In previous chapters we examined the general background of the city of Corinth (promiscuous, prosperous, pagan) and its people, as well as the church that Paul established there made up of both Jews and Gentiles. We also reviewed the way Paul's first letter was laid out as it provided instruction about Christian conduct in both life and worship. Next, we talked about the events that took place between the writing of the first and second letters (some Jewish Christians tried to discredit Paul and introduce new teachings in order to draw people after them).
I then mentioned that the second letter was personal and subjective in nature, dealing with what it was like being an Apostle. Since legitimate leadership was the issue, Paul talks about Apostleship (they are attacking his credibility as an Apostle). His letter, therefore, has six parts, five of which deal with Apostleship:
- Introduction - 1:1-2
- Apostolic Experience - 1:3-11
- Apostolic Explanation - 1:12-2:11
- Apostolic Ministry - 2:12-7:16
- Apostolic Fellowship - 8:1-9:15
- Apostleship Defended - 10:1-13:14
In the previous chapter of this book I dealt with Paul's introduction and the Apostolic experience that he described as one of suffering. He explained that Apostles suffered greatly, but their suffering brought them closer to God which, in turn, rendered the suffering bearable and enabled them to encourage others who were suffering as well.
In the next section Paul will offer his readers an explanation concerning his conduct which had been questioned by some at Corinth.
Apostolic Explanation - II Corinthians 1:12-2:11
This passage provides an interesting insight into the very personal relationship that Paul had with this particular group of people.
In chapter 1:12-23 Paul responds to those who were accusing him of being insincere, of even lying to them, because he had made a change in his travel plans without notifying them. These people were using this seeming inconsistency to accuse him of being dishonest.
Background on Travel Plans
Once the church was well established in Corinth, Paul moved on to continue his mission work in other places. While he was in the city of Ephesus he decided to travel into Macedonia and stop briefly in Corinth on his way north. He then planned to visit Corinth again on his way back with the hope of receiving assistance from these brethren for the final leg of his journey home to Judea.
This original plan changed when he heard about the trouble in the Corinthian church. The news concerning the problems they were having moved him to write the first of two letters in which he describes a change in his travel plans, without any mention of his original itinerary. In I Corinthians 16:5-9, therefore, Paul describes only this new plan, not the original one he had intended before he received news of their various difficulties.
Paul sends the letter to Corinth and continues to work in Ephesus. He eventually leaves Ephesus and travels north through Macedonia (as originally planned but without a stop at Corinth) and, while he is traveling, falls ill. It is during this period that he writes another letter to the Corinthians. During the interval between the reception of Paul's first and second letter, the Corinthians find out about his original travel plans and accuse him of duplicity because he changed his plans without telling them (according to the original plan he was supposed to visit them but changed his mind because he did not want to distress them as a result of the admonitions contained in his letter, and perhaps because he may have wanted to see how they reacted to his teaching, he chose not to visit them at that time). This is why, in the second letter, he explains the reasons for his change of plans (II Corinthians 1:15-16). In this passage he also defends himself against the attack on his honesty.
Let us keep these details in mind as we look at this passage more closely.
For our proud confidence is this: the testimony of our conscience, that in holiness and godly sincerity, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God, we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially toward you.
- II Corinthians 1:12
First of all, he states that his conscience is clear. He is not a hypocrite (fleshly wisdom). His conduct (where and when he travels, and what he does) is guided by God and is proper in the world and in the church.
13For we write nothing else to you than what you read and understand, and I hope you will understand until the end; 14just as you also partially did understand us, that we are your reason to be proud as you also are ours, in the day of our Lord Jesus.
- II Corinthians 1:13-14
The information about his travel plans in this letter was what they used to charge him with fickleness and insincerity. In response, he asks them to accept his letter in total, not simply the parts that they think are good. His argument is that the entire content of his letter is true, not just the parts containing doctrine (teaching). He states that what he writes is true and they have good reason to be proud of him, as he is proud of them (even though some have wavered in this matter).
In this confidence I intended at first to come to you, so that you might twice receive a blessing;
- II Corinthians 1:15
He uses the word "confidence" as a word-bridge linking up to his next idea (i.e. have confidence in me as I had confidence in you when I originally came to you). The "first" blessing was his initial visit during which he preached the gospel to them. He had intended to come a second time.
that is, to pass your way into Macedonia, and again from Macedonia to come to you, and by you to be helped on my journey to Judea.
- II Corinthians 1:16
Here is where he explains his original travel plan which was not mentioned in the first letter.
17Therefore, I was not vacillating when I intended to do this, was I? Or what I purpose, do I purpose according to the flesh, so that with me there will be yes, yes and no, no at the same time? 18But as God is faithful, our word to you is not yes and no.
