Under Fire

Scripture: 2 Corinthians 1:12-19

12 We can say with confidence and a clear conscience that we have lived with a God-given holiness and sincerity in all our dealings. We have depended on God’s grace, not on our own human wisdom. That is how we have conducted ourselves before the world, and especially toward you. 13 Our letters have been straightforward, and there is nothing written between the lines and nothing you can’t understand. I hope someday you will fully understand us, 14 even if you don’t understand us now. Then on the day when the Lord Jesus returns, you will be proud of us in the same way we are proud of you.

15 Since I was so sure of your understanding and trust, I wanted to give you a double blessing by visiting you twice—16 first on my way to Macedonia and again when I returned from Macedonia. Then you could send me on my way to Judea.

17 You may be asking why I changed my plan. Do you think I make my plans carelessly? Do you think I am like people of the world who say “Yes” when they really mean “No”? 18 As surely as God is faithful, our word to you does not waver between “Yes” and “No.” 19 For Jesus Christ, the Son of God, does not waver between “Yes” and “No.” He is the one whom Silas, Timothy, and I preached to you, and as God’s ultimate “Yes,” he always does what he says.

INTRODUCTION

There was someone in the church, a male, [2 Cor. 2:5] who was highly critical of Paul. He was a trouble maker and his actions were dividing the church. Most of 2 Corinthians is a defense by Paul concerning the criticism coming from this man and his followers. Paul is offended, hurt and feeling misunderstood.

TRANSITION

Basically, the accusations are three-fold

I. PAUL IS BEING ACCUSED OF BEING INSINCERE IN HIS MOTIVES

[2 Cor. 1:12-13] We can say with confidence [pride, boasting] and a clear conscience that we have lived with a God-given holiness [singleness, simplicity, sincerity,the virtue of one who is free from pretense and hypocrisy] and sincerity in all our dealings. 

Paul says, “I take pride in my sincerity, I have not been duplicitous, I have been sincere [NRSV, frank].” As much as we hate it, we cannot stop people from questioning our motives. I learned this the hard way some 40 years ago. After a difficult and painful deacons meeting, I tried to get some consolation from one of the deacons that I assumed was a sympathizer. I made a mistake, one that I vowed not to make again. I said to him, “Well they accused me of a lot of things but the one thing they cannot accuse me of is not loving people.” He said without a moments hesitation, “Oh, that is exactly what they are accusing you of.” I was stunned. I didn’t know how to respond. At first I thought he was wrong but after giving it a lot of thought, I wasn’t sure. His statement shattered my confidence. BUT, painful as it was, I learned a great lesson: you cannot control what people think and say about you.

II. PAUL IS BEING ACCUSED OF BEING AMBIGUOUS IN HIS SPEECH

We have depended on God’s grace, not on our own human wisdom. That is how we have conducted ourselves before the world, and especially toward you. Our letters have been straightforward, and there is nothing written between the lines and nothing you can’t understand.

Secondly, Paul said, “We depend on God’s grace, not human wisdom.” Not only was Paul sincere, he had been clear and simple. There was nothing written between the lines, no subliminal messages. Everything is simple and direct and should be easy to understand. Paul’s goal was not to mystify but to motivate. Paul was a PhD., an intellect, a theologian unparalleled but his goal was not to be high-minded or overly intellectual. He wanted the message to be simple and clear.

Years ago, I had a pastor friend who did not complete his college or seminary degrees. To compensate, he would use the dictionary to form his sermon titles and outlines. He called on Saturday night to tell me what he was preaching the next morning. One Saturday night I got a call from Rob, he said, “I am preaching on the vicissitudes of life.” I said, “What on earth are vicissitudes? He said, “I don’t know but they don’t either.” My curiosity was killing me so I looked it up, Rob could have entitled his message THE UPS AND DOWNS IN LIFE. Our goal is not to impress but to communicate truth. For every big word, there are three little ones that mean the same thing.

My kids and grand kids pick at me about my pronunciation of words and I admit it is pretty bad. I have a 12 year old that corrects me. I speak a southern slang. I tell folks that I am bilingual, I speak Red Neck and a bit of English. When my kids are upbraiding me at the dinner table about my diction, I always respond the same way: “Did you understand what I meant?” Their response is “Yes, but…” and I say, there are not buts, you either understood or you didn’t. I try to be clear in delivering His message. This is a goal for me but it was also a goal for Paul and they still criticized him.

