I was reminded of a principle about handling offenses during an open house in my daughter’s classroom. There for all the third-grade eyes to see hung a poster with simple advice that most of us adults struggle with: It doesn’t matter who’s right; it matters what’s right!
This is something we’d all nod our heads at in agreement. However, too much of the time, the only thing we’re doing with our head is scratching it in befuddlement due to a predicament we have once again found ourselves in.
We need to understand how to handle offenses. Let’s learn how to handle personal offenses by heeding the words from our Prince of Peace found in Matthew 18.
Win Your Brother
We’ve all experienced offense already in one form or another from one of our brethren, either on the giving or receiving end. Search high and low as you may, and you probably won’t find any conflict-resolution course in this world that would point you to Matthew 18. But we must examine a passage in this chapter for the real truth on this subject.
In Matthew 18:15 we read, “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.”
Matthew 18 is specifically is referring to a brother committing a serious sin that impacts another. It is not referring to minor irritations or giving us license to mind other people’s business. Still, the principles outlined here can provide a framework for general problem resolution between two converted people.
Jesus Christ says, if you have been wronged by this brother, to “go.” He offers no such outs or excuses we might think up such as, I’m not good with words; I don’t like confrontation; they’ll think I’m too sensitive, etc. Christ says, “Go!”
Another detail to notice is the confidential and tactful approach Christ describes, “… tell him his fault between thee and him alone ….” At this stage in the process, only God should be included. Avoid seeking reassurance and affirmations from others, unless seeking counsel from a minister on how to handle the confrontation (even then, the other party can remain anonymous).
Aside from the aforementioned points, the most inspiring benefit of all is found in the word gained. Strong’s Concordance upgrades the value of this word tremendously, rendering it as won. This means we literally have the opportunity to win our brother or sister in Christ—the opportunity to turn sour grapes into wine. Or better yet, to turn the tables on Satan, the divisive accuser of the brethren, and turn this potentially harmful situation into a win-win, family-bonding outcome.
I experienced this personally during my first couple of years in the Philadelphia Church of God. I had unknowingly offended a brother with a “harmless” wisecrack. The next week at Sabbath services, he put Matthew 18 into practice and approached me. My first reaction, as I muttered a few comments mentally, was less than savory. Really? Come on now—are you serious? Thankfully, these thoughts weren’t spoken. After hearing him out and realizing how much this bothered him, I apologized. Afterward we hugged (heartily of course). Interestingly, I was closer to that man from that day forward than I ever was before the resolved offense. He had won a brother!
The Big “IF”
Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves though. After all, Christ does say, “… if he shall hear thee ….” So what if he or she doesn’t respond positively to your first approach? The very next verse holds the answer. “But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established” (verse 16).
If your situation reaches this stage, use discretion and carefully select a member or two who will be unbiased toward either party. Ask them to serve as a witness (one who observes and can give a first-hand account). As the definition states, this role requires them to act mainly as an observer. Hopefully with the increased presence, the unwillingness to “hear” will give way to receptiveness.
Most offenses are cleared up at this point. However, if carnality is still winning out and the person is stopping their ears, proceed to the third step. Verse 17 says, “And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church ….” At this point, both parties go before the ministry (and the one offended must be prepared to admit error too) for proper resolution of this offense. Christ continues: “[B]ut if he neglect to hear the church [ministry], let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.”
This is the order prescribed by Jesus Christ to follow when handling offenses. However, there is one important disclaimer at this juncture. If the offense is not just against you, but mainly against God’s Church (i.e., doctrinal or governmental problem) that has the potential to cause division in the Body of Christ, then jump right to step three—talk to your minister.
Three verses later, in this context of handling offense, notice who is right in the middle of it all. “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (verse 20). How reassuring! Christ is right there in the middle as Mediator! After all, He doesn’t want dysfunction within His Bride.
The Mighty Hand of God
We’re told in 1 Peter 5:5, “Yea all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.”
Ah, pride! This is probably the most stubborn roadblock to resolving any offense. This raw side of human nature seems to be the number-one motivator of both parties. The offender’s pride leads him to be overly opinionated, lacking tact or prudence and prone to careless and foolish speaking. At the same time, the one offended hears his own pride whisper disgustedly to his conscious mind, How dare he treat you like this! Who does he think he is?
The simple solution for this is reiterated in the next two verses: “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you” (verses 6-7).
God cares for the offender as well as the offended! He desires resolution and peace among His children. He’s directing us to throw it into His corner. After all, He has the mighty hand. Keep Him in the middle; that’s where He wants to be!
If we don’t, there’s another willing participant who loves to assume the role of “mediator.” “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking who he may devour” (verse 8).
We face pressure from all angles, with Satan leading the charge. Why help this roaring lion by provoking offense in the Body of Christ?
In the book of James, we find another inspiring lesson on countering this division.
“But if ye have bitter envying and strife [self-seeking] in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. … For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work” (James 3:14, 16).
James warns against this bitterness taking root in our hearts. He then wastes no time by abridging the negative and offering a sound response. “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace” (verses 17-18).
It takes wisdom from above and the host of fruits that accompany it to rein in and conquer the deep-seated desire we all have to be the one holding the “I’m Right!” banner in the end. Instead, reach for pure motives, peaceable intentions and be gentle in demeanor. Make yourself easy to be entreated—approachable and accessible, easy for the brethren to come to you. This “full of mercy” approach enables our brethren—gives them greater access to us so the issues can be brought to bear and resolved. This is the way that sows peace!
Here’s an easy-to-remember formula to help you settle offenses: help!
Humility—Be clothed with it.
Easily Entreated—Be approachable and accessible. Make it easy for your brethren to come to you.
Love—Have fervent love that overlooks the faults of your brethren.
Prayer—Take the situation to God, cast it upon Him, and keep Him in the middle of it.
The more we take on these qualities, the closer we come to fulfilling Psalm 119:165: “Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them.”