Of First Importance
It is so easy to focus on the wrong thing – I wonder whether you find that?
How easy when looking at a financial report at the church meeting to spend a lot of time thinking about a small insignificant amount of money on one item while virtually passing on the nod a much larger sum on something else.
How important it is to be able to discern what the important issues really are and to keep focused on them rather than being obsessed by what, in compassion, is really pretty unimportant.
Paul was good at keeping his focus whereas the Corinthians were getting caught up in secondary matters.
The problem was that Paul changed some of his plans and apparently had no problem in doing so. At least some of the Corinthians took a very view.
As Paul gives some explanations to his critics we're brought to see what Paul really considered to be important and which factors really determined whether he was reliable or not.
Paul's Chief Concern's
As Paul responded to his critics he explains two things:
1. Purpose in Visiting
Paul explained that his purpose in wanting to visit the Corinthians involved both spiritual planning and his own firm desire to do them good. Paul did not draw up his plans in order to promote his own self-
No, the apostle wanted to be a means of blessing, to be the channel through which the Corinthians would receive a new experience of grace.
Paul had altered an original plan because he wanted to be enabled to bring multiple blessings to the Corinthians – in visiting them before moving on to minister in Macedonia he wanted to bring them blessing and in returning to them after that trip he wanted to integrate them into his future ministry by receiving help from them on the next stage of his Christian service. (There is possibly an allusion here too the collection that Paul was making in the region in order to support the struggling church back in Jerusalem.)
In this Paul demonstrated clearly his view that Christian churches were to be blessed not only in receiving but also in giving.
However when the prevailing circumstances changed Paul was quite prepared to revert to his original plan of visiting the Corinthian church just once on his next trip. This change of detail did not fundamentally alter his desire to secure and promote the church's well-
Paul was not prepared to admit that he took his decisions lightly. In the Book of Acts Luke tells us that Paul took his decisions in a spiritual manner with a dependency upon the Holy Spirit:
Acts 19:21 "Now after these events Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem, saying, "After I have been there, I must also see Rome.""
You'll remember how the Spirit had earlier directed Paul and his companions to do what God wanted – doors were repeatedly closed until the way ahead was made clear via a vision of a Macedonian man calling out:
Acts 16:9 "Come over to Macedonia and help us."
Paul was led by the Spirit of God and conscious of this leading. In his earlier letter to the Corinthian he had explicitly stated that he would only be able to fulfil his plans if the Lord so allowed:
1Cor.16:7 " For I do not want to see you now just in passing. I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits."
(If the Corinthian had remembered this they might have been less hasty and less uncharitable in their assessment of the apostle. But they were far too ready to cast him in a negative light and to interpret every superficial change as an indication of his fundamental untrustworthiness.)
2. Preaching Christ
The second and far more important defence Paul makes to the charge of being irresponsible and untrustworthy relates to his consistent and faithful preaching of Christ.
Paul wants the Corinthians to be in no doubt about this and so he does what should only ever be done in matters of extreme important: he takes an oath in the name of God: "as surely as God is faithful" he says, so "our message".
Under this self-
Circumstances might change, but circumstances were outside his control, but what he chose to preach was, however, fully under his control and Paul declared that he had resolutely preached one and the same message. This message had not been chopped and changed to make life easier for the apostle but he had spoken the truth both in season and out of season. While he had sought to remove all unnecessary barriers that might stop his hearers receiving the message he had to preach, that message itself never changed!
And this was something that the Corinthians should have recognised. Paul's delight, along with his missionary colleagues, was to preach Christ crucified. He knew that to Jews it was a stumbling block and to the Gentiles it was pure folly. But Paul also knew that the gospel of a crucified Christ was the power God that secured salvation for all those who believed.
If the Corinthians really wanted to assess whether Paul was reliable or not then all they needed to do was to consider how he just went on and on proclaiming Jesus Christ.
Paul actually uses a somewhat unusual phrase as he describes how he and his colleagues faithfully went about their task:
2Cor.1:19 "For the Son of God, Jesus Christ..."
