It is a sad but true indictment of the church that we are too often program and people driven rather than mission and message oriented. An experienced cotton-mill manager once said to Charles Hummel, the director of faculty ministries with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, that his greatest danger was in letting the urgent things crowd out the important. In a rapidly changing and quickly paced society like ours, we as Christians live in constant tension between the urgent and the important. All too frequently it is the urgent that wins out. Paul faced this problem with the Corinthian church in his day. A canceled visit to Corinth led the church to label Paul as a fair-weather friend who, following the way of the world, made and changed his plans to suit himself and no one else. And if he was unreliable in small matters like this, how was he to be trusted in bigger matters like preaching the gospel? What the Corinthians failed to see, however, is that Paul's travels in serving the gospel were governed not by personal whim but by his mission and his message. God, not people or programs, dictated his schedule.
In an attempt to move his relationship with the church toward this fuller understanding of his priorities, Paul goes on in verses 15-22 to respond to a complaint that arose over some alleged miscommunication on his part about his travel plans. From Paul's comments in these verses it seems that he had planned to visit the Corinthians toice before heading to Jerusalem to deliver the relief fund (v. 15). His intent was to come to Corinth first, move on to Macedonia and then return to Corinth, from where he hoped to be sent on his way to Judea with the money he had collected (v. 16). This would be the first time Paul had visited them since the founding of the church three years earlier. But the first of these too visits was so painful that Paul canceled the second one and returned to Ephesus, abandoning for the moment his Jerusalem collection efforts (see the introduction). The news of Paul's canceled visit was not well received at Corinth. They looked on his willingness to forgo a return visit as a sign of a fickle person who can say yes one moment and no the next (v. 17).
Paul's initial approach to the Corinthian charge is to show that he is not fickle in his decision making. I planned, he says, to visit you first so that you might benefit toice (v. 15). Paul chooses his words carefully. The Greek term for planned stresses a course laid out as a deliberate act of the will and is better translated "I determined" (eboulomen). Far from telling the Corinthians one thing and doing another, his plan to visit them had been carefully thought out, and he had fully intended to follow through on it. Paul had also expected that the church would send [him] on [his] way (propemphthenai, v. 16)—a technical term for furnishing a traveler with whatever provisions were necessary for the journey ahead. So he did not make these plans lightly (elaphria), a word commonly used of someone who makes a promise that they do not intend to keep (v. 17).
Paul goes on in verses 18-22 to answer the church's complaint from the standpoint of his role as a preacher of the gospel, arguing from the integrity of the message that he, Silas and Timothy had preached to them—and which they themselves affirmed by their Amen (v. 20)—to the integrity of the messengers themselves. Paul employs a greater-to-lesser line of argumentation that was in common use, especially in Jewish circles. God is faithful (v. 18). How do the Corinthians know this? They know this preeminently through the Son of God in whom there was and is no fickleness or inconsistency. For no matter how many promises God has made, they are "Yes" in Christ (v. 20). Put simply, Jesus is the very embodiment of God's faithfulness, for God has fulfilled and continues to fulfill (gegonen) every one of his promises in and through him (en auto). The Corinthians affirm God's faithfulness to his promises when through Christ they say "Amen" to the preaching of God's word (v. 20).
Two young girls were talking, and one said she had ten pennies. The other girl looked at her hand and only saw five. She said, "You only have five pennies."
The first girl replied, "I have five, and my father told me he would give me five more tonight. So I have ten." She understood that her father's promise was as good as done.
So it is with God's promises. And God's faithfulness in and through Jesus was preached by Paul without any wavering or inconsistency, so that the consistency of his message ensured the consistent character of his motives and actions. As the Corinthians themselves could verify, there was no "yes" and "no" about the Son whom Paul and his colleagues preached. His consistency in the greater matters ensured his reliability in the comparatively lesser matters.
Paul reinforces his argument by pointing in verses 21-22 to their joint possession of the Spirit, arguing that the God who gave them the Spirit to guarantee their common destiny (v. 22) is the same God who ensures the integrity of his conduct ([confirms] both us and you). So to doubt Paul's reliability in a trivial matter such as travel plans would be to also doubt the credibility of the Spirit's work in the Corinthians' own lives.
Paul chooses four terms drawn from the familiar world of law, religion and commerce to describe the Spirit's activity in the life of the congregation. The first is in the present tense, while the other three are past actions on which the Spirit's present activity is dependent: Having anointed, sealed and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, God is now (through the Spirit) in the process of confirming both us and you in Christ, says Paul. To "confirm" (bebaioo, not the NIV stand firm) is a technical term for the legal guarantee that a seller gives a buyer to ensure the validity of the sale against any possible third-party claims. As applied to the Spirit, it depicts his job in confirming the ongoing validity of God's relationship to his people. "Anoint" (chrio) is a word used in the Old Testament for commissioning to a particular office (e.g., king, priest) or task (e.g., prophet). It is also used metaphorically of the Spirit's equipping for mission or service (e.g., Is 61:1). By the action of anointing, then, Paul has in mind the Spirit's empowering and equipping the church to carry forth Christ's mission in the world. To "seal" (sphragizo), in the commercial world of Paul's day, referred to the means by which money, goods or documents were secured for delivery. A seal was both a mark of ownership and proof that the goods in question had not been tampered with or falsified in transit. Nowadays we might think of the rancher in West Texas who makes it his practice to round up all his year-old calves each spring for branding. The brand, which is placed on the flank of the calf with a heated branding iron, is the rancher's mark of ownership. No one can dispute that the calf belongs to him. In the same way God has placed his mark of ownership on us by sealing us with the Spirit. No one can remove us from his ownership until the day of redemption.
The activities of confirming, anointing and sealing are dependent on what Paul calls the arrabon of the Spirit in our hearts. Arrabon is a legal term pertaining to contracts of sale or service. In the case of a contract of sale, the arrabon in Hebrew law was something handed over as security to be reclaimed at a later date ("pledge," as in Gen 38:17-20), while in Greek law it referred to the earnest money that a buyer would give the seller prior to the actual sale and delivery of the item. Today we might think in terms of the down payment (deposit) that we make on a house or car with the intent of paying the balance at some future point. In the case of a contract for services, the arrabon was the first installment that a hirer would give the workers toward services to be carried out at a later date. Two letters from Paul's day illustrate this sense quite well. In one letter a servant writes to his master that he has paid Lampon the mouse-catcher an arrabon of eight drachmas so that he will start work and catch the mice while they are still with young; in a second letter the provision is made regarding the engagement of certain dancing girls for a village festival who are to receive payment "by way of arrabon to be reckoned in the price" (Moulton-Milligan 1930:79). Even today in Greece he arrabona is still used for "the engagement ring."
In what way, though, is the Spirit a first installment or deposit? The Spirit's activities of birthing (anointing, sealing) and guaranteeing the church's continuing existence leads one to think of the Spirit as the first installment of the church's future redemption. Paul develops this idea in Ephesians 5:25-27, where the church is portrayed as the bride-to-be and Christ as the expectant bridegroom. On his return they will be wed. Meanwhile, the church is in the process of being cleansed through the word, so that she might be presented to Christ as a "radiant" bride, without "stain or wrinkle."
To sum up, the Spirit's role in the life of the church is that of a first installment or down payment that guarantees God's indisputable relationship, commissions and equips for service, secures against falsification or tampering, and preserves the "goods" of this relationship until the day of redemption.