In 2 Corinthians 1, Paul is defending himself against the accusations of the false apostles, who were taking every possible opportunity to bring reproach upon Paul and his ministry in the eyes of the Corinthians. In what was actually a desire to be loving and considerate toward the Corinthians (cf. 2 Cor 1:23–2:4), Paul made a change in his travel plans in regards to his visits to Corinth. And like unscrupulous politicians running a smear campaign against their opponent, the false apostles seized upon this change of plans and blew it entirely out of proportion.
“The man talks out of both sides of his mouth! He’s undependable! Untrustworthy! He’s a fleshly man who goes back on his word because he’s guided by no higher principle than his own fallen nature! He doesn’t depend on the Spirit’s guidance, otherwise how do you explain the fickleness? And if you can’t trust him to get travel plans right, how are you going to trust his apostleship? How are you going to trust his gospel?”
Paul responds to these charges in 2 Corinthians 1:15–22. But as you read that passage, it doesn’t quite sound like a conventional defense of changing itinerary. Before he defends his conduct, Paul defends his integrity. And he does so by appealing to his theology. The reality of who God is, and what He has accomplished in Christ and in the Gospel, is the basis for all of his behavior. Paul’s conduct is rooted in his message. And for those of us who would claim to be ministers of that same Gospel (which is all of us!), the same must be true of us. I hope we’ll be instructed as we look into three of those arguments that appear in 2 Corinthians 1:18–20.
God is Faithful
First, God is faithful. He appeals to God’s faithfulness as the ground of his faithfulness (2 Cor 1:18). He basically says, “As God is faithful, our word to you is faithful.” God’s faithfulness establishes Paul’s faithfulness, because Paul is God’s messenger and preaches God’s message.
We read in that classic passage in Numbers 23:19: “God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” The God who is our Father is the paragon of faithfulness, trustworthiness, and dependability. With Him there is no variation or shifting shadow (Jas 1:17). The great anchor of the believer’s soul is that God does not lie (Heb 6:19).
All of our confidence and hope rests upon the reality that God’s Word is a sure and steadfast foundation—that our God is faithful to His promises which He spoke to us clearly in His Word. He does not deal with us in cunning and craftiness; He doesn’t commit Himself to us or promise us some great blessing, only to change His mind and fail to deliver because it better suits His own interests. The immutability of God is not just some arcane theological doctrine reserved for heady academic debate. It is the very foundation of the faithfulness of God—our only steadfast ground of hope. And because God is faithful, we can have the great confidence that when He makes a promise to His people, His ‘Yes’ does not carry a hidden ‘No.’
One commentator helpfully paraphrases Paul’s thoughts. He writes, “One could almost hear him say… ‘How could I possibly preach to you the good news of a God who always acts with your best interests at heart and never fails to fulfill his promises, and then turn around and treat you with utter disregard by behaving in a double-minded and self-serving way?’” He can’t. It would be an utter contradiction, because the character of God fundamentally drives and controls Paul’s life and conduct.