Established in Christ
A well-known Scottish poet wrote this maxim in one of his poems; “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” You don’t need to live very many years until you know how true that statement is. But this reality isn’t something unique to those who follow Christ; it affects all humanity. So, how do we respond when our plans fail?
One response is fatalism, the belief that events are fixed in advance so that we’re powerless to change them. Taken to its extreme it leads to discouragement, despair, and even suicide. Another response to unfulfilled plans is to recognize there is a sovereign God who rules in the affairs of humanity. As His followers, we make our plans based on the best knowledge we have of His will for us. But even as we make those plans, we acknowledge that we can’t see the whole picture like He does. When the plans change, we can still acknowledge His goodness.
A wise leader once put it this way; “I have lived, sir, a long time; and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth, that God governs in the affairs of men! And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid?” He then implored his fellow leaders to seek God’s face in regular times of prayer.
Sometimes, when plans fail, those who were unable to fulfill them are accused of being indecisive, uncommitted, or uncaring. But it’s never wise to reach those conclusions without all the facts. It’s possible they have legitimate reasons why they couldn’t fulfill those plans.
In our text from Second Corinthians 1:15 to 22, the apostle Paul defends himself from accusations by his critics in Corinth. As we work our way through this text, we’ll see how this defense of his actions illustrates how we too can be “Established in Christ.” So, listen as I read Second Corinthians 1:15 to 22.
As Paul explains his change of plans to the Corinthian Believers, he reveals to them and us the WAYS that we are “Established in Christ.”
The First WAY (that we are established in Christ) is,
According to God’s Plans
Paul begins this section by referring to his previous statements about his confidence in God, his confidence in the Corinthian Believers, and his confidence in the testimony of his conscience. God had delivered him from what appeared to be certain death (verse 10). The church at Corinth had played a part in his deliverance through their prayers. And Paul’s own conduct and communication with the Believers were sincere and transparent.
Paul states in verses fifteen and sixteen that he wanted to visit the Corinthians again. He knew and loved these people. Remember, he had planted the church at Corinth and developed lasting relationships among the members. He now wanted to renew those relationships. He also knew about some of the challenges the church was facing. As a wise leader, he wanted to address them in person. So, he made plans to visit.
His intention was to visit Corinth on his way from Ephesus to Macedonia and then stop with them again on his return trip so they could help him get to Jerusalem. He referred to this as a second benefit for them. We don’t know why those plans changed. But the anti-Paul party in Corinth criticized him for this change of plans. They accused him of being flippant and vacillating.
But when you look at how closely Paul followed God’s plans in other places, it’s hard to make this charge stick. In Acts 16, Paul and Silas were planning to minister the word in Asia Minor, but the Holy Spirit prevented them from doing that. Instead, Paul had a vision of a man from Macedonia asking him to come and preach to them. Paul sensed this as God’s leading and immediately they set off for Macedonia. That was a major change of plans, but not because Paul was indecisive, cowardly, or uncaring.
Paul responds to these charges with an indignant negative! He asks, “Was I a ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ man, not knowing my own mind, or not keeping to my decisions, when I thought I did know it?” He then reminds his readers that he made his plans based on his understanding of God’s will. Hopefully, you and I do that too, but sometimes our conclusions are mistaken, and other times God changes our plans.
I remember so well, as a young man, a time when God changed my plans in a very significant way. And some who didn’t know the details of those changes made very hurtful comments about my character and the reasons for the change of plans. Unlike Paul, I didn’t defend myself because I knew the charges to be false. And looking back, I have the confidence that I made the right decision. In situations like this, you and I need much wisdom to know if it’s a time to speak or a time to be quiet.
Have you ever wondered what God is doing when He changes your plans? I have. Like Paul, I’ve made plans for something that, according to Scripture, is completely in line with God’s will, but the plans don’t work out. I’ve often asked, “Lord, why didn’t this work out?” Sometimes I find out the answer, but many times I don’t. I’m learning to trust that God knows best.
Let’s not be like that minority in Corinth that criticized Paul’s character because his plans didn’t work out. Let’s give people the benefit of the doubt and treat them the way we want to be treated when our plans change. And remember, as we faithfully follow God’s plans we become more firmly established in Christ. The writer of Proverbs concurs with these familiar words; “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”
The Next WAY (that we are established in Christ) is,
According to God’s Promises
To strengthen his personal defense, Paul appeals to the example of Jesus. Paul’s entire life and being were devoted to the service and proclamation of Christ, the one who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The charge of insincerity and instability is simply ridiculous.
