2 Corinthians 1:15-20

2 Corinthians 1:15-20

Entrusting Travels (and all things!) to God’s Faithful Sovereignty

We pick up the text remembering Paul’s confidence that he and the Corinthians will one day boast of each other because of what God has been doing in and through their lives. Paul can confidently affirm this (v. 15), but sadly the Corinthians are skeptical (v. 17). Their trust in God’s apostle has been tested. And the Corinthians would say that it was Paul’s fault: it’s because of Paul that their trust in him has been questioned. So, what’s the problem? The problem is found in Paul’s earlier statements in 1 Corinthians. In that letter, he tells them that he intends on visiting them, to deal with some of their problems (4:19), and to continue to minister to them. In fact, he was desirous of perhaps even spending the winter there. He did not want to just visit them in passing (16:5-7). Back in our text, we come to find out that Paul was not able to visit them as planned. He had wanted to visit them. He willed to see them not just once but twice more: on his way to Macedonia, then back from Macedonia on his way to Judea (2 Cor. 1:16). He had already spent 18 months in Corinth (Acts 18:11), but he loved them, cared for them, and knew that they needed his spiritual oversight. He wanted to give them a second experience of grace (2 Cor. 1:15).

When Paul was a no-show, his motives were impugned. His character was attacked. His apostleship was doubted. You can hear their accusatory rebuke in Paul’s words: “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?” (v. 17). There it is: Paul can’t be trusted. His word is not his bond. His word is useless. He says one thing but does the opposite. He promises to visit us, but his promise is worthless. Paul is accused of disobeying Jesus’ word in Matthew 5:37: “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” That’s a serious charge against the apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. If the apostle can’t be trusted, then can the God whose message he proclaims be trusted?

Paul’s personal defense of his own word, therefore, becomes a defense of his God of faithfulness. He bases his defense on the God who is surely faithful (v. 18) and on the Son of God, Jesus Christ, in whom is “Yes.” Again, there’s more at stake here than Paul’s own word. It’s the word of God that is being subtly and craftily placed under attack. It’s no wonder, then, that Paul flatly denies their charge: “We didn’t vacillate. We didn’t say ‘yes’ then turn around and say ‘no.’ Our word has been either ‘yes’ or ‘no.’” And if the Corinthians were careful readers of Paul’s first letter to them, they would have seen that Paul qualifies his desire and plan to visit. In the passages already mentioned (1 Cor. 4:19; 16:7), Paul says, “If the Lord wills/permits.”

He’ll later say why he ended up not visiting them (1:22-2:4), but here we are brought back to the faithfulness of our sovereign God. We are reminded that even our travel plans fall under the purview of the God of all creation. Our travel plans need to be entrusted to the Lord who wills (cf. James 4:13-17). After all, even as Paul says, it is the Lord who determines the when and where of his creatures (Acts 17:26). We can make plans and we can desire to go places (and we should), but we ought to do so in a spirit of contentment, with an attitude of trust in our faithful and sovereign God, who knows what we need better than we do. God knew what Paul needed better than he did, and that meant traveling elsewhere. God knew what the Corinthians needed better than they did, and that meant no visit from Paul but a painful letter instead.

When your plans change (as they do daily, don’t they?), what’s your response? Frustration, discontentment, anger, doubt about God’s control or goodness? When someone’s plan that involves you changes, what’s your response? Like the Corinthians, are you eager to impugn the motives of the person, or quick to call into question the faithfulness of God? Let’s put off that attitude, and instead put on the attitude of trust: trust in our trustworthy God.