How to Make Decisions
A sermon on 2 Corinthians 1:12-2:4 by Coty Pinckney, Desiring God Community Church, Charlotte, NC, 10/19/03
What decisions are facing you?
How will you go about making such decisions? Should you look for a sign from God – like Gideon in the book of Judges? Remember what he said when God told him to lead an army to save Israel:
“Look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said." Judges 6:37
Is that a good biblical guideline for decision-making? If not – are there biblical guidelines?
In our journey through Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth, we’ve already seen that he is under attack by opponents within the church. They have said, “Look at that man! See how he suffers! He’s been stoned, he’s been thrown in prison – is that the sign of God’s favor? How can you believe that God is with a man who suffers like that?”
We saw two weeks ago that Paul answers such charges in a forthright manner. He says, “I’m not trying to hide any of my seeming failures from you. But these aren’t failures that signify the absence of God’s blessing! Rather, God uses these sufferings to prove that I am weak and He is strong; He uses these sufferings to comfort you in your trials with the comfort I receive in mine.”
In today’s passage, Paul addresses a second accusation leveled at him by his opponents. See if you can figure out what that accusation might be as we read the text:
12 For our boast is this: the testimony of our conscience that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you. 13 For we are not writing to you anything other than what you read and acknowledge and I hope you will fully acknowledge- 14 just as you did partially acknowledge us, that on the day of our Lord Jesus you will boast of us as we will boast of you. 15 Because I was sure of this, I wanted to come to you first, so that you might have a second experience of grace. 16 I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia, and to come back to you from Macedonia and have you send me on my way to Judea. 17 Was I vacillating when I wanted to do this? Do I make my plans according to the flesh, ready to say "Yes, yes" and "No, no" at the same time? 18 As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No. 19 For 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. 20 For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. 21 And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, 22 and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. 23 But I call God to witness against me- it was to spare you that I refrained from coming again to Corinth. 24 Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith. ESV 2 Corinthians 2:1 For I made up my mind not to make another painful visit to you. 2 For if I cause you pain, who is there to make me glad but the one whom I have pained? 3 And I wrote as I did, so that when I came I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice, for I felt sure of all of you, that my joy would be the joy of you all. 4 For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you. 2 Corinthians 1:12 - 2:4
We’ll look at this text under three headings:
Do you see what happened here? Paul is going to Macedonia, north of Corinth. He could pass through Corinth as he travels to Macedonia, and again on the way back. He had planned to do this, and had told them to expect him. But in the end, he avoided Corinth. He changed his mind. So his opponents accused him of making decisions by whim, thereby showing that he was not guided by the Holy Spirit.
In addition, they accuse him of being afraid, of not having any real power, of trying to protect himself from his opponents. Furthermore, they contend that he was duplicitous, for he gave an excuse for not passing through that wasn’t true.
Those are the accusations. How does Paul answer?
In verse 12 Paul begins his response by reflecting on his behavior towards the Corinthians. He says, “How have I behaved toward you? With simplicity and godly sincerity.” Paul says, “I’ve been straightforward. What you see is what you get – whether I am in person or writing you a letter. Don’t try to read between the lines; don’t look for hidden meanings or unstated motivations in my words. I work for your good.”
Then do you see what Paul does in verses 13 and 14? The ESV is especially good here:
13 For we are not writing to you anything other than what you read and acknowledge and I hope you will fully acknowledge- 14 just as you did partially acknowledge us - that on the day of our Lord Jesus you will boast of us as we will boast of you.
Remember, in the New Testament the word “hope” means “confident hope;” it does not mean “wish.”
Paul makes two important points here:
1) Paul says the Corinthians already do acknowledge to some extent that he is sincere, godly, and truthful. Though this acknowledgment is only partial, it is there. He says, “You really know this down deep – so bring it to the surface. Look at me and remember who I really am before you.”