He reminded the Corinthians that the Christ who was preached to them by him, and Silas, and Timothy, was not a yes and no man, wavering back and forth between two positions. Jesus was a consistent “YES” man. He said what He meant, and He meant what He said!
Paul further reminds his readers they hadn’t experienced Christ in a way that was uncertain or unsatisfying. Jesus’ own words were “I am the way, the truth, and the life…” And He proved the accuracy of all that was written about Him and His work of redemption.
John MacArthur asserts that: “the firmness of Paul’s statement, and his use of Jesus’ full title, (the Son of God, Jesus Christ) indicates that the person and work of Christ were under attack from false teachers at Corinth. The proof of his truthfulness with them was the truthful Gospel which he faithfully preached.”
Paul writes in verse 20, “For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us.” What does Paul mean by this statement? Simply that all the promises given by God are made possible and fulfilled in Jesus to the glory of God the Father. This was the Gospel Paul proclaimed.
I understand that it was common among the meetings of the early church to proclaim the “Amen” in unison to affirm the truthfulness of what had just been spoken. Isn’t it strange then, that some of those same people would be distrustful of the man who had brought them the Good News and taught them to use this term? If there is a charge of inconsistency, it seems to lie more with the Corinthians than with Paul.
Yes, the promises of God establish us in Christ. I often think of Peter’s words in his second epistle; “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.”
Through Paul’s ministry, Christ was proclaimed as the “yes” of all God’s promises so that the Father would be glorified. The Incarnation, the Son of God taking on human flesh, was tangible evidence of all God’s promises being fulfilled; past, present, and future.
Have you experienced the “yes” of God’s promises? Are you using them to chart your course through life? Are those promises directing your steps like they did for the apostle Paul? Can you appeal to God’s promises to validate His message through you? His promises are absolutely true, and through the trustworthiness of those promises, we are established in Christ.
The Final WAY (that we are established in Christ) is,
According to God’s Presence
Here again, are the final verses of our text to refresh your memory. “Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.”
I follow Paul’s argument this way; you accuse me of being unfaithful to my promises because God changed my plans. But the Gospel I brought to you in Corinth was based on the unchanging Word of God and resulted in transformed lives. Furthermore, God has authenticated my ministry by giving me, and all of you who truly follow Him, the seal of the Holy Spirit. So, your charge of me being unsettled and fickle flies in the face of what God has done and continues to do, both in me and in all those who embrace His call to discipleship.
Here, Paul makes the ultimate appeal to being established in Christ. First, he refers to the anointing; that is, God’s people being endowed with gifts by the Holy Spirit for the work of ministry. Next, he states that God has sealed us; that is, He has set His mark of approval and ownership on us confirming that we belong to Him.
And finally, He has bestowed on us the Spirit Himself as the down payment of our eternal inheritance. We all know that a down payment is a legally binding promise or pledge that the entire amount will eventually be realized. The Spirit Himself is God’s pledge of the fulfillment of our future glory with Christ.
Have you received the anointing of the Holy Spirit? No, that doesn’t necessarily mean speaking in tongues – although it could! It means having the fruit of the Spirit in your life: love, joy, peace, patience, and so on. And it means using the spiritual gifts God has given you to build up His church. Some of you may think it’s not important to know your spiritual gift. But I believe that knowing the strengths and weaknesses of our gifts helps us to know when to step forward and serve or step back and let others exercise their strengths.
Do you have the witness of the Holy Spirit in your spirit that you belong to God, as Paul mentions in Romans 8:14 to 16? Are you led by the Spirit of God as you walk through daily life, finding victory over the desires of your flesh? Are you confident in the security of your future based on the down payment or guarantee that you have received?
As Christ-followers there will always be those who criticize us, even from within the Church. But if you and I are truly committed to Christ and following His will, we can live with confidence. That doesn’t mean we won’t make mistakes or that we’ll never need to ask forgiveness. But it does mean that the accusations of others don’t need to cripple us or deter us from the plans Christ has for us.
Can you see the evidence of God’s plans, His promises, and His presence in your life? If so, these confirm that you are established in Christ.
 The MacArthur Bible Commentary, p. 1618