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Following a lengthy opening salutation in which Paul expresses his gratitude to God for the comfort and deliverance he had experienced (vv. 1-11), Paul turns immediately to a defense of his integrity and motives in his dealings with the Corinthians. The charges leveled against him by certain persons at Corinth were both varied and vicious. In 1:12-2:4 Paul responds to three false accusations which were designed to undermine his apostolic authority.

A.             Greeting and Thanksgiving - 1:1-11

B.             Paul's Defense against Unwarranted Accusations - 1:12-2:4

1.              His conduct - 1:12

a.              his external behavior: holiness

b.              his internal motivation: sincerity

Apparently two matters had particularly bothered the Corinthians. First, instead of appearing personally, Paul sent them a letter (a "severe" one at that). Second, they interpreted his refusal to accept payment as a tactic inspired by "craftiness" rather than love (see 11:7-9).

Paul's use of the terminology of "boasting [the word group appears in 1:12; 5:12; 7:4, 14; 8:24; 9:2, 3; 10:8, 13, 15, 16, 17; 11:10, 12, 16, 17, 18, 30; 12:1, 5, 6, 9] needs explanation. (1) On the one hand, he is mimicking the bragging of his opponents about their achievements (see 11:10-12:9). Merely using the terminology, however, is "foolishness" to Paul (see chp. 11). (2) Also, Paul is careful to point out that if he does "boast" his boast is only "in the Lord" (10:17; 11:17). Note also that he explicitly traces the source of his "holiness" and "sincerity", on the basis of which he "boasts," to God (lit., "of God"). Furthermore, his conduct was "in the grace of God," not in his fleshly efforts.

2.              His correspondence - 1:13-14

Contrary to the accusations of his opponents, Paul did not write with duplicity to the Corinthians. He meant what he wrote and he wrote what he meant (cf. 1 Cor. 4:4; 5:9-11; 9:15; 2 Cor. 10:10-11). Evidently, some were charging Paul with deliberately writing in an obscure way so as to intimidate the people, a charge he vigorously denies here and again in 10:9-10.

3.              His course of travel - 1:15-2:4

Again, contrary to the accusations of his opponents, Paul's change of itinerary was not because he was fickle or unstable, far less because he cared little for the Corinthians but only for himself; indeed, he changed his plans for their sake.

a.              Paul's movements - 1:15-18

1)             his plans - vv. 15-16

Paul had hoped to visit the Corinthians twice: first, on his way to Macedonia, and second, on his way back from Macedonia. This changed, however, when Timothy arrived in Corinth bearing First Corinthians and discovered how bad things were. Upon hearing of this, Paul immediately made an urgent visit to Corinth, a visit that was confrontational, as well as humiliating and bitter for him (cf. 2:1). Paul quickly returned to Ephesus and determined not to make another painful visit to Corinth. Therefore, he called off the double stop he had earlier planned. It was this alteration in his plans that opened him up to the charge of being fickle and unstable.

2)             his purposes - vv. 17-18

Paul's apparently arbitrary change of plans, they insisted, was motivated by self-interest and a lack of concern for the Corinthians themselves. He is charged with making plans like a worldly man, according to the mood of the moment. James Denney explains what Paul must have been feeling:

"Am I . . . in my character and conduct, like a shifty, unprincipled politician – a man who has no convictions, or no conscience about his convictions – a man who is guided, not by any higher spirit dwelling in him, but solely by considerations of selfish interest? Do I say things out of mere compliment, no meaning them? When I make promises, or announce intentions, is it always with the tacit reservation that they may be cancelled if they turn out inconvenient? Do you suppose that I purposely represent myself . . . as a man who affirms and denies, makes promises and breaks them, has 'Yes, yes, and No, no,' dwelling side by side in his soul? You know me far better than to suppose any such thing. All my communications with you have been inconsistent with such a view of my character. As God is faithful, our word to you is not Yes and No. It is not incoherent. . . . It is entirely self-consistent" (37-38).

3)             a theological digression - vv. 19-22

Verses 19-22 are something of a theological digression, and yet are not entirely unrelated to what precedes. There are two views as to the connection between vv. 19-22 and vv. 15-18: (1) Since what the Corinthians knew of Christ they had learned from Paul, it would be strange of them to trust the former but not the latter. If Paul were not trustworthy, how could they be confident he had told them the truth about Christ? Therefore, on this view, Paul is pointing out to them the inconsistency of rejecting him but accepting his message. (2) The other view is that with v. 18 Paul ceases his personal defense and with v. 19 appeals solely to the constancy of Christ. Paul has done what he can to defend himself, and if they refuse to believe him, then at least they can remember the truth and consistency of his message. "You may consider me untrustworthy," says Paul, "but you can hardly question the veracity and fidelity of God as revealed in Christ. And ultimately it is only with the latter that I am concerned."

a)             the promises of God are certain in Christ - vv. 19-20

b)             the people of God are secure in Christ - vv. 21-22

1.              it is God who establishes us with you in Christ - v. 21a

2.              it is God who has anointed us - v. 21b

Paul deliberately juxtaposes two words to highlight our position and power:


“Now He who establishes us with you in ‘Christ’ (christon) and ‘christed’ (chrisas) us is God,” or,


“Now He who establishes us with you in the anointed one and anointed us is God.”


