Who Can Be Trusted?
Some sceptics in the Corinthian church were accusing Paul of not keeping his promise to visit them. They said that changing his plans (2 Corinthians 1:15-17) represented a character defect, and therefore Paul's teaching could not be trusted either. Paul needed to refute this. The decision not to come, was to spare them more severe rebukes for their wrong behaviour; instead, Paul gave them time to listen to the Lord and to repent.
But Paul's first defence was not about himself, but about his message. The gospel was a very clear communication from God who does not waver (James 1:17). Paul explained that all God's purposes were fulfilled through Christ. His death, resurrection and ascension were all physical, observed and carefully recorded (Acts 26:26). Their meaning was plain too – He died for our sins so that believers might be accepted into God's family (1 Corinthians 15:3-8). The Father said it, the Son did it, and the Spirit has made it real to every believer's heart.
Paul's gospel was not about Paul, but about Jesus. Whatever the Father promised, the Son fulfils. The church could not depend on Paul but on Christ: Paul was only the messenger of the good news. The inner conviction that believers belong to God, did not come through any manipulative oratory by Paul, but through the Holy Spirit. Their eternal security did not depend on Paul, he was only the teacher. So, he had sent God's rebuke and instruction in a letter (2 Corinthians 2:1-4), and trusted the Holy Spirit to convict their hearts and lead them to repentance (John 16:8). Therefore, Paul's failure to appear in Corinth was not a mark of his unfaithfulness, but his confidence in God's faithfulness through Christ.
Sometimes our best motives will be misunderstood. Worse, we wrongly fail to keep our promises: we fail God and the people we love. Even the apostle Paul said he was 'the chief of sinners' (1 Timothy 1:15), 'less than the least of all God's people' (Ephesians 3:8) because of his past life. If salvation depended on us, people would be right in rejecting our message when we err or they misunderstand. But salvation depends on Christ alone. It is as foolish for the church members to idolise their pastor, as for the pastors to think that they can manipulate the people into blessing. Yes, we should strive to demonstrate God's grace in our lives, making the gospel attractive to other sinners; and we must lead people to Christ - but we cannot save them. Our job is to present, and earnestly apply, the message about Jesus: God's Spirit is the person who convicts sinful hearts, graciously often granting time for repentance. The Lord is faithful to all His promises, because the sinless Jesus fulfils them all. Trust Him today.
© Dr Paul Adams