A Genuine Minister of the Gospel
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.
The Structure of Paul’s Argument
Remember that Paul is giving a defense of himself as a genuine minister of the gospel. Paul is patiently taking the time to explain his actions and show that how he has behaved in the world and toward the Corinthian believers is in perfect harmony with God and the gospel.
Allow me to take just a moment to explain the structure of Paul’s argument from 1:12 to 2:11 – because I am committed to expository preaching and I hope you are too (Robinson’s definition of expository peaching begins this way: “the communication of a biblical concept, derived from and transmitted through a historical, grammatical, and literary study of the passage in its context…” from Haddon W. Robinson’s Biblical Preaching).
- As we saw last time, in verse 12-14, Paul began by claiming that he has and is functioning in all that he has done with a clear conscience. His conscience testifies that he has behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity and this is especially true of his behavior toward the Corinthians. And this behavior has not sprung from earthly wisdom, but from the grace of God. It is the fruit of Paul living upon Christ in the gospel and his aim to see the Corinthians united in bold confidence with him on the Day of the Lord.
- Now in verses 15 to 17 Paul begins to defend his change of travel plans more directly. He starts by answering a couple of accusations that seem to have been leveled against him.
- Then in verse 18 to 22 he unpacks the theological content of the message God commissioned him to proclaim to the Corinthians and asserts that his behavior accords with this message.
- So, after laying out the content and heart of his apostolic message he beings to show exactly how his behavior toward the Corinthian church has been in perfect harmony with that message. From 1:23 to 2:11 he does this by telling them why he changed his travel plans and why he wrote instead.
- And finally in 2:12-13 Paul finishes this section clarifying how he came to be in Macedonia.
As you can see our verses this morning fall in an important place within Paul’s argument. He is claiming that his change of travel plans does indeed accord with the message that has been entrusted to him by God. So the lion share of our time this morning will be spent to understand the content and heart of that message entrusted to Paul.
But before we do that, let’s just take a look at verse 15-17 a bit more closely as they lead us to the meat of verse 18-22.
Let’s look at verse 15 and begin walking through the text and I’ll comment as we go.
Paul says, “Because I was sure of this I wanted to come to you first…”
Sure of what? ‘This’ refers to the previous verse, where Paul spoke about how he was confident of the Corinthians’ genuine embrace of Christ and their genuine embrace of Paul as a minister of Christ. Paul says now in verse 15, it was because he was sure they understood him and embraced him as a minister of God that he originally decided to come to them twice rather than only once more.
He goes on, “… so that you might have a second experience of grace.”
Paul says his only motivation for changing his original travel plans and wanting to come to Corinth for an additional visit was so that they might be blessed. As we will see in the weeks to follow, Paul was not interested in coming to them to push and punish and grieve them, but to bless them.
He goes on in verse 16 and 17, “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?
The implied answer is of course, No! Paul is saying I made these plans because I believed you were truly brothers and sisters in the Lord and I wanted to bless you.
Paul’s rhetorical questions show us that some in Corinth were accusing Paul of being fickle, indecisive, and weak or worse being dishonest, underhanded and fleshly – saying “yes, yes” but really meaning “yes, if it suits me and no, if it doesn’t.”
Paul’s use of these rhetorical questions have an implied, No – that was not at all how I made my plans.
Now in verses 18-22 Paul defends himself in these things.
In Christ, Yes
In verses 18 and 19 he says, “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.”
What Paul is doing here is asking the Corinthians to consider the word (the message) that Paul and his fellow ministers had been commissioned to bring to them. And Paul says that message was not fickle, indecisive, or weak; neither was it dishonest, underhanded, or according to the flesh. The message was not yes and no. Instead, Paul had brought the word of the gospel, the word about the Son of God, Jesus Christ. And that word is always a resounding and unshakable Yes. And so as surly as God is faithful, Paul’s word to the Corinthians has truly only been a full-hearted, Yes, Amen, I am for you in Christ.
