A Dangerous Misunderstanding
2 Corinthians 1:12-2:4
Last week, we began what we call 2 Corinthians (actually third or maybe even fourth). After informing them of how God has comforted him through a terrible ordeal, Paul now turns to clear up a dangerous misunderstanding between him and them. Read 1:12-17.
Paul's travel plans
Clearly, the misunderstanding revolved around the change in Paul's travel plans. Originally, he intended to visit Corinth for an extended period on his return from Macedonia (1 Cor. 16:5-7)--PLAN "A" MAP.
Later, he changed his mind and said he would visit them on the way to Macedonia and again on the way back from Macedonia (2 Cor. 1:16)--PLAN "B" MAP.
As it worked out, he had to pay a very painful visit to them to confront them about matters we'll look at next week. This visit went badly, so Paul returned to Ephesus, leaving Titus in Corinth. (He may have written them another letter at this point.) Then the riot in Ephesus erupted, and from there he went to Troas and Macedonia, where he heard good news about them from Titus (2 Cor. 7:5-8). He then wrote this letter, indicating his intentions to visit them on his way back from Macedonia to Jerusalem (2 Cor. 13:1)--PLAN "C" MAP.
His enemies' accusations & Paul's response
What's the big deal? Why is this so dangerous? By reading the rest of this letter, we discover that a group of false teachers were seeking to undermine the church's trust in Paul's message about God's grace (see 11:4,13-15). Paul's enemies took advantage of his changing itinerary to discredit him and his message.
They evidently accused him of making plans he had no intention of keeping if it inconvenienced him (1:17).
Read 1:23-2:4. He says it was not motivated by self-interest, but by love for them. and concern for his relationship with them He to wanted spare them further pain, and he hoped they would change their response to him so he could return for a visit that all could enjoy. This is exactly what happened.
On that basis, they evidently launched an even more serious accusation. If Paul couldn't be trusted to tell the truth about his travel plans, he certainly couldn't be trusted to tell the truth about more important matters like God and the basis of salvation.
Paul is far more concerned about their attitude toward his message. This is probably why he begins his response the way he does (read 1:19). "Our word" here refers to the gospel, the message about Christ that he spoke to them. Despite his integrity, Paul is only human and therefore may not always be able to do what he says. But this is never the case with Christ. He has introduced them to One who is absolutely reliable, and they shouldn't let anything (Paul's change in plans) or anyone (the false teachers) shake their confidence in Christ. Jesus Christ is God's unambiguous "yes." He explains what this means in the following verses.
Jesus Christ is God's unequivocal "Yes"
Every Old Testament promise is fulfilled in Christ (vs 20). The true God is a loving God who has spoken to us and made promises to us in the most important areas of life. Many of these promises are given in the Old Testament--but they depend on Jesus Christ for their fulfillment. Notice how carefully the New Testament makes this point.
"I will forgive you." (Isa. 1:18; Ps. 103:12 >> Eph. 1:7; Col. 2:13)
"I will guide you through life." (Ps. 23:1 >> Jn. 10:11,14)
"I will give you rest." (Josh. 1:13; Ps. 95:11 >> Matt. 11:28)
"I will feed your soul with my word." (Deut. 8:3 >> Jn. 6:35)
"I will raise you from the dead to eternal life." (Dan. 12:2,3 >> Jn. 11:25)
God puts our relationship with him on firm footing through Christ (vs 21). Paul uses two metaphors to explain what this entails.
He has "sealed" us in Christ. When a ruler wanted to guarantee safe passage of a document, he affixed his seal (in melted wax) to it. This seal meant that all the authority and power of Rome ensured that it would safely reach its destination. God says he has sealed us in Christ--all of his authority and power ensure our safe passage to heaven. We are eternally secure in our standing before God because it is based on what Christ has done for us instead of what we do for God.
He has given us his "pledge" in the Holy Spirit. A "pledge" was a down-payment which demonstrated the buyer's sincerity to pay in full at a later time. God doesn't just promise that Christians will go to be in his presence when we die. He backs his promise up by giving us his Spirit who communicates God's love to us, enables us to relate to God personally, and transforms our characters.
The lessons for us
We should entrust ourselves to Jesus Christ and his promises. This begins by putting your trust in him and his death to receive God's forgiveness (GOSPEL).
But that is just the beginning. Then we need to learn God's promises for every major area of our lives and focus/rely on them instead of our feelings, our own "wisdom," and other people's opinions (EXAMPLES: ACCEPTANCE; MATERIAL PROVISION; ROM. 8:28). This is one of the most important ingredients to spiritual growth (2 Pet. 1:4) and stability (Heb. 6:18,19).
We should build human relationships that are grounded in a mutual trust in Christ. People tend to vacillate between idolatry and cynicism in their relationships with one another. We tend to look to other people for what only God can give us: identity, acceptance and security, significance, meaning in life. When others disappoint us (as they inevitably will), we are crushed and either run to another human relationship or become cynical about human relationships altogether.
This happens most often in romantic relationships. I am convinced that this is the number one reason for broken marriages in our culture. People are propagandized by the "Eros myth"--the false notion that the key to a successful marriage relationship is the Eros experience--falling head over heels in love with someone. When this happens, so the songs tell us, we have found the right person who will fulfill all our dreams. But then the feelings wane, and the other person lets us down, and we are crushed and throw the relationship away.
But it also happens in relationships with spiritual leaders. I call this the "guru syndrome." The Corinthians had this syndrome. They were spiritually immature, and they demonstrated this immaturity by putting Paul and other human spiritual leaders on such a pedestal that they relied on him more than Christ. We know this was a problem with them because he had warned them back in 1 Corinthians not to "boast in people" (1 Cor. 3:21). He had had to remind them that people like he and Apollos were only God's servants--it was "God who was causing the growth." Some leaders are flattered by this and seek to perpetuate it, but Paul was horrified by it. He wanted his converts to become "independently dependent on Christ." When he didn't fulfill his plans to visit, they were crushed. They were vulnerable to the suggestion to totally reject Paul and put another "guru" on the pedestal.
Instead, we need to build our lives on a relationship with Jesus Christ, who is the only One who can meet our deepest needs. When we do this, we can build healthy and enjoyable relationships with others who have the same base in their lives. We know we are secure when (not if) they disappoint us--because Christ is faithful to us. And because of this, we can relate to one another primarily out of gratitude for one another's love (rather than anger over unmet and unrealistic expectations) and looking for ways to give (rather than looking for ways to take).
This is how Paul related to other people like the Corinthians. We'll see more about how this affected his relationships NEXT WEEK . . .