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Paul's Change of Plans

Sermon passage: (2 Corinthians 1:12-2:4) Spoken on: July 26, 2010
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Pastor Wilson Tan
For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: 2 Corinthians

Tags: 2 Corinthians

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About Pastor Wilson Tan: Pastor Tan served as a youth executive at the Presbyterian Synod, and as a pastor in Jubilee Church. He continues to serve in church as a cell leader in zone ministry.

Sermon on 2 Corinthians 1:12-2:4

Since we began the study of Acts in the cell groups and now exploring 2 Corinthians from the pulpit, I have come to appreciate Apostle Paul in a different light. Most would know of Paul as a passionate Jewish man, who had a life changing experience on the road to Damascus and became a servant of the Lord. He was widely known as a faithful missionary and a martyr who died for his faith. But here in this second letter to the Corinthians, I see him primarily as a pastor ministering to his sheep at the church in Corinth. Paul as Pastor is not as commonly discussed as Paul the Missionary and Martyr. Reading Paul from a pastoral perspective helps us to understand his message and letter better, especially a difficult one like 2 Corinthians. It is a very emotionally-charged letter. We feel his heart-beat as he shares his deep feelings for the church. Unlike other Pauline letters, 2 Corinthians is filled with many digression and side-tracked theological footnotes as he weaves in and out throughout his letter. The Corinthian church has always held a special place in his heart. Together today we will explore the pastoral heart of Apostle Paul.

Like many in ministry, pastors faced many pains and heartaches interacting with their sheep. Pastor Paul was no exception. At around a.d. 50 Paul established the church at Corinth. Even though he was their founder, Paul’s conduct had recently come under scrutiny by his friends and foes in Corinth. How could it be? Wasn’t he an apostle respected by many Christians? He was like Steve Jobs when he resigned from Apple, the company he had founded, after a power-struggle with his board of directors. Here, Paul was not struggling with power, but with the discipline of the church and the integrity of his apostleship. What has he done that has caused such examination and questioning? To answer that, we need to understand the historical background in which it was written.

Primarily, 2 Corinthians was a letter of response to a complicated history between Paul and the Corinthian church. In short, as a spiritual father, it was a letter of encouragement to his spiritual children in Corinth. It was also a letter of defence against his detractors. What were the charges made against him by his opponents? There were many[1] but I will only focus on one today. Here, he was accused of vacillating travel plans. To vacillate is to “be undecided about something; waver between conflicting positions or courses of action.” He has been accused of being fickle in his plans and demanding in his letters. Was Paul guilty as charged? Let’s take a look at his travel itinerary. [Show map]

PLAN A: Ephesus → Macedonia → Corinth → Jerusalem (acc. to 1 Cor. 16:2-8)
Plan A was conceived in Ephesus as recorded in 1 Cor. 16:5-8, 5After I go through Macedonia, I will come to you—for I will be going through Macedonia. 6Perhaps I will stay with you awhile, or even spend the winter, so that you can help me on my journey, wherever I go. 7I do not want to see you now and make only a passing visit; I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits.”

The problem started after he leaves Ephesus. He made an unscheduled trip to Corinth before Macedonia. Effectively, he pushed forward his trip so that he could see them sooner. But this surprise trip turned out to be a painful one for both the church and him. As mentioned in 2 Cor. 2:1, “For I made up my mind not to make another painful visit to you.”

PLAN B: Ephesus → Corinth “painful visit” → Macedonia → Corinth → Judea (acc. 2 Cor. 1:15-16)
Plan B involves two visits to Corinth. The revised Plan B in 2 Cor. 1:15-16 was a plan he formed at Ephesus, was announced at Corinth when Paul arrived on the “painful visit”. “15 Because I was sure of this, I wanted to come to you first, so that you might have a second experience of grace. 16 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.” Paul was merely relating his desire to see them a second time and work out a trip from Corinth to Macedonia and back to Corinth again.

He had always wanted to visit Corinth for a second time. He wanted to see them again so that they could have a “second experience of grace” (see 2 Cor. 1:15). Was God’s grace not enough for them that they need another? What is this second experience of grace (charis)? The Gk. word for grace is charis, which is commonly explained as God’s grace. It is often understood as God’s unsought and unmerited blessing or gifts. But here in this letter, Paul uses the term differently. It is likely to mean “kindness” or “opportunity for kindness”. Grace is a central theme in Paul’s theology. But here, grace is understood as hospitality.

