In 2 Corinthians 1, Paul is defending himself against the accusations of the false apostles, who were taking every possible opportunity to bring reproach upon Paul and his ministry in the eyes of the Corinthians. In what was actually a desire to be loving and considerate toward the Corinthians (cf. 2 Cor 1:23–2:4), Paul made a change in his travel plans in regards to his visits to Corinth. And like unscrupulous politicians running a smear campaign against their opponent, the false apostles seized upon this change of plans and blew it entirely out of proportion.
“The man talks out of both sides of his mouth! He’s undependable! Untrustworthy! He’s a fleshly man who goes back on his word because he’s guided by no higher principle than his own fallen nature! He doesn’t depend on the Spirit’s guidance, otherwise how do you explain the fickleness? And if you can’t trust him to get travel plans right, how are you going to trust his apostleship? How are you going to trust his gospel?”
Paul responds to these charges in 2 Corinthians 1:15–22. But as you read that passage, it doesn’t quite sound like a conventional defense of changing itinerary. Before he defends his conduct, Paul defends his integrity. And he does so by appealing to his theology. The reality of who God is, and what He has accomplished in Christ and in the Gospel, is the basis for all of his behavior. Paul’s conduct is rooted in his message. And for those of us who would claim to be ministers of that same Gospel (which is all of us!), the same must be true of us. I hope we’ll be instructed as we look into three of those arguments that appear in 2 Corinthians 1:18–20.
God is Faithful
First, God is faithful. He appeals to God’s faithfulness as the ground of his faithfulness (2 Cor 1:18). He basically says, “As God is faithful, our word to you is faithful.” God’s faithfulness establishes Paul’s faithfulness, because Paul is God’s messenger and preaches God’s message.
We read in that classic passage in Numbers 23:19: “God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” The God who is our Father is the paragon of faithfulness, trustworthiness, and dependability. With Him there is no variation or shifting shadow (Jas 1:17). The great anchor of the believer’s soul is that God does not lie (Heb 6:19).
All of our confidence and hope rests upon the reality that God’s Word is a sure and steadfast foundation—that our God is faithful to His promises which He spoke to us clearly in His Word. He does not deal with us in cunning and craftiness; He doesn’t commit Himself to us or promise us some great blessing, only to change His mind and fail to deliver because it better suits His own interests. The immutability of God is not just some arcane theological doctrine reserved for heady academic debate. It is the very foundation of the faithfulness of God—our only steadfast ground of hope. And because God is faithful, we can have the great confidence that when He makes a promise to His people, His ‘Yes’ does not carry a hidden ‘No.’
One commentator helpfully paraphrases Paul’s thoughts. He writes, “One could almost hear him say… ‘How could I possibly preach to you the good news of a God who always acts with your best interests at heart and never fails to fulfill his promises, and then turn around and treat you with utter disregard by behaving in a double-minded and self-serving way?’” He can’t. It would be an utter contradiction, because the character of God fundamentally drives and controls Paul’s life and conduct.
Christ is Yes
Just as the character of God demands the minister’s faithfulness, so also does the character of Christ: “For the Son of God, Christ Jesus, who was preached among you by us . . . was not yes and no, but is yes in Him” (2 Cor 1:19). Just as God is faithful, so also is Jesus Christ the same, yesterday, today, and forever (Heb 13:8). Jesus was no vacillator. There was no blending of Yes and No in His life or in His speech. There was nothing in Him that was contradictory or untrustworthy. Our Great High Priest, as Hebrews 7:26 says, is “holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens.” He “committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth” (1 Pet 2:22). Indeed not, for He is the Truth (John 14:6). God’s Word is Truth (John 17:17), and Jesus is the Word become flesh (1:14): He is Truth incarnate.
This glorious Savior was the very sum and substance of all of Paul’s preaching (1 Cor 2:2). You can hear Paul’s reasoning: “If I have given my life—if I suffer through daily affliction, if I spend and am expended, if every day I am like a sheep led to the slaughter—all so that I can preach nothing but the person and work of Him who is the Truth, how could I be characterized by underhandedness and deception?”
Philip Edgcumbe Hughes captures Paul’s argument well when he wrote, “Nothing could be more incongruous than to suspect of insincerity the Apostle whose entire being was dedicated to the service and proclamation of Him who is the Truth, and the Same yesterday, today, and forever. The veracity of the Christ, by faith in whom, … [the Corinthians’] lives had been completely transformed, was evidence conclusive to them of the veracity of him who endured so much in order to bring the message to them.”
