Never Give Up! – 2. When You Are Misunderstood
2 Corinthians 1: 12 - 2: 4
Are you guilty of assumicide? New word - happens when you make false assumptions about others. Assumicide leads to the death of relationships because we end up believing the worst about others. We’ve all been guilty of drawing wrong conclusions on the basis of tiny scraps of evidence: He didn’t call back so he must not want to talk to me. I think she’s trying to ignore me. They never hire people like me. That church is so unfriendly. How could he be a Christian and act like that? I saw her in a bar. She must have a drinking problem. I’ll bet they are sleeping together. He’s probably a jerk at home too. I don’t like him. I don’t know why. I just don’t like him. She’s full of herself. You can’t trust someone who dresses like that. He’s a hypocrite.
If you are the victim of assumicide, it’s very hard to fight back against false assumptions. Few things hurt more than being misunderstood by our close friends. The closer they are to us, the greater the pain. When that happens we discover a lot about ourselves. How we respond when we’ve been misunderstood tells a great deal about the depth of our Christian faith.
The apostle Paul found himself in trouble with a church he had founded in the Greek seaport of Corinth. He had spent 18 months in Corinth winning people to Christ and establishing the church. After he left a faction arose in the church that questioned his leadership. They challenged his authority, insinuated that he wasn’t a “real” apostle, attacked his character, and accused him of using the Corinthian church for his own gain. The troublemakers succeeded in turning most of the church against him.
Their chief complaint -Paul couldn’t be trusted because he had changed his travel plans-not once but twice. He hadn’t come back to visit the Corinthians as he said he would. That proved he was a fickle man whose character and message could not be trusted. It started over something small. That’s how it usually happens. Someone didn’t greet us, they didn’t answer our email, they didn’t invite us to their party, they didn’t show up for an appointment. We heard they said something negative about us - they didn’t laugh at our jokes - they suddenly seem cold when they used to be glad to see us. Little things. Small stuff. Petty complaints.
From a tiny spark of discontent a mighty flame of unhappiness grows -becomes a wildfire that threatens to destroy a relationship. Congregations have split and friendships have ended over things that started very small but grew all out of proportion. Let’s see how Paul responded to misunderstanding that threatened to destroy a friendship and a local church.
1. Our Actions May Be Questioned
It appears that Paul made 3 different decisions about his trip to Corinth: i. He planned to go to Macedonia and then to Corinth. He doesn’t want it to be a brief visit but a longer time so that he can minister to them. He qualifies it all by saying “if the Lord permits.” But that trip never took place. ii. He later planned to go to Corinth, then to Macedonia, and then back to Corinth. “I planned to visit you first so that you might benefit twice." iii. He decided to postpone his trip altogether. “I decided that I would not bring you grief with another painful visit.”
What’s going on here? That question is hard to answer because we don’t have all the details. But this much is clear. Paul’s opponents used his changing plans as a way to attack his credibility. “See, you can’t trust him. He calls himself an apostle, he says he’s coming but he never shows up."
Well, that is a problem, isn’t it? Keeping your word is hugely important for all us, but especially for spiritual leaders. It’s all about integrity, consistency, proving yourself trustworthy, showing up on time, and doing what you said you would do. If people feel like they can’t count on you, how will they ever listen to what you have to say? Paul’s answer comes in 3 parts: A. My conscience is clear (v. 12). B. I haven’t hidden anything from you (v. 12). C. I haven’t tried to deceive you (v. 13).
“Blessed is the man who has nothing to hide." Sometimes all you can do is to simply speak the truth about your own heart. If that’s not enough, talking for hours isn’t likely to make a difference. In times of trouble I have often prayed this way, “Lord, let your will be done and let the truth come out.”
2. Our Words May Be Twisted
Paul doesn’t try to hide his change of plans. He had changed his mind several times, but whether or not the Corinthians could understand it, his only concern was for their welfare. He wanted to come and see them but only if his visit would bring about healing and spiritual growth. So what about the charge that he is inconsistent? Did he just say “Yes, yes” and then “No, no” for the fun of it? Paul says, “Check out my message. It comes from God and he never changes. His message to us is always ‘Yes,’ and we his people say ‘Amen’ to all of God’s promises.” Everything God promises will come true. Look at the amazing things God has done for us in Christ. 1. He anointed us (v. 21). 2. He sealed us (v. 22). 3. He gave the Holy Spirit as a deposit (v. 22).
He did this so that we might stand firm in Christ, never wavering, never blown away by the winds of adversity, never swept away by the changing tides of life. That’s a man standing firm in Christ.
Some people will choose to misunderstand no matter what we say or do. To them we can only say, “Our conscience is clear. We have done what we could. We rest our reputation with the Lord.
We will never “stand firm” in our own strength when trouble comes our way. Get to know the Lord. Make God’s Word the standard for your life. Rest in his love. Revel in his righteousness. Think about his greatness. Give glory to his name.
When others twist your words, do not despair. Speak the truth, explain yourself clearly, and then entrust your future with the God who knows you through and through and in Christ who has anointed you, sealed you, given you the Holy Spirit, and promised to guide you. If we trust in him, the time of chaos will pass, and we will be stronger for having gone through the struggle.
