Faithlife Sermons

Paul's Change of Plans

2 Corinthians Series  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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1. Introduction

Have you ever been misunderstood? Had a miscommunication with someone?
Have you ever made that misunderstanding worse by then trying to defend yourself or your position?
Has your character or integrity ever been attacked because of a misunderstanding or miscommunication?
Have you ever had someone change plans on you?
In football there’s this concept of calling an audible.
When the offense gets to the line of scrimmage they have a certain play called. The play is meant to expose a certain weakness in the defense.
However, if they get to the line of scrimmage and the defense is lined up in a certain way…say they have multiple defenders right where the play is supposed to be run...
The quarterback will change the play - he will call an audible, to try and get the defense out of position.
Have you ever had someone call an audible on you? Have you ever had a trip planned or a fun outing planned…but because of circumstances beyond your control
Circumstances you might not even be aware of…someone changed the play on you? Changed the plan.
All of this - a change in travel plans, a miscommunication - all of that is playing out in the background of the passage we just read. I want you to tap into those feelings…the angst you might have felt, the anxiety, the hurt and pain…the frustration…tap into those feelings and we’ll understand how remarkable Paul’s response is here.
Paul changed his travel plans. He planned on visiting Corinth twice, but changes his plans and only visited them once.
But a simple change in plans became an assault on Paul’s integrity and character.
Paul’s critics in Corinth took a simple thing like changing a travel itinerary - and used it to falsely accused Paul of being double-minded, fickle and wishy washy in his decision making.
But even though his character and integrity are attacked…even though, I’m sure Paul is personally hurt by these attacks...
Paul gives us a beautiful example of how to about defending oneself.
The church in Corinth was wrongly critical of Paul - but instead of lashing out at them…instead of berating them....
Instead of spending word after word, sentence after sentence, paragraph after paragraph defending himself and appealing to his own qualifications and achievements...
What Paul does here is build common ground with the Corinthians.
And he only appeals to one thing - Paul’s entire defense has nothing to do with him…his entire defense rests on God’s character.
I’ll be honest with you - this is a pretty tricky passage.
I wrestled with it this week. I struggled to figured out how a passage about travel plans applies to our lives today.
But in my struggling, as I read it over, as I prayed over it and wrote it out, I was rewarded.
And I learned that the surface level issue was a change in Paul’s plan - but in defended himself - Paul shows the Corinthians, and he shows us today, just how grounded he was in God.
He shows us to think theologically in any situation…he gives us an incredible statement about who Jesus is, and he binds Christians together by spelling out what they have in common.

2. Paul’s Integrity - vv.12-14

I’m going to keep coming back to this because the historical context will help us better understand the content of the letter.
Paul planted the church in Corinth on his second missionary journey. he stayed in Corinth for 18 months - pastoring, preaching, teaching and raising up local leaders.
After he left, false teachers, Paul’s critics, infiltrated the church, and turned the church against Paul. They pointed to Paul’s afflicted life as proof he wasn’t called by God.
Paul wrote the letter of 1 Corinthians in order to correct some doctrinal errors that had crept into the church.
But 1 Corinthians wasn’t well received by the church - perhaps it even further damaged the relationship.
So Paul made a personal visit…and it didn’t go well.
So Paul wrote what he called a severe letter…that letter is lost - but that severe letter was finally successful in bringing them to repentance.
So now, Paul writes this letter of 2 Corinthians in order to restore and heal their relationship.
He’s writing to show them what an authentic minister of the gospel looks like, what an authentic church looks like, and how suffering and affliction is a means for us to experience God’s grace more fully.
In this section, Paul sets out to restore his integrity.
The false teachers obviously attacked Paul’s credibility. And given what’s written here, the critics were questioning Paul’s sincerity - that he made plans with complete disregarded for others...
But they also questioned his writing - claiming that his writings were too hard to understand and he wasn’t a man of his word.
But look at how Paul defends himself…this is a lesson we’d all do well to learn.
In defending himself, in defending his integrity, Paul could have laid out all of his accomplishments.
He could have bragged about all that he had done up to that point.
“Hey…look at how many churches I have planted…how many converts I have made…how many letters I have written.
But instead of bragging on his own credentials and accomplishments, Paul instead brags about God.
Now, we have to understand something about boasting. In our day, bragging is wildly inappropriate.
We call it conceited - where someone only talks about themselves.
But look at what Paul is doing here - he’s bragging about what God has done through him.
And Paul is boasting about what God has through him…for the benefit of the Corinthians
If this section was written in plain modern-day English…it would say, “Come on guys, you know…what you see is what you get!”
“By God’s grace I’m able to live simply and sincerely…just as I did when I lived with you.”
And Paul defends the way he wrote to them. And again, his defense is grounded in God’s character.
2 Corinthians 1:13–14 ESV
13 For we are not writing to you anything other than what you read and understand and I hope you will fully understand— 14 just as you did partially understand us—that on the day of our Lord Jesus you will boast of us as we will boast of you.
Again, in modern-day English, it would say, “don’t read between the lines. What you see with my writing is what you get. There’s no hidden meaning.”
“I’m writing to you things that are plain and clear if you will simply listen and believe it.”
These verses really form the thesis statement for the first half of the letter.
Paul is boasting, and this theme of boasting will continue throughout.
But unlike the false teachers in Corinth…Paul doesn’t boast about himself, but he boasts about what God has done and is doing through him.
It would have been easy for Paul to simply lay into this church.
When our character and integrity are attacked, our knee-jerk reaction is to lash out and defend ourselves.
But look at Paul’s example.
His conscience is clear…his ministry is validated, his writing is correct…not because he’s the apostle Paul and what he says goes...
But he has taken time to think theologically through this situation…and he has seen the way God has moved and worked in his life.
And that’s lesson for us to learn - our integrity isn’t grounded in who you are a person...
It’s not about you…your credentials or accomplishments.
Our integrity must be grounded in the character of God himself - what he’s done in our lives and how God has used you.

