Contributor: Isekhua Evborokhai
At the tail end of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians he had made plans to visit the church as we see in 1 Cor. 16: 5 – 7 – “I am coming to visit you after I have been to Macedonia first, but I will be staying there only for a little while. It could be that I will stay longer with you, perhaps all winter, and then you can send me on to my next destination. This time I don’t want to make just a passing visit and then go right on; I want to come and stay awhile, if the Lord will let me.”
Apparently, something happened and plans changed and the Corinthians started accusing him of being inconsistent and unreliable. It would also appear that the Corinthians accused Paul of employing worldly methods. Paul's policy of being all things to all men so that by all possible mean I might save some (1Cor9v22) would have invited some criticism too.
And so, he responds with his second letter; but important to note that he didn’t lash off addressing their accusations; he started off from verses 1-11 admonishing the church on how to handle difficulties. He even went as far as using himself as an example of his sufferings in Asia. This shouldn’t come as a surprise because Paul’s method and that of our Lord Jesus Christ has never been to be one-sided in rebuke. The approach has always been not to be overly critical. So, let’s step into the last few verses of Chapter One and into the first few verses of chapter 2 and learn some valuable traits of a genuine leader as Paul defends his integrity and ultimately his ministry!
PAUL’S INTEGRITY, SIMPLICITY AND WRITINGS DEFENDED. Read Verses 12 - 13
From Paul’s response, we can learn the following:
(a) People's consciences vary. Our conscience informs us if we live up to the standards of which we approve. Paul had very high standards informed as they were by Old Testament values and Christ's teaching. So even though his standards were high Paul could still affirm that his conscience was clear over the methods he used to evangelise and his conduct toward the Corinthians.
(b) The importance of integrity. Paul claimed that he behaved at Corinth with holiness and sincerity that are from God. At Corinth Paul behaved with godly simplicity with no intention to deceive anyone. What you saw was what you got and that is how we all should be! Because mostly, people see through our pretences and don’t just want to call us out! Paul also acted with godly sincerity. His motives were pure - perfectly transparent for all to see. He had the best interests of the Corinthians at heart. Paul didn't use the believers there for his own purposes - to acquire wealth, a following, status or adulation.
(c) God's help is better than worldly wisdom. When Paul ministered at Corinth for eighteen months he did not rely on worldly wisdom or his own wisdom. Paul relied on God's help when he took this message to wicked men and women in Corinth. He needed the Holy Spirit to enlighten, guide and empower if success was to accompany the gospel message. 1Cor2v4. This is how everyone in God's service should proceed. If we trust in our strength like Samson we shall come unstuck as surely as he did. We must rely on God alone for effectiveness in service
Paul also had to defend the criticism of his writings.
It also seems the Corinthians criticised Paul's letters in two respects:
(i.) They were not easy to read and consequently were hard to take in and instead of seeking to understand, they turned around and accused Paul of writing in “codes” (in some instances, you and I will agree with them)
(ii.) It was sometimes difficult to discern Paul's meaning. Topics such as an apostle's rights in 1Cor 9 where he argued that God's servants should be paid but refused to accept payment himself. Meat sacrificed to idols where he told the Corinthians not to eat it if by so doing they would offend the weaknesses of another but then asserted: “For why should my freedom be judged by another's conscience.” 1Cor10v29. or his teaching on a woman's role in the church and hair covering that still confuses some Christians to this day.
Here is how Apostle Peter put it in 2 Pet.3:15-16
“and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation—as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.”
So, Paul’s response was:
“My letters have been straightforward and sincere; nothing is written between the lines! And even though you don’t know me very well (I hope someday you will), I want you to try to accept me and be proud of me as you already are to some extent; just as I shall be of you on that day when our Lord Jesus comes back again.”
