It proved to be a difficult time for us—for just a little while. My wife and I had just spent the most thrilling 10 months of our lives. In March, we had come into God’s Church—God’s incredible truth—made many new friendships, were baptized by June and experienced the birth of our first daughter, Rachel, in October. We then learned in November that my first professional job would be in the Northwest, far from the hills and valleys of western Pennsylvania. At that time we did not realize the challenges and difficulties that lay ahead for us. Yet, we quickly learned how problematic a big change can be.
In December, a one-way airplane flight took away everything familiar to us. Family, friends, our accustomed way of doing things—all were left behind. Looking back now, I can see that—having had the strength of youth in us to just go for it—that big change could not have been better for us.
Attending our first Sabbath service in the Northwest was bittersweet. The services were comfortingly familiar. We were greeted warmly at the door. The hymns we had learned to love were the same. God’s message came across loud and clear through the sermonette and sermon. Yet, during fellowship after services we soon noticed we were different from the new people we were meeting. Besides being rather green in God’s Church, we had grown up as Northeast city kids. For the most part, our new family in the Northwest grew up as ranchers and farmers. In many ways, you could say there came a clash of cultures. It was inevitable: Personalities collided, feelings got hurt. The beauty of our situation at that time was that there was no return ticket—we could not run. We had entered the classroom called Learning to Love and Get Along.
Do you realize that when you came into God’s Church you entered the same classroom? The truth of the matter is, that class is still in session for all of us. God wants us to learn to go to our brothers with outflowing love—first and foremost—always and forever! Yet, there is a reality that we must face in God’s Church. Where human beings gather together, there will be misunderstood communications, or misinterpretations of situations. Feelings will be hurt by something said or someone’s actions. People will get offended, and people will offend others.
Yet, no matter how insignificant offenses may seem, all offenses are a serious matter to God. In fact, God commands us to resolve all problems that may develop between ourselves and other people (Luke 17:3-4).
When we are offended or when we offend someone else, do we know how to handle the offenses? As we approach the Passover season, it is important to review this subject. All of us can learn to better handle offenses.
Endeavor Not to Offend
Paul admonished the Corinthians, “Give none offense, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God” (1 Corinthians 10:32). As God’s people, we must endeavor always to avoid being offensive. Notice Paul teaches that being offensive should not just be our concern with members of God’s Church—we must also be careful not to offend people in the world. What God wants most is for us to learn how to extend His type of love to all people we come into contact with.
Of course, God’s message can and will be offensive to many people because of their sinful lives. Jesus Christ’s message offended the religious leaders of His day (Matthew 15:12-14). Yet, this is all the more reason that we should work hard not to offend people at a personal level. We must remember to set a sterling public example (Matthew 5:16; 1 Peter 2:12). Two fruits of the Spirit—gentleness and goodness—should be particularly evident when we meet people in the world (Galatians 5:22). Let’s not forget that God has blinded the majority of this world to His truth for a great purpose. Most will never understand our message today, but will in the future (Matthew 24:14). Let’s not be guilty of putting down people in the world because they do not understand God’s message. We can be sure that any kindness and attentiveness we extend to people will be remembered when their minds are finally opened to God’s grand purpose for man.
James warns us about our actions and our tongues. He tells us honestly, “For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body” (James 3:2). Generally, it is what we say or how we say it that causes most offenses. Getting and keeping control of our tongues is a matter of character, education and self-discipline.
Let’s not forget that we are already made kings and priests (Revelation 5:10). Kings and priests are always careful to use their tongues appropriately in social situations.
We should set our minds to build up all those we interact with. One wise saying I was taught as a young boy is still true today: “If you cannot say something nice, it is best to say nothing at all.”
Never forget who we are: God’s sons—the soon-to-be-revealed kings and priests of the World Tomorrow. We should strive to treat each member with the respect due a king or a priest. Because of the spiritually serious and potentially discouraging times we live in, when we get together with the brethren, we must seize every opportunity to strengthen and encourage each other.
Leave Your Gift
Jesus Christ warns us to be especially cautious not to offend our newest members (Matthew 18:6). We should treat all new members with as much care as if we were holding a newborn infant.