Hospitality is an important gift for the early church. As it was rare for apostles to make plans to visit a city or a church, whenever possible, they are often invited into homes of hospitable Christians when their travel plans are known. Paul wants the church in Corinth to have the opportunity for kindness during his second visit. It is an opportunity for them to practice their spiritual gifts, like speaking in tongues, preaching and teaching, etc. It was an opportunity to love. This “second experience of grace” did not occur until much later. Let’s compare his earlier two plans with his actual travel.

ACTUAL TRAVEL: Ephesus → Corinth “painful visit” → Ephesus (Acts 19:23-41) → Troas (2 Cor. 2:12-13)→ Macedonia (2 Cor. 2:13; 7:5, wrote 2 Cor. acc. to Acts 20:1b-2a) → Corinth “second experience of grace” (Acts 20:2b-3a)
After his painful visit to Corinth, he returned to Ephesus instead to look into the Demetrius riot as recorded in Acts 19:23-41. And after that was settled, he went to Macedonia as intended in Plan A. It was in Macedonia that he wrote 2 Corinthians. The 2 letters to the Corinthians found in our Bible today are not the only two that Paul wrote to them. It is believed that there were at least four letters. 1 Corinthians refers to Letter B and 2 Corinthians refers to Letter D. Letters A and C are lost and cannot be identified.

His letters to the Corinthians were largely about their discipline, or their lack of it. In Letter A, he told them not to associate with sexually immoral people. After his surprise “painful visit” at Corinth, he felt that a “severe letter” (as described in 2 Cor. 2:3-4) to them would be better served than another painful visit. It is believed that the “severe letter” was Letter C. No one knows when this letter was written as it was never found. This severe letter got him into further trouble. He was accused of being a bully in his letters.[2]

He answers his charges with the testimony of his conscience. For Paul, his conscience is clear. He has behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity. He may be a fool in the eyes of the world. But in the eyes of God, he is deeply entrenched in his grace and love. Fortunately, not everyone in Corinth was negative to him. He had his many supporters; those who had witness his ministry in person and had knowledge of his true conduct. Paul did not deny his changes in plans, but he gave his reason for doing so. It was to prevent them greater hurt and pain. The time is not right. He did not abandon his plan to see them again, but held back to a later date.

Paul was not criticised because he had changed his plans, but the accusation was that he has been making plans according to the flesh. Paul was accused of being like those in the world who could not be trusted. It was an attack on his character. Like Paul our character and intention may sometimes be questioned.

In ministry, sometimes, we may come under scrutiny for our conduct too. Someone may accuse you of building an empire in church. God forbids! Someone may accuse you of stealing sheep from one ministry to another, or from one church to another. Someone may accuse you of being lazy, inefficient, uncaring, insensitive, overly demanding, fickle-minded, and lacking integrity. But have we missed the big picture? Have we forgotten why we are in ministry in the first place? Have we lost our first love to love God and to love others?

The question which I am most troubled when reading this passage is “Why did Paul write this letter?” What compelled him to respond in this manner?

Key message[3] – Let’s take a look at 2 Cor. 5:14-15: For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

The story is: Paul, a man who once persecuted Christians, was so transformed by his encounter with Christ, that today, he would stop at nothing to love people. He would endure his own weakness, other's criticism, charges, lack of appreciation, his soft-spoken-ness, etc., etc., etc...not so much from his ENEMIES, but from the very people he has poured out his life to love! Read from the start of 2 Cor. 1, his agony...for having to be harsh with his spiritual children, having had to discipline them because they were wrong. Can you feel his pain...especially parents out there? After punishing your kids for something they did wrong...and being the one who feels bad and guilty, as though you were the one who was wrong? Feeling like you had to apologize to your kids for punishing them?

I do. I feel really bad whenever I had to punish Ezra. I always make it a point to reconcile with him after punishing him. I would explain to him slowly what he has done wrong and made it a point to hug him at the end. I have heard horror stories of parents beating their own children until they are hospitalised. That is not discipline, it is child abuse. Discipline has to be done in love. Do not confuse discipline with abuse. Never discipline your child when you are angry. To discipline in love is to give of one self for the other. I like a recent lingo on the radio. “You can give without love, but you cannot love without giving.”