2) He says, “On the day of our Lord Jesus you will boast of us.” Do you see the importance of this? He says, “I know you’re going to be there on the day of our Lord Jesus. I know you are true believers. So God will make all this clear to you in the end. And you will be thankful to have been recipients of my ministry.”
Wouldn’t that be a privilege? To have had the Apostle Paul preach the Gospel to you for eighteen months? Don’t you think today, in the eternal state, these Corinthians are so thankful for that?
This is a helpful lesson to remember in all church conflicts: If your opponents are believers, you will spend eternity together. All misunderstandings and disputes will be resolved. So operate with a clear conscience, love your brothers and sisters, show forbearance, assume the best in each other.
John Newton makes this point beautifully in a letter he wrote to a fellow pastor engaged in controversy:
If you account him a believer, though greatly mistaken in the subject of debate between you, . . . deal gently with him. . . . The Lord loves him and bears with him; therefore you must not despise him, or treat him harshly. The Lord bears with you likewise, and expects that you should show tenderness to others, from a sense of the much forgiveness you need yourself. In a little while you will meet in heaven; he will then be dearer to you than the nearest friend you have upon earth is to you now. Anticipate that period in your thoughts; and though you may find it necessary to oppose his errors, view him personally as a kindred soul, with whom you are to be happy in Christ forever.
Verses 15-18 elaborate on the charge that Paul changes his mind, and thus is not led by the Spirit. His opponents say, “When Paul says ‘Yes’ it means ‘No’ and when Paul says ‘No’ it means ‘Yes.’ You can’t trust him!”
Verses 19-22 contain some familiar phrases. But many readers have a hard time understanding how these great verses relate to Paul’s problems with the church in Corinth. What is the logical flow of Paul’s thought here?
We’ll attempt to understand this in two steps: in this section we’ll try to understand the great statements Paul makes about God and Jesus. Then, in the next section, we’ll consider how these statements relate to Paul’s decision-making regarding his visit to Corinth.
So look for statements about God’s promises as we read these verses:
19 For 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. 20 For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. 21 And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, 22 and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.
One key to understanding this section is recognizing that verses 21 and 22 elaborate on the first half of verse 20, not the second half. The second half of verse 20 is the believer’s reaction to the first half of verse 20 and all of verses 21 and 22. It becomes easier for us to understand what Paul says if we move that thought in 20a to the end. So listen to my paraphrase verses 17-22 – remembering that Paul has already expressed his confidence that the Corinthians are true believers (verse 14):
Do I make my plans like so many people, saying “Oh, yes, I’ll do that for you!” but then changing my mind and saying “No, I won’t do that!” when I think that will be better for me? No! God is faithful – and before God we are faithful as His agents. For Jesus Christ does not change His mind regarding you, saying “Yes” and then “No.” Rather, just as we proclaimed and lived out Christ among you, in Him every promise of God is “Yes!” Think about the way He has fulfilled His promises: He has strengthened us together with you, He has anointed us, He has sealed us, He has given us His Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. That is why through Christ we give our “Yes! Yes! All right! Oh, good!” to the glory of God.
Paul says, “Every promise of God is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. If you are in Christ – and I am confident that you are – you will be the recipient of every one of those promises. God will not say ‘No’ to anything that is not both for your good and for His glory.
This is another way of expressing what Paul says in Romans 8:28:
And we know that all things work together for good, for those who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Verses 21 and 22 detail some of those promises, some of the things that are working toward their good. What does Paul describe here? Does he say, “See how God fulfills His promises! Look at that new fishing boat he gave you! Think of how you were healed of your disease! Think of the wonderful marriage you have!” No! These all may be good gifts from God – but they are not the fulfillment of His promises. God never promises His people an abundance of material possessions, healing from disease, or wonderful marriages.
But the promises He does make are much better – “everything we need for life and godliness” as we read in 2 Peter 1:3. What specific promises does he highlight in our passage?
First, “He has strengthened (or ‘established’) us.” We stand firm in Christ because of God’s power. And we will continue to stand firm to the end, protected by the power of God. As we sang earlier,
No power of hell, no
scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand!
