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Midweek Devotionals

Published weekly on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursdays.

Midweek Devotional 3/22/2016

Robert Chen

Dear Church:


8We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself. 9Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death so that we would rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 10He who rescued us from so deadly a peril will continue to rescue us; on him we have set our hope that he will rescue us again, 11as you also join in helping us by your prayers, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.

12Indeed, this is our boast, the testimony of our conscience: we have behaved in the world with frankness and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God - and all the more toward you. 13For we write you nothing other than what you can read and also understand; I hope you will understand until the end - 14as you have already understood us in part - that on the day of the Lord Jesus we are your boast even as you are our boast.

15Since I was sure of this, I wanted to come to you first, so that you might have a double favor; 16I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia, and to come back to you from Macedonia and have you send me on to Judea.17Was I vacillating when I wanted to do this? Do I make my plans according to ordinary human standards, ready to say "Yes, yes" and "No, no" at the same time? 18As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been "Yes and No." 19For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not "Yes and No"; but in him it is always "Yes." 20For in him every one of God's promises is a "Yes." For this reason it is through him that we say the "Amen," to the glory of God. 21But it is God who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us, 22by putting his seal on us and giving us his Spirit in our hearts as a first installment.

A non sequitur (literally "it does not follow" in Latin) is an invalid form of argument in which the conclusion does not follow from its premises. I hate to say this about the Apostle Paul, but the way in which Paul defends himself against the charge of vacillation is non sequitur-ish. 


What's going on? The background: Paul changed his itinerary. He had originally wanted to cross over by sea from Ephesus to Corinth, visiting the Church in Corinth before moving onto Macedonia in the north; and he had wanted to visit Corinth again in his return trip from Macedonia. What probably occurred instead is that Paul visited them directly from Ephesus without going up to Macedonia. This visit proved to be "painful" (2:1). The irregularities -- immorality, division, false teaching, etc. -- probably provoked Paul to respond bluntly and a bit harshly with the Corinthian believers. 


They were offended by Paul's correction and rebuke. And those most offended wanted to persuade other believers that Paul is not to be trusted. Exhibit A: look at how Paul changes his mind! Paul said he'll visit us twice on his trips to and from Macedonia, but he didn't keep his word! Paul is fickle and unreliable! Paul is saying "Yes" and "No" at the same time so that we can't never know for sure what Paul really means. This is the gist of the Corinthian charge against Paul.


Paul defends himself by claiming that he did not vacillate, that he did not change his mind in a fickle manner. Paul claims he does not say "yes" and "no" at the same time. Trust me, I am not that kind of man (Paul is saying in essence.) So far so good. 


The non sequitur comes in when Paul appeals to Jesus, in whom there is no "yes and no." There is no ambiguity in Christ; there is no ambiguity in the gospel of Christ. Both in Christ and in the gospel of Christ, it is only "Yes."


What's going on here? On a strictly logical level, it is logically possible that (1) Paul says "yes and no" (i.e., that he vacillates) and (2) Christ does not vacillate (only "yes"). The non sequitur appears when we examine what Paul says from this strictly logical level. 


But something else is going on. It's all "in between the lines." What Paul is saying rhetorically (as opposed to logically) is that he -- in knowing Christ intimately, in patterning his life after Christ's, in internalizing the truth of Christ into his very being -- would in no way live a life that's opposite to the values of Christ and the clarity and integrity Christ's gospel. 


The real source of all this trouble is not in Paul at all! The source of the trouble is the number of Corinthian believers who do not like Paul, those who are offended by Paul. In order to keep others from being persuaded by Paul, these folks are trying to "poison the well" so that whatever Paul says is tainted and questioned. This is what Paul is facing in his relationship with this church. What a major headache!


Paul's challenges sound so contemporary because relational problems are not issues of the first century Mediterranean world only. Every epoch, every region, every culture, every church culture faces, in some degree, such challenges. When these challenges are not overcome, the headaches continue and the message of God in Christ gets lost. Let's pray for the church!


Let's pray: O Father God, we pray for our churches in our area and around the world that the message of Christ will not get distorted because of offense and relational problems. We pray for peace, understanding, and maturity so that believers everywhere can hear Christ rightly and respond to your appeal appropriately. May your perspective and patience be granted to all our churches. In Jesus' name, amen.