Paul’s prayer:  I hope someday you will fully understand us, even if you don’t understand us now. Paul was a great teacher. I study his writings and letter all the time and every time I study them, I understand something that I didn’t before. His teaching is simple, yet profound. I cannot understand why the Corinthians did not appreciate him.

III. PAUL IS BEING ACCUSED OF BEING FICKLE IN HIS PLANS

[2 Cor. 1:15-18] Since I was so sure of your understanding and trust, I wanted to give you a double blessing by visiting you twicefirst on my way to Macedonia and again when I returned from Macedonia. Then you could send me on my way to Judea. You may be asking why I changed my plan. Do you think I make my plans carelessly? Do you think I am like people of the world who say “Yes” when they really mean “No”? As surely as God is faithful, our word to you does not waver between “Yes” and “No.” 

According to Warren W. Wiersbe and Randolph Tasker, Paul changed his mind [plans] twice. He first promised is found in 1 Corinthians 16:5-9…

 PLAN A–I am coming to visit you after I have been to Macedonia,  for I am planning to travel through Macedonia. Perhaps I will stay awhile with you, possibly all winter, and then you can send me on my way to my next destination. This time I don’t want to make just a short visit and then go right on. I want to come and stay awhile, if the Lord will let me. In the meantime, I will be staying here at Ephesus until the Festival of Pentecost. There is a wide-open door for a great work here, although many oppose me.

PLAN BI wanted to give you a double blessing [joy, benefit] by visiting you twicefirst on my way to Macedonia and again when I returned from Macedonia. Then you could send me on my way to Judea. [2 Corinthians 1:15]

Paul made three visits to Corinth:

  1. The initial visit [A.D. 50]–Acts 18:1-18
  2. The second visit [A.D. 55] –I Corinthians 4:19, 16:5-8
  3. The Third Visit [A.D. 57]–II Corinthians 12:14, 13:1

According to most scholars, Paul wrote before the A.D. 55 visit. There are a lot of details that are fuzzy and I don’t think anyone other than the LORD knows exactly when or how many visits Paul made: the POINT of the scripture is clear. The Corinthians were accusing Paul of being fickle, because he changed his travel plans once and perhaps twice. I would learn toward the latter.

Paul responds with questions…

  1. Do you think I make my plans carelessly? NLT. The NRSV reads… Was I vacillating when I wanted to do this? Going back and forth, unable to make a definite decision.
  2. Do you think I am like people of the world who say “Yes” when they really mean “No”? Accusing Paul of being indefinite, unclear, wishy-washy, etc. My wife tries to micro manage my affairs especially related to cell phones. I would get my own phone but she insist that she do it. When my contract ran out I was debating whether to stay with Apple [who I want to boycott] or switch to Samsung. I was taking my time, talking to different individuals and I was getting conflicting reports. I told her to wait until I decided but she didn’t, she took it upon herself to order the Samsung. When I scolded her for jumping ahead of me, she accused me of being wishy-washy. This did not go over well. I have been called a lot of things but up until that point, not one has ever called me wishy-washy. I may make the wrong decision, but I make decisions. In this case, there was no rush. Paul did not take kindly to being labeled wishy-washy and I don’t blame him.

CONCLUSION

In conclusion: Paul said, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, does not waver between “Yes” and “No.” He is the ONE I preached to you, and as God’s ultimate “Yes,” he always does what he says.

The bottom line is that we humans, despite our effort and good intentions, cannot always keep our promises. Paul had some unexpected things to come up and he was providentially hindered. He was not breaking a promise intentionally, but he lacked the power to follow through with his original plans.

THE FIRST RULE OF MISSION WORK is be flexible or you will get bent out of shape. It is fine to plan a mission trip to the second or third world but you need to understand the fact that they do not use clocks the way we do. In Mission work, you have to go to Plan B and Plan C at times.

Should we think things through before we make promises? Yes, I think so but sometimes we get caught up in the moment and make a promise we can’t keep [Peter]. This is the bad news, humans are not 100% reliable but JESUS is the ultimate PROMISE KEEPER. Paul said, “Jesus Christ, the One I preached to you is God’s ULTIMATE YES. He always keeps His promises.

[All sermons are unedited]

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