If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. Matthew 18:15 NLT
We’re all human. We make mistakes. We are offended by others and, likely, offend others with our own words and actions. Life is messy. Unless you want to walk on egg shells around everyone you encounter, you are bound to say or do something stupid once in a while—and someone will be offended. And, sometimes, rightly so, because what you did or said was out of place, truly offensive, and created a rupture in your relationship with someone.
If you are the person who has been offended, usually, the best thing to do is to remind yourself of the greatness of your forgiveness in Christ, realize you’ve done much worse things in your own life, and forgive the person who has offended you, releasing them from your judgement, and maintain your love and unity in all humility. But sometimes you’re not able to do that, for whatever reason, maybe because their offense was public and affected many, or maybe you can’t let it go and bitterness is rising up in your heart, coming between you and your intimacy with Christ—you must go to them, go to the offender.
Jesus says to go talk to them about the issue, by God’s mercy, sometimes, this is all that is needed. They didn’t realize what they said or did had effected you so strongly and they repent, ask your forgiveness, and your bond goes forward stronger than before. The relatively small thing between you, which could have turned cancerous and divided you forever, like the enemy intended, was, easily, defeated by communication and forgiveness.
If it is you that is the offender and a loved one comes to you to talk about the offense, the logical and right thing to do is to take responsibility, repent before God for your sin, and ask them, genuinely, to forgive you. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen, in fact, typically our pride rises up and we say things like: “Well, you started it”, “You just can’t handle the truth”, “You should grow up, it’s juvenile to be offended by that”, or any of a million responses—and we become entrenched, and the offense is buried and the relationship is broken. When we avoid taking responsibility a small issue becomes a weapon of Satan to kill a relationship.
But that’s not God’s way. Jesus died so the world could be reconciled to God, and by extension, so we could be reconciled to each other. If a breach occurs and the situation is buried, or possibly escalates, Jesus don’t say to drop it, He says to stay with it.
But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector. Matthew 18:16-17 NLT
This is where we must fight our own pride, “Forget them, if they want to be like that, fine, maybe we weren’t that close to begin with,” and we close our heart to the person. It takes compassion to pursue reconciliation and forgiveness. None of us like rejection and if the offender just deflects the guilt back at us our first inclination is to write them off. Jesus says try again, this time with someone else, and then, if that doesn’t work, before the church, and if that fails, then treat the offender like a pagan or corrupt tax collector…
At a glance, that progression might lead you to think that, in the end, you break relationship with the unrepentant offender, but, to me, that’s the funny part. Because how is the church, or a Christian in general, supposed to treat unrepentant and corrupt people? Right, with love and mercy. We don’t push them away, we draw them close. Because we have been where they are at, with blinders of sin covering our eyes, hiding the glorious light of the Gospel of Jesus. It wasn’t until the blinders were removed, through someones believing prayer, through trauma or tragedy, or some miraculous personal encounter, that we saw our sin exposed to the light of Christ and repented. That’s what the offender needs, an encounter with the love of God in Jesus.
In other words, we forgive the offender, even when they don’t repent, because we understand their struggle and they’ll never see the light of Christ mercy if we hold them hostage to our judgement. We release them to Jesus and ask Him to take off their blinders, to help them see, to draw them back by His grace.
We are participant’s, co-laborers, ambassadors for Christ, and the way we treat people here on earth in this life is part of the heavenly record. It is critical, then, that we remain humble and repentant, always seeking to reconcile, always forgiving others and releasing them from our personal judgement, because we don’t want to put a stumbling block in front of anyone. Like Jesus, our heart’s cry should be for all to be saved and not a single soul left behind or lost. Jesus put’s it like this:
I tell you the truth, whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven. I also tell you this: If two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them. Matthew 18:18-20
Well, maybe like other people that have been offended a time or two and found reconciliation to be challenging, Peter spoke up at that point, and said, “Lord, how often should I forgive someonewho sins against me? Seven times?” Matthew 18:21 NLT
If you’re like me, it’s hard to imagine being that forgiving and patient with an offender, even a long time friend or family member. I mean, seven times? That seems a little generous. Peter is being extreme, maybe, to demonstrate to the Lord that some people are reluctant to change. How about those people? The stubborn ones? And, of course, Jesus famously tells Peter, “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!”
Jesus is revealing His heart for reconciliation, His love for people, and His desire for us to become unoffendable in life, because we are part of Him, we are in Christ and He is in us. Why not start 2020 with a clean slate, go to your offenders with forgiveness and be reconciled today.