Till he returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I'll stand!
Second, “He has anointed us.” This is an Old Testament image. Remember how the prophet Samuel anoints David for special service, for being the king. He pours oil on his head, as a picture of the Holy Spirit coming upon him. Just so, says Paul, God has anointed His people for special service. We understand through other passages such as 1 Corinthians 12 that one way God does this is through giving spiritual gifts to believers.
Third, He has sealed us as a mark of ownership and protection.
Fourth, He has given us His Spirit in our hearts as a down payment. Note that Paul holds that every Christian has the Spirit. For the Spirit Himself is the one who brings about the first three items on this list – strengthening us, anointing us, sealing us. So here the emphasis is not so much on Spirit’s actual presence but on what that presence guarantees: the “down payment” of our eventual life with Him. Paul says, “You know we have the Spirit now – and anyone who has the Spirit now has the promise of spending eternity in God’s presence, face to face with Him!”
These are the promises that are “Yes!” in Christ Jesus – and they are much better than new fishing boats, healing from physical disease, and good marriages!
What should be our reaction to the fulfillment of such promises? We should be excited. We should be jumping up and down happy. But unfortunately in most English versions we miss the excitement. For instance, the New American Standard renders this phrase, “Therefore also through Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us.” That’s a literal translation, but the meaning is not at all clear. That translation brings up images of long, boring religious service where the leader says a bunch of things the congregation doesn’t understand, but whenever he stops they have to say, “Amen.”
Look back at the context. Paul has just talked about all the promises of God being “Yes” in Christ. “Amen” is the Hebrew term for a superstrong, superexcited “Yes!”
That’s the Hebrew term. What’s the appropriate word in 21st century American English? Think: What do you say when your soccer team scores a goal in overtime? What would you have said Thursday night if the Red Sox had scored three runs in the top of the 11th inning? Probably something like, “Yes! All right! Yay!”
So perhaps we should render this phrase, “That is why through Christ we give our “All right!” to the glory of God.”
We are excited. We are delighted. Because all these promises are true! We have the Spirit! We are gifted to serve Him and others! We are sealed! No power of hell, no scheme of man can ever pluck us from His hand! All right! Amen!
In light of that discussion, now let us read 1:23-2:4:
23 But I call God to witness against me- it was to spare you that I refrained from coming again to Corinth. 24 Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith. 2:1 For I made up my mind not to make another painful visit to you. 2 For if I cause you pain, who is there to make me glad but the one whom I have pained? 3 And I wrote as I did, so that when I came I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice, for I felt sure of all of you, that my joy would be the joy of you all. 4 For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.
Paul is explicit here: He delayed not because He thinks He is a super-Christian and they are peons – but for their joy! He delayed so that they might stand firm in the faith! His joy should be their joy, and their joy, his joy. He loves them and desires their best. They should love him now – they will love him at the last day – and should rejoice in his joys.
So do you see the logical connection of the section on God’s promises with Paul’s decision-making? His decision is theologically motivated. He does what he does because of what he believes – because of what he believes about God, because of what he believes about the spiritual status of the Corinthians, because of what he believes will bring the greatest glory to God. That is how we should make decisions!
“Are you trying to figure out my motivation? Are you trying to read between the lines and see why I make certain decisions? I make decisions based on what I know about God. And this is what I know: God will fulfill every promise in you. He will present you and me spotless before His throne. Jesus Christ doesn’t want me to visit you for the sake of a visit, or not to lose face. Jesus Christ is establishing you and building you up – that is the goal. That is the promise. The question is: what actions of mine will best fulfill that promise and work towards that goal?”
Do you see how important this is? Do see how different this is than looking for a fleece or a sign? We so often focus on the question, “What would God have me do in this particular case?” Instead, the far more important questions are, “How can I live out the character of God? How can I display that character, and best help others to display it?”
