2 Corinthians 1:12 – 2:4
In one of the churches I previously led there was a man who used to say repeatedly to some of the other members, “what Nigel really means is…” This led to people believing wrong things about what I was saying, the motives behind what I was saying and even led to some people not trusting what I was saying. Many years later, when meeting up with one of the couples in the church who had believed these misinterpretations, they told me that they had found out, after time, that the statements made about me made were in fact distortions of the truth. A little late, but at least it offered a little comfort.
No one likes being misunderstood or having their motives called into question. We can get ‘on our high horse’ when others question our integrity in this way, especially if we know in the depth of our heart that we intended only good.
I think we are all by nature defensive, but there are different ways of going about vindicating our reputation or explaining our words and actions. All too often I find I react, rather than respond, and do so sometimes out of frustration at those who’ve dared to express doubts about my sincerity.
No one modelled godly responses to pressure more helpfully, clearly and consistently than the apostle Paul, and nowhere is it seen more clearly than in these verses that close the first chapter of 2 Corinthians.
Paul experienced quite a lot of opposition in Corinth, men who were determined to criticise his every move and undermine the confidence of the Church in his Apostolic credentials. Here, in these verses, we can see at least three accusations brought against him.
- Against his conduct in vs 12. He seems to be arguing that he acted in simplicity and sincerity which must mean that there were people who believed the opposite
- Against the content of his letters in verses 13-14. He feels that the heart and motive of his letter had been questioned.
- Against his travel arrangements in verses 1:15 to 2:4. He seems to be defending his decision making process. He believed that there were some who said that his travel arrangements were serving his own purposes and not serving them.
Let’s just say before we get into this, that Paul is facing some severe criticism. I want to concentrate on the third one, mainly because it gives us a bigger chunk of material and a description. It’s important to grasp the actual sequence of events so that we can make sense of Paul’s response to his critics. Contrary to the accusations of his opponents, Paul’s change of itinerary was not because he was unstable, unable to make a decision or unreliable and far less because he cared little for the Corinthians, indeed, he changed his plans for their sake.
Paul had hoped to visit the Corinthians twice: first, on his way to Macedonia, and second, on his way back from Macedonia (verses 15-16). This changed, however, when Timothy arrived in Corinth bearing the letter we know as First Corinthians and discovered how bad things were. Upon hearing of this, Paul immediately made an urgent visit to Corinth, a visit that was not easy for him, in fact he described it as painful (2:1). Paul then returned to Ephesus and decided not to make another painful visit to Corinth. Therefore, he called off the double stop he had earlier planned. It was this alteration in his plans that opened him up to the charge of being unreliable and self serving etc.
Paul’s apparent random change of plans, they insisted, was motivated by self-interest and a lack of concern for the Corinthians themselves. He is charged with making plans according to the flesh and according to his feelings ( verses 17-18).
I wonder what Paul would have been feeling at this point? Let me try and get into the emotions of the man (I am surmising).
Do you not know me? Do you believe me to have an unreliable character, to be governed by my emotions, to have no convictions or conscience? Do you not trust me to hear from God and to respond to Him even if it conflicts with my own self interests? Do I say things to flatter you, do I say things and not mean them, do I make promises to intentionally break them? Do I hide my true motives, do I deceive you deliberately? Am I fickle saying yes one day and no the next? You know me better than this, come on! Has what I have said and done been in line with my letters? Why are you interpreting my heart and motive? Why do you wish me harm?…….Rant over!
In verses 19-22, Paul gives a vigorous denial that he is a man given to dithering and indecisiveness and is insensitive to the people entrusted to his care. He’s not the sort who says “Yes” one moment, only to make a U turn on some random , self-serving whim and then declare “No”.
Paul is a man of his word, as is the God whom he loves and serves (vs 18). The Father doesn’t assure us of some great blessing, only to withdraw it, without justification, to serve his own interests. When God makes a promise to his people, he fulfils it in Christ. This, says Paul, is the pattern and principle on which he has based his ministry to the Corinthians. It can be summed up like this, how could I possibly preach to you the Good News of a God who always acts with your best interests at heart and never fails to fulfill his promises, and then turn around and treat you with utter disregard by behaving in a double-minded and self-serving way?
Some have said that Paul cared very little about what they thought of him so long as they put their trust wholly in Christ. It may even be that Paul is telling them here, “If you refuse to believe me, at least remember the truth of my message concerning God’s gracious work in you through his Son.” I am not sure this is wholly true, their remarks must have stung. In any case, Paul will again insist in the remainder of these verses (1:23-2:4) that he made his decision based on his undying love for the Corinthians, his concern for their spiritual welfare, and, above all, for the sake of their joy in Jesus (vs 24).
I want to try and ground this a little, believe me I am not an expert and am trying to learn myself how to work these things out.
This has happened to me so many times people have been too quick to “read between the lines.” Unless there are past repeated known indiscretions or there is a bulk of evidence that indicate otherwise, then first, trust your Christian friends motive. Give them the benefit of the doubt when they say they are being sincere (verses 13-14).
This one is hard for those who always go deep first. Don’t always look for some ulterior and sinister motive in what others do simply because things did not turn out the way you wanted them to (verses 15-16). Not your way does not mean it was the wrong way.
Go back years not days. If someone has proven themselves faithful and devoted in the past, don’t be quick to believe accusations brought against them by someone else. What have others said about them over years. Be patient and give them an opportunity to explain themselves. In other words, don’t jump to conclusions, for it just may be the case that you are the one at fault (verses 17 and 23)!
Don’t become frustrated or withdraw yourself from other Christians if they mess up or prove to be unreliable and unfaithful. I can sometimes do this as I don’t like conflict. Ultimately, your trust and dependence are not in them anyway, but in Christ who never fails (verses 19-22).
You may have to be misrepresented and suffer unjustly. Don’t be too quick to try and vindicate yourself. Be willing to endure what you don’t deserve for the sake of peace in the body of Christ. Oh my! I do this all the time, so much to learn. The opportunity to clear your name will eventually come (vs 23) however, it may never come on this earth, so be faithful anyway.
Wow that’s a tough one to write.