The Biblical principles regarding offense and forgiveness described here are essential to community life.
The discussion that prompted this article was a study on Colossians 3, verses 1-17 but a great deal of time was spent discussing verses 12-14:
So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. "
We also talked about Matthew chapter 18 which details, in part, about how to approach a situation where someone offends you (see Matthew 18:15-20).
As a community, we should commit to follow a Biblical pattern every time even a minor offense pops up.
Here are some principles that Scripture outlines regarding what to do when someone offends you:
Step 1- (Immediate) Prayer & Introspection
Pray about it. "Keep short accounts with God" (give it over to God right away).
- Follow Samuel's example from 1 Samuel 8:6 - "But when they said, 'Give us a king to lead us,' this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD."
- James 1:5 - "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God... and it will be given to him."
Assume the best of your brother or sister in Yeshua; don't jump to conclusions.
- Remember that most "offenses" are born out of simple unintended miscommunications, not intentional offense.
- Proverbs 3:30 - "Do not accuse a man for no reason, when he has done you no harm."
Maintain a "community mentality"
Remember that we are all members of one body with Yeshua as our Head and we are determined to work this out.
- Ephesians 4:15 - "speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ"
- Philippians 2:3 - "consider others better than yourselves"
- Mark 3:25 - "If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand."
Remember that Satan uses offense as a tool to isolate us and divide the body of Messiah. Don't let Satan succeed in this.
- 1 Peter 5:8 - "Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour."
- 2 Corinthians 2:10-11 - "If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him... 11 in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes."
Ask yourself: "Am I allowing myself to feel personally offended when the problem is actually just a difference of opinion, a differing preference, a personality conflict, a pet peeve, or an issue of jealousy or pride on my part?"
- 1 Samuel 17:42 - "He looked David over and saw that he was only a boy, ruddy and handsome, and he despised him."
- Romans 14:1-3 - "Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. 2 One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3 The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him."
- Romans 14:13,17,19 - [regarding differences of opinion] - "Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way... 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,... 19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification."
Decide in advance to forgive them, even if they don't repent, and even if they never ask you for forgiveness.
- Philippians 2:5 - "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus"
- Ephesians 4:32 - "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you."
- Proverbs 19:11 (ESV) - "Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense."
See the "More Thoughts on Forgiveness" section below.
Step 2- (As soon as possible) Go To Them in Private
Address it with the person quickly.
- Ephesians 4:25-27 - "Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 "In your anger do not sin": Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold."
Go directly to the individual. Meet in private and in person (ideally) or speak via phone (next best thing), but don't address the issue via email, text message, or social media.
- Matthew 18:15 - "If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother."
Avoid lashon hara ["evil speech" / gossip] which can be committed even in the form of "sharing a prayer request". Don't discuss the matter with others first. Don't try to build up a support group so you can gang up on the person.
- Proverbs 6:16 & 19 - "There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him... 19 a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers."
- Proverbs 10:19 - "When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, But he who restrains his lips is wise."
- Proverbs 11:13 - "He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets, But he who is trustworthy conceals a matter."
Approach the situation humbly and gently. Our motivation should always be love...not "vindication".
- Ephesians 4:2-3 - "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace."
- Galatians 6:1 - "Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted."
- Ephesians 4:15 - "speaking the truth in love..."
- James 5:20 - "remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins."
Approach the situation with a desire for reconciliation; to win back your brother or sister and restore the relationship.
- Proverbs 18:19 - "A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city, And contentions are like the bars of a citadel."
- Matthew 5:23-24 - "Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering."
Be humble enough to consider that some (or even most) of the blame may lie with you. Offense is often a two-way street. Be willing to admit you are wrong if that's the case.
- Proverbs 15:33 - "The fear of the Lord teaches a man wisdom, and humility comes before honor."
- Matthew 7:3-5 - "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye."
Step 3- Two or Three Witnesses
If the individual won't listen or repent, then approach them a second time; this time with two or three witnesses. These witnesses should ideally be men or women of good reputation and/or members of your community leadership... not just people that you know will stick up for you no matter what.