3. Our Motives May Be Challenged.
His critics thought Paul was some sort of fickle, fly-by-night preacher, the kind who is always on a power trip, a control freak. When he didn’t show up when they expected him, what else could they conclude but that he didn’t love them?
He stayed away so as not to have an angry confrontation. That’s why he made up his mind not to make another painful visit to them. As hard as it may be for some of us to hear, we can’t always solve every problem in the world. Some people won’t listen. Some people love to argue. Some people have already made up their minds. Some people have an answer for everything.
Evidently that was the situation in Corinth. Because the church was so divided with factions, and because Paul had already sent them a very stern and painful letter, writing with tears streaming down his face, and because he knew the situation was inflamed, he decided not to come to Corinth.
Talk about wisdom from the Lord. Paul knew that his personal presence in Corinth at that moment and in that situation would only make things worse. This isn’t a blanket rule for every time and place. It’s a principle to keep in mind. Sometimes you need to meet and hash it out. Sometimes you need to back off, give people space, give them time to think and pray and discuss, and give the Holy Spirit time to soften hearts.
2 Corinthians 2: 4 - It was a hard letter that Paul didn’t want to write. It was a hard letter that the Corinthians didn’t want to read. But he did and they did. Here’s the mind-blowing part. He wrote the letter so they would know how much he loved them. I’m not sure they “felt the love” as they read his words. But love must be both tough and tender. In this case, Paul’s tough letter proved how much he loved them.
So now Paul decides to wait for God to work. In order not to stir up trouble, he decides not to come to Corinth at this moment. Here we see true Christian maturity at work. He has no desire to stir them up further. He only wants to share in their joy when he does come. He does plan to visit – v. 2 -“when I do come” - But for the moment he will wait.
Waiting can be hard, perhaps the hardest discipline of the Christian life. This is not an argument for apathy or disinterest but rather an argument for “active waiting,” which is what David meant when he said, “Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret, it leads only to evil” (Psalm 37: 8).
It’s worth noting what Paul doesn’t do in this passage: He doesn’t avoid the problem. He doesn’t call names. He doesn’t assume motives. He doesn’t commit assumicide. He doesn’t do to his critics what they had done to him. He simply and clearly explains himself, his change of plans, and in the process he reveals his heart to his readers. That’s all any man can do in this situation.
How to Respond to Misunderstanding
Let’s wrap up this message with a few points of application:
1. Sometimes we will be misunderstood by our close friends. Paul clearly loved the Corinthians and knew them well - they clearly knew him well. Yet a rift had grown between them. The same thing happens in marriage, in families, among friends and co-workers, and it certainly happens in every church. If you haven’t been misunderstood lately, don’t worry. It’s bound to happen before long. That’s part of the price of living in a fallen world. What happened to Paul happens to all of us sooner or later.
2. The best defense is an honest, clear, non-defensive explanation. Paul doesn’t complain, doesn’t blame, and doesn’t point fingers. He isn’t long-winded. He lays out his explanation so his readers can decide for themselves why he had not come back to Corinth.
3. We can’t control how people respond to us. Rarely will our explanations convince everyone. Sometimes even our close friends will choose not to believe us. At some point we must decide to leave our reputation in God’s hands and walk away from the controversy. “If you live to please people, misunderstandings will depress you; but if you live to please God, you can face misunderstandings with faith and courage.”
4. Pray for those who misunderstand you. It’s easy to say “Love the people who misunderstand you,” it’s hard to put it into practice. But we must do it anyway.
5. We must not return evil for evil. This is also hard, especially when your motives are repeatedly attacked. But in this we are to be like our Lord who when he was reviled did not return evil for evil. When he faced the shouting crowd, he did not trade insults, he did not try to get even, and he did not make accusations. I submit to you that this is not a natural way to live. When we are insulted, our natural inclination is to return an insult for an insult. But Jesus chose another way. “As a sheep before her shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth” (Isaiah 53:7). When he stood before Pilate and Herod, and when he faced the jeering mob, he uttered no insults, he made no threats.
When they swore at Jesus, he didn’t swear back. When they scourged him, he didn’t retaliate. When the soldiers pushed the crown of thorns on his head, he didn’t curse at them. When they drove the nails in his hands and feet, he didn’t threaten them. When the bystanders spat at him, he didn’t spit back. When they swore at him, he didn’t swear back.
This will happen to you too. And that’s the real test of your faith. You find out what you really believe when others mistreat you. Sometimes the real test of your faith is what you don’t do. Sometimes you’ll be a better Christian by not saying anything at all.
In our day we hear lots of talk about claiming our rights. That spirit comes into the church and we hear people getting angry and saying, “How dare you trample on my rights?” Most of our problems stem from claiming our rights. But the Bible turns that upside down. You aren’t to think of your rights first. You are to think of others first.
When you are misunderstood, repeat these 4 sentences:
It’s not about me. It’s not about now. It’s all about God. It’s all about eternity.
The followers of Jesus will sometimes be misunderstood not only by the world but by other Christians. May God give us the spirit of Jesus that we might walk in his steps.