Last week I addressed the issue of our personal responsibility in biblical reconciliation. I spoke about what to do when someone sins against us. First, forgive the individual (the person no longer “owes” us and we will leave vengeance to God), and then confront the sinning individual according to Scripture, so there may be reconciliation (Matt. 18:15-20; Gal. 6:1-2). This week I will address our biblical responsibility when another believer is offended by us. Jesus addressed this very issue in Matthew 5:23-24. He instructed His Jewish audience about the importance of biblical reconciliation. He said if a Jew was present at the temple to offer a sacrifice in obedience and worship of God, and there remembered a brother who was offended with him; he was to leave his sacrifice before the altar and go seek reconciliation with his brother. This would have caused a few jaws to drop among His Jewish audience.
Jewish men were to appear before the Lord three times each year to worship by offering a sacrifice (Ex. 23:14-17; 34:22-24; Deut. 16:16-17; 31:9-13). Every time the men would appear before the Lord they were to bring a sacrifice (Ex. 34:19-20). No one was to come empty-handed. Sacrifice was how they worshiped and how their sins were covered. Their fellowship with God was maintained by their sacrifice offered in faith. The Jewish high priest would enter the holy of holies to present an offering for himself and the entire nation, so the sins of the nation would be atoned for, until the following year’s Day of Atonement (Lev. 16; 23:26-32; Num. 29:7-11). So, for Jesus to say that a Jewish man should leave his sacrifice before the altar and go seek reconciliation with an offended brother was serious business. Ultimately, this shows the importance of interpersonal reconciliation with professing believers. A sacrifice given in confession and faith to maintain fellowship with God came second to reconciling with a fellow believer. Wow!
So, how do we apply this teaching in our lives? We will offend one another, it is certain. Sometimes a fellow believer will become offended over something that is not a sin according to Scripture (more on this in a moment) but other times we will sin against one another. Scripture teaches that if someone sins against me (or I am aware of someone’s sin) I have an obligation to speak with him/her, as I discussed last week (Matt. 18:15-20; Gal. 6:1-2). But, if I am aware that someone is offended with me (legitimate or not) I have an obligation to seek to be reconciled with the offended individual (Matt. 5:23-24).
In doing so, pray and ask God to reveal to you from His Word if you have truly sinned. If so, confess your sin to the Lord and then go to your fellow believer (whom you have offended) to confess your sin to him/her and ask for forgiveness. In your time of praying for yourself, pray also for the person with whom you will be speaking. Pray that God would prepare his/her heart to hear you out, forgive you, and be reconciled with you (Eph. 4:29-5:2). In talking with the other person be humble (1 Pet. ), willing to listen (Prov. 14:29; Jas. 1:19-20), and let everything in the conversation be biblically based, not feelings based (2 Tim.3:16-17). Both parties should submit to the authority of Scripture and the Lordship of Christ. I would also recommend that you bring along a spiritually mature believer who can serve as an unbiased witness, if the situation could be tense or caustic. This helps both sides to avoid hearsay and prevents any further unnecessary misunderstanding (Deut.19:15-21).
What do you do if you know that the person is offended with you unnecessarily? What I mean is that it is not clearly a sin according to Scripture. We still have a responsibility to seek to be reconciled with our fellow believer (Matt. 5:23-24). You need not apologize for something that is not a sin according to Scripture, but you should seek to come to an understanding. Attempt to find out what the “offense” was and why the person was “offended.” Maybe it was a misunderstanding. Maybe the person thinks what you did is really sin according to Scripture. If this is the case, humbly show the person from Scripture that you did not sin. Remember, the goal is always biblical reconciliation.
But, what do you do if the other person refuses to be reconciled with you? Sadly, we all know that this occurs. In fact, it occurs frequently. You should take a spiritually mature, unbiased witness with you to seek to be reconciled with the person (Matt. 18:16). If the person still refuses, tell your pastor(s) who will investigate the facts of the situation by speaking to the other party, consult with the deacons, and if necessary bring the situation before the church (Matt. 18:17-20). All of this is done according to Scripture to encourage biblical reconciliation.
What if the person still refuses to be reconciled? If you have carried out your biblical responsibility, you have done all you can do. Scripture says, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Try to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes. If possible, on your part, live at peace with everyone. Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for His wrath. For it is written: Vengeance belongs to Me; I will repay, says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. For in so doing you will be heaping fiery coals on his head. Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good” (Rom. 12:17–21). Look closely at verse 18, “If possible, on your part, live at peace with everyone.” You can only control how you respond to the situation. You can submit to the authority of Scripture and the Lordship of Christ, but you cannot force another person to do so. You and the church should continue to pray for the person’s repentance, so there may be biblical reconciliation.
I pray that God will help us to respond biblically to conflict. Scripture tells us that this is one of Satan’s tools to bring division in churches – handling conflict unbiblically (2 Cor. 2:5-11; Eph. 4:26-27, 29-5:2).