Can you see Paul’s love for the Corinthians? How he received no pleasure from them for all that he's poured out to them? And in fact PAIN! He felt pain that he caused THEM PAIN, when it was them who caused him pain. And instead of wallowing in HIS PAIN, he was focused on THEIRS, and in the name of Christ, he decided not to return... Can you see how much he struggled with that decision...going to lengths to explain it's not that he's abandoning them, but that he thought it best...for now, 'cos he "hurt" them so much the last time... Yet, continually reassuring them, that he has not abandoned them, Christ has not abandoned them...pleading with them...not to merely see his actions of not coming back sooner...and missing how he longs for them in his heart. Not only does he longs for them...he longs for them to love him, to be proud of him, to accept him, and accept his love for them.

Isn't that the love of Christ for every one of us? This is a story of a man, who encountered God, even while he was persecuting God. But he GOT IT, GOT GOD'S much so, that he is COMPELLED to live as Christ lived for him; as Christ died for him. This is what ALL OF US ARE called to. Be inspired by this beautiful example...from Christ, from Paul. Let us live in wreckless abandon to love our neighbour as ourselves...drawing from a wellspring of love from the Christ who first loved us, and sacrificed himself for us.

What can we learn from Pastor Paul? He holds on to one simple truth: 1) Christ’s everlasting love. In Christ, it is always “Yes” because Christ has fulfilled all the promises that God has given to him. Christ has loved us so much that he gave his life for our sake. Paul continues to love the church even when the church has failed him. Can we love like Paul does? Can we love like Christ does? Not a “groovy kind of love”, but a painful kind. Can we love until it hurts?

My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, we are all God’s children. We were bought with a price. We are sealed in Christ, with the Spirit in our hearts. It is easy to say, “We love because [Christ] first loved us” (1 John 4:19). If we truly believed that we are united in love because of Christ, we need to start putting our words into action. We have to stop the negative comments in church. In the sermon last week, we were asked by Pastor Daniel, “Are we mountaineering partners in ministry? Or are we competitors for resources like runners in a race?” At Jubilee Church, I really hope that we can see each other as mountaineers in ministry. [To Chern Han: So, when are we climbing Mt. Everest?] For us to do that, we need to give of ourselves to each other. We cannot love without giving. We cannot keep expecting others to first love us. Christ has already first loved us. Are we compelled to love others? Let us take the first step to form deep and loving relationships in church. Let us put our love into action. Let us love until it hurts!

[1] Other charges made against Paul by his opponents
Paul was under attack as an apostle. They questioned his motives in organizing a collection for believers in Judea (8:20–21; cf. 2:17; 12:14–18). From his letters, they called him a bully, but in person, he is weak and unimpressive. They say he mumbles when he speaks (2 Cor. 10:10-11). That’s not all! The biggest insult came when they questioned his apostleship. How can he be a Spirit-filled apostle when he has suffered so much? In a culture where health and wealth are signs of God’s presence and providence in your life, Paul was the total opposite of all that. He is the oxymoron of the prosperity Gospel. In this letter, Paul provided his own defence.

[2] 4/5 Letters to the Corinthians
In a.d. 50–51 Paul establishes the church at Corinth. He was their founder and he had always held a special place in his heart for the Christians in Corinth. Even though Paul is unanimously identified as the author of the two letters to the Corinthians, scholars believe that he may have written more than the two letters we have in our Bible today. The scholars are divided over the actual number of letters he wrote to them. It ranges from three to seven. The most popular is to believe that Paul had written four letters to the Christians in Corinth: (1) the previous letter mentioned in 1 Cor. 5:9 “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people”, this letter is yet to be found; (2) our 1 Corinthians; (3) the tearful, severe letter mentioned in 2 Corinthians 2:3–4, which cannot be accurately identified; and (4) our 2 Corinthians. Some scholars would divide 2 Corinthians into two major sections making it two letters: (4) 2 Cor. 1–9 and (5) 2 Cor. 10–13.
[3] I would like to acknowledge Peter Phan for his contribution to this “key message” section.