“Yes” means yes

Do people take you at your word?  Or do they sometimes wonder if you really mean what you say?

For some of us, it’s far easier to just say what we think people want to hear, even if it means making commitments or promises that we end up abandoning later.  “I’ll take care of it,” we might say, to get someone off our back — and while we may have some intention of following through, the matter is pretty low on our priority list and may be forgotten entirely.  “I’ll pray for you,” we say sympathetically when someone shares a difficult personal story.  Do we actually do it?  For some people, the answer is a definite yes.  For others…well, you get the point.

As Jesus taught his disciples, “Let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no. Anything more than this comes from the evil one” (Matt 5:37, CEB; see also Jas 5:12).  You should never have to say, “No, I swear, I really mean it this time”; rather, those who follow Jesus should be known as people whose word is trustworthy.

As we saw in the previous post, some of the Corinthians were apparently accusing Paul of being a worldly and unreliable flip-flopper because of the multiple changes he made in his travel plans.  (And really, you have to wonder whether some of their sniping was motivated by the suspicion that Paul loved the Macedonians more than them.)  Having insisted on his integrity toward them in all things, Paul continues:

So I wasn’t unreliable when I planned to do this, was I?  Or do I make decisions with a substandard human process so that I say “Yes, yes” and “No, no” at the same time?  But as God is faithful, our message to you isn’t both yes and no.  God’s Son, Jesus Christ, is the one who was preached among you by us—through me, Silvanus, and Timothy—he wasn’t yes and no.  In him it is always yes.  All of God’s promises have their yes in him.  That is why we say Amen through him to the glory of God. (2 Cor 1:17-20, CEB)

Paul could simply have said, “Listen, people.  You know me.  My ‘yes’ means ‘yes,’ and my ‘no’ means ‘no.’  I don’t speak out of both sides of my mouth.”  And he will give them the reason for not returning to Corinth shortly.

But here, he makes an important theological point, one thoroughly centered in the person of Jesus Christ, who commissioned him as an apostle.

The point turns on a double entendre: “message” (literally, “word”) can refer either to what he says to them in general, or the message of the gospel specifically.  The latter is the good news of God’s divine “Yes!” to us in Jesus, the fulfillment of all of God’s promises.  And the former is grounded in the latter: in all of his dealings with the Corinthians, Paul sees himself as a representative of the gospel, of God’s Yes.

Paul’s opponents in Corinth think him worldly because he changes his plans.  But Paul doesn’t engage them in an “Am not!  Are too!” argument.  He demonstrates instead that it is their way of thinking that is too worldly, too limited.  What matters is not whether our plans change; what matters is what’s unchangeable.  Jesus is God’s Yes, and with God, yes means yes.

And so should it be with us.