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Paul’s Change of Plans November 12, 2011

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on 2 Corinthians 1:12-2:4.

Summary: Paul begins by sharing his joy due to his conscience testifying that his outward actions when dealing with others – especially the Corinthians – have been marked by God-given simplicity and sincerity; he has not been guided by the wisdom of his sinful nature, but by the Holy Spirit. For example, the simple meaning of his correspondence with them is its true meaning. Paul knows that most of the Corinthians accept him in the Lord, yet he hopes that the rest of them will follow suit, so that all of them can delight in him (as their teacher) just as he will delight in them (as his converts) on the day of the Lord Jesus.

As Paul was confident that most of them would receive him in the Lord, he notes that he planned to visit them twice during his journey to and from Macedonia, so that he could bless them in the Lord and have them accompany him partway to Judea. Since he did not carry out that plan, he was accused by his opponents of the following:

  • being careless when he made his original plan
  • being selfish in general, so that he could not be trusted.

Paul addresses the second charge by making an oath that his teachings are trustworthy. In particular, Paul, Silas and Timothy had preached the Gospel message in Corinth – which focused on Christ, who is true. Moreover, all of God’s promises relating to the salvation of mankind were accomplished in Christ, and Christians agree that they are true; the apostles’ teaching helped believers assent to their truthfulness. Yet it is God who enables all believers to hold to Christ and His truthfulness, as He has given them the Holy Spirit to perform the following functions:

  • set them apart for His service
  • prove that they belong to Him
  • serve as an initial deposit which guarantees eternal blessings for them.

Now Paul addresses the first charge by making an oath that he did not visit Corinth as he had originally planned – since he did not want to punish the Corinthians for their failings. He then qualifies that statement by noting that he does not determine what they should believe; his role is to help them in their walk with God.

Thus, Paul did not visit the Corinthians as he had originally planned, as he did not want to give himself pain, and he did not want to make them sorrowful. If Paul had brought them sorrow on his visits to them, how could they make him joyful? In particular, his first letter to them contained instructions on how to deal with their incestuous brother so that they would resolve that issue before his arrival; he trusted that most of them would obey his instructions, causing mutual joy. Paul concludes by noting that those instructions flowed from his broken heart (he wept greatly as he wrote them), as he did not want to bring the Corinthians sorrow – he has a great and unique love for them.

Thoughts: This passage is a microcosm of the letter in that Paul spends most of it defending himself against the accusations of his opponents. Hodge provides some insights in his commentary on verse 17:

Paul did not carry out this journey plan, and his change of plan was made the ground of a twofold charge against him: first, of levity, and, second, of inconsistency – saying one thing and doing another, or saying one thing at one time and the opposite at another, so that he was utterly untrustworthy either as a man or as a teacher. This was, indeed, a slight foundation on which to rest such a charge. It is no wonder, therefore, that it excited the apostle’s indignation.

It is clear that Paul considered the two charges against him to be sufficiently serious to warrant a strong response; indeed, he makes two oaths in this passage – relying on God and His truthfulness to refute the claims of his opponents. Also, by attacking Paul his opponents would be essentially throwing the Gospel itself into doubt in the eyes of the Corinthians; thus, he needed to address these charges so that his converts would not fall away from their faith.

This passage also teaches us an important fact about Christ: He is truth. Hodge offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 19:

Because he is the Son, he is eternally and immutably true; he was not “Yes” and “No.” There was nothing contradictory or untrustworthy in Him…That is, he was simple truth. In him (that is, in Christ) was truth. He proved himself to be all that was said of him. He was and continued to be all that they had been led to expect.

This important insight shows that 2 Corinthians does not consist of a mere stream of emotional arguments on Paul’s part; it also teaches us nuggets of wisdom. Indeed, the reliability of Christ (His person and work) is asserted by all Christians. For if Christ was not resurrected from the dead, and if He was not who He claimed to be, then He would be an outrageous liar. Christians through the ages would have martyred themselves for a false teacher. Though Christ is the most complex character in all of history, we believe that He is the embodiment of all truth.

The first four verses of chapter 2 reference the situation with the incestuous brother that Paul addressed in 1 Corinthians 5. Hodge offers some insights on this situation in his commentary on verse 4:

The combination of faithfulness and love that makes parental discipline uniquely effective also gives special power to ecclesiastical censure. When the offender is made to feel that while his sin is punished, he himself is loved, and that the target is not his suffering but his good, he is more likely to be brought to repentance. Every pastor must see an instructive example for imitation here in the apostle’s love for the Corinthians, and in the extreme sorrow with which he exercised discipline in the case of offenders.

Unfortunately, church discipline is an area that most modern-day churches attempt to ignore. Most believers would rather avoid dealing with sin than attempt to address it (I would count myself among them). To me, the main stumbling block is that many believers naturally avoid conflicts, and we tend to connect church discipline with painful disputes and hurt feelings. As believers, though, we need to remember that tolerance of sin is something that God abhors.

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