- Matthew 18:16 - "But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’"
- Deuteronomy 19:15 - "One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses."
Step 4- The Whole Community
If the individual still will not repent then the issue is brought to the whole assembly.
- Matthew 18:17 - "If he ignores these witnesses, tell it to the community of believers. If he also ignores the community, deal with him as you would a heathen or a tax collector."
- 1 Corinthians 5:12 - "What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?"
- 1 Corinthians 6:1-3 - "If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints? 2 Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? 3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!"
- 1 Timothy 5:19-20 - "Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. 20 Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning."
If the individual publicly confesses their sin and repents then forgive them and restore them to the community.
- Luke 17:3 - "Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him."
- 2 Corinthians 2:5-8 - "If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you, to some extent—not to put it too severely. 6 The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him. 7 Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him."
See "More thoughts on forgiveness" section below.
If the individual still will not repent, then they are to be "shunned" by the community until they repent. As hard as this is, it must be done to protect the rest of the community.
- 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 - "If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that person and do not associate with him, so that he will be put to shame. 15 Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother."
- Ecclesiastes 8:11 - "Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly, therefore the hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil."
- 1 Corinthians 5:11-13 - "But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. 12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. "Expel the wicked man from among you."
Even if they don't repent or listen to you, pray for that brother or sister.
- Luke 6:27-28 - But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
- Romans 12:21 - "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."
- 1 Peter 3:9 - "Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing."
Scriptural Guidance For the "Offender"
Listen and be humble
- James 1:19-21 - "My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. 21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you."
- Proverbs 15:31-33 - "He who listens to a life-giving rebuke will be at home among the wise. He who ignores discipline despises himself, but whoever heeds correction gains understanding. The fear of the Lord teaches a man wisdom, and humility comes before honor."
- Psalm 51:17 - "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise."
Confess your sin and repent
- Proverbs 28:13 - "He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy"
- Psalm 32:5 - "Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD"--and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah"
- James 5:16 - "Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective."
- 2 Corinthians 7:9-10 - Yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. 10 Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death."
- Pray all of Psalm 51 to the Lord.
Prove your repentance through bearing fruit
- Luke 3:8 - "Produce fruit in keeping with repentance..."
- Acts 26:20 - "...I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds."
- Psalm 34:14 - "Depart from evil and do good; Seek peace and pursue it."
Forgive yourself because God has forgiven you
- 1 John 1:9 - "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."
- Psalm 103:8-13 - "The LORD is compassionate and gracious, Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness. 9 He will not always strive with us, Nor will He keep His anger forever. 10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. 11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him. 12 As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us. 13 Just as a father has compassion on his children, So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him."
More Thoughts on Forgiveness
Forgiveness is not something we do for OTHER PEOPLE.
We do it for OURSELVES- to GET WELL and MOVE ON.
While Matthew 18 teaches us how to deal with an offense, it also contains the parable of the servant who was forgiven of a huge debt by his king but then turns around and refuses to forgive a very small debt owed to him by a fellow servant. Needless to say, this doesn't go over well with the king.
Forgiveness is not optional... it is essential to those who are new creations in Yeshua (see 2 Corinthians 5:17-21).
- Matthew 6:14-15 is sobering: "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins."
- Luke 6:37 - "...Forgive, and you will be forgiven." Colossians 3:13 - "...Forgive as the Lord forgave you."
We must forgive one another because we have each been forgiven abundantly more by our Heavenly Father. If we are harboring bitterness or offense in our hearts toward a brother or sister in Messiah, then we have either forgotten how much we personally have been forgiven by God, or else we need to ask ourselves whether or not we fully realize how much we have been forgiven.
Loving others (which encompasses forgiving others) is the natural result of being forgiven yourself. In Luke 7:36-50 Yeshua contrasts the "sinner" who loves much (because she knows she has been forgiven much) with the Pharisee who loves little (because in his false piety he doesn't think that he needs much forgiveness).
Let's remember how much we've been forgiven!