When Plans Have to Change - 2 Corinthians 1:12-2:17
How do you handle change? Does it freak you out or energise you when plans get changed? When meetings get postponed, or events cancelled at short notice? Is it a good thing or a bad thing? How flexible are you?
If we are following Jesus we should expect him to make changes to our plans because we are not in control and we don’t know what the future holds. That is what makes life as a minister so challenging for me - to leave enough room in my daily schedules and weekly planning for the Holy Spirit, for what appears to me to be the unexpected, but in reality is all part of his plan.
In his book, Profiles
in Courage, John F.
Kennedy writes, “Great crises produce great men
and great deeds of courage.” While it is true that a crisis helps to make a
person, it is also true that a crisis helps to reveal what a person is made of.
How we handle the challenges of life, especially how we manage change, will
depend largely on what kind of character we have; for what life does to us
depends on what life finds in us.
As we have begun to see in this very personal letter, Paul opened his heart to the Corinthians (and to us) and revealed the trials he had experienced. Last week in the first part of chapter 1 we considered the Place of Suffering - and the need to remember what God is to you. We looked at the the Purpose of Suffering - remember what God does through you. And we took heart from Paul’s Perseverance in Suffering - remember what God does for you. In the rest of chapter 1 and on into chapter 2, Paul teaches us how to handle change and the misunderstandings and miscommunication that change can bring. Paul had been severely criticized by some of the people in Corinth because he had changed his plans and apparently not kept his promise.
When Christians misunderstand each other, the wounds can go very deep. There were also those who opposed his apostolic authority in the church. One of the members—possibly a leader—had to be disciplined, and this gave Paul great sorrow. Finally, there were the difficult circumstances Paul had to endure in Asia (2 Cor. 1:8-11), a trial so severe that he despaired of life. What kept Paul from giving up?
What were the spiritual resources that kept Paul going? Three may be highlighted in these verses. (In this I am indebted to Warren Wersbie for the outline and some of the content).
1. A Clear Conscience (2 Cor. 1:12-24)
Our English word
conscience comes from two Latin words: com, meaning “with,” and scire, meaning
“to know.” Conscience is that inner faculty that “knows with” our spirit and
approves when we do right, but accuses when we do wrong. Conscience is not the
Law of God, but it points to that Law. It is the window that lets in the light;
and if the window gets dirty because we disobey, then the light becomes dimmer
and dimmer. Paul used the word conscience twenty-three
times in his letters and spoken ministry in Acts. “So I strive always to keep
my conscience clear before God and man.” (Acts 24:16). When a person has a clear
conscience, they have integrity, not duplicity; and can be trusted.
Mark Twain once said, “when you tell the truth you don’t have to remember”. Why were the Corinthians making these accusations against Paul? Because he had had to change his plans. He had promised to spend the winter in Corinth “if the Lord permit” (1 Cor. 16:2-8). Paul intended collecting an offering from Corinth and taking it to help the poor believers in Judea.
Much to Paul’s regret and embarrassment, he had to change those plans. Instead he now planned to make two visits to Corinth, one on his way into Macedonia, and the other on his way from Macedonia. He would then add the Corinthian collection to that of the Macedonian churches and go on his way to Jerusalem. But even Plan B had to be scrapped. Why? Because his own loving heart could not endure what he describes as another “painful visit” (2 Cor. 1:23; 2:1-3). Paul had informed the church about his change in plan, but even this did not silence the opposition.
They apparently then accused him of being flickle and worldly (2 Cor. 1:17), of making plans just to please himself. They were saying, “If Paul says one thing, he really means another! He is inconsistent.” Misunderstandings among God’s people are often very difficult to untangle, because one misunderstanding often leads to another. Once we start to question the integrity of someone or distrust their words, the door is open to all kinds of problems, and sometimes there is a downward spiral of a loss of confidence.
Let me illustrate this. Occasionally people have questioned why I am away from the parish at various times of the year. When invitations come to speak elsewhere I first evaluate my existing responsibilities and see if they are compatible. Then I consult with others including Joanna. When invitations come, I use various criteria to discern whether the call to serve is from God or just me fuelling my ego or whether an excuse for avoiding my responsibility.
1. Evangelistic quotient: Will more seekers hear about Jesus than if I don’t go?
2. Teaching Quotient: Will it help build up the church, especially where it is suffering persecution or opposition?
3. Prophetic Quotient: Does it confront evil or injustice which this is hindering evangelism and discipleship?
In making a decision, I seek to have a clear conscience knowing I am accountable to Jesus. Several things flow from a clear conscience. Paul reminds us, with a clear conscience:
have been anointed by the Spirit (2 Cor. 1:21). In the Old Testament, the only persons who were
anointed by God were prophets, priests, and kings. Their anointing equipped
them for service. As we yield to the Spirit, He enables us to serve God and to
live godly lives.
He gives us the
special spiritual discernment that we need to serve God acceptably (1 John 2:20, 27). The Spirit has also sealed us
(2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:13) so that we belong to Christ and are claimed by Him. The witness of the Spirit within guarantees
that we are authentic children of God and not counterfeit (Rom. 5:5; 8:9).
