Paul’s sincerity (II Corinthians 1:12-14)
We generally view boasting or glorying as something wrong. Often it is wrong because the person is boasting about himself or glorying in his own accomplishments. Paul finds pleasure in his clear conscience concerning how he and the other preachers with him have conducted themselves around the world (Acts 24:16; I Corinthians 4:4). His boast is not in himself but in God’s grace (I Corinthians 15:10). His efforts were simple (II Corinthians 11:3). He didn’t have a hidden agenda or acted with duplicity. He didn’t use complex rhetoric (I Corinthians 2:4-5; II Corinthians 2:17; 4:2). He acted holy and honestly toward the brethren (Romans 9:1; Titus 2:7; Hebrews 13:18; I Peter 3:16). All he did was above board and honest.
Paul faced death many times. How did he get through these trials so well? Paul reveals that he could face death and the judgment thereafter calmly knowing how he conducted himself in life (I John 3:21-22).
In this letter, Paul is conducting himself in the same manner as he also did in his prior letter. There is no hidden meaning behind his words. He is addressing them simply and sincerely. Paul trusts that they understand his message and his intent throughout life (I Corinthians 4:5). He will give them no cause to think he has changed. He notes that the Corinthians have understood this about him, at least in part, from their past dealings with Paul.
Paul’s concern is for the brethren. He wants them to be proud of him as he is proud of them (I Corinthians 3:10-15; Philippians 2:16; 4:1; I Thessalonians 2:19-20).
Paul’s change in plans was not vacillation on his part (II Corinthians 1:15-22)
Originally Paul’s intention was to go from Ephesus to Corinth and then travel on to Macedonia. He then planned to return to Corinth to stay awhile, possibly spending the winter there, before continuing on to his next destination (I Corinthians 16:5-6). In this way, they would have had the pleasure of being with each other twice. This plan was sincerely and honestly made just as all of Paul’s dealing has been done.
Paul’s original plan was not the most direct route from Ephesus to Macedonia, but at the time he was willing to go out of his way to see the Corinthians even though it also meant he would have only a short visit during his first stop. It wasn’t a casual plan made without much forethought. Nor did he make the plans with his own comfort or convenience in mind.
The phrase “that with me there should be Yes, Yes, and No, No” is not easily understood and has caused much discussion. The repeating of the words is usually emphatic, so some see this a Paul denying that he made his plans in a headstrong fashion, doing as he pleased. Others see this as Paul denying that he follows the whims of others, telling them what they want to hear. Another possibility is that Paul is denying using double-speak, saying both yes and no at the same time, so that whatever he did he could say that it was his plan all along (Matthew 5:37; James 5:12).
Just as God is found faithful in all things, Paul declares that his stated plans were not fickle. Paul is a representative, an apostle of Jesus Christ. Timothy and Silvanus are preachers of Jesus’ gospel. Jesus’ teachings don’t vacillate between positions. They are firm. All of God's promises are firm and always prove true. The foundation which the Corinthians believe is in Jesus through the teachings of Paul, Timothy, and Silvanus and all of them, including the Corinthians, have been set apart by God for salvation (Ephesians 1:13-14; 4:30; II Corinthians 5:5). They all have an anointing by God, possibly a reference to the gifts of the Holy Spirit as spoken of by John in I John 2:20, 27.
- Why is Paul asserting so strongly that he doesn’t lightly change his plans?
- Can fickleness in a gospel preacher in one area of his life undermine his ability to teach the gospel? Why?
- What kinds of charges are possibly being brought against Paul because of his changed plans?
Why Paul’s changed plans were better (II Corinthians 1:23-2:4)
Plans should be kept when at all possible, but to hold on to plans which are no longer best because of changing circumstances simply out of stubbornness is not sensible either. Paul had every intention of following through with his original plan, but since the writing of the first letter to Corinth, Paul came to realize it wasn’t the best plan.
Invoking a firm oath, Paul states that he changed his plan to spare the brethren in Corinth. If he visited before they straightened out their problems, it would be necessary for him to deal with them harshly, which would have been painful to both of them (I Corinthians 4:21). As the letter unfolds we find that Paul, even now, isn’t certain as to the nature of his upcoming visit (II Corinthians 12:20-21; 13:2, 10).
Paul doesn’t want to be seen as a dictator, but as a fellow worker working with the Corinthians in joy. Coming shortly after the first letter was received would have forced Paul into a role of exercising apostolic authority that he would rather avoid if he could. They stand by faith, not by force of authority. Such had been his plan (I Corinthians 4:19, 21), but after deep thought, he concluded it was best to wait a bit longer before coming. Therefore, the reason behind Paul’s change of plans was his love for the brethren, not his fickleness.
Some see the use of “again” in II Corinthians 2:1 to indicate that there was a prior visit between the initial founding of the church in Corinth and now where Paul did come to exercise discipline. However, the phrase merely means a return visit. The “in sorrow” doesn’t necessarily mean the last visit was sorrowful, it could refer only to this next visit. A. T. Robertson points out that Greek is vague here and in II Corinthians 12:14 and II Corinthians 13:1. In the latter two verses it could mean this will be Paul’s third visit to Corinth (of which we have no record of the second visit) or that this will be Paul’s third journey to Corinth (of which the second was aborted because of a change in plans). If there were three visits, the second could not have occurred between the first letter and this letter, else Paul would not need to apologize for not coming.
