Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, with integrity and godly sincerity. We have done so, relying not on worldly wisdom but on God’s grace. For we do not write you anything you cannot read or understand. And I hope that, as you have understood us in part, you will come to understand fully that you can boast of us just as we will boast of you in the day of the Lord Jesus. (1:12-14)
Paul begins the main body of the letter with these words beginning a section about his integrity in dealing with the Corinthian church. Apparently, someone has convinced a number of the members that Paul has not been honest in his dealings with them. Of course, in our time we should be familiar with this kind of tactic since we see it not only in churches, but in public life as well. Thus, in these verses, Paul is beginning his defense, almost as though he were in court.
Paul is telling them that he had been confident that his relationship with them had been one of mutual trust and respect, and he looked forward to being able to teach in their midst so that he could expand upon the things he had written to them previously so that their understanding of the points he had made would be complete, but as we see in the text that follows, something happened…
Because I was confident of this, I wanted to visit you first so that you might benefit twice. I wanted 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. Was I fickle when I intended to do this? Or do I make my plans in a worldly manner so that in the same breath I say both “Yes, yes” and “No, no”? (1:15-17)
Paul had made plans to leave Ephesus and stop off in Corinth on his way to Macedonia, and then to stop off in Corinth on his way back for another and final visit before returning to Jerusalem. Apparently, he cancelled his second stop, and is being criticized for doing so by those in Corinth who opposed him. His point here is that he did not deliberately promise 2 visits and then drop one of them.
In the next paragraph, 1:18-22, he tells them that he doesn’t do things the way this world does, but rather as Jesus did. Jesus didn’t just change His mind over nothing but was always firm in His resolve to serve the gospel. Then, Paul tells them…
I call God as my witness—and I stake my life on it—that it was in order to spare you that I did not return to Corinth. Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm. (1:23-24)
It seems that Paul cancelled the second visit to spare them, so as not to challenge their faith… but to spare them what?
So I made up my mind that I would not make another painful visit to you. For if I grieve you, who is left to make me glad but you whom I have grieved? I wrote as I did, so that when I came I would not be distressed by those who should have made me rejoice. I had confidence in all of you, that you would all share my joy. For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you. (2:1-4)
This isn’t a great deal to go on, but here’s my best guess: Paul’s last visit to Corinth didn’t go well− it was a disaster brought about by those who opposed him. There was conflict, not joy. Paul moved on his way, and then in “anguish” wrote another letter that we do not have today. Things were said, things were written… Paul cancelled the trip so as not to bring it all up again. His opponents, on the other hand, jumped at the cancellation and used it once again to accuse him, and this is his explanation of his actions.
It is interesting that Paul writes about forgiveness in the next section.