Question:

Hello,

If someone stated they were never going to do something that wasn't wrong can they change their mind and not be in sin? For example if I said I was never going to get married and then change my mind and get married is that a sin? I kind of think it is not because I didn't swear an oath, no one is relying on my choice, and I didn't state it knowing I wanted to change my mind, but I want to be sure. I know if I made an oath I should keep it or if someone is counting on me.

Thank you


Answer:

There is an interesting side story that is buried in the Corinthians letters.

Paul's Changing Travel Plans

In Paul's first letter, he lays out his travel plans (I Corinthians 16:5-9).

Paul planned to stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, which is around the beginning of summer. He has a number of opportunities for teaching the gospel in Ephesus and because of the strong opposition (Acts 19:9), he does want to leave too soon. Having worked hard for the Lord in Ephesus, he doesn’t want to leave the area too soon and have it torn apart by opponents to the Gospel.

From there he plans to go to Macedonia and then to Corinth where he hopes to spend the winter (Acts 19:21). The wording in the Greek hints that Paul planned to go to Corinth first and then to Macedonia and then return to Corinth. Afterward, they can send him on his way to whatever is his next destination. Paul did accomplish this plan, spending three months in Corinth (Acts 20:2-3).

But when we get to the second letter, we find Paul explaining why he changed his plans (II Corinthians 1:15-22). Originally Paul’s intention was to go from Ephesus to Corinth and then travel on to Macedonia. He then planned to return to Corinth to stay a while, possibly spending the winter there, before continuing on to his next destination. In this way they would have had the pleasure of being with each other twice. This plan was sincerely and honestly made just as all of Paul’s dealing have been done.

Paul’s original plan was not the most direct route from Ephesus to Macedonia, but at the time he was willing to go out of his way to see the Corinthians even though it also meant he would have only a short visit during his first stop. It wasn’t a casual plan made without much forethought. Nor did he make the plans with his own comfort or convenience in mind.

The phrase “that with me there should be Yes, Yes, and No, No” is not easily understood and has caused much discussion. The repeating of the words is usually an emphatic, so some see this a Paul denying that he made his plans in a head strong fashion, doing as he pleased. Others see this as Paul denying that he follows the whims of others, telling them what they want to hear. Another possibility is that Paul is denying using double-speak, saying both yes and no at the same time, so that whatever he did he could say that it was his plan all along (Matthew 5:37; James 5:12).

Just as God is found faithful in all things, Paul declares that his stated plans were not fickle. Paul is a representative, an apostle of Jesus Christ. Yet, Paul did decide he needed to change his plans (II Corinthians 1:23-2:4).

Plans should be kept when at all possible, but to hold on to plans which are no longer best because of changing circumstances simply out of stubbornness is not sensible either. Paul had every intention of following through with his original plan, but since the writing of the first letter to Corinth, Paul came to realize it wasn’t the best plan.

Invoking a firm oath, Paul states that he changed his plan to spare the brethren in Corinth. If he visited before they straightened out their problems, it would be necessary for him to deal with them harshly, which would have been painful to both of them (I Corinthians 4:21). As the letter unfolds we find that Paul, even now, isn’t certain as to the nature of his upcoming visit (II Corinthians 12:20-21; 13:2, 10).

Paul doesn’t want to be seen as a dictator, but as a fellow worker working with the Corinthians in joy. Coming shortly after the first letter was received would have forced Paul into a role of exercising apostolic authority that he would rather avoid if he could. They stand by faith, not by force of authority. Such had been his plan (I Corinthians 4:19, 21), but after deep thought he concluded it was best to wait a bit longer before coming. Therefore, the reason behind Paul’s change of plans was his love for the brethren, not his fickleness.

Some see the use of “again” in II Corinthians 2:1 to indicate that there was a prior visit between the initial founding of the church in Corinth and now where Paul did come to exercise discipline. However, the phrase merely means a return visit. The “in sorrow” doesn’t necessarily mean the last visit was sorrowful, it could refer only to this next visit. A. T. Robertson points out that Greek is vague here and in II Corinthians 12:14 and II Corinthians 13:1. In the latter two verses it could mean this will be Paul’s third visit to Corinth (of which we have no record of the second visit) or that this will be Paul’s third journey to Corinth (of which the second was aborted because of a change in plans). If there were three visits, the second could not have occurred between the first letter and this letter, else Paul would not need to apologize for not coming.

Paul didn’t want to be depressed by visiting the Corinthians too soon. If he had to come and discipline, they would be in too much sorrow to find any joy and Paul would have no joy from the visit. Paul didn’t expect to be happy if the Corinthians were made unhappy by his visit. Paul would rather that the one whom he made sorrowful, such as the man in fornication (I Corinthians 5:1ff), instead have the opportunity to make Paul joyful through his repentance.

The reason Paul wrote the first letter to Corinth instead of coming personally immediately when he heard of the problems was so that the Corinthians could have a chance to address the issues. Paul is confident of the brethren’s character and that they would want to make him happy when he does visit. It hurt Paul to write that letter, but he didn’t write it to cause grief as much as he wrote it because he loved them deeply.

Can Plans Change?

Men make plans but ultimately we are not in control of the future. "A man's heart plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps" (Proverbs 16:9). Changes in circumstances can dictate that plans will need to change to accommodate the new circumstances. That is why we read statements like, "Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart" (Genesis 6:5-6). The Hebrew literally says that God changed His mind about creating man. It wasn't that God did anything wrong, it just grieved Him to see how far these people He made went into sin. This wasn't how He desired things to go. The change in man caused a change in God's view of man.

Another interesting passage is "The instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, to pull down, and to destroy it, if that nation against whom I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it" (Jeremiah 18:7-8). God is willing to change His plans if people change their behavior. This is why Nineveh was not destroyed in the book of Jonah. "Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it" (Jonah 3:10).

A plan never to marry sounds almost noble when you are young and there isn't anyone you are interested in anyway. But circumstances change, you grow mature and you realize that what sounded great to a teenager isn't that smart of a choice to a twenty-something person. Therefore, admit that your views have changed. You have good reasons for making those changes. Neither plan was contrary to God's commands, so it is the wise thing to follow the better plan of today than the not so great plan of the past.