The Lord desires that there be no divisions among us as fellow believers (1 Cor. 1:10). "Be at peace among yourselves" is His direct command (1 Thess. 5:13). With humility and patience we are to do all that we can to maintain the "unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph. 4:2-3). We are warned against the danger of a root of bitterness springing up in our heart (Heb. 12:15). Strife, quarreling, contention, division, and dissension are but various manifestations of the flesh and are contrary to the mind of God (1 Cor. 3:3; 2 Cor. 12:20).
It is unnecessary to ask if we have ever quarreled with another person or experienced bitterness, resentment, or hurt feelings. However, do we normally handle conflicts in a way that pleases the Lord Jesus? Many of us could be honest only by answering "No." Either we do not know how to handle grievances and offenses Scripturally, or we fail to act upon what we know. As a result we find fault with others, contend with them or retain a grievance against them. The Lord finds no joy in this, we are unhappy and others see us as having the same attitudes as the unsaved.
Responding Negatively to Others
It is helpful to review first some typically wrong ways of responding to differences with others:
Justifying Wrong Attitudes. We can say that we are only human and that it is natural to have negative feelings about someone who has displeased us. We can leave it to the other person to see what we regard as the error of his ways and do nothing personally. We can say that we tried to correct the problem in the past but it did no good.
Retaining Negative Feelings (Gen. 27:41). The longer something continues the more deeply rooted it tends to become. That is why we are warned not to let the sun go down on our anger (Eph. 4:26). There can be brooding, resentment, and a prolonging of hurt feelings if we do not give it to God or settle it with the other person. The issue festers like an untreated sore.
Withdrawing (Luke 15:28-29). We may have nothing further to do with people who have offended us. We may pull out, resign, quit, and wash our hands of the whole matter. We may say we were doing it to avoid a disturbance, but in reality it is often a form of punishing others with our displeasure.
Complaining To Others (Prov. 25:9). Problems may be discussed with third parties rather than directly with the person involved. We release our unhappiness this way. Complaints have a way of getting back to the person concerned and making things worse.
Retaliating (Prov. 24:29). We may stir up ill feelings in others against the offending party, so that now a group of people condemns, rejects, or opposes him. We might even think of some way to retaliate or get even (1 Pet. 3:9). It is even possible to file a lawsuit against other believers, an action God condemns (1 Cor. 6:1-8).
It hardly needs to be said that the Lord Jesus never handled situations in any of these ways. Each of these actions is a prescription for further strife. How then can we act in a Christ-honoring way when we are offended?
Avoid Being Offended. Some people are thin-skinned. They seem to become offended more easily than others. This might well indicate an over-sensitive disposition. If feelings are
easily hurt and resentments crop up, there is likely an undue focus on self. This requires self-judgment on our part, rather than resentments toward others. It is possible to be always standing on our rights. It may or may not be true that certain things are "due" us. The godly believer, however, has surrendered all of his rights to the Lord Jesus by virtue of the fact that Christ bought him with a price (1 Cor. 6:20). In place of our rights the Lord gives us privileges in the spirit of grace. Thus, we are willing to accept wrong if necessary (1 Cor. 6:7).
It is helpful to be more concerned about the needs of others than the rights of self. A person may be weakened by physical, emotional, or spiritual strain. Thus, it may be a good thing to make allowances for some word or action by that person which is not typical. We need a calm acceptance of flaws in others who, like us, are not perfect in the flesh. Very commonly, we misinterpret statements, expressions, and actions. We may not be correct as to what was said or meant by others' statements. Language is often tricky. The state of mind of both ourselves and others is a major factor. It is best to give others the benefit of the doubt. It is possible to magnify a matter beyond its true importance and "make a mountain out of a molehill." We should be particularly cautious in receiving reports from third parties. The ancient rule still stands: "In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established" (2 Cor. 13:1). Our Lord Himself was a model of tolerance and patience in the midst of much misunderstanding, abuse, and ingratitude. He advocated and exemplified even accepting insults (Matt. 5:11).
Avoid Hurtful Responses. What a Christian does when offended should be totally different from what an unsaved person might do. We should not fall into the trap of acting according to our old nature. Believers are never called to act against unkindness with more of the same. Emotions can sometimes be internalized in the form of boiling resentment or hurt. This injures us. Spreading our grievances to others is sin. Often this is done in the pretense of "sharing for prayer," and can cause others to "take up an offense" that is not their business. God wants offenses to be taken up with the parties concerned.
Responding Positively to Offenses
Develop Positive Attitudes. We often suffer from what has been called "gunbarrel vision." This is the practice of looking at something from only one narrow viewpoint. The Scriptures indicate that usually there is more than one dimension to a situation. Here are some steps that broaden our viewpoint: (a) Remember that offenders are often God's tools (2 Sam. 16:5-12). Even an insult, properly received, can be used of God to improve our character, (b) Give thanks in everything (1 Thess. 5:18). It is amazing how this constructive response glorifies God. (c) Accept wrongs as part of our calling (1 Pet. 2:19-23). Christ suffered for us, leaving us an example, (d) See the needs of others as opportunities (Luke 22:32). We can be so disappointed in people that we fail to see the opportunity to minister to them, (e) Leave all vengeance to God (Rom. 12:19-20). (f) Separate the offense from the offender. If we do not, we will hate people rather than hate their sins. God makes this distinction (Psa. 103:12). Let us do the same.