Paul didn’t want to be depressed by visiting the Corinthians too soon. If he had to come and discipline, they would be in too much sorrow to find any joy and Paul would have no joy from the visit. Paul didn’t expect to be happy if the Corinthians were made unhappy by his visit. Paul would rather that the one whom he made sorrowful, such as the man in fornication (I Corinthians 5:1ff), instead have the opportunity to make Paul joyful through his repentance.
The reason Paul wrote the first letter to Corinth instead of coming personally immediately when he heard of the problems was so that the Corinthians could have a chance to address the issues. Paul is confident of the brethren’s character and that they would want to make him happy when he does visit. It hurt Paul to write that letter, but he didn’t write it to cause grief as much as he wrote it because he loved them deeply.
- Often we are told that it is wrong to make an oath of any sort (Matthew 5:37; James 5:12). Paul appears to do so twice (II Corinthians 1:18,23). Other examples are Romans 1:9; 9:1; II Corinthians 11:31; Galatians 1:20; Philippians 1:8; and I Thessalonians 2:5.
- When are oaths wrong?
- Are all oaths forbidden?
- Are oaths necessary?
- Why did Paul use oaths in this case?
- Even though Christians are not to lie, are there times Christians bind themselves with oaths in the secular world?
- Since Paul firmly had one set of plans which were recorded through the Holy Spirit, which he later changed, what does this do to the idea that God has all decisions mapped out since the foundation of the world?
- Is preaching easy? (See also Acts 20:31 and Philippians 3:18).
The need to not be overzealous in punishment (II Corinthians 2:5-11)
One major problem in the Corinthian church when Paul wrote the first letter was the man who was committing fornication (I Corinthians 5:1ff). Paul points out that the Corinthians were more affected by this man’s sin than he was affected. His grief over the situation was shared with the Corinthians over the matter. Yet, Paul wants to be clear that in bringing up this matter he is not trying to add burdens to this man or the Corinthians.
The Corinthians had carried out Paul’s command (I Corinthians 5:4-5). Not everyone did as they were told, but a sufficient majority of the brethren did and that made their disapproval for the man’s sin clear. The implication is that the man repented of his sins, but also implied is that the church has so far refused to welcome him back. Paul tells them that the punishment was enough. Now that he has repented, they should forgive him and comfort him (Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13). If they don’t they might lose what has been gained as the man spirals into depression over his sins (Psalms 124:2-5; Proverbs 17:22). Withdrawal of fellowship has as its goal the restoration of the sinner (I Corinthians 5:5; II Timothy 2:25). Extending it after the restoration has occurred does harm instead of good. They need to demonstrate to this man that their love for him exists and remains.
A major reason why Paul wrote instead of coming personally was to see if the Corinthians would be obedient to God’s commands without being browbeaten into submission. They passed his test. Yet, if he had told them of this in advance, the challenge they faced would have proven nothing. Hence, when Paul realized he needed to change his plans, he did not tell the Corinthians in advance.
Because of his proven confidence in their faithfulness, Paul assures them – and this man who had sinned – that if they forgive someone who had sinned, Paul is willing and able to join them in that decision. Indeed, he forgives because it benefits them. The forgiveness he offers is done in the presence of Christ, indicating that it is done with the Lord’s authority and approval.
A lack of forgiveness on their part would give Satan an opening to damage the church. “Satan would gladly have kept the sinful man in the church; since he has repented, Satan would gladly have the church keep him out” [People’s New Testament Commentary]. Satan is full of tricks and would turn even the doing of what is right into something wrong. Every Christian must stand guard against these tricks (Ephesians 6:11-12).
Literary Style: Past Tense for Future Action
Paul indicates that he has already forgiven, though he stated earlier that he would forgive any whom the Corinthians forgave. In a way, it is similar to the statement in I Corinthians 5:3 that he has already judged what the Corinthians needed to face. By using the past tense, Paul is indicating his confidence that it is done deal. He is so certain that the Corinthians will do as he directed that he can talk about it as if it had already had been done.
- Why do you suppose Paul doesn’t mention the person by name?
- Why do people who are in the wrong tend to go overboard in correcting the wrong?
Paul’s actual travels (II Corinthians 2:12-13)
One last reason why Paul changed his travel plans occurred when he got to Troas. He found great opportunities there to preach the gospel, which normally would be a delight to Paul. However, he was troubled because he had expected to find Titus in Troas and Titus wasn’t there. Likely Titus was the one who delivered the first letter to Corinth and Paul was anxious to hear how it was received. That news would have been the final factor in deciding which route he would take.
Rather than remaining in Troas to take advantage of the opportunity, Paul decided to press on to Macedonia to find out what happened to Titus. Because of what was stated before, Paul didn’t want to risk going to Corinth too soon after the letter arrived. Since he had no news, going to Macedonia first was the better course.
- Does God dictate every choice a man must make?
- Was it a bad choice on Paul’s part not to take advantage of the opportunities in Troas while they were present?