Second Corinthians 1:12–2:4 . . .
Paul Explains His Actions, Verse by Verse
In this week’s passage we study "misunderstanding." In last week's summary of 2 Corinthians 1:1–11, we saw how Apostle Paul spoke about the universal tendency toward suffering pressure and stress. We saw how God has given us a source of strengthening so we can handle the pressure, then comfort others. Today, beginning with v. 12, we'll look closely at a misunderstanding that developed between Paul and the church at Corinth, and of his hungering for vindication and his desire to correct and straighten out this matter. Paul's intention was to convince the Corinthians that his recent actions arose from sincere motives. To help you appreciate Paul's explanations, we'll look at three portions of this passage verse by verse.
The sincerity of Paul’s conduct — 1:12-14
1:12 (see verse below) Apostle Paul first claimed, generally, that his actions didn't arise from the same motives that drive unbelievers, namely: self-serving ambition (a.k.a. "worldly wisdom"). This motivation seems wise to the carnal mind, but Paul's motives resulted from "God's grace" at work in his life. He viewed all of life from the perspective of God's grace, seeking not to advance self, but rather the cause of Christ.
1:13 Paul seems to have alluded to a criticism of himself in this verse. Evidently some were saying that, in order to understand Paul's letters to them, his readers had to "read between the lines," implying that he actually intended to say something different than what he'd written. The apostle's claim here was that what he'd intended was self-evident in his correspondence; there were no hidden meanings or messages. True, Paul wrote some things that were hard to understand (2 Peter 3:15–16); sometimes he was ironical, but he didn't write one thing and mean another.
1:14 Even though Paul's correspondence with them had been straightforward (direct, honest, and firm), they hadn't grasped the greatness of his love for them, and how proud he was of them. They had a legitimate right or reason to be proud of Paul as their spiritual father, as he'd a right or reason to be proud of them as his spiritual children.
The consistency of Paul’s conduct — 1:15-22
1:15–16 In 1 Corinthians 16:5, Paul had told the Corinthians that he planned to visit them after he'd passed through Macedonia. Evidently he wasn't able to make that trip. We can see why some, in Corinth, had concluded that since Paul hadn't followed through with his plans, they couldn't count on his word; so they doubted his love for them.
1:17 Both rhetorical questions in this verse appear to expect a negative answer. In making his plans, Paul claimed not to have vacillated or become "fickle," or to have followed his sinful human nature, rather that he followed the Holy Spirit.
1:18–19 Paul associated himself with God to reinforce his argument: "But as surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not 'Yes' and 'No.'" Consistency is not only a trait of God the Father, but also of God the Son. Silas (a.k.a. Silvanus), along with Timothy, had joined Paul in Corinth shortly after his arrival there; they and Priscilla and Aquila (Acts 17:14–15; 18:1–2, 5) helped him found that church.
1:20 "The promises" referred to here are evidently the ones that have found their fulfillment in Christ. God was completely trustworthy — not 90-percent reliable — in fulfilling these promises. Therefore the "many promises God has made," as well as of the Son of God (v. 19), demonstrate consistency. In view of the faithfulness of God, the only proper response is "Amen!" Early Christians commonly spoke this word in unison in their meetings to affirm the truthfulness of what someone had said (1 Cor. 14:16). They addressed God through (in the name of) Jesus Christ.
1:21–22 The corporate, vocal "Amen" draws attention to the unity of believers with one another, as well as with God. Paul wanted to help them appreciate God's consistency, as well as his own consistency in harmony with God's. Now he reassures us that Christ has anointed us, sealed us, and given us the indwelt Spirit as a guarantee.
By way of review, Paul's point in this section (vv. 15–22) was that Christians normally behaved like Christ. Yet we all know Christians who don't behave consistently. Why did Paul think that this appeal would make the Corinthians conclude that he'd been consistent? He wasn't relying on this argument alone, but was simply affirming his own consistency, proving it to be consistent with the character of the One who'd appointed him as an apostle.
The loving motivation of Paul’s conduct — 1:23–2:4
1:23 Paul's use of an oath ("I call God as my witness") shouldn't disturb us. Biblically, "swearing" refers to taking an oath or making a promise, not to using blasphemous words. Paul staked his "life" on the truthfulness of his claim here. He made the decision to postpone his visit, because he believed that a visit then wouldn't be in the Corinthians' best interests.
1:24 The preceding statement indicates that Paul took on for himself much of the responsibility for the Corinthians' welfare. He hastened to clarify that it was as an apostle — not their lord — that he regarded himself and behaved toward them as he did. Furthermore, Paul recognized that they needed no human "lord," because they were comparatively solid in their faith.
2:1–2 Paul made up his mind not to bring pain or sorrow on his next visit. This isn't the language of a vacillator. Who'd make Paul glad if he came and made them grieve? No one could, especially the Corinthians. Paul's point was that, if he came to them and made them sorrowful again, he himself would be sorrowful — since they were his source of joy. Consequently he'd decided to postpone his visit. Evidently, if Paul had come to them as originally planned, he'd have had to severely rebuke and/or discipline them for situations that existed in the church. Instead of doing this, thereby causing sorrow, he decided to wait and give them an opportunity to deal with the problems themselves.
2:3–4 Now Paul refers to a previous letter in which he said he told them he'd share joy with them on his next visit. Clearly Paul claimed that his love for the Corinthians had moved him to write his sobering letter. He wanted to make them repentant and consequently joyful, not oppressed and sorrowful. He wept over them. (Doubtless he wept yet again, when he learned that his readers had misunderstood his best intentions. Paul had a special affection for the Corinthian believers.)
- Q. 1 In what does Paul boast (v. 12)? What's the basis for his truthfulness (vv. 12–13)?
- Q. 2 How does a leader who uses his or her authority, according to "worldly wisdom," differ from one who does so by God's grace?
- Q. 3 What does it mean that Jesus is the "Yes" of God's promise to us? How does this relate to Paul's argument?
2 Corinthians 1:12–2:4
New International Version (NIV)
[You can view it in a different version by clicking here; you can also listen to chapter 1 and chapter 2.]
12Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, with integrity and godly sincerity. We have done so, relying not on worldly wisdom but on God's grace. 13For we do not write you anything you cannot read or understand. And I hope that, 14as you have understood us in part, you will come to understand fully that you can boast of us just as we will boast of you in the day of the Lord Jesus.
15Because I was confident of this, I wanted to visit you first so that you might benefit twice. 16I 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. 17Was 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"?
18But as surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not "Yes" and "No." 19For 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." 20For 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. 21Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, 22set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
23I 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. 24Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm.
2 1So I made up my mind that I would not make another painful visit to you. 2For if I grieve you, who is left to make me glad but you whom I have grieved? 3I 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. 4For 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.