The Best-Laid Plans

“The best-laid plans of mice and men / Often go awry”

Perhaps you’ve heard this phrase. It speaks of how (as human beings) we make our well-intended plans, utilizing the best of our knowledge and ability, but then things don’t always turn out as we had hoped. The phrase was made most famous by John Steinbeck in his 1937 novel “Of Mice and Men,” which came from a line within the Scottish poem written by Robert Burns in 1785, called, “To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough.” According to legend, Burns wrote the poem after finding a nest full of mice, in his field, during the winter. ”

On a personal note, as a parent, how many times have you inadvertently made a promise to your children, and then when plans changed, you were accused of being a liar, or that you don’t keep your word?

“Let’s try to get to the beach this weekend… “ They’re all excited about going and then something comes up, like an illness, a storm, or even a death in the family, and you simply cannot go… “Daddy said we were going to the beach but he lied.”

I eventually had to qualify all of my plans with a statement like, “I’m making no promises,” or I just don’t let them know the plans at all so it can’t be used against me, or I just tell them “NO we are not even going to talk about it” and if we’re able to go, it will just be a happy surprise.

This past week in our reading the One-Year Bible, we finished 1 Corinthians and began reading 2 Corinthians. In the Bible passage I’m using today, we’re going to take a look at the best-laid plans of the apostle Paul and how the Corinthian church reacted to his change of plans.

In 1 Corinthians 16:5-9 he discusses his travel plans. You probably heard that passage read this morning and thought to yourself, “What in the world is he going to talk about, and what will be inspirational out of THAT passage?”

Well, this is a passage that brings to light the COMMITMENT that Paul had to his Lord, his friends and his ministry.

I. Paul promised to visit Corinth in the future (1 Corinthians 16:5-7)

The first thing I want to see is that Paul promises to visit the city of Corinth in the future. You see that right up front in 1 Corinthians 16:5, “I will come to you after I go through Macedonia…”

Here is a little of the back story… Paul had likely announced his plans to visit and stay for a while, in the lost letter that he sent to the Corinthians before THIS letter. Let’s try to piece this together.

1 Corinthians 5:9 mentions such a previous letter, where he says, “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with immoral people.” We can only imagine what this church was doing or what activity was going on there, for Paul to write such a letter. He must have been addressing some gross public sin. It must have been pretty scandalous and juicy based on what Paul addresses in chapter 5 and 6!

But the point is, there is a letter to the Corinthians that comes before 1 Corinthians. The Holy Spirit did not preserve that letter for us nor did he consider it necessary that we have it included as Holy Scripture.

So, you may be asking yourself an important question, “Are we missing something in the Bible?” Let me assure you, not a chance. While it might be interesting to know what Paul wrote to them, Peter tells us that God has “granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness,” which includes our completed Bible (2 Peter 1:3).

Alright, let’s get back to our passage for today. So Paul made a promise to visit the Corinthians and his plans obviously changed (I’ll show in a few moments, some passages that indicate his plan B and C). When Paul’s plans changed, the church thought the WORST, they thought Paul was being deceptive, or he was punishing them for the sinful activity in their midst, or he was outright lying to them. So, he addresses his change of plans in THIS letter.

Since we know Paul pretty well, he certainly wanted to make the most of the time God had given him, and make the most of every opportunity, so in this situation, there was no exception. In Ephesians 5:15-16, Paul writes, “Be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.” Paul had to change his plans because God was doing something great where he was, and he didn’t want to leave, perhaps quenching the work of the Holy Spirit.

In this letter Paul informed the Corinthians of his revised plans but notice how tentative his plans were.

  • PERHAPS I shall stay with you or EVEN spend the winter with you. 1 Corinthians 16:6
  • I HOPE to remain with you for some time, IF the Lord permits. (1 Corinthians 16:7)

He certainly understood the message of James 4:13-15, where it tells us about the providential nature of God, “13 Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year…” 14 How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. 15 What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.”

So, what has happened here so far? Paul mentions his future plans to visit Corinth, but his plans changed. BUT, I submit to you that there were very good reasons why he could not keep his initial commitment. Let’s take a look at 1 Corinthians 16:8-9.

II. Paul planned to stay in Ephesus in the present (1 Corinthians 16:8-9)

According to this section, it is obvious that Paul was in Ephesus when he wrote this letter of First Corinthians. Let’s take a look at WHEN he will leave Ephesus…

1. When Paul will leave Ephesus (1 Corinthians 16:8)

Paul informs them that he will leave Ephesus at Pentecost (1 Corinthians 16:8) which was the celebration some 50 days after the Passover (or for us, 50 days after Easter). Then He will travel by way of Macedonia (1 Corinthians 16:5). This was an obvious deviation from his original plans.

Notice the phrase “passing through” or “going through” Macedonia. This phrase indicates a planned, or systematic, or intentional time set aside for his ministry. There were people to see and souls to be won.

History tells us that winter was NOT the time to travel by ship in this area, so staying in Corinth would certainly be more convenient for Paul.

Regarding Paul’s plans, it is interesting to know that Paul was forced to revise his plans twice.

(1) Plan B was to visit Corinth and then travel to Macedonia, then back to Corinth on his way to Judea.

You might well be asking yourself, “Scott, where in the world do you get that information?” Take a look at 2 Corinthians 1:15-16, where Paul writes, “15 Since I was so sure of your understanding and trust, I wanted to give you a double blessing by visiting you twice— 16 first on my way to Macedonia and again when I returned from Macedonia. Then you could send me on my way to Judea.”

