18 Some of you have become arrogant, as if I were not coming to you. 19 But I will come to you very soon, if the Lord is willing, and then I will find out not only how these arrogant people are talking, but what power they have. 20 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power. 21 What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a rod of discipline, or shall I come in love and with a gentle spirit?
To those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people (i.e. “us”):
There are at least two directions we could take with today’s text. One the one hand, we could go down the “I’m going to open up a can on you Corinthians,” track. We could get into the tricky issues of church discipline and where it may be warranted and how utterly foreign this idea is to a twenty-first century American Christian. We could talk about strategies of confronting rebellion and dissension built on rogue and even arrogant authority. There’s a good conversation to be had about the difference between leading with firm authority and authoritarianism. I’m going to leave those for another day.
Instead, today, I want to address what I may have actually flown past in prior years and paid no attention to. In other words, it was a throw away phrase for me. And in fact, it’s actually that kind of phrase for many people. It has become a bit of a cliche. I don’t think that was the case for Paul. Our words matter very much. Even though Paul says the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk, still our words matter. This little phrase in today’s text points to a deep dispositional reality in the Apostle. It shows the attitude and mentality of a person who lives under authority.
I know. You’re dying to know. What is this phrase I’m referencing. It’s right there in v.19.
But I will come to you very soon, if the Lord is willing, and then I will find out not only how these arrogant people are talking, but what power they have.
Did you see it? “If the Lord is willing.” Paul conditioned any and every significant and perhaps not so significant decision in his life on those five words: “If the Lord is willing.” You’ve heard it and like me, probably said it. “We plan to be there,” we might say, and then add on a quick, “Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.” It’s another way of saying, “I am dead serious about keeping my word on this, short of a hurricane or earthquake.” In other words, I’m doggedly committed to this unless the devil stops me. (On an unrelated note—why are natural disasters referred to as “Acts of God” and not “Acts of Satan?”)
Bottom line point I’m trying to make here: Despite the fact that many people use this phrase with real sincerity, we have reduced it to an idiom. For Paul, I am convinced this was no idiom. It was his “way of life in Christ Jesus.” He lived in constant humble, joyful submission to the ever unfolding will of God. James makes the same point in his letter when he says,
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:13-15)
Paul said the almost the exact same thing to the Christians in Ephesus, as I noted in a previous Daily Text. At the end of the day this comes down to the issue of sovereignty. Who is sovereign in our lives? Is it me and my plans or is it the will and the willingness of God? It’s a real journey to get to the place where we truly come to this way of life. It’s not as simple as saying it, though at times this can be a helpful reminder. (The problem is the way it can be an outright untruth.) This conviction, far from a colloquial or even sentimental saying, reflects an unwavering trust in God. That’s where we want to be—unwavering humble trust in God.
Our Father in Heaven, indeed this is where I want to be—an unwavering, humble trust in you. I want to live so filled with your Spirit and governed by your mind that I think thoughts after yours and that my plans begin to naturally reflect your will. Teach me to think, live and even say, “If the Lord is willing,” submitting my every agenda to yours in both large matters and small things. Let my submission become bold and my humility palpable—for your glory. I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
1. How tightly do you cling to your own plans? Are you convinced that your plans are going to be better for you than God’s plans?
2. What is your greatest fear about submitting to the will of God and God’s plans in advance of knowing anything about those plans?
3. Does your prayer life include the regularity of inquiring of the Lord concerning your plans or are you more inclined to simply ask God to bless your plans?
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