Relationships are important to God. He created each of us to love Him and others. In fact, Jesus said: “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31).
When we value relationships the way God does, we will resolve issues as they arise. This is not usually difficult for those who are quick to forgive, but those who are unforgiving often live with continual turmoil. Some even walk around like time bombs, ready to explode – or implode – whenever their short fuses are lit.
So many people are affected by relationship issues that, several years ago, I was prompted to write the book, “Get the Junk Out of Your Trunk.” God has used it to help people receive healing from the crippling effects of unforgiveness and bitterness. It’s my prayer that this article, written in the same spirit as the book, will help you have strong, healthy relationships.
Offenses Will Come
Throughout life, there will always be opportunities to become offended. Jesus said it this way: “It is impossible that no offenses should come” (Luke 17:1). He also addressed the serious side-effects of allowing ourselves to be offended. He said that in the end times “…many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:10-12).
Did you notice the progression? After an offense comes betrayal, then hatred, lawlessness, and in the end, love grows cold. No one wakes up one day and says, “Today, I’m going to hate that person,” or “I’m going to let my love grow cold.” It doesn’t happen that way. Instead, little by little, the spiritual consequences for harboring bitterness take their toll.
James 3:16 says, “Where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.” Believe me, you don’t want to live with “confusion and every evil thing” in your life! That’s why the Bible instructs us to “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many” (Hebrews 12:14-15 NIV).
Thank God that you have a choice. You can keep offenses and bitterness from wrecking your friendships, dividing your family, or breaking up your marriage.
Dealing With Offenses
In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus explains what should happen when someone offends us. He says: “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. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.”
Some people may refuse all attempts at restoration, but as we follow the steps Jesus outlined, most relationships can be mended.
Let’s study these steps:
1. Go to the one who has offended you. Jesus said in Matthew 18:15 that we should go to them. Our motive should not be just to seek justice, but to believe the best and seek restoration. Remember, “Love bears up under anything and everything that comes, is ever ready to believe the best of every person, its hopes are fadeless under all circumstances, and it endures everything [without weakening]” (1 Corinthians 13:7 AMP).
Notice that Jesus told us to first go by ourselves. Often, what seemed like an offense may have simply been a misunderstanding. By not involving others, we show God’s love and concern for the one who offended us. If they repent, their reputation will have been spared. At that point, express your forgiveness (Luke 17:3-4) and let the matter be forever settled in your heart. If they don’t repent, forgive them anyway, and continue to seek restoration.
2. Go again, taking someone with you. This lines up with Matthew 18:16 which says to take “one or two more” with you. Having an impartial witness helps bring out the truth. If the one you have issue with repents, only the two of you and the person who went with you know what has happened, and the offender’s reputation has still been salvaged.
3. Talk with your pastor or church leader. If you attend the same church, and the issue is still not resolved, Jesus said “tell it to the church.” This does not mean you should talk about it with everyone you meet! It does mean going to a church leader so they can help reconcile the offender with God – and you.
When You Have Offended Someone
Even when you seek to maintain healthy relationships, people will sometimes be offended by your words or actions. As soon as you become aware that someone has been wounded, do what you can to initiate restoration.
We read previously: “It is impossible that no offenses should come…” but Jesus continued on to say, “…woe to him through whom they do come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones” (Luke 17:1-2). The consequences for offending others are severe, and those who habitually offend others will eventually reap what they have sown.
Jesus tells us that our relationships should be reconciled before we worship. It says, “…if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24). Even if you did not mean to cause harm, it is Biblical for you to go to them.
Whether or not they choose to forgive you, your part is the same: go to them with a sincere heart for restoration. Remember: “love will cover a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). Love is always the answer when it comes to restoring relationships.
It’s God’s plan that you would resolve issues quickly with the following points in mind:
Peace and Unity. Paul urges us to “…live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 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” (Ephesians 4:1-3, NIV).
Unresolved issues destroy marriages and families, keep people from coming to the Lord and even grieve the Holy Spirit. That’s why Ephesians 4:30-32 tells us, “…do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.”
Spiritual Well-Being. Paul wrote, “If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. And what I have forgiven — if there was anything to forgive — I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes” (2 Corinthians 2:10-11, NIV). Forgiving others is vital to our own spiritual well-being and can affect the well-being of others. When you resolve issues quickly, you shut the door on Satan.
Restoration. Galatians 6:1-2 says: “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” God’s heart is always for restoration, so we should do our part to restore those who are hurt and offended.
It is obvious that opportunities to be offended will always come, but you do not have to let bitterness take root in your heart and ruin your life. Forgive. Forgive. Forgive…and let the Lord be your source of peace in every situation. Remember: “Great peace have they which love Thy law: and nothing shall offend them” (Psalm 119:165 KJV).
(Scriptures are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless noted otherwise.)