Don’t Stay Offended
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 18:15a (Holman) “If your brother sins against you, . . .”
Jesus commanded us to not stay offended. The obligation to open a discussion of reconciliation rests with the one injured. This is not customary conduct.
Sadly, this is the last thing some believers would do, despite Jesus’ direct command. Often we avoid it for fear of how the offender will react.
Sometimes our problem is pride. We think, “It’s their fault. If they want things right, they’ll have to come to me. I will not demean myself by going to them.” Guard your words. This is precisely what our Master commanded us to do. This command should not surprise us.
It’s what He did for us. We offenders were pursued by Jesus the offended. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (RM 5:8b; see 5:6,10). We who’ve been forgiven must initiate the activity of forgiveness.
Obeying our text is a huge, distasteful pill to swallow. It is easier to stew. Nursing anger actually feels good, but Jesus here forbade us to sulk.
Brooding poisons the well. If an offense is not dealt with, resentment settles in. Contempt and indignation lead to a root of bitterness (HB 12:15).
Don’t slough off this duty. Initiating reconciliation matters. It may seem little, but termites damage many more houses than hurricanes do.
Many are not in church due to an offense. Talk to former church-goers. Probe their reasons for no longer coming to church. You will find that many of them left due to a devastating offense done against them.
But hear this. If the offended one, before leaving the church, did not confront the offender, the one who left is as guilty as the one who caused the offense. I am not trying to justify the offenders. Jesus clearly discussed them elsewhere. “If you are offering your gift on the altar, and there you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).
The Lord is watching. He will deal with the offender in due time. But based on our text, the offended must approach the offender before walking away. If we don’t do this, we are accessories to their crime, and also guilty.
An offense not rebuked can lead to an offender repeatedly doing it for a lifetime. We all know of churches where Pastors and staff are sent packing often; it sometimes becomes a congregational habit. Pastors also often leave a trail of devastation in their wake, angrily going from church to church. Someone should stand up to bullies early on, and confront them before they become perpetual offenders. Someone should speak with them directly. Will it always change the future? No, but many times it would.
Let me do my part to challenge us. If you have had trouble with Tom, Dick, and Harry, the problem may not be Tom, Dick, or Harry.
Matt. 18:15b “. . . go . . .”
Don’t delay. Deal immediately with any threat to unity. End it before the wound festers. Every passing day widens the chasm of separation.
We expect the offenders to come to us, and they should, but we are not at liberty to make our obedience contingent on anyone else’s. Jesus has commanded both parties to start the discussion. This is a double safeguard against ongoing trouble. We the offended must initiate, not wait. In making amends, it’s always good to go first, whoever is to blame for the division.
Seeking reconciliation is vital to church health. Unresolved anger between Christians has killed more churches than adultery, murder, and stealing combined. Pride has proven to be a much bigger problem in the Kingdom than alcohol and drugs. For the sake of God’s dear people, “go”.
Matt. 18:15c “. . . and rebuke him in private.”
Do this “in private”. Don’t be a clandestine talebearer, talking behind another person’s back. “Private reproof is the best grave to bury private faults in” (Swinnock, in B.I.). Secrecy preempts public embarrassment.
Our purpose is not to humiliate or alienate. A private rebuke lets the person save face. Secrecy also protects their ego, and doesn’t foster a resentment that can drive them farther away, and deeper into their sin.
In all interpersonal conflicts, preserve confidentiality. Limit the circle of rebuke to the circle of knowledge. Try not to expand the latter.
Matt. 18:15d “If he listens to you, . . .”
The scenario in our text is a severe test of friendship. It’s easy to see why we would usually rather stifle our feelings and sit on our pity pots.
Let me offer four practical suggestions. One, if wronged, verbalize the offense to yourself. Trying to put it into words may show it is trivial.
Two, if the conversation happens, deal with the controversy first, at the start of the discussion. For the rest of the time, restore the relationship.
Every time you leave another’s presence, one question for sure needs to be answered affirmatively, “Is this relationship open for me to return?” Three, don’t use printed text. It can be misunderstood, and convey a tone or nuance never intended. Print can’t convey emotion; speak the hurt.
Four, no anger. Vent mildly. “A gentle answer turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath” (PR 15:1). Robert Louis Stevenson said, “With a little more patience and a little less temper, a gentler and wiser method might be found in every case.” Mad does not motivate. Anger angers.
Matt. 18:15e “. . . you have won your brother.”
Remember the purpose of all this: to win a brother. Relationships are of utmost importance in Christianity: our relationship with God, our relationship with fellow believers, our relationship with unbelievers.
Winning arguments is not our primary objective, nor is our attaining a certain status in the eyes of others. Our goal is not to condemn, but to woo back something of value, to gain a friend.
I have a classic example of how effective the method Jesus prescribed can be. I was a brash teenager who would mouth off to my mom. One day Mom told me, “If you could hear a tape recording of your voice when you talk to me like that, you would be shocked at how harsh it sounds.” Her words stung and stuck. She did to me what Jesus said to do, and it worked.