“…I wanted to visit you first so that you might benefit twice. I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia and to come back to you from Macedonia, and then to have you send me on my way to Judea. Was I fickle when I intended to do this? Or do I make my plans in a worldly manner so that in the same breath I say both ‘Yes, yes’ and ‘No, no’? But as surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not ‘Yes’ and ‘No.’ For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us—by me and Silas and Timothy—was not ‘Yes’ and ‘No,’ but in him it has always been ‘Yes.’ For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ. And so through him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God. Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. I call God as my witness—and I stake my life on it—that it was in order to spare you that I did not return to Corinth. Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm. So I made up my mind that I would not make another painful visit to you. For if I grieve you, who is left to make me glad but you whom I have grieved? I wrote as I did, so that when I came I would not be distressed by those who should have made me rejoice. I had confidence in all of you, that you would all share my joy. For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you.” —2 Corinthians 1:15-2:4
The issue here, that the Corinthians were bringing up to Paul, was that he was being hypocritical, because he continued to say “yes, yes”, about traveling to visit them, but ended up meaning “no, no”. In regards to this, here are the 3 complaints that they had about Paul:
1) Obscure letters
Paul talked against boasting, but then he seemed to be doing the same in each of his letters. Well, today we have resumes. Back then they didn’t, so though today it may be seen as boasting, then it was a means of informing them of his credentials. However, Paul never boasted about himself as a person, but in the hardships, struggles and trials of an itinerant missionary:
- “we”, not “I”
- Always in the context of Christ’s servants and ministers of the Gospel.
- He commends himself and co-workers.
They said that his letters were too hard for them to understand. They also accused him of having to read between the lines, as if there were hidden messages, codes, or meanings. However, that’s not so much because of Paul’s writing, but the letter carriers, for letter carriers back then didn’t only deliver the letters, but they also read the message aloud, and tried to answer any questions of the listeners. (Can you imagine your mail carrier opening your mail and reading it out loud to you?) Paul’s letters didn’t need anybody to explain though, for what he said was what he meant, and he wrote the letters without any sort of hidden messages, thus not requiring any on-the-spot explanations by a carrier.
2) A Change of Plans:
This was a huge issue among those at the Corinthian church. See, Paul’s first visit was one of rebuking and led to much pain on both sides, so during his post-trip, Paul still focused on his pain from the Corinthian church, and less focus on his current mission. If Paul was to travel first to Corinth, then (according to Titus’ report), there would have been much rebuking, which would have led to much pain on both sides again, and Paul wanted them to send him off to Macedonia. But if sadness had occurred during the visit, then it would not be a good send-off. Also, if there was no joy from either side, then Paul feared that he might not receive their prayer support, which could as a result hinder the mission. So Paul thought and prayed long and hard about this with the conclusion to not make the travel arrangements just yet.
Today, we have cell phones, so a change of plans is not a big deal. We just call and inform them…email, also, etc. But back then, they had to send a messenger. Maybe Paul did send a messenger and they were just disappointed because it wasn’t him(?) Either way, the Corinthians were hurt (felt blown-off), and it gave Paul the image of one who says one thing and does another. This was a perfect example of how worldly people behaved: They’re unreliable. But if we say we’ll do something, then we should do it. So if Paul’s unreliable in little matters, how then can he be trusted with bigger matters, like preaching the Gospel? But the Corinthians failed to see that Paul did preach the Gospel, and that his travels were governed – decided by God – not by people or programs.
Often times, our plans are not God’s plans. For example, some time ago, I learned that no matter how well I planned for an event (personal or professional), things never turned out or worked out as I’d planned. My plans were not God’s plans and God’s plans are those that will prevail. Similarly, Paul’s plans were to visit Corinth before heading out to Macedonia, return to Corinth, then be sent on his way to Judea with the money and goods that he’d collected (:16) to give to the struggling Christians in the Jerusalem church. It would have been the first time that he’d visited them since the founding of the church, 3 years earlier. Paul’s first charge of defense was, “I’m not fickle. I planned to visit you first so you would benefit twice.”
I can actually relate to this, for on 2007, I left Morehead, KY, where I’d served for 2 years. Through me, the Lord led some great ministries among many students and families in the town. After I left, some continued in the ministry, but as time continued, many developed need for rebuke (some still do, others need a full revival). Many recognized me as their spiritual teacher, and missed me greatly. I had always hoped to visit again sometime (I still want to), but could never find the chance. One said that it has been tough since I’d left. Some others became very liberal in their faith, some dropped away from Jesus completely. Some I still communicate with on Facebook, others I don’t hear from so much anymore; some “co-workers” in the ministry keep in touch with me though, and have since gone onto bigger leadership positions in the church. Some I talk with or see every so often when they travel to the area that I’m currently living/serving, and one continues to call me on occasion, when the Lord tells him that I need some encouraging.
Would I still like to travel down there sometime? Yes, definitely, for my own spiritual encouragement, but also because many would benefit from my visit; and yes, much rebuke would be needed for some. And like with the Corinthian church and Paul, it’s also easier for them to renounce everything and doubt me when I’m not there, and like with Paul, I’m sure some have produced negative opinions of me, A) for leaving in the first place; and B) for not returning for some time, even though I continue to say I want to.
3) Paul’s “Domineering Attitude”:
Here’s the thing: in Paul’s day, Church discipline was low. Today, Church discipline is little to nothing at all, often replaced by self-image reinforcement, and/or justifying sin by the gospel of cheap grace.
The Bible says that God is the discipliner (like a parent-child relationship). Central to this relationship is discipline (Proverbs 3:11-12 says that it’s the measure of God’s love), but it’s not without personal cost. Hosea 11:8-9 tells us that God is like a parent pacing, the floor, anguished over the need to discipline His wayward child, Israel. Paul’s in a similar situation with the Corinthian church, for when he rebuked them, it was always out of love, in order to restore a broken relationship and to secure their joy.
The problem though is that the relationship between Paul and the Corinthians deteriorated when a group within the church began to question his authority. Today we might call such people “antagonizers” or “Clergy-killers”. They were also becoming suspicious of him because he wouldn’t accept financial assistance (whereas other types of speakers, false teachers, philosophers, etc. gladly accepted it, even required financial fees). During his visit, someone even challenged Paul publicly. In doing so, he insulted Paul, challenged Paul’s authority, and demanded proof that Christ was speaking through him. This was hurtful for Paul, especially since the church sat by and did nothing to support him! (I can fully understand and relate to Paul here).
In response, Paul cancelled his trips, his missions were hindered, and he wrote a “severe letter” “out of great distress and anguish of heart with many tears” (2:4) while in Ephesus as a means to hopefully avoid another painful encounter with them:
- Discipline the individual who caused him grief (2:5-11)
- He rebuked the church for not coming to his aid (7:8-12)
- He tested their obedience to Apostolic authority (7:14-15)
- Questioned their personal support (2:3, 7:12-13)
So in brief, Paul saw past his own pain and towards what was needful from the Pastoral standpoint.