer to it later. But the point now is that the Corinthians fully expected this visit from Paul, but instead they receive another parchment and the situation was only made worse by the fact that Paul had his share of detractors in Corinth, it would seem, as he spends much time in II Corinthians defending his apostleship.
We see that Paul knew that some were accusing him of vacillating or being inconsistent and they were likely using this to only strengthen their stiff arm of him, holding him and his teaching to some extent at arms length. However, rather than addressing this directly after the greeting, Paul waits and builds because he wants them to know a thing or two before he brings it up. We see this by the “for” and “because” that follow verse 11. He is building up to his defense, which is not ultimately a defense of himself, but of the message that he preached.
With an interesting connection to his stated purpose for coming in 1 Corinthians 15:6, Paul tells them, in his obvious absence, that they should help them “by prayer”. Knowing myself, I can only imagine that at this point the detractors and critics of Paul’s authenticity and sincerity were thinking “Why should we do that? Why should we trust the “apostle” on the other side of this letter so much that we would labor in prayer that God would bless him and Silvanus and Timothy… if that is even their names! Get real!” At this point Paul inserts a “For” into the passage where he proceeds to give evidence to what he knows they will at least partially acknowledge about him and his companions, that is their conduct towards them. Paul’s boast, or “confidence” as the Holman Bible puts it, is that they have a clear conscience in regards to their conduct. Paul’s defense is that they “behaved in the World with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely (especially) so towards (the Corinthian church).” Paul’s desire is that the Corinthian believers would stop and take stock of these claims and come to admit fully that they are indeed true in order that they may have mutual boasting on the day of the Lord Jesus, that is that would be able to both affirm and rejoice in these evidences of God’s grace in each other in eternity.
Paul has a clear purpose in directing them to reflect on his “purity and God-given sincerity” and the fact that they had always operated not in “fleshly wisdom, but by God’s grace”(HCSB). With his testimony of a clear conscience laid before them, along with his confidence that they will acknowledge these things to be true, he tells them what his purpose for wanting to come to them was in the first place. He says “I wanted to come to you first so that you might have a second experience of grace”. Now there has been some debate on what is meant by this “second experience of grace”. I will not join that debate at this time, but simply defer to the way the Holman Christian Standard Bible translates this, which is that Paul wished for them a “double-benefit” by his coming to them. Whatever this benefit or grace was, it was meant for the good and joy of the church. It is important to note two things at this point: The purpose of Paul’s plan in coming to them was they they would receive a benefit and Paul’s testimony of having purity and sincerity towards them at all times, not operating in his wisdom but in God’s grace.
Now Paul brings up the “elephant in the room”, which was the fact that he said in his last letter that he planned to come to them and now he had changed his plans. This seeming deviation threatened to tarnish his credibility, which is why he gives the testimony of his conscience, and not his only but of his companions as well, before addressing the issue. He ask what some of them already were thinking “Was I vacillating (being inconsistent) when I wanted to do this (come to them first)?” Now he connects this to his former testimony which he is certain the would concure with by asking “Do I make plans according to the flesh, ready to say “Yes, yes” and “no, no” at the same time?” He has already testified that he and his companions had always operated toward them by God’s grace and not with worldly wisdom.
I find it interesting that at this point he does not simply end it all by directly invoking the sovereignty of God, which he could have done, for we have already seen in the last letter that he conditioned all of his plans with the words “if the Lord permits”. He could have rightly stated that the Lord simply did not permit it, end of story. God had done this before in the book of Acts, that is halted them from entering certain places in which they intended to go.This is however, not the argument that the inspired Apostle takes, not directly. Instead, he appeals to the steadfast faithfulness of God in Jesus Christ, how that all of the promises of God are “yes” in Him. Paul was very careful here that this perceived inconsistency would not cause them to suppose any such inconsistency in their message which they had proclaimed. We see here the jeoulosy of Paul for the message that he preached. Paul has already made his defense for himself, Timothy, and Silvanus, but now he wants it to be supremely clear that there is no inconsistency in Christ, that in fact not only are all of the promises of God “yes” in Christ, but he also has sealed them together and established them with the Holy Spirit as a guarantee that God will make good on all of his promises.
Paul’s argument is this: “we have not planned according to the flesh but according to God’s grace. So though it seems to you that we are inconsistant in changing our plans, it was not, for we have walked in God-given sincerity towards you in the grace of God, such that our word to you is a “yes” and an “Amen to God for his glory”.” So how was this change of plans a “Yes”? How was it in agreement with what they had determined to do? To understand this we must remember what Paul said their purpose was in coming to them. It was not to “shoot the wind”, to drink some iced tea and talk some circus maximus with a little systematic theology thrown in, but in order that the church in Corinth might receive a “double benefit”. The “Yes” was behind this purpose in coming to them, a purpose which still held true.
The problem then was not that Paul and his compadres were vacillating, but that as we see starting in verse 23, they would have been unable to fulfill their purpose in coming if they had done so when they originally determined to. Paul says that “…it was to spare you that I refrained from coming again to Corinth. Not that we lord it over your faith (have control of), but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith. For I made up my mind not to make another painful visit to you.” There were apparently still unresolved issues in regards to the sin that was addressed in the first letter to Corinth and if Paul had come when he intended he would not have been able to bestow the blessing that he wished on them. The opposite would have been the case for he would have needed to bring something that would only cause pain. Thus it was neccesary for Paul to write this letter instead, in order that the church would be able to put things in order so that when Paul came he would be able to come with the intent and purpose for which he planned to come. For he says “I wrote this very thing so that when I came I wouldn’t have pain from those who ought to cause me joy, because I am confident about all of you that my joy may be yours” 2:3 (HCSB).
So we see that though Paul’s plans changed, his purpose never did. In fact, it could have been vacillation if he had come according to plan but changed the reason for his visit upon arriving. Thus, this is in keeping with God who always works out his purposes, even in the midst of circumstances that seem suspect to us. When our lives don’t go according to plan, we can always trust that the purposes of God are fixed and true and that in Christ his promises toward us are always “Yes” and he will do what he must according to the council of his will to bring those promises/purposes about for us. We have the Holy Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee of this.
We should find great comfort then from this passage in our everyday lives, that we serve a God who is not inconsistent. Even if suffering and hardship befall us today in such a way that makes the promises of God look inconsistent, we can be certain that his word is good and does not change. Even when what we plan does not work out, His plans are never frustrated. To the eyes of the Corinthians this change in plans seemed like a deviation it what was promised when in fact it was in keeping with the end goal/purpose of the plan. It would appear that Paul was zig-zagging on his path to fulfill his plans for them and we view life this way often. It is then that we must remember that what we see as a path that zigs and zags, is actually a straight line in the eyes of our Sovereign God who is ever at work for the good of His children. Read the Old Testament with this in mind sometime. Amidst God’s command for Abraham to sacrifice Issac, amidst Joseph being sold into slavery, amidst God’s people wandering in the desert, amidst invasions and exiles, amidst a Messiah’s birth in a stable and a flight to Egypt, it would seem in the moment there was inconsitency, deviation from a promise, a covenant. But there was no deviation nor will there ever be. All of the promises of God have found and will continue to find their “Yes” in Christ. May we trust him and never doubt that he fulfills all of his purposes towards us according to his inscrutable plan.
“…acccording to the purpose of Him who works all
things according to the counsel of His will” Eph 1:11