IT IS MORE IMPORTANT TO HELP A STUMBLING
BROTHER THAN TO
PROVE YOURSELF CORRECT
“You’re familiar with the command to the ancients, ‘Do not murder.’ I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill. This is how I want you to conduct yourself in these matters. If you enter your place of worship and, about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge a friend has against you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God.” (Matthew 5:21-24, MSG)
This quote comes from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus started by saying, “You have heard that it was said to those of old.” Then He added, “But I say to you…” Jesus continues this comparison throughout this portion of His message. First He quotes the law that regulates our outward actions. Then He shows its fulfillment by bringing it into the heart. So in God’s eyes a murderer is not limited to the one who commits murder; he is also the one who hates his brother. What you are in your heart is how you really are.
Jesus clearly delineates the consequences of offense in this portion of His sermon. He illustrates the severity of holding anger or bitter offense. If one is angry with his brother without cause, he is in danger of judgment. He is in danger of the council if that anger bears fruit and he calls his brother raca. This is a biblical term meaning “worthless” or “empty.” It implies that the person is a fool. In the days of the Early Church, calling a person a fool was to imply that they were Godless. Psalm 14:1 says, “The fool says in his heart ‘there is no God.'” So if anger reaches the point where you call your brother worthless or a fool, you are in danger of hell.
Jesus was showing them that not dealing with anger can lead to hatred. Hatred not properly dealt with would put them in danger of hell. Then He said that if they remembered their brother was offended with them, they were to make it top priority to find him and seek to be reconciled. But why the urgency to seek reconciliation? It it for our sake or our brother’s sake. We should go for his sake that we might be a catalyst to help him out of the offense. Even if we are not offended with him, the love of God does not let him remain angry without attempting to reach out and restore. We may have done nothing wrong. Right or wrong doesn’t matter. It is more important for us to help this stumbling brother than to prove ourselves correct.
There are limitless scenarios for offense.
Maybe the person we have offended believes we were unjust in our treatment of him, when in reality we did him no harm. He may have inaccurate information that has yielded an inaccurate conclusion. On the other hand, he may have accurate information from which he had drawn an inaccurate conclusion. What we said may have been grossly distorted once it was processed through the various channels of communication. Though our intent was not to harm, our words and actions gave a different appearance. Often we judge ourselves by our intentions and everyone else by their actions. It is possible to intend one thing while communicating something totally different. Sometimes our true motives are cleverly hidden even from us. We want to believe they are pure. But as we filter them through the Word of God we see them differently.
Finally, maybe we did sin against the person. We were angry or under pressure, and he got the brunt of it. Or maybe this person has constantly and deliberately lashed out at us, and we were responding in kind. No matter what caused it, this offended person’s understanding is darkened, and he has based his judgments on assumptions, hearsay, and appearances, deceiving himself even though he believes he has discerned our true motives. How can we have an accurate judgment without accurate information? It’s important to be sensitive to the fact that he believes with his whole heart he has been wronged. For whatever reason he feels this way, we must be willing to humble ourselves and apologize.
Jesus is exhorting us to reconcile even if the offense is not our fault. It takes maturity to walk in humility in order to bring reconciliation. But taking the first step is often harder on the one who is hurting. That’s why Jesus told the person who caused the offense to “go to him.”
ASKING FORGIVENESS OF ONE WHO IS OFFENDED
The Apostle Paul said, “Therefore, let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another.” (Romans 14:19) This shows us how to approach a person we have offended. If we go with an attitude of frustration, we will not promote peace. We will only make it difficult for the one who is hurt. We are to maintain an attitude of pursuing peace through humility at the expense of our pride. It is the only way to see true reconciliation. On certain occasions, as part of making amends in the 9th Step, I have approached people I have hurt or who were angry with me, and they have lashed out at me. In fact, I am currently estranged from my brother and one of my sons due to wrongful behavior during active addiction. I have been called selfish, inconsiderate, hopeless, and a continual failure by people whom I love, but whom I stole from or belittled.
