By Pastor Glenn Pease
Many years ago the U. S. Army wanted to get off more rounds of cannon fire, and so they hired a consultant to study the problem. He went into the field and noticed that the soldiers stepped back from the cannon and waited for about 3 seconds every time they fired it. When asked why they replied that they were following directions laid down in the army manual. The consultant read through all the back issues until he traced the instructions to their origin in the Civil War. Soldiers were then advised to step back before firing to hold the gun horses head so that they would not bolt and thus jerk the cannon off target. These were important instructions at the time, but everything had changed, and horses were no longer there. These instructions had passed down for years and were followed even though they had no relevance whatever. The manual was changed to fit the changed circumstances.
Change is wise when the old way of doing something can be done better to fulfill the purpose for which you do it at all. The Christian life is to be a life of constant change where we are getting better and better at pleasing God by loving Him with all our hearts, and by loving our neighbor as ourselves. The goal of all we do as a church is change. Change is the name of the game, and if we do not see change we are failing. Christ-likeness is only achieved by change. Christian education does not happen just because information is imparted. There are millions of non-Christians who can tell you the story of Adam and Eve, Noah, and Jonah. They can even tell the story of the cross and resurrection. They have the facts, but they are not changed by them. You do not have a Christian education until the facts of the Bible change your life, and lead you to a commitment to Christ as Lord of your life.
Nobody becomes a Christian without change, and nobody becomes a growing Christian without more change. Change is the essence of the Christian life, and when a Christian stops changing, they stop growing. The Christian is only learning if he or she is changing. A school teacher told one of her students he had to stay after school and write on the blackboard one hundred times, so he would learn the proper way of saying it, "I have gone." He laboriously worked his way through the 100 lines, and then he left this note for the teacher: "I finished and I have went home." All his efforts were not a learning experience for he did not change.
Learning means that you change in your thinking, feeling, or acting. If change does not happen, learning has not happened. You cannot measure Christian education by how many years you have gone to Sunday School, or how many books you have read. The only measure that matters is how much have you changed to become a Christ-centered person.
D. L. Moody wrote the entire theology of the Christian life on the fly leaf of his Bible. He put it in 7 stages of change.
1. Justification-a change of standing before God.
2. Regeneration- a change of nature from God.
3. Repentance-a change of mind about God.
4. Conversion-a change of life for God.
5. Adoption-a change of family in God.
6. Sanctification-a change of service unto God.
7. Glorification-a change of place with God.
If the goal is to be like Jesus, and we are not yet there, then it follows that change is what the Christian life is all about. It begins with change and does not cease until we become like Him in the resurrection. An evangelist visiting a girls mission school in the South Sea Islands was greeted by two rows of girls singing, "What a wonderful change in my life has been wrought since Jesus came into my life." He was deeply touched when one of the staff members leaned over and whispered, "Everyone of those girls is either the daughter or granddaughter of a cannibal." Change is the sign of authentic Christianity.
Someone once very cleverly put up a sign in the church nursery using one of Paul's sentences to the Corinthians. It was from I Cor. 15:51 which says, "We will not all sleep but we will all be changed." Being changed is basic to the nursery care of babies, and it is basic to the plan of God for His people. The last thing that happens to us in time is change. The mortal puts on immortality. Both the living and the dead has this in common: They end time and begin eternity with change.
We could go and on with evidence to support the importance of change in the Christian life, but this should be sufficient to make the point. Now we have to deal with another reality, and that is the Christian resistance to change. This was a major issue in the Corinthian church, and it is a major issue in every church, and in every Christian life. To change or not to change-that is the question. Another one is, to adapt to change or resist it. That is the issue Paul deals with in chapter 2.
A major criticism of Paul by those in Corinth who did not like him was that he changed his mind about coming to spend a winter with them. They said he is unstable and undependable, and not to be relied upon. They could not accept Paul's change of plans as a good thing. They saw it as a defect in his character, and they used it to undermine his authority. One of Paul's major goals in this letter is to defend his change of mind. In 1:23 he even calls God to witness that his motive for changing his mind was to spare them. Paul is saying that there are times when you should change your mind, and not follow through on your original plan.
