All God’s Promises Are ‘Yes’ In Christ
2 Corinthians 1:12-24
Key Verse: 1:20
“For 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.”
It won’t be hard to understand this particular passage once we understand what Paul’s point is in these verses. They come across as his self defense which we will look at very closely, because there’s much to learn from them. Interestingly however, let’s not forget that he’s defending himself to a church and believers he himself had evangelized, and personally taught the Scriptures to, not casually but with the devotion of a father to his own children. He had loved them deeply, served them fervently and mentored them with the eagerness of Christ with his own disciples. And then he had left them to God’s grace in full confidence of the Spirit to mature into the fruitful fellowship of God’s holy people. He never expected that a day would come when he would have to defend himself to them, even if it were to a few. But now it seems he’s forced to do just that! And it’s as painful as you’d expect it to be. Earlier on he’d written these words: “The God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles,” (3b-4a) It’s hard to miss the excruciating pain of rejection and betrayal he felt from his beloved church family— that’s before the God of all comfort comforted him in his anguish over them. Yet Paul tells us how God prepared him to bear this kind of pain and also how to become a man of comfort himself who could comfort those who suffer like himself. He’s also written earlier on saying: “For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.” (5) These words say it all. He had the privilege of tasting suffering in the name of Christ, and for Christ, and that not only became a source of comfort to him, but that comfort overflowed to those who suffer in Christ and for him. (4b, 6-7) So, yes he’s writing to them in defense of whatever accusations they may have against him. But his words won’t be words of anger or condemnation. Instead, what he’s going to say to them in his own defense will actually comfort them in the long run. Let’s see against what he’s defending himself, and how he goes about doing it.
Let’s first look at verses 15-17. Here’s where all the trouble began. “Because I was confident of this, I planned to visit you first so that you might benefit twice. I 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. When 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’?” Paul’s original plan was to visit them on his way to Macedonia. And then on his way back from there, he also planned to stop by this beloved church before he headed for Jerusalem. He actually had planned for them to help him on that very important journey to the holy land. However— and here’s where it seems he got into all this trouble with them. His plans changed. And instead of visiting them twice, he ended up visiting them only once and then went back to Ephesus, from where he went directly to Macedonia and didn’t pass by Corinth to visit them. And once again, let’s point out that that was the cause of all the trouble he got into with them for which he now is defending himself in this particular passage. Some might think, ‘What’s the big deal here? So, he didn’t visit. So what? Things happen. Plans change.’ Maybe— if they were a bit more mature. But it’s not that simple! Here’s what happened. When Paul seemed to have changed his plans to visit them, some immature church members began to criticize him as an unreliable man who didn’t keep his word. They made him out to be untrustworthy, and went as far as to question his integrity as a servant of God, even his apostleship. ‘Was he a legitimate Apostle like the others or have we been entertaining a pretender!’ We’re sure that those on the outside who hated Paul for his success as a gospel servant didn’t waste time to add fuel to the flame of discontent that this church was cultivating against Paul. No, it may not have been a big deal to begin with— if they would have only trusted him and his decisions in Christ by faith. But some of them made it out to be a very big deal. The devil never loses an opportunity to take the smallest mole and turn it into an anthill if it suits his purpose, as long as it causes discontent, disruption and division among God’s people.
So, they were critical of his decision to change his plans, and not to visit them. And bitter about it to the point where Paul saw fit to write and to devote this whole section to self defense. So why was Paul so eager to devote a whole section to self defense? And the next question would be, why would this be of such great significance to us that we should give careful attention to it? So, why did Paul devote this much to defending himself to this church? And here we really need to understand why. Was he so concerned about his reputation or what they might think of him when he tells them in verse 12: “Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, in the holiness and sincerity that are from God. We have done so not according to worldly wisdom but according to God’s grace.” So, was he actually concerned with his damaged reputation? Or with what they think of him? Perhaps, to a very small degree I would say, just to be fair since every father has concern for what his children think of him. But we are talking about Paul! We are talking about the man of God who’s been repeatedly slandered, maligned, criticized, judged and misjudged, insulted, disparaged, vilified, belittled and whose reputation smeared by many. This man of God is no longer concerned with what man thinks of him. Why? Because servants of God like himself have learned to live before God and their only concern is what the Lord alone thinks of them! Yet in this whole passage, we see Paul defending his character and his integrity as a faithful “yes” man of God— as surely as he is an Apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God. (1) Now the question is ‘Why’?
And the answer is simple. If their confidence in Paul is shaken, it doesn’t end there! There’s a great danger that it would also shake their confidence in the gospel message as well— the same gospel message they received from him at first and grew to trust. Paul couldn’t let that happen. He couldn’t let them lose their confidence in the gospel of life, nor have their faith be shaken because of it. If it was his own character alone that was at stake, he wouldn’t care less, nor would be waste time defending it. But the gospel message associated with him and his character were at stake here. And he couldn’t endanger the message or those who put their faith in it. He couldn’t let them suffer. For that reason, Paul had to defend his character and integrity as a faithful servant of God. He just had to explain to them why it was necessary for him to change his plans of visiting them. And from what he tells them, there’s so much to learn from him in regards to kingdom work.