My natural response has been to get defensive. No I’m not! You just don’t understand what I’m going through. You don’t understand addiction. Whenever we defend ourselves in this manner, it only fuels the fire of their offense. This is not the proper way to make amends or to pursue peace. Standing up for ourselves and “our rights,” especially when we were wrong in the first place, will never bring true peace. Instead, we need to learn to listen and keep our mouth shut until they have said what they need to say. Whether we agree or not, the key is to respect their feelings. Let them know we love them despite how we treated them. Then tell them we’re sorry and ask for their forgiveness.
Pride defends. Humility agrees and says, “You are right and I was wrong.”
James 3:17 says, “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.” Godly wisdom is willing to yield. It is not stiff-necked or stubborn when it comes to personal conflicts. A person submitted to godly wisdom is not afraid to yield or defer to the other person’s viewpoint as long as it does not violate truth.
APPROACHING SOMEONE WHO HAS OFFENDED YOU
Now that we have discussed what to do when we offend our brother, let’s consider what to do if our brother offends us. Jesus said, “Moreover, if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.” (Matthew 18:15) Many people apply this Scripture verse in a different attitude from the one Jesus was intending. If they have been hurt, they will go and confront the offender in a spirit of revenge and anger. They use this verse as justification to condemn the one who has hurt them.
But they are missing the whole reason Jesus instructed us to go to one another. It is not for condemnation, but for reconciliation. He does not want us to tell our brother how rotten he has been to us. We are to go to remove the breach preventing the restoration of our relationship. This parallels how God restores us to Himself. We have sinned against God, but, as Paul wrote, Jesus demonstrates His own love toward and for us, in that while we were still sinners, He died for us. (Romans 5:8) Are we willing to lay down our self-protection and die to pride in order to be restored to the one who has offended us? God reached out to us before we asked for forgiveness. Jesus decided to forgive us before we even acknowledged our offense.
“Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.” (2 Cor. 5:18-20) The word of reconciliation begins on the common ground that we all have sinned against God. We do not desire reconciliation or salvation unless we know there is a separation.
Although we have sinned against God, He chooses not to condemn us but to reconcile us to Himself. John 3:17 says, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” God’s goodness leads us to repent. His love does not leave us condemned to hell. He proved His love by sending Jesus, His only Son, to the cross to die for us. God reaches out to us first, even though we have offended Him. He reaches out not to condemn, but to restore. Since we are to imitate God, we are to extend reconciliation to a brother who sins against us. Jesus established this pattern: Go to him and show him his sin, not to condemn him or make him wrong, but to remove anything that lies between the two of you and thus be reconciled and restored.
The goodness of God within us will draw our brother to repentance and restoration of the relationship. We keep this bond of peace by maintaining an attitude of humility, gentleness, and long-suffering, and by undergirding each other’s weakness in love. We should not go to a brother who has offended us until we have decided to forgive him from our heart – no matter how he responds to us. We need to get rid of any feelings of animosity toward him before approaching him. If we don’t, we will probably react out of these negative feelings and hurt him, not heal him.
A word about telling everyone what someone has done to us rather than approaching the offending party. I believe we do this because we are looking for people who will take our side. It strengthens our cause and comforts us when others agree with how badly we have been treated. There is only selfishness in this type of behavior. If we keep the love of God as our motivation, we will not fail. Love never fails. When we love others the way Jesus loves us, we will be free even if the other person chooses not to be reconciled to us. Romans 12:18 says, “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” He says, “If it is possible,” because there are times when others will refuse to be at peace with us. We are to do everything we can to be reconciled with the other person, as long as we remain loyal to truth. We often give up on relationships too soon.
The love of God is the key to freedom from the baited trap of offense. This must be an abounding love, a love that continually grows and is strengthened in our hearts. So many in our society today are deceived by a superficial love, a love that talks but does not act. The love that will keep us from stumbling lays down its life selflessly – even for the good of an enemy. When we walk in this kind of love, we cannot be seduced into taking the bait and living in offense. Instead, we are capable of complete, unconditional forgiveness. We are able, if even for a moment, to be like Christ.
Forgiveness: letting go of grudges and bitterness. When someone you care about hurts you, you can hold on to anger, resentment, and thoughts of revenge, or embrace forgiveness and move forward. If not, the wounds can leave you with lasting feelings of animosity, hostility, and malevolence.