Paul’s response implied that with a bit of effort they should be able to take in what he wrote and by trying hard would eventually fully understand it. He expected that the time he spent with them 18 months was enough for them to have grown above those who need spoon feeding. And that it is wrong when we come across a difficult passage in the New Testament not to make a concerted attempt to understand it.
PAUL DEFENDS THE CRITICISM OF HIS DECISION – Read Verses 14 - 18
It is possible that one of the reasons the church at Corinth criticised Paul for changing his travel plans was because they needed his presence to clarify matters. It is evident from 2Cor1v15 to 2Cor2v4 that Paul made a promise to visit the church at Corinth on his way to Macedonia and then on his way back from Macedonia. In 1 Cor.16:5-7, he promised two visits – the first on his way to Macedonia and the second on his return. It would appear that he deliberately postponed visiting them on his return leg and so, the Corinthians criticised him severely for changing his plans and breaking his promise. And that his “yes” was not “yes” and his “no” was not “no.”
So, Paul again responded in verses 14-18. In verses 14 & 15 you could sense Paul’s disappointment in the Corinthian church when he first said: “And even though you don’t know me very well (I hope someday you will), and then in verse 15: “It was because I was so sure of your understanding and trust . . . “Apparently, that was not the case; the Corinthian didn’t understand, neither did they trust Paul.
He assured the Corinthians of his good intention. He planned to visit them twice for their benefit. And then in verse 17, he expressed another hint of disappointment. "Then why, you may be asking, did I change my plan? Hadn’t I really made up my mind yet? Or am I like a man of the world who says yes when he really means no. He asserted he wasn't the sort of person to make a promise with no intention of keeping it."
VERSES 19 - 24 PAUL EXPLAINS HIS DECISION.
Before Paul explained his decision, he importantly connected his ministry with that of Jesus Christ; since it was Jesus they had been preaching about and He, Jesus isn’t one to say yes when he means no; and He always does exactly what he says. He then quizzed them; “when Silas and Timothy and I proclaimed Jesus among you, did you notice any yes-and-no, on-again, off-again waffling? Wasn’t it a clean, strong Yes?” And then in verse 23b - 24 Paul admitted that he broke his word and changed his plans because he couldn't bear any more unpleasantness. “I call upon this God to witness against me if I am not telling the absolute truth: the reason I haven’t come to visit you yet is that I don’t want to sadden you with a severe rebuke. 24 When I come, although I can’t do much to help your faith, for it is strong already, I want to be able to do something about your joy: I want to make you happy, not sad.”
CONCLUSION - 2 Corinthians 2:1-4
Paul made the first visit on the way to Macedonia, but it was painful for both him and the Corinthians because it was full of confrontation as some of them found it difficult to come to terms with everything he wrote; thus, certain issues remained unresolved and disagreements persisted that the Corinthians would have wanted resolved. But Paul was convinced that if he made a return visit it would be another painful one. 2Cor2vs1 says: “No,” I said to myself, “I won’t do it. I’ll not make them unhappy with another painful visit.”
You see, when he wrote his first letter, it was in the hope that the Corinthians would straighten things out. “That is why I wrote as I did in my last letter, so that you will get things straightened out before I come. Then, when I do come, I will not be made sad by the very ones who ought to give me greatest joy.” 2Cor2v3. But that wasn’t the case. Instead, his confidence that the Corinthians would respond positively to his letter was misplaced. “I had confidence in all of you, that you would all share my joy.” 2Cor2v3. He also didn't enjoy pointing the church to their errors and malpractices as we see in 2Cor2v4a. “Oh, how I hated to write that letter! It almost broke my heart, and I tell you honestly that I cried over it.”
This was clearly a difficult situation Paul found himself. His decision to skip his return visit was clearly for the mutual benefit of both parties but he didn’t explain that in the message sent to the Corinthians through Titus from Ephesus (2Cor2vs3-9). But he was sincere in the explanation of his decision. He didn’t slap his authority over them as we will see these days
Parts of this study was culled from http://www.jrtalks.com