It’s bound to happen sooner or later. You say something, thinking that you were perfectly clear, only to find out later that the person you were talking to took away something entirely different from your conversation. There was a classic misunderstanding between you and another person. Of course it can also happen the other way. Another person says something or acts in a way that you interpret entirely different from how they meant it.
Most misunderstandings are relatively minor in nature and can quickly be resolved or forgotten. The problem, however, is that inherent in misunderstandings is the potential for harm. If misunderstandings are not either ignored or resolved they can escalate into something far greater than their relative importance.
How many times has a misunderstanding come between you and someone else? I’m not referring to the garden variety misunderstanding that happens every day (although it may have started out that way). I’m talking about those misunderstandings that have the potential to separate friends; damage relationships; and wreak churches and homes. Unfortunately it’s happened to most of us in our lifetimes.
So what does the Bible say about handling misunderstandings? Although there are not a great number of passages that address this issue, there are several that can give us direction.
For example Matthew 5:22-24 teaches that if you know that someone has something against you, you are to make every effort to resolve it. Misunderstandings would fall into this category. This instruction relates to the person who said or committed the act, not to the person who misunderstood them.
But sometimes you may say something and not realize that it was misunderstood by the other party. That’s where 1 Corinthians 13 comes in with instructions on Christian love. Verse 5 says love keeps no record of wrongs done to it. In other words the person who misunderstood the communication has a responsibility not to file the perceived slight in the back of their minds so they can dwell on it whenever they think about you. Verse 7 goes on to say that love bears all things or as one translation says, love puts up with anything. When you have been misunderstood that person is not to automatically take offense, instead they are to put up or forbear with you. That’s a word that we don’t often use; it means to politely or patiently restrain an impulse to do something. That is they are to restrain the impulse to be offended. That would take care of most misunderstandings.
While there are other passages that bear on this issue, these are sufficient to demonstrate the need to deal with anything that can come between Christians, even if it is something as innocuous as a simple misunderstanding.
One last thought. It’s our words that get us in the most trouble – and that’s where most misunderstandings originate. James 3 warns us to bridle our tongues because their potential for harm is drastically disproportionate to their size. It’s just common sense: the less we say the less chance there is that we will be misunderstood.
Stay in the Word