Second Corinthians, chapter 1, part 2
Apr 19, 2018
Paul was thankful for the prayers of the church, especially during his times of peril when men sought to kill him on the road. He also enjoyed “proud confidence” that the Corinthian church remained steadfastly on his side, believing in his personal integrity, his calling, and also in the gospel message that he had presented to them. He writes in 2 Corinthians 1:12, 13,
12 For our proud confidence is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in holiness and godly sincerity, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God, we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially toward you. 13 For we write nothing else to you than what you read and understand, and I hope you will understand until the end.
By this time Paul had discerned that he was nearing the end of his life and ministry. He seemed to know by revelation that “savage wolves” would arise after his death (Acts 20:29), men who would try to undo what Paul had done, men who would not only claim that Paul was a false apostle, but also who would try to redefine the gospel according to different principles.
Paul was concerned, then, that his successors should have a clear understanding of the basic issues on which the gospel was based. Yet even among the Corinthian believers, not everyone had grasped these foundational truths. 2 Corinthians 1:14 says,
14 just as you also partially [apo merous, “a part of you, some of you”] did understand us, that we are your reason to be proud as you also are ours, in the day of our Lord Jesus.
We get the impression that Paul’s legacy hinged upon a rather thin line of believers who stood with him and truly understood his concept of the gospel. His apostleship endured, however, and ultimately overcame his opposition. His writings filled the void caused by his own personal absence into later generations, giving others opportunity to see for themselves what Paul actually taught.
Even so, Paul continued to be misunderstood, for such is human nature and the power of darkness as it seeks to overcome the light. Over the centuries, many would continue to think that Paul had put away the law of God, and many did not understand his teaching that in the end Christ was to rule not just a portion but ALL of creation.
Paul’s Apparent Vacillation
2 Corinthians 1:15, 16 says,
15 And in this confidence I intended at first to come to you, that you might twice receive a blessing; 16 that is, to pass your way into Macedonia, and again from Macedonia to come to you, and by you to be helped on my journey to Judea.
Paul desired to see the Corinthian church one final time before going to Judea. Perhaps he wrote a brief message to them, telling them of his intention, only to have to change his plan and dash their hopes. Twice this happened, but the death threats against him made it impossible for him to fulfill his promise to see them.
Some thought that Paul was vacillating, but Paul assured them in 2 Corinthians 1:17, 18,
17 Therefore, I was not vacillating when I intended to do this, was I? Or that which I purpose, do I purpose according to the flesh, that with me there should be yes, yes, and no, no at the same time? 18 But as God is faithful, our word to you is not yes and no.
It seems that some questioned whether Paul was truly hearing from God or not. Did God tell Paul to visit Corinth? Then how is it that assassins could change the command of God? Was Paul’s intention just a matter of fleshly desire? If God truly wanted Paul to go to Corinth, would He not have made a way? Was God unable to protect Paul?
We have many examples in Scripture where God appeared to change His mind. Of course, we know that God never really changes His mind in the ultimate sense. God often proposes one path and then when the opposition surfaces, God changes course. It is not that God vacillates, or that He is taken by surprise. All changes were part of the plan from the beginning.
So the pillar of cloud led Israel to the border of Edom on their way to the entry point to the Kingdom, and then opposition from Edom changed their course. Israel took a long detour around Edom to get to the plains of Moab, where they eventually crossed the Jordan River. But if the pillar of cloud, foreseeing the opposition, had led Israel around Edom from the start, we would not have had the revelation about Edom standing in the way in our own time. We would have missed a great revelation explaining the events in the world since 1948, which has delayed the Kingdom now for 70 years.
Another example, given in the gospels, is found in the story of the disciples who were caught in the storm. Jesus had originally sent the disciples to Bethsaida (Mark 6:45). But the storm came up, and after Jesus came to them, walking on the water, they landed in Capernaum (John 6:24). Was Jesus confused by this change of course? Did He “vacillate”? Of course not.
God often leads us to go in one direction, only to change course in the middle of the journey. Just because He does not inform us ahead of time that there will be a course correction later does not mean that God vacillates or changes His plan. All course changes are part of the journey.
So also was it with the Apostle Paul. If Paul had not understood these things, he might have determined that he was going to get to Corinth come hell or high water. Paul might have said, “God said it, and so I am going to go there according to the original plan, and I will do so by faith.” We do not know what the outcome might have been. God may have spared Paul by some miraculous circumstance—or perhaps Paul may have been killed. We do not know. But the fact that Paul shifted his plan should not be taken as a sign of any shortage of faith.
The Promises of God
It is within this context of changes in the leading of the Spirit that Paul assures us that the promises of God rest on sure foundations. 2 Corinthians 1:19, 20 says,
19 For the Son of God, Christ Jesus, who was preached among you by us—by me and Silvanus and Timothy—was not yes and no, but is yes in Him. 20 For as many as be the promises of God, in Him they are yes; wherefore also by Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us.
Paul’s entire gospel rested upon the promises of God. That is the nature of the New Covenant, in fact. The Old Covenant rests upon the promises of men, as seen in Exodus 19:8. The New Covenant rests upon the promises of God, as seen in Deuteronomy 29:12, 13). Only when we truly understand the nature of God’s promises can we fully understand the gospel itself.
Most are under the impression that the promise of God was to send Jesus to make it possible for man to fulfill his own vows toward God and therefore be saved. But one never finds this in any of God’s promises. He did not come to help our flesh achieve what it would normally be unable to perform. Jesus was sent to actually make things happen, not to give our flesh a better opportunity to fulfill its own vows.
So in Genesis 9 God made a covenant with the whole earth, declaring what He will do, not relying upon the ability of the earth or the will of man to accomplish His goal. Likewise, in giving the promise to Abraham, God put him to sleep, making it clear that this would be accomplished apart from Abraham’s will.
Hence, when it comes to the promises of God, we find only a positive statement (“yes”) and see no evidence of “yes and no.” There is no uncertainty, because the promises of God rest fully upon the will of God alone. Man can only respond with an AMEN. So Paul says, “by Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us.”
Man’s “amen” is not the cause of God’s success, but the evidence that God is beginning to succeed in fulfilling His promise. As God creates an Amen people who are in agreement with Him and His plan, the promises of God are seen in a first fruits company, which in turn, sanctifies a greater harvest of fruit yet to come.
Sealed by the Spirit
Paul concludes these introductory remarks in 2 Corinthians 1:21-24,
21 Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God, 22 who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge. 23 But I call God as witness to my soul, that to spare you I came no more to Corinth. 24 Not that we lord it over your faith, but are workers with you for your joy, for in your faith you are standing firm.
Paul says that we share the same Holy Spirit as the basis of our fellowship in Christ. Paul seems to say that he did not come to Corinth because he wanted to spare the congregation. After all, he did not want to lead assassins to the church, for that would have put them all in danger. Neither did Paul intend to deprive them of the exercise of faith (for divine protection) but took this danger upon himself in order that the church might remain in “joy.”
As for the Holy Spirit being given “as a pledge” (arrabon), we will take up the meaning of arrabon and the law of pledges at a more opportune time in the fifth chapter of his letter.
This is part 3 of a series titled "Studies in Second Corinthians." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones