Like everyone here, on occasions I've had to deal with someone who offended me. While I was going through this experience I realized how easily and quickly you can hurt or offend someone (Just a word a brief action) but how long it takes to sort out all of your feelings over something that may have taken place in just a few moments.
I supposed the hardest problem to deal with, when these things occur, is how to respond as a Christian. If I were not a Christian there would be a lot of options - chief of which would be revenge (feels good). A justice or closure of some kind.
Responding as a Christian, however, is a more difficult and demanding thing, when you're offended. We know the basic idea is to react with love but how do you express that love to someone with whom you are in conflict - this is the problem.
There are so many instructions in the New Testament concerning our attitude toward our enemies that it sometimes becomes difficult to know how to act and when we should do so.
I'd like to sort out some of these passages that deal with our attitude towards our enemies.
Non-Christian Enemies - Matthew 5:39
First of all we need to realize that we have different kinds of enemies and God helps to respond to each in a different way. For example we have non-Christian enemies. Those who offend us, oppress us, are against us in some way or another and who are non-believers.
For this kind of enemy Jesus says, "... do not resist him who is evil (obviously a non-Christian or one in name only); but whoever slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." - Matthew 5:39
Of course Jesus is using a highly dramatic image here to make His point. But in every day language how do we turn the other cheek? Paul answers this question in Romans 12:17-21:
17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. 19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord. 20 "But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head." 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
In practical terms then, he is saying - when someone slaps you on one cheek turn to him the other in the following way:
- Don't seek revenge. It may be appealing, satisfying, justified, but don't do it.
- Don't escalate; seek peace. Your goal after your offense is to create a peaceful environment; this is what you need to be doing - not plotting revenge.
- Overcome the evil thing done with good. Prayer for the enemy, blessing them if the opportunity arises - this replaces the evil thing done with good things
Our responsibility toward our non-Christian enemy is not revenge or even justice but rather a witness of God and one's faith in Christ. We need to show our enemies the person and love of Christ, not our ability to take revenge or exact justice.
I'm not saying that Christians have no recourse to human justice when wronged. Christians can appeal to Justice for protection in this world. (Paul appealed to Caesar to avoid a lynch mob in Acts 25:11)
- If I'm robbed I'll call the police
- If I am violated I will testify against my attacker in court.
Human justice and laws and its enforcement has been given to man by God for the reason of protecting society and punishing criminals and criminal nations and so Christians can use it and participate for these reasons (Romans 13:1) and should do so in order for God's will to be done towards the guilty. Regardless of the workings of human justice, which we must submit to in dealing with our enemies - our personal relationships with our non-Christian enemies exist on another plane - a higher plane. For example the surgeon who is drunk and makes a mistake causing the death of my mother will suffer at the hands of the law - hopefully in a just manner, and I will testify. But my personal relationship with him will be to turn the other check.
What the law does and what I do are two different things. I can do this because regardless of how well the law has dealt with him God promises perfect justice in the end - my responsibility is to turn the other check. Some may say, "Well what do you do when the enemy is the state/government?" When the enemy is our own government me have three options:
- Use the law that exists to oppose it. Laws to prosecute leaders (Paul - Acts 25)
- Stand up and speak the truth (Peter - Acts 5:17)
- Flee to a safe place (Christians - Acts 8:14)
Christians are not anarchists, revolutionaries, guerilla fighters. These people exist and fight just wars at times, but this is not what we are called to as Christians. Our faith and hope is in God to help us stand up or find safety and to have the wisdom and courage to know when to do which. We have to turn the other cheek even when the enemy is the state.
God is greater than any government and He will let stand and defeat it in His own way. Our number one job is to respond as Christians with our non-Christian enemies and to witness Christ to them not defeat them. If we have made a good witness we have completed our task.
When A Christian Offends
When a non-Christian offends you the goal is not to forgive but to witness - they don't care about forgiveness; your forgiveness doesn't save their soul. However if your witness can bring them to Christ then they will receive forgiveness from God and as new Christians your forgiveness will have meaning.
For Christians who offend you however, the goal is forgiveness but again the New Testament gives us several different situations where this forgiveness can be worked out.
1. Dealing with the repeat offender
He said to His disciples, "It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to him through whom they come! 2 It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble. 3 Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. 4 And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, 'I repent,' forgive him."
- Luke 17:1-4
It's hard to imagine someone offending us seven different times in one day returning for forgiveness each time - but if it did, Jesus would ask us to do it. This example, however, reminds me of that brother or sister who, because of some personality fault or habit or attitude, offends me all day long.
My only comment to God about these people in my life is "Why?" (Why is this person in my life?). I believe that the answer God gives is that He wants us to grow through the discipline of forgiveness.
People that challenge us to repeated acts of forgiveness cultivate in our character all kinds of virtues including patience, tolerance, graciousness, kindness and ultimately Christian love. In other words the repeated acts of forgiveness cultivates in us a loving character.
If you have ever asked God to teach you the love, or to expand your capacity for love, He will put you in a spiritual gymnasium and make you repeat the exercise of forgiveness over and over again in all of its forms because:
- Forgiving inconvenient circumstances, and weak people will develop patience.
- Forgiving differences of opinions, status, ability, maturity will develop tolerance.
- Forgiving offenses, pettiness, unkindness and slanders will develop graciousness.
- Forgiving weakness, slowness, poverty, immaturity, and ignorance will develop kindness.
As you forgive repeatedly, the character of love will overtake and eventually superimpose itself over your character.
2. Dealing with the unrepentant offender
15 "If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.
19 "Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. 20 For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst."
- Matthew 18:15-20
Sometimes there is a person who offends you at the church and is unrepentant. The greatest single cause of division, strife and heartache among church members is that they do not follow this teaching when it comes to dealing with others who have knowingly or unknowingly offended them, or sinned against the church (immoral lifestyles, unfaithful etc.) What people usually do is tell or complain to someone else (gossip). Or they repress their feelings of anger and let it simmer in silent resentment towards that person or persons.
This is not an option, Jesus says that if your brother sins (not just a perception or gossip of sin) but you can actually substantiate that an offense has occurred you must:
- Go to the person in private to settle the matter. This means that you tell them, in a loving manner, what the problem is, how you feel, what needs to be done.
- If they don't respond you bring several concerned brethren with you who know about the situation. You bring people who are interested in making things right, not just proving that you're right (Not a lynch mob)
- If you fail, the church must know. Perhaps the weight of opinion and concern by the church will bring this person repentance and a willingness to make peace. The "church" at this point could be represented by the elders who speak for the church but certainly the entire church is made aware.
- Finally if the person refuses to respond even to the appeal and encouragement of the entire church - then the church must turn away from this person and treat him as a disobedient and rebellions child.
- Means that you love and pray for but you do not permit them to enjoy the good fruit of fellowship.
- Means you do not consider them part of the congregation.
- Means you are polite, kind, patient, ready to forgive or welcome back but they must know that their repentance is required first.
If we followed this teaching in trying to deal with unrepentant sinners who offend us or the church we could eliminate cliques and feuds and personal division between brethren and we would demonstrate that we are not afraid to discipline the immoral, the divisive and the unfaithful - maybe save the their souls.
3. Dealing with the brother who is unaware of his offense against you
'And forgive us our sins,
For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.'"
- Luke 11:4
This is the trickiest situation because sometimes we are hurt by people who never intended to offend us or who are completely unaware that they have, by their words or deeds, made us feel bad. We usually have several options with them.
- Feel bad and secretly hate them. We give them the partial silent treatment hoping that they'll figure out something is wrong. Rarely works and causes more bad feelings on both sides.
- Go to them and tell them about what has happened and how you feel. It's like cornering someone where they have no choice but to either insult you some more or apologize. Very little satisfaction.
- Simply do what Jesus says, ".. forgive everyone who is indebted to us".
To freely forgive someone who has offended us but is unaware is truly not letting the right hand Know what the left is doing and is so much more satisfying than demanding an apology when dealing with the repeat offender, the unrepentant offender, the brother who is unaware of his offense...
4. Dealing with the brother you offend
23 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.
- Matthew 5:23-24
This situation is easiest to understand but the most difficult to accomplish. We know in our hearts when we're wrong and as Christians we know what we should do. But we put it off until tomorrow or we rationalize it by saying it's no big deal or they'll get over it - "I wouldn't be offended" or we blame the other person for provoking us.
Sooner or later we have to face God to praise Him or make our requests known to Him and He says that these things will fall on deaf ears unless we are right with our brothers first. How can we be sincere in our love for God if we consciously are the enemy of someone else and do nothing to make peace with them?
We need to remember that in situations where the offense is between brothers and sisters in Christ the objective is not to win the argument or the apology - the objective is to win the brother, and restore the unity of the Spirit in the hand of peace (Ephesians 4:3).
In the end, dealing with our enemies whether they be Christians or non-Christians involves our reacting with Christian love to their actions. When it comes to dealing with the offenses of our enemies against us God requires the most difficult expression of that love - the one that sees us dying to self, facing our fear of rejection and hurt, in order to save someone we don't particularly care about at the moment - this is what loving your enemy is all about.
1 Peter 4:8 says that "...love covers a multitude of sins."
Peter doesn't say that love justifies or excuses sins but rather that love, through its humbling efforts will restore their brother's soul and in so doing will cover their sins with the blood of Christ, and demonstrate clearly that we are true disciples of Jesus Christ. When considering these things, what do you think your need is as far as dealing with your enemies is considered?
- Do you need to give up fighting your enemy and begin witnessing to him instead?
- Do you need to deny your pride and stubbornness and reach out to someone who needs to find forgiveness from God or from you?
- Do you need to seek forgiveness for yourself for something you have done or are hiding?
The Lord encourages you to go to those who need your witness or forgiveness.