3. Change of Plans

Now we come to vv.15-20…and these are very strange verses…for in them Paul is defending his changed itinerary.
Not only did his critics attack Paul’s character and integrity,
They also used Paul’s change in plans to convince the Corinthians that he was fickle and wishy-washy in his decision making.
It seems ridiculous that something as simply as a change of plans could cause an attack on Paul’s character…but here we are.
I’m not going to spend a lot of time detailing Paul’s travel plans…I want to instead focus on how he defends himself.
And what we see in his defense, is that he again appeals to the never-changing character of God.
Paul writes - “Was I fickle when I changed my mind?
2 Corinthians 1:17 ESV
17 Was I vacillating when I wanted to do this? Do I make my plans according to the flesh, ready to say “Yes, yes” and “No, no” at the same time?
Paul had planned to visit Corinth twice - but instead of returning to them after his painful visit and sorrowful letter...
Paul instead when from Ephesus and headed north to Troas and then on to Macedonia.
Paul’s critics in Corinth used Paul’s change of plans as an example of Paul’s insincerity.
How inconsiderate he is - how fickle and worldly and wishy-washy Paul was in his decision making.
But Paul, who again could have lashed out at this church, instead appeals to the consistency of Jesus, he appeals to the consistency of the gospel he preached…that is his primary means of defense.
Paul writes…Do you think I make decisions according to the flesh?
2 Corinthians 1 ESV
1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God that is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. 6 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. 7 Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. 8 For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 10 He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. 11 You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many. 12 For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you. 13 For we are not writing to you anything other than what you read and understand and I hope you will fully understand— 14 just as you did partially understand us—that on the day of our Lord Jesus you will boast of us as we will boast of you. 15 Because I was sure of this, I wanted to come to you first, so that you might have a second experience of grace. 16 I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia, and to come back to you from Macedonia and have you send me on my way to Judea. 17 Was I vacillating when I wanted to do this? Do I make my plans according to the flesh, ready to say “Yes, yes” and “No, no” at the same time? 18 As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No. 19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. 20 For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. 21 And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, 22 and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. 23 But I call God to witness against me—it was to spare you that I refrained from coming again to Corinth. 24 Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith.
In essence, he writes, “Do you think I’m a worldly person? Do you think I’m inconsistent and contradictory?
And instead of appealing to all the various ways he showed himself to be consistent, Paul instead appeals to the consistency of the gospel, he and his coworkers preached while in Corinth.
Paul writes, “Our message to you wasn’t “Yes” one day and “No” the next.”
In other words, for the 18 months that Paul was with them…he message, his conduct, and his character were consistent.
He preached the same message about Jesus, he lives his life with simplicity and sincerity, and his message to them was clear.
And that’s because the source and subject of their message was and is consistent.
Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. Look at what Paul is doing here…he connects the consistency of his message with the consistency of Jesus.
Jesus never changes. He isn’t “yes” one day and “no” the next.
And in v.20, Paul makes a statement that is probably worthy of its own sermon.
2 Corinthians 1:20 ESV
20 For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.
All the promises of God find their “Yes” in Jesus.
2 Corinthians 1:20 ESV
20 For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.
What a statement! What a thought! All the promises of God find their Yes…find their fulfillment in Jesus.
The seed of the woman who would crush the serpent’s head, the descendant of David who would sit on Israel’s throne forever...
The child born to us, the Son given to us…of his government and peace there will be no end...
The Suffering Servant who would be bruised for our transgressions, by whose stripes we are healed...
All of those…and every other promise that God ever made…all of them find their fulfillment in Jesus.
So even though Paul was personally attacked by his critics, he doesn’t lash out at them - but defends himself by pointing to God and to the consistency of his message about Jesus.
There’s a couple lessons in there for us to learn.
First - we must be people of integrity. Our “Yes” must be “yes” We can’at vacillate - being one person one day and something completely different the next.
We serve a consistent God - he never changes, so we must seek to be consistent in our character.
No matter where you are - whether you are at church, at work, at home, at the mall, at school - be a person of integrity. Be the same, no matter what situation you find yourself in.
Secondly, practically speaking - don’t jump to conclusions about people.
Paul was attacked over something as simple as a change in travel plans. His integrity was attacked because his itinerary changed.
It’s easy, when you’re disappointed or things don’t go your way…it’s easy to lash out and jump to conclusions about the other party. I get it!
Paul changed his plans…and a church he planted and pastored took that to mean he was fickle, wishy-washy, insincere and disingenuous.
They jumped to conclusions.
Paul’s response was, “You know me. You know how I go about making decisions.”
We too, we often jump to conclusions, and our immediate reaction is often to think the worst about a person…even a person we’ve known for a long time...
But we must not do that. there’s an underlying principle here…don’t jump to conclusions about people.
But this passage reminds
Third, we must learn to think theologically about every situation in life.
It may seem odd to us that Paul describes his itinerary in theological terms, but that shows us how God-centered his life was...
and how NOT God-centered ours lives are sometimes.
We must live, not by worldly standards or pressures. We must not make decisions the way the world does, but we do so through prayer, through wise counsel, and we live in the world the way God has revealed to us through his Word.

