Last week, I discussed the sad reality that forgiveness does not always entail reconciliation between people. When someone sins against you, if he/she does not repent, true reconciliation is not possible. I also mentioned that I would discuss our responsibility in the reconciliation process, whether we committed the sin or we were the one sinned against. Let’s start with the scenario that someone has sinned against me personally. What do I do?
If you are aware of Scripture’s teaching about revenge, you know that deflating someone’s car tires is not acceptable, nor any other form of vengeance (Rom. 12:17-21). Let’s also assume that the offense is actually a sin according to the Bible (at times we become unnecessarily offended). So, you don’t slash someone’s tires but you do tell others about how offended you are with so-and-so. You were “done wrong” so you spread the “news.” This is sin. In such a situation, we are not looking for reconciliation and the spiritual well-being of the individual with whom we are offended, we are looking for vengeance. The only person you should be talking to is the person who offended you. Anything else is out-of-line according to the Bible. Furthermore, if we listen to such discussions, we are sinning by listening to gossip. If we are not a part of the solution (which involves confrontation and hopefully biblical reconciliation), then we should not be a part of the conversation.
So, how do you handle such situations biblically? First of all, forgive the person who committed the offense – he/she does not owe you any longer and you will not seek vengeance. Secondly, you should speak with the person who offended you one-on-one (Matt. 18:15a). You should pray for the person before you talk that he/she will be open to listening to you. You should pray that the person will be convicted of his/her sin, repent, so there may be reconciliation (Matt. 18:15b). An important word of caution – if the person who offended you is of the opposite sex, bring along an unbiased witness (who has not been informed of all the “details” ahead of time). The witness is there for both of you. This helps to prevent any appearance of evil (1 Thess. 5:22) and discourages heresay.
So, let’s say that you speak with the individual and share what happened (the sin/offense), accompanied by Scripture which points out the sin. It is important to use Scripture because it ensures that there actually has been a sin committed, and the Holy Spirit uses God’s Word to bring conviction of sin (2 Tim. 3:16-17; Heb. 4:12-13). If the person repents and confesses his/her sin to you, genuinely apologizing, then the process is over. At this point there is reconciliation.
If the person refuses to listen to you, nor repent, then you move to the second step – confront the individual again while accompanied by one or two godly believers who are unbiased witnesses (Matt. 18:16). The witnesses are there to hear the exchange. If the person repents, confesses his/her sin to you, genuinely apologizing, then the process is over. At this point there is reconciliation.
If the person refuses to listen to you, nor repent, then you move to the third step – the issue is to be brought before the church (Matt. 18:17). It should be brought to the pastor(s), who can then speak with the deacons (if it is a sin issue), and then schedule a time to bring the unrepentant individual before the church. If the person remains unrepentant when confronted before the church, then the church is to remove the unrepentant individual from church fellowship until repentance and confession of sin occur. After repentance and confession of sin occur then reconciliation occurs.
It must be noted that reconciliation is always the goal (Gal. 6:1-2). Removing an unrepentant believer from church fellowship is intended to encourage repentance (1 Cor. 5:1-5; 1 Tim. 1:18-20). People usually focus on the final step of church discipline because it appears “scary” being before the entire church because of unrepentant sin. Remember, church discipline can end with a one-on-one confrontation (Matt. 18:15). It is only when an individual remains unrepentant or the sin is public (and is public knowledge) that the repentance and confession occurs before the church or a segment of the church).
When repentance and confession of sin takes place before a group or the gathered church, it is the responsibility of the gathered believers to forgive and restore the repentant believer to fellowship (Gal. 6:1-2). It is not the time for more deliberation or questioning. It is the time to forgive and restore. If the believer is truly repentant he/she is broken emotionally and spiritually. At this point he/she needs to be shown love and acceptance by the church (2 Cor. 2:5-11).
In my next prayer letter I will address the responsibility we have as believers when another believer is offended with us. Here are three passages I would like you to read this week (Matt. 5:23-24; Eph. 4:26-27; Rom. 12:17-21). Think on those verses this week. How do they instruct us in dealing with conflict?