Title: The “What if” Game
Text: 2 Corinthians 1.12-2.4
CIT: Paul’s Integrity had been called into question. He responds by giving a defense of his change in plans.
CIS: Playing the ‘what if’ game can lead us to doubt and despair. God is at work in our lives. We make plans, but God directs our paths.
Introduction: We’re in 2 Cor. 1.12-2.4 today. Today is June 29th, 2014. World Magazine’s Marvin Olasky wrote an article in their most recent edition of the News Magazine: The assassination that destroyed a century. In his artcle, he mentions that one Hundred years ago, yesterday, June 28, 1914, an assassin killed Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in the Balkan city of Sarajevo. That incident touched off World War I, which ended with 18 million dead bodies and led to a Communist takeover of Russia (millions more died) and, eventually, World War II (tens of millions more died).
The story is an interesting to say the least. It appears that earlier in the day a would-be assassin threw a bomb underneath the archduke’s moving vehicle. The bomb, however, did not explode until the next vehicle was over it. After finishing his speech, Archduke Ferdinand wanted to visit those injured in the bombing. It was while he was riding to the hospital that his driver made a wrong turn. While backing up, Gravilo Princip approached the vehicle and fired on the archduke and his wife Sophie, killing them both. That one incident was the spark that launched World War I and killed millions and millions of people.
Olasky’s interest was peaked as he studied this historical event, and so he decided to write a fictional story, what he calls a ‘counterfactual’ of what would have happened if Franz Ferdinand had never been assassinated. He continues: At that point I almost went thoroughly astray. The assassination of Franz Ferdinand took place because of a thoroughly unlikely set of circumstances. The assassin with a handgun, Gavrilo Princip, was a bad shot, but Ferdinand’s driver made a wrong turn and backed up, then stopped, in a way that left Ferdinand several feet from Princip, who at that distance couldn’t miss. And that got me thinking: Why didn’t God (acting as He usually does, in ways subtle enough to give atheists deniability) keep Ferdinand from being shot?
Think about it: No assassination, no war, no Communist coup, no German hyper-inflation and depression that paved the way for Hitler, no World War II, no Holocaust … One small flick of the wrist for God, one large leap for mankind to the century of peaceful progress that postmillennialists expected in 1900, rather than the century of disaster that fueled much premillennialist thought.
Then I thought: No, our merciful God must have had His reasons for allowing the assassination and the subsequent slaughter. Musing that God makes all things work together for good, I starting writing a playful counterfactual column: What could have happened had Ferdinand’s driver not made the wrong turn, and if war had never come?
Man, how many times have I played that game? What if…? Well, the last 100 years would have been so different! But, it didn’t work out that way. For me, what if I’d have made this choice or not that choice? But we can’t play that game. It is what it is!
Transition: We see in Scripture that the sisters, Mary and Martha played that game: 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. Did Paul ever play that game? Or maybe the Corinthians? I guessing no on Paul, and probably on the Corinthians.
Today’s passage is all about Paul’s reason for not traveling to Corinth. Plans had not progressed as he had originally outlined them, but it was all God’s doing, as we shall see. Paul began his letter with the typical greeting, address and doxology; review 1-3; Paul, Corinth, Achaia, Blessed;
Now, he moves in v 12, directly to the purpose of this letter: the reason for his change of plans. Paul doesn’t have a problem with this. We know it’s been his experience to make plans and change them as God leads. Remember Bithynia by way of Mysia? Well, God closed that door. Next week, we’ll see something similar in 2.13-14; Proverbs 19.21: 21 Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.
And Paul knows this. With this knowledge of God’s Sovereignty, Paul alters his plans to align with what God is doing in his life. And he can do this with absolute integrity. This passage shows us…
That Paul’s integrity comes from:
➢ A clear conscience and
➢ from his act of obedience in the leadership of the Holy Spirit.
Let’s begin with our 1st point: Paul’s Integrity comes from
1. A Clear Conscience (12-14)
ill.: There is a joke about a young seminary student who asked his professor to write a letter of reference. The professor really didn’t have much confidence in the student, but he didn’t want to ruin the young man’s chances at a good start in ministry. At the same time, he didn’t want to lie to the pastor search team, so he wrote, “If you knew him the way I know him, then you would feel about him the way I do.”
