Fickleness With Meaningless Words?
Words are easy; actions are hard. When some people want to impress they will say what others want to hear, even though they never fulfil their promises. The apostle Paul wanted to visit Corinth twice – as he travelled from Ephesus to Corinth to Macedonia to Corinth and then to Judea. But that itinerary did not prove possible. We do not know how Paul had expressed his intention but it was probably like other provisional plans, "I hope …" (Romans 15:24; 1 Corinthians 16:7; 1 Timothy 3:14). Paul also added "… if the Lord wills …" (1 Corinthians 4:19).
In other words, Paul's plans were made with the best intentions but he was willing to match the Lord's will. Also, as we saw in the Book of the Acts, travelling conditions were not reliable especially if the journeys were to be made by sea. However, Paul's opponents in Corinth interpreted his absence as fickleness. They said that Paul used deceitful words to keep the church looking to him as their teacher, but he was really motivated by self-interest and did not make the journey because something else attracted his attention.
Paul was distressed by that accusation. It was not true. The reason for the change of plans was that after having needed to rebuke them strongly on a previous visit and having sent a painful letter of rebuke, the next visit would have to focus on those issues instead of generally building up the church. He wanted them to respond to his message first, rather than appear to be a spiritual dictator bullying the church (2 Corinthians 1:23-2:4). His heart was not fickle at all: his purpose was resolute – to see repentance and restoration of their relationship with God. They had not responded so his plans were changed.
Plans are not wrong as long as we pray them through and allow the Lord to modify them (Acts 16:6-10). Like the apostle, we need to be aware that some people will interpret our words in a different way than we intend. We must not promise what we cannot deliver with God's blessing; and often we will not know a long time in advance. So, we should be very clear that a provisional plan is just that – provisional. Proverbs 19:21 says, "Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails." So make your plans with the best information and insight you have, but do not commit to them until the Lord has confirmed His will. James 4:13-17 warns against the arrogance of human planning without divine confirmation. Paul was not going to fall into that trap; neither should we.
© Dr Paul Adams