15Because I was confident of this, I planned to visit you first so that you might benefit twice. 16I planned to visit you on my way to Macedonia and to come back to you from Macedonia, and then to have you send me on my way to Judea. 17When I planned this, did I do it lightly? Or do I make my plans in a worldly manner so that in the same breath I say, "Yes, yes" and "No, no"?
18But as surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not "Yes" and "No." 19For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by me and Silas and Timothy, was not "Yes" and "No," but in him it has always been "Yes." 20For no matter how many promises God has made, they are "Yes" in Christ. And so through him the "Amen" is spoken by us to the glory of God. 21Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, 22set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
When I first became a Christian I had a very immature attitude towards the leadership of the Church of which I was a part. I felt like everything that they did reflected the truth of the message that they were speaking. In my mind they were more than just representatives of God’s message, they were supposed to be the complete embodiment of it. If they failed in some way (at least in my opinion) then I would question the Church as a whole, and even God. One time, I recall not liking the way that one of the ministers of the Church behaved during a sporting event. That caused me to completely judge whether or not he was truly a man of God. It wasn’t an issue of sin, it was an issue of, whether (in my mind) a true man of God would act like that. This is precisely what was going on in principle in Corinth.
Paul had made plans for an extended visit to Corinth, but then had to change his plans to two shorter visits. This just provided more fodder for Paul’s critics who began to charge that this was yet another demonstration that he was no man of God. In their minds, no apostle would behave that indecisively. This was further evidence that he was not a legitimate apostle. God was a sure God who never changes, they reasoned, so his servant should be able to rely consistently on God’s guidance, not change his plans from one minute to the next. Rather than his schedule reflecting the consistency of the God who never changes, his critics charged that he made his decisions according to the flesh, that the Spirit was not at all at work in Paul’s ministry. His critics charged that no true ministry led by the Spirit would like this. Behavior like this raised questions in his critics mind (although they were apparently quick to jump on anything Paul did and examine it for fault) and they were trying to raise these same questions in everyone else’s minds. If they couldn’t trust Paul when it came to everyday things and promises, how could they trust him in the big things he was telling them about God, God’s nature, and how God was at work in the world and through them?
Paul’s answer is that, once again, what they perceived as a sign of his weakness, or that he wasn’t truly from God, is actually quite the opposite. He was firmly in the ministry and dispensation of God’s grace. His plans changed precisely because he was being led by the Spirit. Not coming immediately by sea, but rather coming more slowly by land would serve the dual benefit of getting to see them twice so that they might doubly benefit, but it would also give Paul the opportunity to send messengers ahead to prepare them for his visit. After his last, disastrous visit, Paul doesn’t want to show up and find them unprepared for his coming to be with them. Paul, though, is confident that his plans didn’t change because a lack of God’s guidance. No, they changed because of Paul’s response to God’s grace in his life. They need to know and trust that Paul’s plans changed because of God’s guidance not in spite of it. Because Paul is so confident of that, he reminds them that he doesn’t need to swear an oath by saying a double “yes” or double “no” (in the Jewish world the repetition guaranteed the truth of what was being said). He doesn’t need to do that, because his faithful witness that comes from God needs only one “yes” or “no”. This is the precisely the point Jesus laid down for His followers when he urged them to stay away from oaths, letting their “yes” be “yes” and their “no” be “no” (Matt. 5:33-37).
Paul is not trying to string them along with a false “yes” when he has no intention of coming. His ministry comes from God and is characterized by “yes.” There are, as Paul will describe, three areas that God’s answer is an affirmative one. First, Paul says that all the promises God has given to his people concerning solving the problem of exile between God and man, and death and sin have been answered decisively “yes” through Jesus Christ. Christ is the fulfillment of all of God’s promises, and in fact, He is the fulfillment of the entire Old Testament. Christ specifically fulfills the one grand promise (and all of the other secondary promises that supported that great promise) that God would bless the whole world through the one family of descdants of Abraham’s family. What this does not mean (as some prosperity gospel teachers are quick to assert) that all of the promises of natural wealth made specifically to the Old Covenant Jews will be fulfilled by being a Christian. What Paul means is that all of the natural things, like wealth, pointed to, have been fulfilled by and made complete in Christ. The one who already has Christ has all he or she needs; we don’t have Christ so that we can get all that we supposedly need. Second, Paul says the “Amen” is lifted up to God’s glory. Everything that God does can be affirmed by those in Christ with an “amen” (literally “let it be so”) because we know that God is faithful and whatever He does is for our benefit in the long run. Third, Paul says that we have a positive response from God by enabling us to stand firm in Christ. If the purpose of the Christian life is to enter into the life of the Messiah, then we have to grown into that assignment. God has confirmed our status with a definitive “yes” by offering us the means to stand firm and grow in the life of the Messiah so that what is true of Him is and will increasingly be true of us.
This work of growth is enacted by the Spirit, and just as Paul described three affirmative responses of God’s grace, he will now describe three aspects of the Spirit’s work in enabling us to stand firm. The first aspect of this is that we are anointed. “Messiah” means “the anointed one,” and as the entire New Testament is quite clear, what is true of the Messiah is true of His people. If he has been set apart in the way that a King or Priest would have been, then so have we. We are co-heirs with him and share in his status as the anointed one of God. The second aspect is that we have been sealed by the Spirit. In the ancient world, a seal was placed on an item to show that it was the property of or came from the sealer and also to protect it from being broken into. God has sealed his people with the stamp of the Messiah himself, demonstrating to the world that we share in His death and life, and thus, belong to Him. The third aspect is that we have the presence of the Spirit in our hearts (see Acts 2:38). This is a down-payment that guarantees that we will one day take part in the resurrection just as Christ, who has preceded us. We can’t stress this too often, for it is the Christian hope. The Messiah has been resurrected, and because we share his life, so will we.
One of the primary lessons that Paul weaves into nearly everything he teaches the Corinthians is the need for them to no longer regard things from a human point of view but from God’s. This is precisely what he is trying to teach them here. In what areas of your life do you still view things more from a human point of view than you do from God’s? What steps do you need to take to truly transform your mind in these areas?