Thus, the question for us to answer is not, “Will this decision bring me happiness or success or fulfillment?” The most important question is not even, “Does God want me to do this?” Rather, we should pray, “Lord God, you have already given me everything. All my joy is in You. So, Lord, open my eyes to the revelation of who You are in Your word so that I can see how best to show that to those around me.” The question we ask should be a question about service rather than a question about fulfillment or self-gratification.
As Scot Hafemann writes:
When confronted with major decisions in life, the question is not, “Do I have a personally revealed word from God about this situation?” But “What does God’s Word say about the God of this situation?” Paul’s perspective calls us to worry less about finding God’s will for my circumstances and more about discovering God’s character as the pattern for my life.
That last phrase is marvelous. Make that your goal: To discover God’s character as the pattern for your life. Whether you are making a decision about a job, a marriage, a career, a church, or a college, ask, “In this challenging decision, what can I learn about God from His Word that will show me how I can best display the character of God?” We then are living out 1 John 4:17:
As He is, so also are we in this world.
God’s promises are firm – if you are in Christ Jesus, they will all hold for you. And He is sovereign. So step out! Be bold! Work to live out God’s love, concern, and character in the world!
So how do you make decisions? Let’s apply these truths to three categories of people among us this morning: Members of Desiring God Community Church, believers who are not members here, and those who are not believers.
My calling as your pastor is to be one of the agents through whom God implements all His promises to you. His promises are “Yes!” to you in part through me. It may look like I behave differently to different ones of you; I may look different to you at different times. But to the extent that I am faithful to God, I am working for your good and His glory. God has called you to a great joy, and it is my joy to help bring that joy to you, to serve that joy to you, to open up that joy to you. But sometimes in this role, like Paul, I may be called by God to do or say things that are painful to you. On occasion, you may feel that I am causing you pain unjustly; your responsibility in that case is to come to me. Furthermore, your responsibility is not to complain to others or grumble.
Similarly, each of you has a calling to live out in the lives of other members of this church. Each of you needs to ask, “How can I best display the character of God among these people?” The answer might be by doing what you especially enjoy, the task at which you are especially effective. On the other hand, the answer might be by doing what you don’t want to do. In every case, the choice of how you live out Christlikeness in this body is theologically driven.
Believers who are not Members
As you decide whether or not to unite with this church, here is the wrong question to ask: “Is this the church where the greatest number of my needs will be met?” The right question is, “How can I best display the character of God in this world? What church can best help me do that by building up my own faith, by giving me a church body which will corporately display God’s character, by giving me opportunities to build up others in the faith?”
Those who are not Believers
I’m so happy you’re here. We want to be the channel to your greatest joy. All the promises of God are “Yes!” in Christ Jesus. He stands ready to strengthen you, to anoint you, to put his seal of ownership on you, and to give you His Spirit to live in your heart. He will never leave you nor forsake you. He will forgive your every sin and present you to Himself as His spotless, perfect bride. You will be the source of His great joy.
So won’t you make this theologically-driven decision? Won’t you turn to Him and say, “Jesus! Lord! Savior! Make me yours!”
This sermon was preached at Desiring God Community Church in Charlotte, NC on 10/19/03. The Hafemann quote is from Scott Hafemann’s The NIV Application Commentary: 2 Corinthians (Zondervan, 2000), page 97. This commentary was particularly helpful throughout. The song quoted is “In Christ Alone” by Stuart Townend and Keith Getty, ThankYou Music, 2001. The letter by John Newton is available in its entirety at http://www.modernreformation.org/jncontroversy.htm
Copyright © 2005, Thomas C. Pinckney. This data file is the sole property of Thomas C. Pinckney. Please feel free to copy it in written form, but only in its entirety for circulation freely without charge. All copies of this data file must contain the above copyright notice.
This data file may not be copied in part, edited, revised, posted on the internet, copied for resale or incorporated in any products offered for sale, without the written permission of Thomas C. Pinckney, Desiring God Community Church, PO Box 620099, Charlotte, NC 28262.