Watch how you conduct yourself in all social settings, both in the Church and out. Be aware of how your actions impact others. “Abstain from all appearance of evil,” Paul tells us (1 Thessalonians 5:22). Essentially we should strive not to give a bad representation of ourselves. In this world, because it is infested with a spirit of rebellion, people want to appear to be sinning. We must never succumb to such a spirit. Jesus Christ desires that our actions and conversation display His very light and goodness (Matthew 5:16). When we let Christ’s light and goodness shine, it will cause others to give praise and honor to our Father.
When an offense happens—when you either become offended or offend someone—take it seriously enough to resolve the issue quickly. Don’t wait. Unresolved offenses stunt the spiritual growth of the parties involved. Seemingly insignificant offenses, unless dealt with properly, can cause deep wounds that permanently divide people. Loving relationships can be wrecked like a ship on rocks. God places a high priority on resolving interpersonal relationships—so must we!
Notice what Christ taught: “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24; esv). Our continued good relationship with God depends on our obedience to this command. Study these verses carefully. God wants our attitudes to be right with each other so He can lovingly accept our gifts, monetary and otherwise. God deeply appreciates our offerings; however, He wants us to be a family deeply united with Him and each other in love. If our relationship and attitude is not right with our brother, we cannot have a right relationship with our Father. No sum of money can ever make up for bad human relationships.
In Matthew 5, God places the burden of resolution on the shoulders of the offender—the person who has caused the offense. God wants each of us to fully recognize our impact on others. As James states, we are all going to make errors in our relationships. What God wants to know most is: How quick are we to recognize our error and apologize for our words or actions? We should not wait until we are presenting our gift at the altar. God really does not want our gift until there is peace between us and our brothers.
Follow Matthew 18:15-17 Exactly
God gives us the proper way to handle offenses in Matthew 18:15-17. These verses apply specifically to members of God’s Church. We must handle offenses the way our Father directs. When we do, things always work out beautifully. Using Matthew 18 properly insures that family unity is not only held together—it is made stronger. Be sure to study carefully and pray for deep understanding of these verses. Then don’t ignore an offense—go to your brother!
Notice that Christ takes a somewhat different approach in Matthew 18 than in Matthew 5. “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone” (Matthew 18:15; esv). This is a matter of a personal offense—a brother has sinned against you. This kind of conflict should be handled by you and your brother alone! Pay close attention. This is not a matter of a member bringing to you doctrinal heresy, which is treachery toward God and Christ. That kind of offense should be reported to the ministry immediately. Only a minister can properly handle heresy in the Church of God.
Remarkably, Christ is speaking here to the offended, not the offender. Yes, Christ says, don’t wait for the offender to come to you—you go to the one who offended you. Yes, Christ says that when we are offended by someone, the duty to solve the issue falls on our shoulders. Yes, Christ says that if we are offended, we should take the first step to resolve the issue.
This is shocking teaching for the carnally minded. It is only natural that we often wait for the offending party to come to us. Can we see the big picture God wants us to get here? Put what we learn from Matthew 5 and 18 together. What do you think will happen when both people involved in an offense are willing to take the steps to clear up a matter? The offense can be dealt with and put in the past so much more quickly.
Above all, it is imperative that we go to our brother alone to discuss the offense. When an offense happens, initially the only one besides your brother whom you should discuss the matter with is God. This not only keeps the offense private, it helps to ensure that you go to your brother in the right attitude. If we talk to others before we talk with our brother, it most often means we are looking for support for our position in a problem. Most problems between people are generally two-sided. One person is likely more at fault, yet as the saying goes, “It takes two to tango!” As Herbert W. Armstrong taught us, admitting error is one of the hardest things for any human being to do. It will be even harder if your brother discovers that the matter has already been discussed among others not directly involved.
Realize, it is your first duty to protect the reputation of your brother. Be aware that discussing an offense with others is nothing more than gossip and backbiting. This is a great threat to our unity (Proverbs 25:23; 2 Corinthians 12:20). If you gossip about your brother, you become an offender. In addition, it is Satan’s number one goal to stir up strife among the membership (Ephesians 6:12). If we make a personal offense a group affair, strife is sure to follow. Let’s be sure we are not guilty of helping Satan accomplish his goals.