Let’s look again at verse 12. “Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, in the holiness and sincerity that are from God. We have done so not according to worldly wisdom but according to God’s grace.” He’s defending his conduct with everyone in the world, as well as his own conduct with them, his own precious family of God, his own children the church. And he says: “I’ve treated you in a holy and sincere manner— much in a godly way. My conscience is clear about that. I haven’t treated you in a worldly way as the world does, as if I were a worldly man dealing with worldly people. But I’ve treated you in a way that reflects God’s grace.” It’s very interesting that he talks about worldly wisdom or to better understand it, the worldly way. We all know the way of the world, its wisdom and how the world treats with or behave in its relationships. In its own wisdom, the world employs cunning and deception. It makes false promises whenever it can, or whenever it can get away with it. The world never relies on conscience in striking deals with one another, especially in business ventures, let alone on making life plans. That’s why we have a legal system to enforce transactions and make good on promises made and such. Even in such things as marriage and alimony, the world needs an enforcer because it has no integrity and cannot trust its own decisions. Paul assured them that that’s not the way Christians should or would deal with each other. Certainly, it’s not the way he ever dealt with them. Look at verse 17. He says to them: “Do I make my plans in a worldly manner?” that is, ‘When I planned to visit you, do you think I was being evasive or careless with my words, or wishy-washy in my thinking, playing mind games with you— saying ‘yes yes of course’, like some people do, but actually meaning ‘well maybe’ or thinking ‘probably not!’?’ Paul was clear that he never regarded them in a worldly way, nor conducted himself with them in accordance with the world’s debased wisdom. Then, how did he conduct himself in relation to them? His answer should settle the question of his integrity. And it should teach us the way Christians ought to treat one another.
Paul said: “In the holiness and sincerity that are from God.” And he continues by saying: “According to God’s grace.” He’s been sincere in all his dealings with them. But I think his words, “According to God’s grace” tell us a lot about his conduct with them. So what’s it mean that Paul dealt with them based on God’s grace rather than on human or worldly wisdom? It means he didn’t see them through human eyes, nor did he rely on human means in his relation with them. If he did, he would have had to be shrewd with them— clever! He would have to calculate every word he says instead of speaking plainly what’s on his heart in faith. He would have had to use persuasive speech if and when they were stubborn so as to bend them to his will and to his way of thinking. He’d have to beat around the bush when it came to sensitive matters. He would have to resort to subtle deception in ministry work. But he might be able to be able to get away with it, even justify it if he could say he did it was the wise thing to do, for it was for their own good that he was doing it. In fact many use such human wisdom in the serving God, even using the same excuse. But in doing so, there’s no integrity or holiness to their character or to the seeming work of God that they do— regardless of how successful their ministries may seem to be.
Paul never dealt with the Corinthian church or any church in this way. Instead he treated them in accordance with God’s grace. To do so, you’d have to see people not through human eyes, but through the eyes of God’s grace. And when you see people through the eyes of God’s grace (which means when you see people while at the same time as yourself reflect on God’s grace in your own life; or when you see people not simply as just other existing entities, but as the recipients [or potential recipients] of God’s grace), then what happens? What happens is, it forces you to treat them with a whole new conduct and attitude! It forces you to treat them with the same grace you received from the Lord. And that’s exactly how Paul treated the churches and the beleivers in Corinth in all his dealings with them. And in this grace, for him (and for us) there was, there is, and there should be no room for insincerity or deception; in this grace there is only room for gentle kindness; room for openness, room for transparency; room for honesty and for integrity of heart and character; and especially room for mutual love and respect and trust especially for (and among) those who have been redeemed by that same grace Paul, you and I, have been redeemed by. According to God’s grace, they in turn had no reason to doubt him or his motives, nor the reasons he changed his plans to visit them. Still Paul eagerly wanted to explain to them why he changed his agenda. As we mentioned, he didn’t want the gospel message they received from him to lose ground because of their spiritual immaturity which led them to criticize him. He didn’t want their faith to suffer on account of this issue which they took so personal an offense at. If you look at verses 13-14, you’d see that Paul was certain that they would surely come to understand his heart and reasons, if not in full now, at least they would in the day of the Lord.
