As you read this letter, you start to see that Paul and the Corinthians had been having a really tough time in their relationship.
Apparently, some of the Corinthians had taken some of the things he had said in his earlier letter badly, and were now accusing him of being unreliable at best, and duplicitous and manipulative at worst. One thing they had brought up was that he had said earlier that he would come to visit him, and at the last minute he canceled on them.
As a result, Paul ended up having to defend himself as to why he canceled the trip. The main reason appeared to be people who were opposing his leadership. Many scholars believe that there was a “painful” visit between Paul’s writings of I and II Corinthians in which people opposed him to his face and he had had to confront them concerning their sin, causing massive rift between him and the Corinthian church.
Paul apparently knew that if he came back right away, it would probably lead to another blowup, as things had not been resolved yet, and so he sent another letter admonishing them, in hopes that they would repent, and in the end, the majority of them did (7:6-13).
But there were still those in the church who accused him of being either unreliable or two-faced and deceitful (1:17, 7:2).
How do we deal with people like that? People who refuse to understand us and accuse us of things that are totally untrue?
I think we see some answers in Paul’s response.
Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, in the holiness and sincerity that are from God. We have done so not according to worldly wisdom but according to God’s grace. (12)
The most important thing that we can do is to keep a clear conscience before God. That when we are with these people, to deal with them with holiness and sincerity. It’s a little unclear whether the word in verse 12 should be “holiness” or “integrity” (the Greek translations for these two words are different by two letters, and some of the Greek manuscripts use one word and some the other). But either way, our actions should be holy or pure. And they should be filled with integrity, not duplicity. And we are to be sincere.
No matter what others may accuse us of or how they treat us, we are to always live this way, and deal with them in this way.
On the other hand, we are not to deal with them with worldly wisdom. What is that? James tells us, saying,
But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. (James 3:14-15)
Rather, we are to respond to them with the wisdom that flows from the grace of God. What is this wisdom like?
But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. (James 3:16)
Paul showed that kind of wisdom. As a result, many of the Corinthians came to truly understand him. To those who didn’t, he reassured them that there were no hidden meanings or agendas in his writings. And he expressed the hope that they too would come to understand that some day. (13-14) But until that day, he would continue to live as he always had, with holiness, integrity, sincerity, and grace.
How about you? When others misunderstand you and accuse you, how do you respond? Let us respond as Paul did, and live in holiness, with integrity, sincerity, and grace towards them.