The Message is Clear
The God whom Paul serves is not yes and no. The Christ whom Paul preaches is not yes and no. And, thirdly, the Gospel Paul proclaims is not yes and no. All of God’s promises find their consummate, fulfilled “Yes!” in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ: “For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes” (2 Cor 1:20).
Christ does not fulfill only some of God’s promises. There are not some promises that God has made to which Christ says Yes, and others to which He says No. The Gospel is not: “Yes, today you find salvation in Jesus Christ,” and “No, tomorrow you must find salvation somewhere else.” The Gospel is not: “Yes, you are saved, and I give eternal life to you, and you will never perish, and no one will snatch you out of My hand (John 10:28),” and “No, you may lose your salvation if you don’t preserve and increase your justification.” The Gospel is Yes! It is finished (John 19:30)! “Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again . . . for the death that He died, He died to sin once for all” (Rom 6:9–10). “Every priest stands daily ministering and offering, time after time, the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God. . . . For by one offering, He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified!” (Heb 10:11–14).
And so Paul says, “Oh Corinthians, how can I preach this Gospel, of God’s glorious, unqualified, triumphant ‘Yes!’ in Christ, and in a matter as trivial as travel plans, be to you ‘Yes and no’?” For as many as are the promises of God, in Christ they are not yes and no, but are yes in Him.”
The clearest implication of this passage for us who desire to be servants of Christ church is this: Our theology must be the driving force of all of our ethical conduct. Paul’s entire defense against the accusation of fickleness and instability is to appeal to the nature of God, the nature of Christ, and the nature of the Gospel message, and to say, “If the Father is who He says He is, and Christ is who He says He is, and if the Gospel is what I’ve preached it to be, then it would be ludicrous for me to be guilty of what you’re accusing me of! It would be so utterly incongruous with the message that I preach to behave in deceitful and underhanded ways—to be duplicitous and conniving, to take advantage of you.”
You see, what it meant for Paul to live in integrity was to constantly be bringing the implications of the nature of God and the Gospel to bear on his life. All of Paul’s conduct was rooted and directed and shaped by his theology—of who he knew God to be and what he understood the Gospel to be. The manner in which Paul conducted himself in his life and ministry was not determined by the shifting sands of his circumstances, and still less by the shifting sands of his feelings and emotions. As Scott Hafemann put it, Paul’s conduct was “the outworking of deep-seated theological principles and convictions.”
And the same must be true of us. We must always let our manner of life be worthy of the Gospel of Christ (Phil 1:27). The guiding principle for all of our ethics and behavior is not quite, “What would Jesus do?” but rather, “In light of what Jesus has done—in light of what God has accomplished in my life through the Gospel—in light of the fact that I’ve been rescued from the kingdom of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of God’s own dear Son——how should those truths affect my reaction to this particular situation?”
For example, in questions of Christian liberty (see Rom 15:1–3), our mindset ought to be: “I have been rescued by a Savior who didn’t have to leave the worship of the saints and angels in heaven to be despised and rejected by the very sinners He was coming to save. I’ve been saved by a Gospel which required my Savior to consider others’ interests above His own. Therefore, I need to act consistently with those realities, and consider others’ interests before my own.” Or in pursuit of unity in the body of Christ (see Rom 15:7), we ought to reason: “Because of my sin, I was a stranger and an alien to God and His righteousness. And yet because of His work on my behalf in the Gospel, Christ accepted me. And not only did He accept me, but He atoned for and accepted my brother in Christ. If both of us have had our sins paid for and our righteousness provided through no merit of our own—if the thrice holy God can accept us notwithstanding our sinfulness—surely I can accept my brother, and pursue unity with him.”
And in the context of 2 Corinthians 1, this principle applies chiefly to the integrity of the Christian minister—whether you’re a pastor, a professor, a missionary, or a layperson. If God is faithful, if Christ is Yes, and if the message of the Gospel is not Yes and No, as ambassadors of that God, as slaves of that Christ, and as heralds of that Gospel, we need to live and minister in uprightness and integrity. We must repudiate all phony personas. We must renounce all duplicity and underhandedness. True servants of Christ are those who resolve to not play politics in whatever sphere of life they happen to be in. By the power of God’s Spirit, the faithful minister of the Gospel trusts God enough and trusts His Word enough to be the same person on the outside that he is on the inside.
Dear reader, let your yes and be yes and your no be no. Keep your word. If you say you’re going to do something, then as slaves of the Lord Jesus Christ who is Himself the truth, as sons and daughters of the God who fulfills all of His promises, make good on your promises. Have nothing to do with political posturing, but follow the example of the Apostle Paul who said in 2 Corinthians 2:17, “But as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God,” and again in chapter 4 verse 2: “But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning . . . but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.”