When Paul made his plans to visit this church, his plan was solid. (17) And Paul eagerly wanted them to know that in his relationship with them, what plans he makes with them and for them are certainly not based on any human plan or decision. He wanted to help them understand that whatever he does in ministry work and in relation with them is based on something much deeper and stronger and firmer than anything human. The Lord Jesus once taught us something like that when he said: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” (Luke 21:33) Likewise, it was time for them to learn (perhaps again) on what the work of God (whether plans or relationships or anything else) is based on. So what was it based on? Read verses 18-22. “But as surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not ‘Yes’ and ‘No.’ For 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.’ For 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. Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”
Paul worked and based all that he did in the Lord and for the Lord on the foundation of God’s word and God’s own faithfulness to his word. Did he make his plans in a worldly manner so that with the same breath he could say yes but mean no? People do that when they live and act in the world. But when a servant of God lives and acts in the sight of God, he or she cannot act this way. So, Paul didn’t say one thing to them and mean another. When he planned to visit them, he certainly must have prayed about it. But as events unfolded the Holy Spirit guided him in a different way. So what was he to do? He needed to obey God’s direction as a faithful servant of Christ. He did what he must do and followed the will of God according to God’s faithfulness. He surely struggled to change plans on them. He loved them. He must have known that it might or would hurt them in some way. But he himself absolutely needed to be faithful to God and to God’s will rather than to his own emotion and to his own will. And so Paul reminded them that as a servant of God, he was faithful to God and to God’s will at any cost, even when it cost him so much suffering and misunderstandings and strained relationships with the people he loved and who loved him. He didn’t change plans lightly. He changed plans because he Paul needed to be faithful to the faithful God. That’s Paul’s greatness, faithfulness. He understood God is faithful, and so he remained faithful to God— always whatever the cost. They needed to learn this if they were to serve God in this kind of world. Sometimes we are torn between our will and God’s will, between other’s will for us and God’s will. How can we be faithful to God’s will? Only when we truly know the depth of God’s faithfulness. So how did Paul describe God’s faithfulness?
Read verse 20. “For 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.” There is much to learn from these words. To begin with, the words “No matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ” tell us that all and every single promise in the Bible is about Christ and Christ alone! Every promise God has ever made in the Bible point to Christ and to Christ alone, for Christ is the fulfillment of all God’s promises. (John 5:39; Romans 10:4) And it means that all the Old Testament promises and prophesies are fulfilled in him to the glory of God. In this way, Paul described God’s eternal faithfulness. Christ is the everlasting faithfulness of our God. Indeed all God’s promises to us have been and still are “‘Yes” in Christ”, for he has fulfilled them all [and He is, and will still fulfill every promise made]. What does this mean to Paul, to them and to us then? This takes us now to what Paul said next. Look again at verse 20. “And so through him the ‘Amen’ [or the ‘Yes’] is spoken by us to the glory of God.” And this means that since Christ is the embodiment of all God’s promises, therefore everything we do or everything we say in him and through him, we say and we do for the glory of God. Everything we say and do with one another, we do so for the glory of God. In other words, we don’t just speak and act as worldly people who speak and act either at random, or to their own purpose or advantage, or say things with a double mind or a double motive. What we do or say, we do before God and to the glory of God. This is how we are to live. It’s how we act. It’s how we behave. Paul wanted to assure them that based on God’s eternal faithfulness displayed in Christ, we who live for the glory of God ought to trust each other. Certainly they can trust him in the decisions he makes, since his decisions are based on his own faithfulness to God, and on our mutual privilege to live and to act and do and to say all things to the glory of God! I think we too ought to memorize verse 20 and make it one of the key verses by which we conduct out lives as Christians in this generation.
Paul finally encouraged them in an effort to help them come out of the criticism and complaining zone they seem to have gotten themselves into. Read verses 21-24. “Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. I call God as my witness that it was in order to spare you that I did not return to Corinth. Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm.” It is Christ Jesus who’s at the heart of all God’s promises, and their fulfillment. It is Christ Jesus whom the faithful God sent to “Become for us wisdom from God— that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.” (1 Corinthians 1:30) There can be no standing on any solid ground except that where Christ Jesus is at the heart of it. Paul told them that that’s where we all stand (ref. 1 Corinthians 15:1), and it’s where we all stand firm. If we don’t stand firm on Christ Jesus our Lord, we won’t stand at all (Isaiah 7:9b)— we topple— and waste away. Outwardly, they seem to have had an issue with Paul and his change of plans. But in reality their real problem was that they needed to stand firm in Christ. Then they would understand things much better and all doubts and complaints would melt away. That’s what they needed to do. So he reminded them of where they needed to stand firm and encouraged them to do it. They needed to stand once again by faith! (24) He also reminded them of the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. The Holy Spirit not only set his seal in their hearts and lives, but he also owns Paul and them as well. Paul and them must follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit even when precious plans need be changed and God’s people be made uncomfortable in the process. Paul finally told them that it was actually better that he didn’t visit them after all. God spared them and him untold anguish through that change of plans. Let’s read verse 20 again.