It is a very difficult thing to have your plans changed when you have worked them out carefully. It is especially difficult when you are criticized as a result of having to change them. I am able to identify with the Apostle Paul a bit, who obviously was a very organized person and did not like to have his plans changed. I have sat on a beach in Florida in the middle of August, tanning myself–15 minutes on one side and 15 minutes on the other side–with a perfect schedule in mind. If someone interrupts me, I have to break my schedule and I become irritated. I am sure there are people who cannot understand this. I am sure there must be people who can lie on the beach and be utterly unconcerned about interrupted schedules, whether they concern tanning or more important matters. However, I think everybody has difficulty when something changes that they’ve planned with great care. As I suggested, we are particularly troubled when we are criticized as a result of changes that are utterly beyond our control.
That is what Paul experienced. When we began our study of 2 Corinthians, I pointed out that Paul had had a long relationship with this church at Corinth. He had founded it on his second missionary journey and had spent eighteen months there, which was a long time in the way Paul did his missionary work. He had founded the church. He visited it again on one occasion. As we would say, he had invested a large portion of his life in those people. Furthermore, he had made plans to return and visit them.In 2 Corinthians 1:16, Paul said, “I planned to visit you on my way to Macedonia and to come back to you from Macedonia, and then to have you send me on my way to Judea.”
There are three parts to that plan. Paul presumably was in Ephesus at this time. He had already been to Corinth twice. During the first visit he founded the church there. Paul describes his second visit to Corinth as a sorrowful journey. Problems had arisen so he went there to straighten them out, but he had not succeeded very well. Now, he says, he was planning to go there twice more, but some time later he changed that plan.
I think Paul changed his plan early on, because when I read the end of 1 Corinthians 16, it appears there that he intended to visit them just once. But somehow Paul communicated to them that he planned to visit twice. Perhaps he told them while he was there on his second visit. Or maybe there was another letter to the Corinthians that we do not have. But in some way, he had told them that he wanted to visit them twice. He planned to come over and visit them, then go on to Macedonia for his responsibilities there. Then he would return to Corinth a second time. But somewhere along the way he changed that plan, so that when he wrote this first letter to the Corinthians, he made no mention of stopping in Corinth before going to Macedonia.
Paul’s change of plans gave rise to unreasonable and destructive criticism. The people that were trying to undermine his work in Corinth said, “You can’t take Paul too seriously because he writes one thing and does another. When he writes a letter, he’s so bold, you’d think he was a lion. And then he comes to see you, and he’s like a mouse.” They were slandering him. They said, “He said he was going to come twice. He’s not coming twice. He’s only going to come once.”