If you discover that your plan will lead to unnecessary pain and not solve a problem, but only add to it, it is wise to change your plan. This is not being inconsistent or wishy-washy. It is being flexible and open to adapt to new information. Paul's critics were being legalists. They were saying that once you commit yourself to a certain course of action you should stick to it no matter what. They expected Paul to be like a machine that does what it is programmed to do, even if by doing so it starts to crush the product and spew the contents out on the floor. Paul says, "No way! I have considered the consequences of not changing my plan, and I see it would be a painful thing to come to you at this time and have to deal with so many hard issues that call for severe judgment. I have decided to wait so I could come when you have settled some of these issues, and so be able to have a more pleasant experience for all of us."
Paul is adapting to change. He understands the importance of timing. You are not wise to deal with sensitive issues when the timing is such that it guarantees greater pain. Paul knew things would change and there would be a better time to come back to Corinth. If he came now, when he said he would, it would lead to a lot of grief, and Paul is not a saddest. He does not have any interest in pain for pain's sake. He avoids unnecessary suffering for himself and others, and that is why he changed his mind and plan.
What we need to see is the paradox of how change is a key factor in being consistent. The critics of Paul had the concept that a consistent person is one who does not change. They were like the woman who stood before the judge and he asked her age. She said that she was 30, and he said that she had given that same age to the court for the last 3 years. She responded, "Yes, I'm not one of those who says one thing today, and another thing tomorrow." She was being consistent but dishonest. Change was necessary to be honest about her age, and change was necessary for Paul to be honest and consistent with his love for the Corinthians.
If a face to face confrontation is only going to lead to painful conflict, Paul says that he chooses to change his strategy. Paul had to be confrontational at times, but he did not enjoy it, and he avoided it if he could. He had no pleasure in being critical and judgmental toward his spiritual children. He had come to them before and it led to conflict, and he was not ready to go through that again. In the light of the evidence he changed his mind, and he stayed away and sent a letter instead. The Christian principle here is this: In any area of conflict you seek to work out problems so as to avoid unnecessary pain. This means you evaluate the situation and be ready to adapt and change to meet this goal.
If you are tired of waiting for the leak in the sink to get fixed, and you say, "I am going to confront my husband tonight and insist that he get this job done," and then you tell your neighbor that this is the night we are going to settle this, you have made quite a commitment. But let's say that your husband comes home from work and the first thing he does is tell you that he never got the promotion he was expecting, but was passed over. Now you have a choice. You can be true to your commitment to deal with the sink issue like you told your friend, or you can choose to change your agenda and adapt to the change in your husbands life, and seek to be a comfort rather than to add to his pain.
The legalist would say to stick to the original plan whatever the cost. You told your friend that you would, and she will ask you the next day, and you will look like a wimp if you back off. But the spirit of grace says that being consistent could lead to conflict and pain that will hurt your relationship. It is not worth it to be consistent. You must change your plans and deal with this at a more appropriate time when the result is more likely to be pleasant rather than painful. Change for the sake of peace is not being inconsistent at all. It is being consistent with love. God, who is unchanging in his character and attributes, and so never inconsistent, will change in his response to men when they change in response to Him. The only way God can be consistent and unchanging in His love and honesty is to change.
He told the city of Nineveh through Jonah that in 40 days the city would be destroyed. But the people repented and God changed His mind, and He did not destroy them. Was that being inconsistent? Not at all. God whole plan of salvation is based on His willingness to forsake His wrath and show mercy to all who call upon Him. He is ever consistent in this, so that even if someone is only minutes away from judgment and they turn to Him, He will halt His judgment and reach out the hand of redemption and spare them. God is unchanging in His mercy, and so He will change from wrath to mercy anytime man is open to receive it. It is a paradox, but the only way God can be consistent and unchanging is to be ready to change at any time when there is a change in man's response to Him.
If God could not change and respond freely to the changes in men, He would be at the mercy of a legalism greater in power that His love, and so law rather than love would be the highest force in the universe. But it is not so, for love is supreme, and God is free to change in an instant to meet every change in man with mercy. This is not inconsistency in God, but it is the ultimate in consistency, for it means God is never looked in but is free always to make the loving choice in every situation, so that love always reigns.