- II Corinthians 1:17-18
Paul claims that this original plan was made in good conscience and that, as an Apostle of Christ, he is not a vacillator, hypocrite or insincere. His yes is yes and no is no, nothing has changed.
For the Son of God, Christ Jesus, who was preached among you by us—by me and Silvanus and Timothy—was not yes and no, but is yes in Him.
- II Corinthians 1:19
Now he refers to his work among them. The preaching and teaching, the miracles and giving of gifts, there was no vacillation here, no duplicity. It was always yes to and for Christ.
20For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes; therefore also through Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us. 21Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God, 22who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge.
- II Corinthians 1:20-22
Paul argues that God never wavers in His promises. When He says yes it is yes. Paul continues by pointing out that this same God sent him and his co-workers to proclaim (to amen) these promises and, through them, reveal the glory of these promises (explain the content of the gospel message and demonstrate God's power through miracles). He tells the Corinthians that they, along with himself, have been united in Christ and sealed by the Holy Spirit (they have received a guarantee of their salvation by the Holy Spirit who is given to indwell every believer at baptism - Acts 2:38). The point here being (but not expressed), that God's messengers (Apostles) who bring the gospel with the power of God do not lie or act in an insincere way in large or small matters (e.g. travel plans).
In verse 23 Paul will explain why he changed his plans. It is true that he did make changes, this he does not deny, but there was a good reason for doing so.
But I call God as witness to my soul, that to spare you I did not come again to Corinth.
- II Corinthians 1:23
He did not come immediately but changed his plans in order to spare them (save them pain). His first letter was harsh and demanding. Because of this, he wanted to give them a chance to respond before coming in person and using his Apostolic authority to discipline them.
Not that we lord it over your faith, but are workers with you for your joy; for in your faith you are standing firm.
- II Corinthians 1:24
He is not trying to be authoritative or bossy, his purpose is to work with them so that they will obtain the joy that the Christian life offers. He does not doubt their faith and commitment (they believe but they are immature).
1But I determined this for my own sake, that I would not come to you in sorrow again. 2For if I cause you sorrow, who then makes me glad but the one whom I made sorrowful? 3This is the very thing I wrote you, so that when I came, I would not have sorrow from those who ought to make me rejoice; having confidence in you all that my joy would be the joy of you all. 4For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears; not so that you would be made sorrowful, but that you might know the love which I have especially for you.
- II Corinthians 2:1-4
Paul acknowledges that his letter caused pain, both to the Corinthians and himself. He did not like rebuking them. His only joy would come if they repented and received his correction properly. For this reason he did not want to be there before this had taken place and so, changed his travel plans to give them a chance to sort things out. He also tells them how difficult it was for him to write that first letter.
5But if any has caused sorrow, he has caused sorrow not to me, but in some degree—in order not to say too much—to all of you. 6Sufficient for such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the majority, 7so that on the contrary you should rather forgive and comfort him, otherwise such a one might be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8Wherefore I urge you to reaffirm your love for him. 9For to this end also I wrote, so that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things. 10But one whom you forgive anything, I forgive also; for indeed what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, I did it for your sakes in the presence of Christ, 11so that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes.
- II Corinthians 2:5-11
Again, Paul uses a word-bridge to include another idea. He speaks of his own sorrow at writing the first letter to them, especially in reference to a man involved in an improper relationship with his step-mother. In I Corinthians 5:1 he refers to a man having sex with his step-mother (his father's wife but not his biological mother). He was appalled, not only at the sin, but at the indifference towards this sin by the church. He demanded that they discipline this person and, if he refused to repent, they should disfellowship him (separate themselves from this person and have nothing to do with him). In II Corinthians Paul refers back to this situation as it seems that the church followed his instructions. Concerning this he says several things:
- The offense was against the church, not Paul the Apostle. It threatened them, not him. (There was "sin in the camp" and the sin of one threatened the entire group - Deuteronomy 23:14).
- A majority (not unanimous) of the members was willing to disfellowship this man and this number was sufficient to be effective.
- Once this person repented, however, the brethren had to change their behavior and renew their fellowship with him again so he would not become discouraged.
- This command (to discipline a sinful member) was a test to see if they would obey Paul's instructions.
- If the church forgave this brother, Paul would also forgive him so that Satan would not have an opportunity to cause division in the church.
Paul responds to those who accuse him of being insincere concerning a planned visit that he had canceled without advising them. His answer or explanation is twofold:
- He states quite emphatically that he is not a liar, he is a chosen Apostle. Apostles are sincere and their work, power and authority speak for themselves.
- He did change his plans, but it was done to spare them a painful visit. This explanation demonstrates that Paul's decision to change his travel plans was based on Christian love, not deceit.
The fact that the church handled a delicate matter (sexual sin of a member) properly and responded to his letter without his presence was proof that his decision to delay his visit in order to measure their maturity and spare them pain was the correct one.