Unbroken Promises

Dr. Jon Morrissette - 4/11/2021

Last Sunday, we began a new series we're calling “Hope Rising.” In 2 Corinthians 1, the beloved Apostle Paul begins blessing (praising) God. With uncanny honesty, Paul openly describes all of the afflictions and troubles he’d been facing. He describes being “completely overwhelmed,” “beyond his own strength,” to the point he (and his companions) we’re “despairing of life itself.” They felt they were under a terrible death sentence. And he tells the Corinthians, “we don’t want you to be unaware of our afflictions.”

Yet what eclipsed Paul’s sufferings was the reality of God. Paul was profoundly comforted by God. First, the Father of All Mercies showered Paul with mercy after mercy. God met all his needs in Christ Jesus. Second, the God of All Comfort, came alongside Paul, strengthening his spirit, encouraging him, walking with him. Third, the God who Rescues delivered Paul from trouble in circumstance after circumstance. Yet, the God who Raises the Dead was simultaneously teaching Paul that ultimately… not even He (the Great Apostle Paul, or his companions) were to rely upon themselves… but upon God.

In 2 Corinthians 1:9 Paul says, “Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death, so that we would not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead.” We could save ourselves a lot of despair and confusion if we’d take time to internalize this verse. Sooner or later (sooner than we’d like to admit), we will all have to entrust our very soul to God. We’re going to have to entrust the souls of our loved ones to God. Our parents. Our spouses. Our families. Our children.

Here is the issue: Do we trust God who raises the dead in the face of death? Do we trust God’s character? In the midst of affliction, do we trust God (do we bless, worship, praise God) for his mercy, comfort, deliverance, for resurrection?

Now in 2 Corinthians 1:12-24, Paul brings up a sensitive matter—some of his critics in Corinth were accusing Paul of being wishy-washy. Their beef was this: “Paul, why should we trust what you have to say about (God’s mercies, comforts, deliverance, and resurrection) when we can’t trust you personally to be where you say you’re going to be, and to do what you say you are going to do? Paul, you are telling us how God is going to be there for us, but you weren’t there for us. You are telling us how God is not going to disappoint us, but you’ve disappointed us. You are telling us how God is not going to break his promises to us, yet you have broken yours.”

*I wish it weren’t so, but it is. But people’s confidence in God can be hopelessly intertwined with their confidence in us, as believers.

Before we unpack Paul’s defense of Himself, I’d like to highlight some ways Christians are indeed losing credibility, and setting back God’s work. First, we often lose credibility because of our character. What is the testimony of your conscience about your character? Does your conscience accuse you? Does it condemn you? Is it your regular practice to violate your own conscience? The Bible talks about how when we can “sear” our conscience as with a hot iron. Whenever you burn your finger, it kills the nerve endings beneath the skin. Once those nerves are dead—you don’t feel much of anything. You can’t discern whether its hot or cold, sharp or dull. Do you live with a clear conscience before God?

Second, we often lose credibility because of our conduct. As Christian, is our conduct sincere and authentic? Do we approach one another with purity and innocence? Are we gracious and kind (not vindictive, hateful, and divisive)? Our conduct is under incredible scrutiny. People are constantly watching our behavior. They are so eager to point it out when Christians are behaving badly.

Third, we often lose credibility because of our content and communication. All around us, people use language to provoke, inflame and stir division. Even when we don’t intend to provoke, inflame and stir division. . . we still do! In this past year I’ve concluded that using social media is an occupational hazard. It’s so easy to be misunderstood, or to miscommunicate. You post some joke, or meme, or use the wrong vernacular—boom.

Fourth, we often lose credibility because of changeability. There are times when we make boasts, or make promises, or assume things, or declare things as if we're in control of our own fate. The truth is that we are not in control of everything that happens today, much less tomorrow.

I’ll show you how all these points tie together in a moment. But maybe you're familiar with James 4:13-16? “Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will travel to such and such a city and spend a year there and do business and make a profit.” 14 Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring—what your life will be! For you are like vapor that appears for a little while, then vanishes. 15 Instead, you should say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 But as it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.”

As Christians we are being scrutinized across this spectrum of issues. Our character and conscience. Our conduct and actions. Our content and communications. Our changeability and trustworthiness. And in 2 Corinthians 1 the Apostle Paul is no exception. Here is how he responds:

Regarding his Character & Conscience. Regarding his Conduct & Actions. 2 Corinthians 1:12, “Indeed, this is our boast: The testimony of our conscience is that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially toward you, with godly sincerity and purity, not by human wisdom but by God’s grace.” At the end of the day, what matters is that we can say the same of ourselves. My conscience is clear before God. I’ve conducted myself with sincerity, purity, grace.

