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Flexibility and Change

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: 2 Corinthians 1:12–24; 2:1–13

God wants us to be firm in our intentions and purposes, but He is not looking for rigidity. Plans will get changed, but if we have made them in good faith, we can trust Him through the disruption and see His good purposes prevail.


If you feel like your life is being slowed down when you expected it to take off, you are discovering that God’s sovereignty often operates without any explanation.

If you are facing some new experience and challenge you never expected to face, you are discovering that God’s grace is not given out ahead of time but measured out day by day, as He deposits new mercies in your life every morning.

If your life has turned in a direction you never expected to travel, you are discovering that God most often reveals your next step at the last minute.

Beloved, never think you are facing these issues because you are not mature enough or wise enough. The apostle Paul himself dealt with similar issues in life. As we sail back into the first chapter of 2 Corinthians, we are about to observe the apostle Paul modeling for us a willingness to wait and, at the same time, remain flexible.

Paul writes in verse 16 about some plans he had made:

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.

Paul had brought the gospel to Corinth and spent a year and a half among the people, teaching them the way of Christ as he planted and nurtured this young church (Acts 18:11). After that, he left to continue his missionary travels to other cities. Still, he kept in contact with his friends back in Corinth through messengers and letters he wrote.

In fact, he wrote in 1 Corinthians 16:5, “I will visit you after passing through Macedonia.” But from all the clues we can gather, Paul never made that visit. Even his planned itinerary through Macedonia was set aside.[1]

Then Paul made another plan to visit Corinth. He was going to see them on his way to Macedonia and then pay them a second visit on his way back from there. This double visit would be a double blessing—“a second experience of grace” he calls it here in 2 Corinthians 1:15.[2]

But again, his trip to Macedonia, through Macedonia, and then from Macedonia to Corinth for a repeat visit never happened.

Evidently some folks in the Corinthian church were beginning to question Paul’s reliability—suggesting that he could not be counted on and trusted. Perhaps he was unstable or too easily distracted. Paul heard of these rumors and responds here in verses 17-18:

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? As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No.

Paul had been firm in making his plans. But he could not know the future God had for him. So, his “yes” sometimes ended up being “no.”

However, Paul affirms that the Lord was in control. God’s plans were never hindered or delayed. Paul writes in verse 19, “For the Son of God, Jesus Christ . . . was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes.” Then he adds, “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him” (verse 20).

In other words, the Corinthian Christians can trust Paul’s word because Jesus Christ is the one he serves, and Jesus is completely reliable in all that He has promised. So, even if Paul’s plans change, he wants them to know that the character of Jesus never changes. They can count on God’s promises as a “yes”—what He has said in His Word will always come to pass.

Paul is simply admitting that his plans were often changed. Even this great missionary statesman, deep theologian, and mature, inspired apostle had his plans changed over and over again.

And I must say, that is incredibly encouraging to me. Just like you and me, Paul did not know what would happen an hour from now, a month from now, a year from now!

While Paul did not understand all the reasons he was not able to return to Corinth, he attempts to find God’s wisdom in it. He writes in verse 23, “I call God to witness against me—it was to spare you that I refrained from coming again to Corinth.”

So, Paul had an idea why God changed his travel plans. Something had changed in Corinth that delayed Paul’s next visit.

We are not given the details, but something had happened in the Corinthian church—some sin or some ongoing dissension—that would have made a visit from Paul an unpleasant encounter rather than a joyful reunion. Evidently, he would have had to strongly rebuke and discipline someone, and the Lord kept him from that.

Paul continues in chapter 2:

For I made up my mind not to make another painful visit to you. For if I cause you pain, who is there to make me glad but the one whom I have pained? (verses 1-2)

Paul’s plans had changed; he was willing to wait; he was flexible when it became necessary to go a different direction. And keep in mind that these plans were not necessarily what Paul wanted for himself, but he knew they were best for the church in Corinth.

With that, Paul moves on to encourage this church’s godly flexibility in dealing with sin in the life of someone else:

Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure—not to put it too severely—to all of you. For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. (verses 5-7)

When Paul says, “If anyone has caused pain,” he is talking about someone who had caused the church some offense—some hurt—through unrepentant sin. Earlier, in 1 Corinthians 5, Paul had rebuked this church for tolerating blatant sin among them and told them to remove the sinning person from their fellowship.

It is very possible Paul is referring to the same man from 1 Corinthians 5 who was sexually involved with his stepmother and was indeed removed from the church membership for refusing to repent.

Evidently, the disciplined man eventually repented. He was in deep sorrow for his sin. But apparently the church was now refusing to forgive him and welcome him back. So now, Paul writes here that they need to change their action toward him. It is time for forgiveness and restoration. That is what true church discipline desires—repentance and reconciliation. Paul writes here in verse 8, “I beg you to reaffirm your love for him.”

Again, Paul responds to changes, whether in his own life or in his ministry plans or in the life of a repentant man. He now encourages the church in Corinth to change their relationship with this man—from discipline to reconciliation.

How willing are you to allow God to change your plans or your attitude while you are in the midst of change? Let me encourage you with two truths about God to keep in mind.

First, God does not always provide answers for life’s interruptions, but He is worth trusting even while He remains silent.

Second, God does not always explain His unexpected plans, but He is worth our surrender as He not only changes our plans but also changes us.

Our problem is that so often we say to God, “Lord, I do not understand. These are not the plans I had in mind; I had different plans to serve you.” We need to be listening, for God is effectively saying, “I know the plans I have for you, and My plans for you will always give you a future and a hope.”

[1] Thomas L. Constable, Notes on 2 Corinthians, 2016 edition (Sonic Light, 2016), 21.

[2] Ibid.

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