Since I was so sure of your understanding and trust, I wanted to give you a double blessing by visiting you twice—first on my way to Macedonia and again when I returned from Macedonia. Then you could send me on my way to Judea. You may be asking why I changed my plan. Do you think I make my plans carelessly? Do you think I am like people of the world who say “Yes” when they really mean “No”? As surely as God is faithful, our word to you does not waver between “Yes” and “No.” For Jesus Christ, the Son of God, does not waver between “Yes” and “No.” He is the one whom Silas, Timothy, and I preached to you, and as God’s ultimate “Yes,” he always does what he says. For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding “Yes!” And through Christ, our “Amen” (which means “Yes”) ascends to God for his glory. It is God who enables us, along with you, to stand firm for Christ. He has commissioned us, and he has identified us as his own by placing the Holy Spirit in our hearts as the first installment that guarantees everything he has promised us. (2 Corinthians 1:15-22, NLT)
Those who serve in ministry, either vocationally or as volunteers, will eventually experience criticism. Three things are generally true of criticism, especially in the church. First, it is voiced by a vocal minority who are trying to add to their numerical strength. Second, it is based in something insignificant that is twisted and interpreted into something that appears more significant. Third, when the objectives of critics are not achieved, they tend to “double down,” often inciting a race to the bottom. This is not to say that ministry leaders are above question, for they are far from perfect. But genuine critique and cruel criticism can be differentiated by their goals. Genuine critique seeks reconciliation and restoration, while dysfunctional criticism seeks to create division.
You can do a deeper dive on the dysfunctional dynamics involved in the passage above, but the Cliff’s Notes version goes something like this. The Corinthian church was a mess. Since its founding, little progress had been made toward its mission of reaching the community. They were more committed to maintaining the culture they had created than the city they were called to reach. First Corinthians cites some heated accusations toward Paul in reaction to his attempts to bring the community back to its gospel center. So the criticism levied in 2 Corinthians against Paul was an escalation from prior exchanges. Simply stated, Paul had legitimate reason to change his previously stated travel plans, which his critics manipulated into an accusation of fickleness and lack of integrity.
Why would Paul even waste his time answering his critics? Doesn’t conventional wisdom suggest that he should accept criticism as a necessary evil and not validate it with a defense? I think Paul is answering his critics for the sake of the majority who were sitting atop the fence weighing the argument. Sometimes the majority is healthy enough to vocally support the leader and deal with minority dissent themselves. Unfortunately, in churches then and now, the majority will often sit silently, leaving the ministry leader with no other choice than to defend themselves for the sake of the greater good.
Since Paul chose to defend his integrity, it’s important to notice how he went about it. He didn’t point to his own track record of all of the times he had followed through with his travel plans. Neither did he recount all of the good things he had done for the Corinthians which could tip the scales in his favor. Rather, Paul opted to use this to create a teachable moment by pointing to the dynamic relationship between God and the Church. The explanation works like this.
First, Christ fulfills all of God’s promises throughout all of salvation history. He is the One who has made it possible for us as the Church to experience all of the promises of God. Next, the “Amen” is our response that is proclaimed through us in worship to God for, third, the glory of God. God is praised because he is the one who enables us to stand securely as believers. He has set us apart as Christians and has equipped us with spiritual gifts in order to accomplish his divine purposes. Not only that, he has guaranteed the fulfillment of all of his promises both now and eternally by giving us the indwelling Holy Spirit.
This is an important response because in this way Paul instructed his readers that Christ is the ultimate standard to which all will be measured. His goal was not to please the Corinthian critics. His goal was not to present himself as the perfect example. His goal was to point them to Christ who never fails to keep his word. People who are prone to criticize will always point to an area that is a perceived weakness in others when compared to a perceived strength within themselves. But if Christ is our enduring example for life and living, it becomes difficult to criticize others because we realize we have a lot of work to do in our own lives. “I” am a full time job.