Too often we water down our integrity. Which begs the question: is it really integrity anymore? We don’t want to hurt feelings. We desire to be liked. Not Paul…his integrity is intact. His conscience is clear. Rd v 12-14;
➢ So we see his integrity 1st, His Behavior toward them. (12-14); simplicity, godly sincerity; wisdom; so confident in this, he can say “we boast”;
➢ 2nd, we see his plan to visit them (15-16). rd v 15-16; his plan was simple: Two visits (v16); One on his way through and one on his way back to Judea. But things didn’t progress the way he’d outlined them, so…
➢ 3rd, we see his failure to achieve that visit (17).
exp.: rd v 17; this is really the 2nd time he’s mentioned this: 1st, in v. 12, not by earthly wisdom, and here, his plans come according to the leading of the Spirit, not according to the flesh; Really, that’s the answer. Does he really need to say anything else? No, that should be enough; however, he expounds on his answer.
Transition: Paul’s Integrity comes from a Clear Conscience, but also through his obedience to Christ’s Call on his life.
2. His Obedience in the Face of Criticism (18-22)
exp.: Being led by the Spirit means that
a. Paul’s faithfulness is born out of God’s Faithfulness (18); rd v 18; in other words, Paul is faithful because God is faithful. He cites 3 areas of God’s faithfulness to Paul and to the Corinthians.
i. God is faithful in the Proclamation of the Gospel (19); rd v 19; I love the confidence that comes in proclaiming the Gospel. Nothing depends on me for results. I can do so, knowing that God is faithful. 2ndly,
ii. God is faithful in the Promises of God (20); rd v 20; what He has said, he will do; v 20 is hard to understand and even more difficult when you read it literally. The NIV (and yes, I’m no big fan of the NIV) does a wonderful job of interpreting the Greek here: For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. “Amen: so be it!”
iii. God is faithful in Establishing the Believers (21-22) rd v 21-22
1. He anoints us (with the promised Holy Spirit)
2. He seals us (with the promised Holy Spirit)
3. He guarantees us (with the promised Holy Spirit); this echoes Ephesians 1.7-14;
7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
ill.: Listen to Philip Hughes, writer of the New International Commentary of the NT: The Second Epistle to the Corinthians:
In Christ is the yes, the grand consummating affirmative, to all God’s promises. He is the horn of salvation raised up for us by God, “as He spake by the mouth of His holy prophets which have been since the world began” (Lk. 24:44). The covenant promises addressed to Abraham and his seed are realized in His single person (Gal. 3:16).
To the believer, therefore, Christ is all, not merely as fulfilling a word of the past, but as Himself being the very living Word of God, faithful and eternal. In Him all fullness dwells (Col. 1:19): wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, redemption are to be found in Him alone (1 Cor. 1:30). There is nothing which is not in Him, who is the First and the Last, the Beginning and End (Rev. 22:13).
Transition: Paul’s faithfulness is possible because of God’s faithfulness. And so, Paul allows himself to be led by the Spirit of God – because Paul knows he is faithful to accomplish through him, all that he’s been called to do. Sometimes, that means my plans take a back seat!
iv. Paul’s Obedience is Explained (23-2.4) he refrains from visiting them
exp.: To save you! Rd v 23-24-2.4; remember v 15-16? What does he mean a 2nd grace? I think of revival.
ill.: what a wonderful experience revival is: it comes to individuals, it comes to groups. I’ve experienced it in private, personal dimensions. I’ve experienced it on a small scale at Youth Camp and one particular church experience that was church wide. I’ve never experienced true revival on a wide scale. I’ve heard of revival taking place in various places, but they seem to me to be I saw a video this week of DA Carson and Tim Keller talking about revival and their experiences. Here are some highlights of what Tim Keller said:
➢ Is a gift from God (15, 18)
➢ It is centered on the preaching of the Gospel (v 19)
➢ It is grounded in extraordinary prayer (20-21)
➢ Is something we must be receptive toward
➢ It is not something we can create (or re-create), Or meet the conditions of…
➢ But is to be received by us when given as a gift.
Spirit Given vs. Human Agency
app.: Paul is wanting them to experience this precious gift of God and they weren’t ready for it. But, as I look at this list, something I don’t see – what is not mentioned above is: repentance of sin. Revival will not come without repentance of sin.
➢ An embattled church is a church in sin.
➢ But, just existing and getting by is sin, too. A church that floats with the current, living in mediocrity is in sin. I think we as believers can get comfortable and nod off while on the wall – forgetting the task at hand.
Paul wants them to experience this precious gift of God, but they’re not ready for it.
