We don’t often get to see into the hearts of the biblical writers. We can only guess, for example, what the authors of the four gospels were experiencing as they wrote about the arrest, torture, and crucifixion of their Lord. Or for that matter, his resurrection.
Then there’s the apostle Paul. Sometimes he sounds like a theology professor, sometimes like a doting uncle. He can use strategic rhetoric or sound like a scold — or even do both at the same time.
But every once in a while, it seems, he bares a bit of his soul.
We’ve seen in recent posts how Paul’s opponents in Corinth seemed to paint him as worldly and wishy-washy because of his on-again, off-again changes of travel plans; even Paul’s supporters were probably confused. In response, he asserts that he has always conducted himself with integrity. When he says “Yes,” he means “yes” — and this because he is ever conscious of God’s divine “Yes” to us in Jesus.
Only after he has established the gospel as their common ground does Paul give a more direct answer as to why he changed his plans to visit them again:
But I call on God as witness against me: it was to spare you that I did not come again to Corinth. I do not mean to imply that we lord it over your faith; rather, we are workers with you for your joy, because you stand firm in the faith. So I made up my mind not to make you another painful visit. For if I cause you pain, who is there to make me glad but the one whom I have pained? And I wrote as I did, so that when I came, I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice; for I am confident about all of you, that my joy would be the joy of all of you. For I wrote you out of much distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain, but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you. (2 Cor 1:23-3:4, CEB)
Here is the heart of Paul the pastor. Previously, he had planned to visit Corinth briefly, go on to Macedonia, then return to Corinth (2 Cor 1:15-16). That first visit, however, was a disaster. Paul retreated to Ephesus and wrote a painful letter to them; he refers to that letter for the first time in this passage. Only after receiving a good report from Titus in Macedonia did Paul write the letter that we know as Second Corinthians.
For Paul, whose “Yes” means yes, it’s no small matter for him to invoke God here. “As God is my witness” we might say, or even, “May God strike me down if I’m lying.” Why didn’t he return? Not just for his own sake, but for theirs.
And specifically, for the sake of their gospel joy, and his. More on that in the next post.