In a previous blog I pointed out that all offenses fall into two categories, justified and feeling justified. How should we respond when a person has truly offended us? There are two passages that are often used to guide us in our response, Matthew 5:23 and 18:15.
The context of Matthew 5:23 is set in a court of law. In other words, if your brother has something against you that is so egregious that needs to be taken to a court of law, go to him and be reconciled. The emphasis is not on the one offended but on the offender. In the course of contemplation and prayer, God reveals to his heart that he has unjustly done harm to a brother and needs to seek reconciliation before he can truly grow in his relationship with God.
In this passage there is no talk about the person who has been offended. The inference is that he may take them to court, but that isn’t the motivation on the part of the offender. His motivation is because he has been convicted of his sin while worshipping. He obviously knew about the offense, but had not felt it important enough for a response. It is in the presence of God he is moved to seek reconciliation. There is no indication that his efforts will be successful. Rather it is the changed heart of the offender and his desire to seek forgiveness and reconciliation that is at the core of Jesus’ teaching.
The context of Matthew 18:15 is about restoration as well, but from the other direction. If someone has sinned, then you go to the person in private, so that they will have an opportunity to repent and be restored to both you and God. If they persist in their sin then you bring someone with you. If there is still is no movement toward reconciliation then you bring it before the church. The passage isn’t talking about offense against a person specifically, but rather someone in sin generally. Yet, it can apply to the person who has been sinned against.
The question boils down to the offense; is it sinful? A justified offense is one where the intent is to do harm. If I lie about you, gossip, treat you disrespectfully, physically hurt or oppress you, and so forth. When a person has attacked you personally to do harm their sin needs to be addressed. The motivation should always be reconciliation.
Steps to dealing with a justified offense:
1. Don’t talk about it to other people (unless you are in danger of physical harm, a law is broken, or death is imminent). Most justified offenses don’t fall into these categories and people often talk to everyone other than the one who has been offensive.
2. Go to the person who has offended you and talk to them. If they continue in their offense…
3. Take one or two godly people with you and confront them with their behavior or attitude. If they are persistent in their sin (and make sure it is sin)….
4. Take it to the church, so that the person will be held accountable to the body for their behavior.
All this is to be done for one reason only – the restoration of a brother from a broken relationship to one that is healthy and whole. If the offended one is seeking condemnation, revenge, and retribution, then the process will break down and God will not be glorified. Justified offenses should never be tolerated in the church. However, my experience is that most people who are “offended,” are so because of feelings. Are my feelings of offense valid, and if so, what do I do with them. Next week….I’m just saying.