The Best Approach
Draw close to God in prayer about the whole incident and strive to get His perspective before you approach your brother. Of course, you should spend some time evaluating yourself. Make sure you are not just being nitpicky! God does expect us to forbear and be longsuffering with one another (1 Corinthians 13:7; Galatians 5:22). Ask yourself: Am I overreacting? Am I too sensitive? Have I misunderstood, or misperceived the situation? If we do not do this, we could make serious mistakes and make matters worse. In fact, there are times when the best approach is to suffer a wrong, forgive it and say nothing at all (1 Corinthians 6:7).
Be sure to approach your discussion of the offense in a humble, non-accusatory manner. You know your own carnal mind—it wants to justify itself. So if you harshly point a finger at your brother, he will more than likely point one right back. Be sure your brother knows that you see what a flawed, failed person you are. A good opening line is always, “I know I could be wrong about this, yet could we discuss ….” Then explain your side. Be objective and dispassionate. As Proverbs 15:1 states, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Revised Standard Version). You are more likely to succeed at getting your point across using gentleness and kindness. Study Proverbs 25:15. Often a kind word can be more powerful than an angry one.
Give your brother the opportunity to tell his side (Proverbs 18:13). Be prepared to admit error. Don’t be surprised—you may have misunderstood or misperceived the entire matter. Both parties should choose their words carefully (Proverbs 25:11-12). Be kind, considerate and respectful. Remember that the purpose for discussing any offense with your brother is to help your brother. If your brother listens, as Christ says, “you have gained your brother.”
What if your brother does not listen? Then you must follow the remaining steps outlined in Matthew 18:16-17. Once you start the process, be prepared to see it to the end.
Getting Others Involved
When an offended brother approaches us with a matter, we should be mature and sensitive enough to listen carefully. It usually takes a lot of courage for someone to come to us and tell us they were offended by something we said or did. We all need to be open to the fact that we may have done our brother wrong. The worst thing we could do is become overly defensive.
We must be sure that we never browbeat our brother if he points out a fault to us. Paul persuades us to: “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10; esv). Loving one another with brotherly affection means we should be quick to say we are sorry—even if our brother may not be 100 percent accurate. Apology opens the door to closeness. Do you see that we can learn a valuable lesson from the experience? Which of us does not need improvement in the area of tying strong knots in our relationships? When a brother comes to us, we must not slough off the matter; doing so could reflect a spirit of hatred toward our brother.
If your brother does not listen, and you cannot forgive or forget the fault, and the rift in your relationship continues, then you must move forward to step two of the process: Open up the discussion of the offense to one or two other people (Matthew 18:16). Since a difficult situation has become more somber, this process must also be started with prayer and even fasting. Be sure to choose mature, spiritually sound witnesses who can offer an objective viewpoint for both you and your brother. It is still vital that this matter be kept confident among the three or four of you.
Most matters between brothers are resolved at this stage. However, if the conflict is not resolved, then the matter must be taken to the ministry for counsel and judgment (verse 17). At this point, God’s minister will work to restore unity within the local congregation—since a rift between two often grows much wider and much more damaging. Our full cooperation must be given to our minister to resolve the conflict.
Unity With God
At Passover, we learn that unity is all important (1 Corinthians 10:16). God and Christ sacrificed all to bring us into unity with them. We must work to have that same unity with each other. If we do not have unity as brothers, we cannot have true unity with God and Christ.
What is the foundation of that unity? It really is very simple. When my wife and I were meeting our challenges to get along with others not exactly like us, an older woman of the congregation offered us some important advice. She watched us struggle with one couple in particular. In order to help us, she quoted this verse to us: “Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them” (Psalm 119:165). What wisdom! It was all too easy for us to get focused on the faults of others and not see our own. To get a grip on offenses, we must strive to keep God’s law. When we commit our lives to such obedience, we learn self-examination, confession to God and repentance. When we put the focus on overcoming our own sin, we have a lot less time to focus on the faults of others.
This is such a vital lesson for all of us. It is time to actively get and stay involved in the growth process of loving God’s law. When we do, it may be a little shocking for us to notice how the offenses of others just melt away. Yet, if an offense comes our way, don’t hesitate: Go to your brother!