Just remember this. It started over something small. That's how it usually happens. Someone didn't greet us in the hallway, they didn't answer our email, they didn't invite us to their party, they didn't show up for an appointment. Or we heard they said something negative about us. Or they didn't laugh at our jokes. Or 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. That flame soon 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 check out this passage to see how Paul responded to a misunderstanding that threatened to destroy a friendship and a local church.

Our Actions May Be Questioned

From a careful reading of 1 and 2 Corinthians it appears that Paul made three different decisions about his trip to Corinth:

  1. He planned to go to Macedonia and then to Corinth. We find that in 1 Corinthians 16:5-7. He plans to pass through Macedonia and hopes to spend the winter with them in 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"(1 Corinthians 16:7). But that trip never took place.
  2. He later planned to go to Corinth, then to Macedonia, and then back to Corinth. He mentions this in 2 Corinthians 1:15-16. "I planned to visit you first so that you might benefit twice" (v. 15).
  3. Finally, he decided to postpone his trip altogether. "I decided that I would not bring you grief with another painful visit" (2 Corinthians 2:1).

What's going on here? That question is hard to answer because we don't have all the details regarding the trouble that threatened to overwhelm the church in Corinth. 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 three parts:

  1. My conscience is clear (v. 12).
  2. I haven't hidden anything from you (v. 12).
  3. I haven't tried to deceive you (v. 13).

In his comments on this passage, William Barclay says we might add a new beatitude to the list: "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." That prayer satisfies the heart because it is a prayer for God's will to be done, not my will. I usually have an idea of how I think things should work out, but my ideas do not equal God's will. So in praying that prayer, I am implicitly admitting that my understand is flawed, that I see things from my point of view, and that God's will is very likely to be different from my own perception. And it's a prayer that God will bring the truth out by any means he chooses.

Our Words May Be Twisted

Paul doesn't try to hide his change of plans. It's true that he had changed his mind several times, but whether or not the Corinthians could understand it, his only concern was for their welfare ("Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm" 2 Corinthians 1:24). He wanted to come and see them but only if his visit would bring about healing and spiritual growth.