And then Paul says why (in verse 20): For all the promises of God find their Yes in Him.
This is a staggering statement. Paul is claiming that every promise that God has ever made finds its yes in God the Son, Jesus the Messiah. God has been faithful; He has not lied; All His promises have or will be accomplished in Jesus Christ His one, unique Son – who has come.
And so Paul’s message has been: God is for you in Christ Jesus and I His minister am for you in Christ Jesus.
And we see in the end of verse 20 in into verses 21 and 22 that this gospel message and ministry is the means by which God creates a worshipping community established together in unity, who are given the Spirit of God.
Paul says all the promises of God are Yes in Christ and…
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.
We will have an opportunity to unpack these things in the weeks to come, but here just notice that when the message of Christ Jesus is received among a people it is that gospel which creates a Spirit filled worshipping community in Christ.
And it is this gospel that Paul has preached and it is these gospel fruits that have been produced. So Paul want to show that his behavior has been in complete harmony with these things.
The God Who Keeps His Promises
Let’s place Paul’s argument to the side for now (we will come back to it in the weeks ahead) and relish this message and ministry that Paul was commissioned to bring. Paul summarized his message and ministry in terms of God’s faithfulness to His promises in Christ Jesus.
Truly this is the heart of the message of the bible, and indeed our motivations and behaviors as ministers of God must accord with this message. Who we are, how we relate to one another, and how we think about joining God’s mission in the world must flow from and be in an accord with this reality: God has kept all His great and very precious promises in His Son Jesus Christ.
Allow me to step back and bring in a couple of other passages, which I think will help us feel the weight of Paul’s statement that all God’s promises find their yes in Jesus Christ.
The Giving of the Son is the Point
Hebrews 9:24-28. Here the author of Hebrews is showing how much greater is the covenant Christ brings compared to what came before – as much as the substance is greater than the shadow.
For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
Nothing further is needed; nothing greater is possible. Jesus and His work is the unveiling of God’s wisdom, the perfect expression of His power, the undeniable display of His mercy and steadfast love.
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
The gracious giving of God the Son, Jesus Christ, by God the Father for the accomplishment of salvation applied by God the Spirit is indeed the great display of God’s glory. Jesus Christ and His work is at the very center of all that God is doing in the world. And all his promises find their Yes in Him.
The Promises of the OT are Yes in Him (for us!)
In Sam Storms’ devotional comments on 2 Corinthians he compiles a list of questions we might ask God generated from the Scriptures of both the old and new testaments – questions that ask God if He will really do what He has promised. And in light of the perfect life, sufficient death, and powerful resurrection each of these questions is always and forever answered with a resounding, Yes!
“God, will you answer me when I call (Psalm 4:1)?” Yes!
“God, will you be my refuge in the face of my enemies (Psalm 7:1)?” Yes!
“God, will you actually make known to me the pathway of life (Psalm 16:11)?” Yes!
“God, can I count on you to be my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my shield and my stronghold (Psalm 18:2)?” Yes!
“God, will you be there with me and for me and beside me, as I walk through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4)?” Yes!
“God, will you satisfy my heart with ravishing revelations of your beauty (Psalm 27:4)?” Yes!
“God, if I delight myself in you alone, will you truly grant me the desires of my heart (Psalm 37:4)?” Yes!
“God, does your steadfast love endure all day long (Psalm 52:1)?” Yes!
“God, will you be the strength of my heart and my portion forever (Psalm 73:26)?” Yes!
“God, what of your promise not to deal with me according to my sins or repay me according to my iniquities (Psalm 103:10)? Is that really true?” Yes!
“God, is it true that your mercies never come to an end? Are they literally new every morning (Lamentations 3:22)?” Yes!
“God, will you continue to sing over me with joy and delight, in spite of my brokenness and weakness and immaturity (Zephaniah 3:17)?” Yes!
