Part 2: Paul’s answer to a problem (1:12-7:16)
1:12-14 ~ Paul defends his good name
Verse 12 To *boast is to give an opinion about yourself and what you *believe. There is a wrong kind of *boasting. This is to speak with a wrong understanding of who you are. You also speak with a wrong understanding of what you can do. You depend on your own strength. However, there is a right kind of *boasting. It is to have an honest opinion about yourself. Your opinion comes from your relationship with God. It is about what God has done in you and for you. You are confident of what God can do through you (Romans 15:17-19).
There is something inside a person. It tells him what is right or wrong. That is how Paul understood conscience. It is an internal guide to behaviour. It comes from the highest understanding a person can have of right and wrong. *Sin has affected all human nature. *Sin has also affected this internal guide or conscience.
The understanding of right and wrong could be different for different people. Therefore, conscience cannot be the final judge of right and wrong. Someone may do something wrong. However, his conscience might tell him that it is right. Or someone may do something right. But his conscience might tell him that it is wrong. It may even be something that God says is right. The final judge of our actions is God himself. Paul did judge himself by his conscience. It told him that he was right. But that did not make it right. Only God can judge what is right (1 Corinthians 4:2-5). This does not mean that we should not listen to the voice of conscience. It is important to listen to your conscience (1 Timothy 1:19). It is possible to lose your *faith if you do not listen.
Paul had promised to visit the Corinthians. But for some reason, he had not done so. So, the Corinthians said that they could not trust him. Paul’s conscience tells him that his behaviour is right. His behaviour has been correct ‘in the world’. That means in every place that he has lived. On his first visit, Paul had spent 18 months among the Corinthians. So, he can say that his behaviour has been correct even more with them. This is because he was among them for so long. It was important that they did not doubt his behaviour. Paul brought the message. If they doubted Paul, they would doubt his message too.
Paul points to the difference between the world’s understanding and God’s *grace. The wisdom of the world depends on human thinking and understanding. It depends on the thoughts of clever people. Paul acts by the *grace of God. He trusts in the *Holy Spirit and the power of God. The *Holy Spirit told Paul what to do. It was not his human understanding.
Verses 13-14 The Corinthians said that they did not understand Paul. They did not understand why he wrote to them as he did. Paul did not agree with this. They should understand what he said. He says that there is no reason why they should not understand.
The Corinthians do not understand everything now. But one day they will understand. That will be ‘in the day of the *Lord Jesus’ That will be the day of final judgement. Then they will understand everything. Then they will be able to *boast in truth of Paul and his friends. Paul will also *boast of them. All will become clear.
1:15-2:4 ~ Paul defends his change of travel plans
Verses 15-16 Paul explains why he is certain that he was right. He was right to change his plans. His plan now is to visit them before he goes to Macedonia. Then he can visit them again. This will be on his return from Macedonia. His new plan meant that he would visit them more than once. He would visit them twice. So, he would bless them not once but twice. Further, they would be able to pray for him. They could bless him on his way to Judea.
Verse 17 The Corinthians thought that Paul was weak. They thought this because he changed his plans so easily. Paul asks them, ‘Do you think that I change my plans without thinking?’ ‘Do I make my plans like a man of the world?’ ‘Do I say yes and no at the same time?’ Paul expects the Corinthians to answer, ‘No, we would not expect you to act in that way’.
Verse 18 In *Old Testament times, a man might do something wrong towards his neighbour. He might steal a sheep. Perhaps no-one except God saw it. So the man would make an *oath. He would ask God to do something bad to him if he was lying. Paul is here making an *oath before God. What Paul says is true. That is what the oath is about. He had not said one thing to the Corinthians and then done something different. Jesus said something about making *oaths (Matthew 5:33-37). He did not say that a person should not make an *oath. He said that a person should not make an *oath wrongly. Paul makes *oaths often in his letters. What Paul is saying is important. He wants people to understand that it is important. That is why he makes an *oath.
Verse 19 This was a serious matter for Paul. Paul was telling the truth about his travel plans. It was important for the Corinthians to *believe this. The truth about the message of the *gospel was so important. Paul was telling the truth about it. Therefore, it was important that they knew this. So Paul reminds them of the message that Silas, Timothy and Paul himself *preached. It was the truth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Jesus Christ is not ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ at the same time. He is ‘Yes’ and he has always been ‘Yes’. Jesus Christ does not change. He is the same yesterday, today and for ever (Hebrews 13:8). The message of Jesus and the *Cross never changes.
Silas was one of the leaders of the Jerusalem church. There, at a meeting, they made decisions. Silas took these decisions to Antioch (Acts 15:22). He was with Paul on the second *missionary journey. Timothy was the son of a *Jewish Christian mother. His father was a Greek. He joined the team at Lystra (Acts 16:1-3).
Verse 20 God makes many promises in the *Old Testament. God keeps these promises in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the ‘Yes’ of all God’s promises. Everything that the *Old Testament says will happen. It will happen in Jesus Christ. The *Old Testament is about Christ. It makes sense only when we understand it like that. The *Old Testament points us to Christ. God is saying this about Jesus Christ, his Son. He is his ‘Yes’ to every promise he has ever made.