Instead of one long visit, he would make two shorter visits.

(2) Plan C turned out to be a quick and painful visit to Corinth before traveling to Ephesus.

Apparently the issues that he addresses in this letter of 1 Corinthians were not resolved, so Paul wrote a stern letter or sorrowful letter to the church (one that comes between First and Second Corinthians).

Titus delivered that stern letter and while Paul was in Troas, had no rest in his spirit wondering how they had received the letter and how they received Titus.

Let’s read 2 Corinthians 2:12-13, Now then I came to Troas for the gospel of Christ and when a door was opened for me in the Lord. I had no rest in my spirit not finding Titus my brother; but taking my leave of them, I went on to Macedonia. So, Paul went on to Troas to wait for Titus, and then he went on to visit Macedonia and eventually moved on to Judea.

Before we leave these verses, “Why did Paul go to Troas?” He went there because of the gospel of Christ, because God opened a door of opportunity for service and evangelism.

So, what are the lessons we can get from all of this?

How about this when we are discerning direction in our lives?

When was the last time that you sensed God’s direction so strongly that you changed your plans? You have this agenda, only so much time in a day, you’re a busy person, you have your schedule all planned out, you have your major all selected, your course charted, your business is already established… then you encounter the living God in such dramatic fashion that your plans change. You retire early to make plans for the mission field, or you change your major to something that has a greater impact on the kingdom of God, or you rearrange your crazy schedule to intentionally spend more time with lost people rather than just showing up at church every time the doors are open.

In decision-making or making our plans, what can we do?

Let’s use common sense, prayer, evaluation of the situation, and proper guidance when making our plans for the future. Proverbs 3:5-6 reminds us to “trust in the Lord with all your heart, and don’t lean on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your path straight.”

God gave us a mind to think, but don’t depend solely on your own reasoning. As we seek God’s direction, we must pray, study Scripture, and consult with believing friends; and then step out in faith.

It may come as a shock, but not ALL of the decisions we make are in the will of God. Sometimes we make promises that we simply cannot keep.

Does this mean that we become liars when we cannot fulfill our intended plans? The Corinthians thought Paul was not trustworthy, or was deceptive since he was not able to fulfill his promise about coming to visit them. (read 2 Corinthians 1:12-2:13 for his whole explanation).

The bottom line: If an apostle like Paul had to change his plans, it is guaranteed that our plans may often change as well.

Here are two extremes to avoid in seeking God’s Will:

  1. One is to be so afraid of making a mistake that we make no decisions at all. This is an indecisive person, we all know someone like this.
  2. The other extreme is to be so impulsive and just rush on ahead without taking the time to consult the Lord at all. We all know people like this as well.

How about if we do this: After we have done all that we can in seeking the Lord’s leadership, let’s make the decision, and then act upon that decision. Leave the rest up to God.

The point is, we must sincerely WANT to do the Lord’s will, to be an example of Jesus Christ, to allow Jesus to live through us, and not just follow or obey God grudgingly or justify doing our OWN will.

Wow, that was all about WHEN he would leave Ephesus. Let’s now take a look at…

2. Why Paul will stay in Ephesus (1 Corinthians 16:9) Paul intended to take advantage of opportunities to preach the gospel.

Just as we saw in Troas, Paul had an open door of opportunity for ministry in Ephesus, and THAT was most important to him. He wanted to win lost people to Jesus, more than pamper or spoil the saved people in Corinth.

Paul saw both the opportunities and the obstacles. So, God opened a wide door in Ephesus and Paul wanted to seize the day, and win people to Christ.

It is in today’s Scripture passage that we see the motivation in Paul’s actions.

So, consider your own situation… Would you ever consider changing your established and well-thought out plans because God was leading to toward an open door of opportunity to do something for God or for someone else?

  • What if God called you to go on a mission trip?
  • To lead a Sunday School class?
  • To change your major to something that would better impact the kingdom?
  • To change your vocation, even if later in life?
  • To witness to a neighbor?
  • To do something kind for a co-worker, hoping to seize the opening for one day putting in a good word for Jesus?

Rather than complain about the obstacles in your life, look for the God-given opportunities for making a difference in someone’s life.

So, what is your take away for this morning? Look at your outline…

  1. How can you make better, more godly, decisions?
  2. In what ways are you connected to other believers?
  3. If Paul were writing a letter to our church, what would he affirm and what would he challenge?
  4. In what area of ministry is your passion, where is your heart?
  5. How can you help grow the ministry at King’s Grant Baptist Church?
  6. We all make plans, have influence over people, and hope to be prosperous or successful in life; how has this passage challenged your motivation for servanthood, and being on mission with God, on being an influence for the kingdom?
  7. Will you download the Bible App Initiative questions for this week and chew on this chapter a bit more during this next week?

My challenge is that we discover our spiritual passion. If you don’t have that, or have no clue what I’m talking about, or have no idea how to share your faith with someone else… I would welcome the opportunity help you become a disciple that makes a difference in the world around you.

If you are ready to join this church, what are you waiting for? Every team has its roster, every company has its payroll, and every school has students enrolled… it’s time to officially join the family.

For all of us: let’s discover how to make godly decisions, be open to following through on those commitments, and make a few commitments that will impact eternity.

And for heaven’s sake, if God should open a door of opportunity to do something totally outrageous, something that would use you to impact the kingdom, are you willing to follow Christ in the midst of uncertainty or ambiguity?

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