Thus, just as Jesus said of himself, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me” (Luke 4:18), so likewise Christians are spoken of as anointed ones because we too have received the Holy Spirit and are thus set apart and empowered to serve God and authorized to act on his behalf.

3.              it is God who has sealed us - v. 22a

4.              it is God who has given us the Spirit as a pledge - v. 22b

b.              Paul's motives - 1:23-2:4

In vv. 15-18, Paul briefly defended himself against the accusation of being fickle, unstable and selfish in changing his itinerary. Following the digression in vv. 19-22, Paul takes up once again in 1:23-2:4 an explanation of why he changed his plans.

1)             contrary to what his opponents alleged, it was Paul's love for the Corinthians, not his selfishness, that led to the change of itinerary - vv. 23-24

a)             it was to spare the Corinthians that Paul changed his plans - v. 23

b)             his relationship to them is that of a co-worker, not a pope - v. 24

These two verses deserve close observation. Obviously, Paul is afraid that his comments in v. 23 might lead to a false conclusion. His words, "Not that" or "This is not to say" is his way of introducing a clarification of what has preceded, lest they draw an unwarranted inference from his words. Paul apparently fears that his comment about wanting to spare them (v. 23) could be misunderstood, as if he were presuming to have such authority over their lives that their every move was subject to his control or that his every move impacted their lives. "No," says Paul. "I have no intention of trying to tyrannize your faith, nor could I even if I wanted to, for your faith rests in the power of God, not in me or the wisdom of any human being" (cf. 1 Cor. 2:5). Other things to note:

·          The word translated "lord it over" or "domineer" is used in Rom. 6:9,14 of the binding power of death and sin and is used in Rom. 7:1 of the binding constraints of the Law.

·          The NASB translates, "(we) are workers with you for your joy," as if to suggest that Paul is referring to the entire Corinthian congregation as his "co-workers." It is more likely, given the way Paul uses this language elsewhere, that his "co-workers" are Silas and Timothy. It is they, with Paul, who work together for the joy of the Corinthian believers.

·          The purpose of apostolic ministry is not to extend personal power or reputation or control, but the joy of other believers! All that I do, says Paul, is to work for the increase and expansion of your joy, i.e., your satisfaction and delight in all that God is for you in Jesus. Simply put, Paul was a thorough-going Christian Hedonist!

·          Ultimately, the Corinthians, as is true of all believers (including you), are accountable to God alone. Although they may have come to faith through Paul's ministry, their faith is in God, not in an apostle or a pastor or an elder or a teacher or a theologian. "You have only one Lord," says Paul, "and it isn't I!" Cf. Rom. 14:4. This is what Southern Baptists have traditionally referred to as "soul competency."

·          What is the difference, in practical terms, between unbiblical domineering and biblical authority? Where does one draw the line between lording and leading?


2)             Paul's desire was to experience joy with the Corinthians, not to cause them sorrow - 2:1-4

a)             his motives - vv. 1-2

b)             his purpose - vv. 3-4

1.              to induce repentance - v. 3

2.              to demonstrate his love - v. 4

Some lessons we can learn:

·          Don't be quick to "read between the lines." Unless the preponderance of evidence indicates otherwise, trust your Christian friends. Give them the benefit of the doubt when they say they are sincere (vv. 13-14).

·          Don't always look for some ulterior and sinister motive in what others do simply because things did not turn out the way you wanted them to (vv. 15-16).

·          If someone has proven herself faithful and devoted in the past, don't be quick to believe accusations brought against her by an outsider. Be patient and give her an opportunity to explain herself. In other words, don't jump to conclusions, for it just may be the case that you are the one at fault (vv. 17,23).

·          Don't become frustrated or withdraw yourself from other Christians if they should prove fickle or unfaithful. Ultimately, your trust and dependence are not in them anyway, but in Christ who never fails (vv. 19-22).

·          Even if it means suffering unjustly and being slandered, avoid unnecessary confrontations. Don't be too quick to vindicate yourself. Be willing to endure what you don't deserve for the sake of peace in the body of Christ. The opportunity to clear your name will eventually come (v. 23).

·          When dealing with selfish and unscrupulous people, choose your words carefully and explain what you mean and what you don't mean (v. 24).