Because I was sure of this, I wanted to come to you first, so that you might have a second experience of grace. 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. 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? As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No. 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. 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. And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. – 2 Corinthians 2:15-22 ESV
When reading any book in the Bible, but especially the pastoral letters, it is important to recognize that there was an original audience to whom the letters were written. That means there was a particular context which drove the content of the letter. That is the case with our text for today. Paul was addressing an issue that unique to he and his audience in Corinth. In his previous letter to the church there, he had told them that he had planned to come and see them.
I will visit you after passing through Macedonia, for I intend to pass through Macedonia, and perhaps I will stay with you or even spend the winter, so that you may help me on my journey, wherever I go. For I do not want to see you now just in passing. I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. – 1 Corinthians 16:5-7 ESV
Evidently Paul’s plans had changed and he was not able to follow through on his plans. The result was that there were those in Corinth who began to question his word. So on top of having to deal with a faction in the church who were questioning the validity of his apostleship and therefore, his authority, he was now having to defend his integrity.
Paul wanted them to know that he had been sincere when he told them he was going to visit them. In fact, twice in this passage he claims that his intentions had been to go to Corinth. “I wanted to come to you first” 2 Corinthians 1:15 ESV). “I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia” (2 Corinthians 1:16 ESV). But his plans had changed. His agenda had been altered by God. We can read in the book of Acts that it was not uncommon for Paul’s plans to be impacted by the Spirit of God.
Next Paul and Silas traveled through the area of Phrygia and Galatia, because the Holy Spirit had prevented them from preaching the word in the province of Asia at that time.Then coming to the borders of Mysia, they headed north for the province of Bithynia, but again the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go there. So instead, they went on through Mysia to the seaport of Troas. – Acts 16:6-8 NLT
Paul was a servant of God and as such, he was obligated to do what God wanted him to do. His plans were subservient to those of God. And yet, the Corinthians were viewing his failure to visit them as vacillation or, even worse, disingenuousness. So Paul asks them, “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’?” (2 Corinthians 1:17 NLT). Paul insists that his failure to come to see them has nothing to do with vacillation, but everything to do with submission to the will of God. In fact, he claims that he, Silas and Timothy were simply being faithful to what God was calling them to do, just as Christ was faithful to do the will of His Father. Paul’s point seems to be that his will and desires were completely subservient to the will of God. He was completely obligated to do what God wanted him to do, even when it was in direct conflict with his own well-intentioned desires.
In essence, Paul is boldly claiming that to question his integrity and faithfulness was to question the very will of God. He was simply doing what God was telling him to do, and God is always faithful. His yes is yes and His no is no. He doesn’t lie. His word can be trusted. And because Paul was doing the will of God, the Corinthians were essentially questioning the integrity of God and His Son. In fact, Paul states, “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” (2 Corinthians 1:19 NLT). The bottom line for Paul was that Jesus was the ultimate “Yes” from God. He was the unquestioned expression of God’s faithfulness because through Him all the promises of God had been fulfilled. This wasn’t about Paul keeping his word, but about God keeping His. It was about the gospel and the spread of it throughout the known world. That was Paul’s duty and responsibility and in doing his job, if it meant that his own will had to take a back seat, he was okay with that. And the Corinthians needed to be so as well. Their unmet expectations had to take second place to God’s divine plan. God’s will took precedence over their personal and somewhat petty disappointments.
Rather than being put out with Paul, they needed to remember what God had done for them. As much as they may have desired to see Paul and were disappointed that he had failed to keep his word, they needed to recall that God’s promise was unbreakable and Paul had been the one to bring it to them.
It is God who enables us, along with you, to stand firm for Christ. He has commissioned us, and he has identified us as his own by placing the Holy Spirit in our hearts as the first installment that guarantees everything he has promised us. – 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 NLT
People will let us down, but God never will. Even faithful believers, who are committed to and bound by the sovereign will of God, will occasionally disappoint us. But we must remember that God’s word is always reliable and the fulfillment of His will is unstoppable. What appear to be setbacks from our perspective are simply God’s will being done in ways that we can’t understand. What come across as disappointments or delays are nothing more than the will of God conflicting with our own desires. Paul was disappointed that he had not been able to make it to Corinth. But he knew that God’s will was better than his own. He had plans and aspirations, but he knew that God’s plans were superior to His own. We can know we’re learning to trust God when we find ourselves gladly submitting our will to His, displaying dependence rather than disappointment.