That is what Paul is saying about his own change of mind and plan. He is being consistently loving by adapting to change so as to avoid giving Satan any advantages in the warfare of the spirit. Lets say you promised your child or grandchild you would take them to see the movie Jurassic Park, and then you read tha5 some children develop severe nightmares after seeing this film. You know your child is sensitive to this sort of thing. Now what do you do? Do you keep your promise, or do you adapt to the new information you did not have when you made the promise? Since your original motive was to please your child your choice now has to be consistent with that motive. They may be hurt by your change of plans, but if you choose something else that pleases them you are being consistent with your original purpose. If it will hurt your child to keep your promise then you have to change your plan, for your goal is to please them and not to hurt them. Change is consistent with consistency.
The Corinthians were not only having a hard time accepting the changes of Paul's plan as loving, but were having a hard time seeing the need to change their attitude toward the man they had disciplined for his sin. They became his judge and jury and found him guilty, and they punished him. That was all consistent with the facts and the need. But they apparently did not realize that if the discipline worked, and the man repented of his sin, they were to change in response to that change in him and forgive him and restore him to the fellowship. They apparently thought the Christian needs to be consistent and go on shunning this sinner. Here is where we see all the folly of consistency. If they refused to change in response to the change in the sinner, they were in bondage to legalism. They were not free to be agents of grace, for to e free like that you have to be willing to change and from an attitude of judgment go to an attitude of forgiveness. This is radical change to go from such a severe negative to such a great positive. It is such a radical change that is seems like inconsistency, but it is, in face, the only way to be consistent with the love of God.
What we need to see is that changing is always good if the change is to keep you in conformity with the spirit of Christ. We often worry about how things appear on the human level and let that be our guide rather than the higher principle of conformity to the will of God. Spurgeon reveals a marvelous spirit of willingness to change even if it means renouncing a cherished opinion if he sees change as essential to conform to the Word of God. He writes, "I confess that sometimes I come across a text which does not at the first blush agree with other teachings of Scripture which I have already received, and his startles me for the moment. But one thing is settled in my heart, namely that I will follow the Scripture wherever it leads me and that I will renounce the most cherished opinion rather than shape a text or alter a syllable of the inspired Book. It is not mine to make God's word consistent, but to believe that it is so. When a text stands in the middle of the road I drive no further. The Romans had a god they called "Terminus," who was the god of landmarks. Holy Scripture is my sacred landmark, and I hear a voice which threatens me with a curse if I remove it. Sometimes I way to myself, I did not think to find this truth to e just so; but as it is so, I must bow. It is rather awkward for my theory, but I must alter my system, for the Scripture cannot be broken. Let God be true, but every man a liar."
History is filled with many Christian leaders who could not do what Spurgeon could do. They feel obligated to be consistent, and so if they make a mistake in understanding the Bible they would rather cling to and promote that mistake rather than adapt and admit they were wrong and change to conform to a new understanding. New light makes many a preacher have to change the way he preaches on a text. Pride says stick to your guns and do not admit a mistake or blunder. If you change it will reveal your imperfections. But love says to change and conform to the new light for this is godly change and will make you pleasing to Him.
It can be costly to change, for even Christians will be your critics, just as they were of Paul. Christians are often legalists and do not like to change but stay locked into what they feel is comfortable and not be open to new light. Paul is saying that it is an obligation for Christians to change their minds when they get new light and new understanding. It is folly to remain unchanged when new light makes change wise. The point is that a person is not unstable and vacillating because they change. It could be, as was the case with Paul, that their change is a sign of their consistency. Paul is pleading with them to listen to the reasons and motive for his change. If they will do so they will see that his change is consistent with his love for them.
There is an old joke that has the judge asking why the defendant broke into the parking meter, and he responds, "I thought the change would do me good." Paul felt the change would he made would do both him and the Corinthians good. He knew that a change on their part to forgive the fallen saint would do the whole church good. Paul is teaching that we need not fear change, but grasp it as a friend and learn the value of it. The critics of Paul were anti-change and were hardened against the value of change. Their inflexibility was not good, but it was like a noose that was robbing them of the freedom to be forgiving and loving. It was chocking them and making them so unlike Christ.
Paul wants Christians to be more like thermostats and not like thermometers. The thermometer just registers the temperature, but the thermostat changes the temperature to make it more comfortable. Paul's stress in this letter is that Christians are to be agents of comfort, and that means that they are to be in the business of changing the temperature. If they are cold because of sin and folly on the part of other believers, they are to change the atmosphere and warm it up with loving acts of kindness and forgiveness. Where sin abounds grace is to much more abound. This can only happen where Christians recognize with Paul that Godly change is necessary.