I’ve often played the game of what if… I’ve known it was wrong to waste so much time wondering what if this had happened or what if that hadn’t happened. Remember the article by Marvin Olasky in the beginning of the message, where he questioned what would have happened if Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand hadn’t been assassinated? I was surprised by how many articles were written this weekend by magazines and newspapers: editorials and articles alike. And, the one element they had in common was the question of what if. What if his driver hadn’t backed up? What if the shot fired would have missed it’s mark? What if Ferdinand hadn’t decided to check on those who injured in the bombing? What if the bomb went off under his car and he had survived? What if he simply survived the attack? He was a liberal who greatest hate was going to war! What if… Well, after beginning his short story of what if’s, Olasky writes: Halfway through writing I picked up my copy of J.I. Packer’s Knowing God, in which the theologian notes that Christians err by thinking that “if they were really walking close to God, so that he could impart wisdom to them freely, then they would … discern the real purpose of everything that happened to them, and it would be clear to them every moment how God was making all things work together for good.”
Packer continued, “Such people spend much time poring over the book of providence, wondering why God should have allowed this or that to take place.” His recommendation: Don’t do it. We do not and cannot have “inside information as to the why and wherefore of God’s doings.” Packer and Olasky are right. We cannot possibly begin to comprehend what God is doing. What seems bad at the moment, might be building for us glory – and more importantly, Glory to the Father.
Transition: which brings me to observations I’d like to make some…
1. Obviously, the Corinthians are not ready for a movement of the Spirit of God. Are we? Are you? This question really got me to thinking: Are we ready for revival? Is there anything in us that hinders the Holy Spirit from moving mightily? I’ve been telling people that our church is healthy. And it is, especially compared to the overwhelming majority of churches in the US that are dysfunctional. But, we’re not perfect. We’re deeply involved in missions and ministry. There is lots of activity. There is peace and joy. There is no power struggle or fighting. But can I list some areas of concern? We’re comfortable: Our state of peace and contentment has slowed us down. We’re comfortable where we are and we don’t want to mess that up. Still, our comfort has created some concerns. If you’re a guest, let this list cause you to think of what might be concerns in your church.
a. Finances: Giving is down. $15,000 short of expenditures – that’s $3,000.00 a month short.
b. Evangelism: With all of our activity, we’re not leading people to Christ. We must not be witnessing, I mean on a grand scale. Usually, a continued evangelistic effort will see some people getting saved. We’re not seeing that.
c. Mediocrity – We’re lazy when it comes to participation. We have some hard workers. I’ve been blown away by some of you! No doubt. But as a whole – too many of us are letting the few do all of the work.
i. Worship: For weeks, our attendance has been down. We’ve been down 30, 40, maybe 50 people? And not just Sunday Morning worship, but also in
ii. FLOW; Last Wednesday night was VBS. The previous week we had only staff members and their families – with one exception (The Halls). The Youth group was the exception. And, maybe they were there out of loyalty to Jason. IDK. Listen, I know there are those who just couldn’t be here. Surgery, illness, vacation, etc. I know. But, at the same time, you can’t convince me that everyone in the church body, But I want you to know that if the elders and staff weren’t there – no one would have been there! – except a few youth! Maybe FLOW shouldn’t be done this summer. And, if you’re not going to participate, let us know – we would like to enjoy the evening home, too.
iii. But there is a laziness that hangs over us. A comfortable feeling that we don’t want to interrupt. Maybe it’s summer. Maybe it’s a season. Maybe we’re tired.
iv. But, the Spirit won’t move in our midst if we’re in sin – and mediocrity is a sin.
2. The Corinthians would have done better to give Paul the benefit of the doubt. Instead of talking to each other and speculating – they’d have done better to write Paul and wait for his answer. Think about this: they knew him and they knew he loved them.
a. For us, we should reserve judgment until we’ve discussed the matter with those directly involved. The context in this passage would be leadership. With you it may be a Bible Study leader, a deacon, maybe a ministry, or maybe with leadership…
b. 2ndly, we should follow the Matthew 18 example: go 1 on 1; then 2 or 3 on one; then the church.
i. Avoid ‘discussions’ with others who aren’t involved.
ii. Avoid ‘discussions’ with those involved in front of others who aren’t involved.
3. The passion of your leadership for your benefit is often hard to see. Really, they desire your growth and revival. Yes, there are too many leaders in churches who use the church for their own gain and their own selfish desires. That was the problem in Corinth – too many super apostles were leading the people astray. I work closely with your elders and deacons and believe there isn’t a man whose heart is serving himself, but rather, is whole-hearted passionate for you. I mean that.
4. Let’s not play the “what if” game. What if that happened or didn’t happen? What if we hadn’t taken out that loan back in 2002? What if we’d never… Well, we did. Well, it did. So what now? The Real question now is, Can we forgive? Can we forgive ourselves? Maybe that “whatever it is” can cause you to lean more on Christ – to show you that you need him! You’re weak, you’re vulnerable, you’re not as strong as you think and you need Christ! Resolve in your heart today, not to look back in regret, but instead, to use your failures, mistakes and struggles as stepping-stones. Let them remind you of your deep need for Christ.