4. Seal of God

And in the last 2 verses, Paul brilliantly disarms the situation.
2 Corinthians 1:21–22 ESV
21 And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, 22 and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.
Again, he could have lashed out, he could have put himself on a pedestal above the nit-picking Corinthians...
But instead Paul makes a powerful statement about unity.
Notice the use of the plural pronoun ‘us.’
God established us, put his seal on us, given us his Spirit in our hearts.
And once again, everything is grounded in God.
Listen again to what Paul writes. It is God who holds us firm.
It’s nothing you do, its not you holding on to God.
It’s God holding on to you - God holds you in relationship to himself.
Secondly, it is God who anointed and sealed us.
Remember back when we studied Revelation, we talked a lot about this idea of sealing.
A seal in the ancient world was a sign of ownership. it is God who seals us and keeps us as his own.
And finally, God has given us his Spirit as a guarantee. His Spirit is the deposit, the down-payment of things to come.
One commentator i read said this - the Spirit is like an engagement ring - a sign of commitment, but also a sign that the best is still to come.
An engagement ring is a sign of fidelity and commitment…but engagement isn’t the final destination.
As great as it is to be engaged…marriage is even better.
Same with the Spirit - as wonderful and fulfilling and enriching and powerful as it is to live a life keeping in step with the Spirit...
The Spirit the the guarantee that something better is still on the horizon. That something better is eternal life lived in the presence of God.

5. For Next Week… 2 Corinthians 1:23-2:11

On the surface - it seems this passage is about Paul’s travel itinerary...
But dive deeper into the context, and it’s a brilliant crafted, pastorally sensitive defense of Paul’s integrity and character.
He never appeals to his own accomplishments, but his argument is firmly planted in the never changing nature and character of the God he serves.
For next week - read 2 Corinthians 1:23-2:11.
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