Regarding Content & Communication. 2 Corinthians 1:13-14, “13 For we are writing nothing to you other than what you can read and also understand. I hope you will understand completely— 14 just as you have partially understood us—that we are your reason for pride, just as you also are ours in the day of our Lord Jesus.” Do you remember what I mentioned last week? Paul wrote to the Corinthians as much or more than any other church? He didn’t just want to be partially understood—he wanted to be fully understood. Communication isn’t just an art, it’s a labor of love. In these evil days (and days of despair/hopelessness) we can’t afford to be misunderstood or to miscommunicate.

Regarding Changeability. 2 Corinthians 1:15-17, “Because of this confidence, I planned to come to you first, so that you could have a second benefit, 16 and to visit you on my way to Macedonia, and then come to you again from Macedonia and be helped by you on my journey to Judea. 17 Now when I planned this, was I of two minds? Or what I plan, do I plan in a purely human way so that I say “Yes, yes” and “No, no” at the same time?”

We need to be really careful that we don’t overpromise, overcommit. James offers great advice. We should at most say, “If the Lord willing this, or if the Lord willing that…” But the other side of this is we need to learn to be gracious with people who disappoint us. Paul’s critics were being overly harsh. His intentions and plans were good, they were godly. He wasn’t just making hollow promises in a human way to appease expectations. In Christian circles we sometimes make statements like, “I’ll pray for you…” or we say, “let’s get together” but have no intention of really doing so. Paul was single minded. His was one to follow through.

Now you might think this whole discussion in 2 Corinthians 1 is a waste of time, but in the Apostle Paul’s mind there are some really huge things riding on our credibility as Christians. In 2 Corinthians 1:14 Paul mentions the “Day of our Lord.” He says, “. . . we are your reason for pride, just as you also are ours in the day of our Lord Jesus.” What if our lack of credibility has final implications? What if people don’t take the Day of our Lord’s return seriously because they don’t take us seriously?

But starting in 2 Corinthians 1:18 we see Paul’s alarm. Let me frame it as a series of questions. First, If people don’t take us serious, will they take our God serious? In 2 Corinthians 1:18 Paul begins, “As God is faithful our message to you is not “Yes and no.” God is not wishy-washy. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is holy, and perfect, and good. God is trustworthy. Should we suppose that if people don’t take our character seriously, they will assume our God is trustworthy? Our character is no small matter, certainly not to God.

Second, if people don’t take us seriously, will they take our Gospel seriously? 2 Corinthians 1:18-20, “As God is faithful, our message (content and communication) to you is not “Yes and no.” 19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you—Silvanus, Timothy, and I—did not become “Yes and no.” On the contrary, in him it is always “Yes.” 20 For every one of God’s promises is “Yes” in him. Therefore, through him we also say “Amen” to the glory of God.”

A while back some politician, or person ended a prayer saying, “amen and awoman.” The word “amen” has nothing to do with gender. It’s a letter for letter transliteration of a four-lettered Greek word. Amen simply means, “Yes. Truly.” Traditionally, believers would announce “amen” as a way of affirming the truth of what has been spoken. It was like a verbal emoji, like hitting a verbal like button! If people can’t trust what we say, will they trust what we have to say about God?

This is why we need to be so careful what information we like or share. If we spend all day forwarding conspiracy theories, lies, memes, innuendo, misinformation and political propaganda—will any listen when we share truth of Christ?

Third, If people don’t take us seriously, will they take our ministry seriously? 2 Corinthians 1:21-24, “21 Now it is God who strengthens us together with you in Christ, and who has anointed us. 22 He has also put his seal on us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a down payment. 23 I call on God as a witness, on my life, that it was to spare you that I did not come to Corinth. 24 I do not mean that we lord it over your faith, but we are workers with you for your joy, because you stand firm in your faith.”

Paul’s final word here is this. I’ve conducted myself with a clear conscience. My conduct has been sincere, pure, and gracious. My content and communication has been so clear and carefully given. Yes, circumstances prohibited me from visiting you as I planned. But you can trust the Holy Spirit’s work in my life. He has strengthened us, anointed us, sealed us. You are witnesses with God how I’ve conducted myself. We all co-laborers and coworkers in this gospel. Ultimately, it was for your good I didn’t come when I said (but we’ll save that for next week, week 3 in our series).

Scripture Verses

2 Corinthians 1:12-24; James 4:13-16

Worship Playlist

Fade Away by Passion

Sound of Adoration by Jesus Culture

Way Maker by Passion

Study Questions

  1. What does it mean that Jesus is the "Yes" of God's promise to us? 
  2. How might Paul's example in this opening passage help you in dealing with those who are being uncharitable towards you?
  3. What corrections might you need to make in the way you live your life so people can take your relationship with God seriously?

Apply It!

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