The Spirit also is our deposit, assuring us of all that is to come. That He will protect us, because we are His. He enables us to enjoy the blessings of heaven in our hearts today! Because of the indwelling Holy Spirit, Paul was able to have a clear conscience and face misunderstandings with love and patience. If you live to please people, misunderstandings will depress you; but if you live to please God, you can face misunderstandings with faith and courage. Paul had a clear conscience. Secondly Paul had,
2. A Compassionate Heart (2 Cor. 2:1-11)
One of the
members of the Corinthian church caused Paul
a great deal of pain. We are not sure if this is the same man Paul wrote about in 1 Corinthians 5, or someone who
publicly challenged Paul’s apostolic authority. Paul had made a quick visit to Corinth to deal with the issue (2 Cor. 12:14; 13:1) and had also written a painful letter to them about the
situation. In all of this, he revealed a compassionate heart. Note the
evidences of Paul’s love.
2.1 Love puts others first (2:1-4).
He did not think of his own feelings, but of the feelings of others. In Christian ministry, those who bring us great joy can also create for us great sorrow; and this was what Paul was experiencing. He wrote them a strong letter, born out of the anguish of his own heart, and bathed in Christian love. His great desire was that the church might obey the Word, discipline the offender, and bring purity and peace to the congregation. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful” (Prov. 27:6).
Paul knew that his words would wound those he loved, and this brought pain to his heart. But he also knew (as every loving parent knows) that there is a big difference between hurting someone and harming him. Sometimes those who love us must hurt us in order to keep us from harming ourselves. Paul could have exercised his apostolic authority and commanded the people to respect him and obey him; but he preferred to minister with patience and love. God knew that Paul’s change in plans had as its motive the sparing of the church from further pain (2 Cor. 1:23-24). Love always considers the feelings of others and seeks to put their good ahead of everything else.
2.2 Love seeks to help others grow (2:5-6).
Paul does not mention the name of the man who had opposed him and divided the church family. However, Paul did tell the church to discipline this man for his own good. If the person referred to is the fornicator mentioned in 1 Corinthians 5, then these verses indicate that the church did hold a meeting and discipline the man, and that he repented of his sins and was restored.
Church discipline is not a popular subject or a widespread practice but it is evidence of love. Unless you tell me I am harming myself or someone else you do not love me. When you tell others about my faults but not me you do not love me. The easy thing to do is “sweep it under the carpet” instead of obeying the Scriptures and confronting the situation boldly by “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). “Peace at any price” is not a biblical principle, for there cannot be true spiritual peace without purity (James 3:13-18). Problems that are “swept under the carpet” have a habit of multiplying and creating even worse problems later on.
The man whom Paul confronted, and whom the church disciplined, was helped by this kind of loving attention. I am sure as a child you remember you didn’t always appreciate the discipline your parents gave you, though I know, speaking personally, that I deserved far more than I ever received. But now that I look back, I can thank God that they loved me enough to hurt me and hinder me from harming myself. Now I understand what they really meant when they said, “This hurts us more than it hurts you.” A clear conscience and a compassionate heart.
3. A Conquering Faith (2 Cor. 2:12-17)
On the surface it
appeared that Paul’s plans had completely fallen apart.
Where was Titus? What was going on at Corinth? Paul had open doors of ministry at Troas, but he had no peace in his heart. Humanly speaking,
it looked like the end of the battle, with Satan as the victor. Except for one thing: Paul
had a conquering faith! He was able to break out in praise and write, “But
thanks be to God!” (2 Cor. 2:14) This song of praise was born out of the
assurances Paul had because he trusted the Lord.
Paul was sure that God was leading him (v.
14a). The circumstances were not comfortable, and Paul
could not explain the detours and disappointments, but he was sure that God was
in control. We can always be sure that God is working everything together for
good, so long as we love Him and seek to obey His will (Rom. 8:28). This
promise is not an excuse for carelessness, but it is an encouragement for
The picture Paul uses here is of the “Roman Triumph,” This was the special tribute that Rome gave to their conquering generals. It was their equivalent of the American “ticker-tape parade.” If a general won a victory over an enemy on foreign soil, and if he killed at least 5,000 enemy soldiers and gained new territory for the Empire, then he was entitled to a Roman Triumph. The processional would include the general riding in a golden chariot, surrounded by his officers. The parade would also include a display of the spoils of battle, as well as the captive enemy soldiers. The Roman priests would be in the parade, carrying burning incense to pay tribute to the victorious army. The procession would follow a special route through the city and would end at the Circus Maximus where the helpless captives would entertain the people by fighting wild beasts. It was a very special day in Rome when the citizens were treated to a full-scale “Roman Triumph.”
How does this apply to us today? Circumstances may discourage us, and people may misunderstand us; but we have in Christ the resources we need to win the battle: a clear conscience, a compassionate heart, and a conquering faith.
“What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:31,37)
With grateful thanks to Warren Wersbie and his little commentary “Be Encouraged”, to Max Lucado and “The Devotional Bible”, to Charles Swindoll and his study “A Ministry Anyone Could Trust” and to Roy Clement’s commentary, “The Strength of Weakness” for much of the inspiration and content of this sermon.