Forbearance and forgiveness are wonderful ointments for hurts (Col. 3:13). Love covers all transgressions (Prov. 10:12); it does not take into account the wrong suffered (1 Cor. 13:5).
Initiate Positive Action.
When you are the offender you should: (a) Acknowledge your faults (Jas. 5:16). It takes a strong person to admit he has been wrong. Force yourself to take a good look. Could you possibly be in the wrong? (b) Initiate reconciliation (Matt. 5:23-24). Take the first step, even if you doubt that it is your responsibility.
When others seem to offend you, consider the following: (a) Pray for them (Matt. 5:44). Prayer changes things, (b) Stop being contentious yourself (Prov. 13:10; 18:6; 2 Tim. 2:24). Dropping an argument or offense is often the correct solution, (c) Forgive them where they may have wronged you (Eph. 4:32; Mark 11:25-26). God for Christ's sake forgave us and we did not deserve it. (d) Forget the offense. Brooding makes one miserable. It is a glorious thing to pass over a transgression (Prov. 19:11). (e) Go the second mile (Matt. 5:40-41). This means to exercise restraint to the point that you amaze the offender, (f) Go to them directly (Matt. 18:15-17; Luke 17:3-4; Gal. 6:1). Mend your differences and live in harmony (Phil. 4:2).
Restoring the Offender
Sometimes it is unwise or even wrong to ignore an offense. It may be difficult to forgive without speaking to the individual. What does the Bible say about confronting and restoring an offender?
The Occasion. The offense must be against us (Matt. 18:15). We cannot set everyone straight on everything. The Bible also warns against taking up an offense that is not our own (Psa. 15:3). However, an offense that is injurious to the offender or to the whole church should be confronted (2 Sam. 12:1-7; Gal. 6:1).
The Qualification. The person offended should examine his own life in the same area to determine his own blamelessness (Matt. 7:1-5). Restoring someone "overtaken in a fault" requires spiritual vitality (Gal. 6:1).
The Goal. The goal in dealing with an offender is always restoration. The focus should be toward benefiting the other person, not self. If we are successful, the person is restored to God and we have acquired a brother (Matt. 18:15).
The Attitude. Speaking to others should be done in a spirit of meekness (Gal. 6:1). This means that we stifle any "one-upmanship" or "holier-than-thou" attitudes. We should consider that we could just as easily have been the offender.
The Method. Details of the grievance procedure are given in Matthew 18:15-17. (a) We go to the offender alone and tell him about the fault. He hears it from us, not from a third party, (b) If the offender is not willing to hear and the problem cannot be resolved on this level, the one offended is to return with one or two witnesses. This shows serious intent and eliminates the "private quarrel" aspect of the offense, (c) Failure at the second level requires that the matter be brought before the church—first to the elders as representatives of the church, and finally, if necessary, to the assembly as a whole, (d) If the offender is unrelenting before the church, he is to be treated as a heathen or non-Christian. Thus, the obstinancy of the offender demonstrates a much greater problem than the original offense, (e) Even if it is necessary to put the offender out of fellowship (which is rare), the goal is still restoration. If the offender is penitent, he is to be forgiven and warmly restored to fellowship (2 Cor. 2:6-11). Rebuke and then forgive is the order (Luke 17:3-4).
The Lord Jesus Christ has given us all the necessary instructions for dealing with grievances and offenses. Yet, like Peter, we might ask, "Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?" (Matt. 18:21). Jesus told Peter "seventy times seven" and then related a parable about a man who was forgiven an enormous debt but was unwilling to forgive a very small debt (Matt. 18:22-35). The Lord called this man wicked because of his unforgiving spirit after he had been forgiven so much. God in Christ has forgiven us all our sin. So we too should demonstrate the spirit of forgiveness toward others, especially our brethren.
Grievances And Offenses
1. What are some ways in which we might respond wrongly when we are offended?
Genesis 27:41 1 Corinthians 6:1-6
Psalm 15:3 Ephesians 4:26
Proverbs 24:29 1 Peter 3:9
Which of these is your greatest tendency when you are offended?
2. How might our attitudes toward the offender and the offense help us in responding correctly?
2 Samuel 16:5-12
1 Thessalonians 5:18
1 Peter 2:19-23
3. From the following passages, identify principles that will help you respond positively to offenses.
Proverbs 19:11 1 Corinthians 13:5
Proverbs 25:9 Ephesians 4:32
Matthew 5:40-41 2 Timothy 2:24
Matthew 5:44 James 5:16
4. What is sometimes necessary in dealing with an offense (Matt. 18:15; Luke 17:3)?
What are some cautions we must take before confronting an offender with his offense?
2 Corinthians 13:1
5. What should be the goal of confronting the offender (Matt. 18:15; Gal. 6:1)?
6. Identify the steps for resolving grievances when others have offended (Matt. 18:15-17).
7. Read Matthew 18:21-35. What lesson did the Lord Jesus teach here about forgiveness?
Why is this lesson important to remember when dealing with offenses?
8. What steps do we take in resolving grievances when we are the offenders?
9. Give an example of a time when you did not handle a grievance in the Scriptural way. What was the result?
10. How can you begin to respond toward offenses in a more Scriptural manner? What principles learned in this lesson do you need to begin applying?
Do you have an unresolved grievance with anyone? If so, state what you need to do and when you will do it.