What do we do if another Christian wrongs us?
Howard Coles, Coleford, England
There is no doubt that the giving and receiving of forgiveness is one of the most precious things in this world. After quarrels, so often bitterness smoulders like the dying embers of a fire. We know we should do something to heal hurts, but we look sideways, waiting for the other person to make the first move. Wasn't he or she the cause? Aren't we the offended party?
THE FIRST STEP
Even if I am the one going around with a dagger in my back, Christ expects from me a revolutionary response. He asks me to take the first step towards reconciliation. ‘Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother’, Matt. 18. 5. Many put off reconciliation while they wait for the guilty party to initiate dialogue. The person most responsible for the grievance, however, may not even recognize that an offence has been committed, or may not be willing to take the initiative. Then too, it is often impossible to apportion blame accurately, since any disagreement has two sides. Ideally of course, the one who sins should be the one who makes the first move. Christ taught that if a person on the way to worship remembers that another has a grievance against him, he should seek out the offended party and apologise. ‘Therefore, if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift’, Matt. 5. 23-24
Unclear statements, as when someone says, ‘I apologise, if I’ve done anything wrong’, are inadequate. Christ commands us to be clear and accurate about admitting sin and facing faults. ‘I’m sorry I lost my temper’; ‘forgive me for questioning your motives’; ‘forgive me for calling you stupid’. Both the offender and the one offended must be graciously frank with one another. If they can’t be reconciled then help should be sought from a third party. The Lord has commissioned us all as Knights of Reconciliation. If even then the offender won’t be reconciled, the matter should be brought before the elders and if necessary the whole church. The testimony and fellowship of the church will be greatly hindered if an ongoing bitterness exists between any of its members.
WHY DID IT TAKE SO LONG?
Seeking to reconcile offended parties requires great discernment as well as courage and tact, lest we pour fuel on a smouldering relational fire or introduce tensions where none existed. We must not wait, however, until friendships lie in charred ruins at our feet before we pursue reconciliation. Whether we are the cause, the victim, or a third party, we cannot afford to look the other way. We must take the first step! When forgiveness is offered and received the very trees of the field sing for joy. Friends smile again. Enemies begin to talk. Church splits are healed. The sun shines brighter. Satan flees. God is in His rightful place, life is good. And with the anger gone we can sleep! As spring breaks out all around us we ask ourselves, ‘Why did this take us so long?' Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity’, Ps. 133. 1.