Now we probably don't find the expression surprising but this is the only place in the NT where this particular order of words is used. By it Paul is asserting the full deity of the man Jesus who came as the Christ. And Paul sees this one as being right at the very heart of the divine plan of salvation, all of God's promises centre on him and find their true fulfilment in him.
And all this in a paragraph that is highly Trinitarian in emphasis: Paul speaks of the God, the Son of God and the Spirit here and each is involved in the gospel work of saving sinners!
Such is the completeness and efficacy of this divine plan of salvation that focuses centrally upon "the Son of God, Jesus Christ" all that the apostle Paul and his fellow ministers can do is to add their "Amen" to it. Neither Paul nor any of his companions can add anything at all to this great work of salvation in Jesus Christ – in sharing what has been committed to them all they are doing is adding their "so let it be" and in doing so they give glory to God alone through Christ alone!
Before Paul moves on however he wants the Corinthians to be aware that they themselves have become beneficiaries along with Paul himself of God's wonderful grace in salvation that Paul had preached to them. But becoming a Christian cannot be satisfactorily explained by speaking of a human response to a preached message – a Christian is a person in whom and for whom God has actively been at work and still is act work.
What a wonderfully rich thing the gospel is! Why should anyone want to preach another gospel thatn this one which declares that God:
Establishes us with other believers in Christ
Puts his seal of ownership upon us
And gives us his Spirit as a down-
Why Paul Changed his Plans
Finally Paul is now ready to explain just why he believed it right to alter the plans that he had previously formed and it has nothing to do with fickleness.
The seriousness with which Paul treats this whole matter is underlined by the fact that for a second time in just a few short verses Paul goes on oath. He solemnly calls on God to act as witness that is to attest to the truthfulness of what Paul is saying.
No, Paul hadn't been fickle or unreliable in changing his plans but fundamentally consistent. His desire in visiting the Corinthians was to be a means of blessing but his fear in the changed circumstances was that any immediate visit would be detrimental to their spiritual well-
Paul had in fact paid the Corinthian a visit subsequent to his first in which the church had been started. Reconstructing from the snippets of evidence that Paul gives us it would appear that he had heard something from the church that had caused him considerable distress. So much so in fact that he had decided to make a short trip from Ephesus to try to resolve the problem. A serious guess as to just what that problem might have been would refer to the man who had taken to living with his father's wife. The rest of the Corinthian church, far from being shocked not only tolerated this but this seemed to have prided themselves in the broadness of their non-
But Paul's intention had been thwarted. He had been unable to rectify the situation and had been openly opposed (perhaps by this man himself or by another). The church had not sided with Paul in rebuking such behaviour and Paul could only withdraw. But withdrawal did not mean that he gave up. (You will remember Paul's confidence that the vast majority of those in the Corinthian church were true believers and that God's truth would win out in their lives!)
So having returned to Ephesus Paul wrote another letter. This is sometimes referred to as his severe letter. In this Paul wrote seriously about the need for the Corinthians to put things right. It was not an easy letter for Paul to write and he wrote it "out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears." Paul's intent was not to cause pain but in writing what needed to be said clearly and openly Paul wanted the Corinthians to know just how much he loved them all.
In our day many folk seem to assume that love means never telling someone that they're wrong but Paul did not share such a sentimental view. He loved them enough to tell the truth. Do we have friends who love us enough to tell us the truth? Do we have friends that we love enough to tell them the truth even when it may be unwelcome for them to hear it?
It is quite probable that Paul chose to alter his travel plans because he knew that another visit might well prove counterproductive. His painful visit had failed and having written a severe letter Paul esteemed that it was better to allow the Corinthians some time to reflect more rationally about all that had been said and done. If this was indeed the reason how wise Paul shows himself to be. He hasn't washed his hands of these immature believers who were in danger of being misled but he continued to seek to serve their very best interests. To have maintained his earlier travel plans may well have the right thing to do when viewed from one angle but when the wider picture is considered with its changed circumstances and very real dangers of failure Paul simply chose to delay his visit.
Let us learn to see what the real issues are and to engage in fighting the real battles – how foolish we would be if we were to become so small-
Lord, who is sufficient for these things? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.