“God, are you really committed to orchestrate all things in my life for my ultimate spiritual good (Romans 8:28)?” Yes!
“God, will you always comfort me in my affliction so that I may be equipped and qualified to comfort others in theirs (2 Corinthians 1:4)?” Yes!
“God, are all the spiritual blessings in the heavenly places already and absolutely mine (Ephesians 1:3)?” Yes!
“God, will you always be present to do for me far more abundantly than all I can ask or think (Ephesians 3:20)?” Yes!
“God, if I work out my salvation with fear and trembling, can I know with unassailable confidence that it is you who is already at work in me to will and to do for your good pleasure (Philippians 2:12-13)?” Yes!
“God if I pour out my heart to you with thanksgiving, will your peace guard my heart now and forever (Philippians 4:6-7)?” Yes!
“God, is it still the case that you plan on sanctifying me wholly, in spirit and soul and body (1 Thessalonians 5:23)?” Yes!
“God, are you actually committed to never leaving me or forsaking me (Hebrews 13:5)?” Yes!
“God, if I draw near to you, will you really draw near to me (James 4:8)?” Yes!
“God, if I confess my sins, will you forever be faithful and just to forgive me of them (1 John 1:9)?” Yes!
“God, is it your intent to wipe away every tear from my eyes and to banish pain and sorrow and death (Revelation 21:4)?” Yes!
“God, are you coming soon (Revelation 22:20)?” Yes!
Sam Storms finishes this way:
“I want to believe you, God. I long to trust your promises. How can I know for sure? To whom can I look for assurance? What guarantee will you provide? – Jesus!
For all God’s promises find their Yes in Christ!”
God is steadfastly for His people in Christ Jesus! All God’s promises to His beloved people come to us in Christ Jesus.
Many People Miss Jesus as the Great Point
As we seek to carry out the ministry that we have been given to help others become fully devoted followers of Christ, I wonder if we have Christ at the center of our hearts and lives and are calling others to Him? I think this is a pressing question that each of us needs to be asking ourselves on a regular basis – because our flesh just so naturally wants to leave Him to the side and focus on ourselves. I fear that this is rampant in many churches and among many people who claim to be Christians but who do not live upon Christ.
Beth and I heard an example of this this week:
This year for Christmas, Beth and I bought the boys a few books, both audio books and hard cover. And this week we listened through one of the audio books with the boys called The Hedge of Thorns (written in 1611). It told the story of a young man named John who, as he is growing up, makes some serious mistakes, but finally learned to trust that God’s ways are best.
The big theological point seemed to be that God uses people and circumstances that may seem unpleasant, but that He brings them into out lives to keep us on the path He knows is best for us – like a hedge of thorns that keeps us on the path and away from danger. And the story made some very true points and quoted many verses from the Scriptures and spoke often of trusting and listening to God.
But one of the things that struck both Beth and I was that for all the religious talk and even the biblical principles, Jesus Christ was conspicuously missing. Not a word! There was no gospel. There was no Redeemer.
I fear that there are many people who live their lives like this. They claim to be religious. They may even read their bibles regularly and quote it and even learn and teach moral lessons from the Scriptures – but if you miss Jesus Christ – you have missed what the Bible is about.
The bible is not a compilation of moral principles. The bible is not a manual for how to live a comfortable and successful life on the earth. The bible is truly about the display of God’s glory in Jesus Christ. It is about His holiness, His justice, His power, His compassion, His grace, His wisdom, His faithfulness, His triumph, His rescue, His creation and re-creation and all of this by Jesus Christ our Lord.
Do our lives and ministries fully accord with the gospel of Jesus Christ? Ministry that honors Christ must keep Christ at the very center. Is He our song and the wellspring of life in this place? Is He our theme and crown of glory? Is He the reason we utter our Amen to God for His glory? Do we live upon the truth that all God’s promises find their Yes in Him? May Jesus Christ be praised and honored and adored in this place.