We agree with what God has said. We agree when we say ‘*Amen’. We say, ‘Yes, it is true’. Jesus is the ‘Yes’. He is also the ‘*Amen’. Everything will come true through him in the end. This will be to the *glory of God. God’s promises will happen in our lives. It will be when we say ‘*Amen’ to them. We may then *glorify God for his *grace to us. We can approach God only in Christ and through Christ. There is no other way. *Sin keeps us away from God. But Christ brings us near to God.
Verses 21-22 Paul explains further why the Corinthians should trust him. He had changed his travel plans. He had not given a reason. However, this was no reason for them not to trust him. Paul had said one thing and done something different. But it was not very important in the circumstances. We might arrange to do something or to see someone. We should then keep that arrangement. Sometimes, however, we may not be able to do that. We do not always know all the facts. Our friends may seem not to keep their promise. But we must not become hard and bitter towards them.
‘Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ’ (verse 21). God himself says that he can trust Paul and those working with him. God himself puts Paul in the right place in Christ. He puts us there too. It is a good place to be.
Next Paul says that God has *anointed them. God chooses a person for a special work. He then *anoints that person. There is an example of this in the *Old Testament. God chose Samuel to *anoint Saul as king of Israel (1 Samuel 9:16). In the same way, the *Holy Spirit *anointed Paul and his friends. He *anointed them to *preach the *gospel.
Next, God had put his *seal on Paul and his friends. This showed that he was their owner. In those days a *seal was a person’s personal sign. If a letter was important, the writer would put his *seal on it. The *seal would show that the letter came from him. It did not come from someone else. The *seal would show that no-one had broken into the letter.
This *seal showed that Paul and his friends belonged to God. We belong to God. We do not own ourselves (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). It is the same for all Christians. God puts the *seal of the *Holy Spirit upon us. A child will know that he has a father and mother. He will know that he belongs to the family. It is the same for a *believer. The *Holy Spirit tells a *believer that God is his Father. He also belongs to God’s family. The *seal of the *Holy Spirit shows that we are *believers.
Someone might buy something from another person. But he may not pay the full amount. He will pay part of the full payment. He will promise to pay the full amount later. This promise is a *guarantee. It means that the rest of the payment will come later. Paul says that the *Holy Spirit is the *guarantee. God has given this *guarantee to all *believers. One day God will give us everything that he has promised. That is the *guarantee. There will be a day when God will raise all *believers from death. We shall then see Jesus. God gives us the *seal (*guarantee) of the *Holy Spirit. He promises that he will keep us safe until that day. What God promises will happen.
Paul is certain that God has chosen him to *preach the *gospel. He is certain that God has given him his *Holy Spirit. The *Holy Spirit will help Paul to do God’s work. Paul’s trust in God is real.
Verses 23-24 ‘I call God as my witness’. This again is an *oath. Paul had not visited the Corinthians. There was a reason for this. It could have been anything. Yes, there was a reason. But it was not the right one. It was that he might save them from pain. We do not know how he might have caused them pain. He does not tell us that. It does not seem to worry him. We see this in other verses (13:1-4, 10). It might be punishment for something that they had done wrong.
However, there is something that Paul does not want the Corinthians to think. He does not want them to think that he is giving them orders. Jesus tells us that ‘the kings of the *Gentiles want to rule over you. They want to give you orders. But it is different for you. Anyone who wants to become great among you, let him be your servant’ (Matthew 20:25-26). An *apostle or any *minister should be one who serves people. He does not give them orders. This does not mean that he should never speak. He should speak if they do wrong.
It is sometimes necessary to tell people that they are wrong. But that need not be a sad thing. Paul works to give the Corinthians joy. He wants to increase their joy. He wants to make them happy people.
Paul wants the Corinthians to be firm in their *faith. That is why he does not rule over them. The Corinthians came to *faith in Jesus Christ through Paul’s work. Now they have their own personal *faith. They keep their *faith by the power of God. Every *believer has his own personal *faith in God. He is responsible only to God. Paul does not want to separate himself from the Corinthians. He does not want to seem to be distant from them. He wants to be one with them. They need him to help them. He needs them to help him.
Verse 1 So Paul decided not to visit the Corinthians again. For that would cause them pain. Paul had planned to visit the Corinthians twice. The first visit was on his way to Macedonia. The second was on his return from Macedonia (1:15-16). The first visit was painful. Therefore, he did not make the second visit. He wrote them a severe letter instead. The next few verses say something about the pain.
Verse 2 Maybe it was only one man who had caused Paul’s pain (5-8). This man had *sinned. So, Paul had asked the Corinthians to punish him for it. They had not wanted to do this. That had caused pain for both Paul and the Corinthians. They must deal with this situation. Only then can Paul be happy.
Verse 3 Paul writes about the previous letter. He refers to the one that contained severe words. Paul had expected the Corinthians to do as he asked. But they had not agreed with him. They did not agree with the punishment that Paul recommended. Paul worried about this. If they had obeyed him, he would have been glad. They too would be glad because he was glad. He felt sure of this. So, when he visited them he would be better able to deal with their problem.
Verse 4 Paul had great trouble and felt much pain. He may have been referring to his troubles in Asia (1:8-9). He felt pain now about the difficulties in Corinth. We can understand why he cried about this.
Paul had written a severe letter. But his purpose was not to make the Corinthians sad. It was to let them know his love for them. True love does not avoid dealing with difficulties. We must not act as if they are not there. True love faces the difficulty and deals with it.