Christ must be worshiped by us as the ultimate yes, but we must come to understand rightly how this works. God does not come down and make promises to us directly. Rather, He makes promises throughout all Scripture, promises that are given generally to His people, and also to individuals (like Abraham) who are covenant representatives of His people. These promises are bestowed on the people of God, and as we read these promises, or hear of them, we join together with those people, identifying with them by faith. God joins us to them through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, using that same God-given faith of ours as His instrument for doing so. What is our relationship to the promises then?
“For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward. For we write none other things unto you, than what ye read or acknowledge; and I trust ye shall acknowledge even to the end; As also ye have acknowledged us in part, that we are your rejoicing, even as ye also are ours in the day of the Lord Jesus. And in this confidence I was minded to come unto you before, that ye might have a second benefit; And to pass by you into Macedonia, and to come again out of Macedonia unto you, and of you to be brought on my way toward Judaea . . . ” (2 Cor. 1:12–2:4).
Summary of the Text
Remember the context. Paul’s severe letter has quelled the rebellion against him at Corinth, but there is still some clean-up to do. There is still some residue of resistance to him there, and so he begins to address specific charges. He starts the process by rejoicing in the fact that his conscience is clear (v. 12), both toward the outside world and toward the Corinthians. Authentic ministry is described by him as being not in accord with “fleshly wisdom,” and as characterized by simplicity and sincerity. Paul is writing to them about what they should already know (v. 13). They have acknowledged that in the day of Christ, both Paul and they will be engaged in mutual rejoicing. But they have only come part way along, which is why this clean-up letter is necessary (v. 14). And then we get to the specific complaint he is answering. Paul’s previous intention had been to visit them on the way to Macedonia, and then again on the way back, going to Judea (vv. 15-16). He changed his mind and wrote the severe letter instead. But was he vacillating or temporizing by doing this? Not at all (vv. 17-18). He reminds them that the gospel of Christ that he preached to them, along with Timothy and Silvanus, was not a “yes and no” gospel (v. 19). For all the promises of God are “yes” and “amen,” to the glory of God, “by us” (v. 20). He reminds them that God was the one who joined them all together through His anointing (v. 21). The sealing work of the Spirit, and the earnest payment of the Spirit was God’s gift (v. 22). In this context, Paul then gives the reason he had not come to them—he did not want to be their disciplinarian in person (v. 23). His more appropriate role was to be “helpers of their joy,” and not wielding dominion over their faith—because it is by faith that we stand (v. 24).
So Paul had decided against another personal visit if it was going to be a heavy one (2 Cor. 2:1). If he became a grief to the Corinthians, then who would there be to make him glad (v. 2)? And so he wrote to them instead, in order to preserve their relationship (v. 3), and his choice had clearly been wise. And he tells them here that his severe letter had been written in turmoil and anguish, and not in order to grieve them, but rather it was a testament to how much he loved them (v. 4).
Once a revolt against authority is under way, whatever that authority does will be seized upon and rolled into the argument. If Paul had gone left, he would have been assailed for not going right. If he had gone right, he would have been pilloried for not going left. Remember that authentic apostolic ministry is personal, and Paul reminds them how unambiguous his declaration of the gospel had been.
A temporizing traveler is going to be a temporizing man, and a temporizing man is going to act and sound like one in the pulpit. Paul’s argument here is not an argument of deflection. It is not as though he is charged with embezzling funds (as he probably actually was—1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 11: 7-10, 12:16-17), and he then tried to respond with “isn’t the gospel grand!?” No. That is not his argument. It is possible for the gospel to be glorious, and for a particular preacher to be a skunk.
What Paul is arguing here is that the charges against him are not plausible, and that the kind of sneakiness he was being charged with was not consistent with what the Corinthians knew about him. He is not defending himself with an abstract gospel in the sky, but rather with a potent gospel as preached on the ground. God had brought glory down through him (v. 20), and the Corinthians had been there when it happened. He is saying, “Don’t you remember that?”
So Paul is not defending his own person or guarding his own fragile ego. If somebody wants to gather up some glory for himself, but leaves the truth alone, Paul doesn’t mind (Phil. 1:15-18). But he will fiercely defend himself if the target of the slander is the ministry and message itself—see both this letter and Galatians.
A Hard and Severe Person?
When roused, Paul could be hard as nails. When the gospel was at stake, he could be immoveable (Gal. 1:8). He had been hard on the Corinthians in his severe letter (2 Cor. 2:2,4), but this had been much against his personal desire or inclination. There is a school of pastoral care that could be characterized as the “hang ‘em high” school of thought, with “why not now?” as the immediate afterthought. Paul did not belong to this school of thought.
Yes and Amen
The apostle Paul here exults in the true nature of gospel light. Christ is the yes of God. Sin is the no of the devil. The devil is the accuser, the devil is the killjoy, the devil is the one telling you how awful you are—with no relief in sight. The Spirit convicts in order that He may comfort. The devil accuses in order that he may bite and tear.
So Christ is therefore ultimate yes—the only yes that sinners can have.