What do you do when someone hurts you? Is your first response anger? Maybe you try to avoid the person? Unfortunately, a big part of the human experience is pain caused by people. And the ones we love are the ones that can hurt us the most.
Recently, I got tangled up in one of those situations. My first response was rooted in frustration. I wanted them to hurt, because they had caused pain! Somewhere in the back of my mind, God whispered “Vengeance is mine, Sherpa…” How quickly I became like them! Sure- not to the same extent, but in some small way, I wanted them to suffer. I quickly apologized and then stepped back and asked, ‘What is God’s heart in this matter?’
After turning to God’s word and to prayer, I believe that God’s primary concern is for the restoration of the person who fell into the sin, and reconciliation with the person who they hurt. If you find yourself in the same situation, and are dealing with someone who claims to be a “brother” (i.e. says they are a Christian) here is the scripture I turned to:
- Vs 15 – 1st approach the person privately (“between you and him alone”). Unfortunately, in my specific scenario, the person involved me before trying to resolve the issue privately. One thing I see in this passage is that God does not want us to make private sins public! I find it interesting that before people sinned, there was no need for clothing. The bible says that before sin, they were naked and were not ashamed. But after they sinned, literally the first thing Adam and Eve did was make garments out of fig leaves to cover themselves with. And God did not condemn the behavior, he actually made them better outfits! There are several things to glean from that passage, but certainly one is that after sin entered the world, a need for privacy arose. I also find it very interesting that gossip is uniformly condemned in scripture. Gossip is just making private information (truthful or otherwise) public! I am being very careful not to give any mention of the person involved out of respect for this principal. The goal of approaching someone privately is for reconciliation. If the sin is a private one, it does not need to be addressed publicly if the person repents. Verse 15 continues, “If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.”
- Vs 16 – 2nd approach the person with witnesses (“if he does not listen”) to establish facts. This goes back to a principal in the Old Testament system of jurisprudence that required more than one witness to establish evidence. At this point, the goal is still to convince the person at fault to turn from their sin privately. In obedience to the passage, I brought in a friend in so that there would be multiple witnesses and arranged some interviews. In my situation, I wanted to establish several things:
- I wanted to know if the person claimed to be a “brother” (i.e. Christian)? These verses don’t apply if the person does not call themselves a Christian! Paul deals with that in 1 Corinthians 5 when he tells believers not to even eat with brothers who are continuing in sin, but to continue to eat with those that are not Christians.
- I also wanted to know if their faith was genuine. One of the most basic concepts in Christianity is that you are free from sin! In the specific situation, this sin was a pattern that had continued for many years in the individual’s life. When we say that we are free from sin, what we mean is that we are free from its penalty (i.e. the wrath of God), free from its power (i.e. no longer compelled to obey it), and free from its presence (i.e. there is less sin in our lives the longer we live). During the interview I asked the individual point blank, “If you died and God asked why He should let you into heaven, what would you tell him?” I then took the person to the following passages, which uniformly denounce various sins and state that they are a clear indication that people continually living in them are not part of God’s kingdom. Revelation 21:8, Galatians 5:19-21, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10
- I wanted to know if the allegations were true. This meant listening. And taking notes. And doing additional research. And interviewing other people involved. The point is, when you are brought into a situation and don’t know the facts, it may take work to establish them. Here are several potential outcomes:
- Option 1: You establish the person’s innocence. Great! There may be some ill will towards the person who accused them, but by far this situation is the best.
- Option 2: There is sufficient evidence to establish guilt, but the person is sorry. This is the person who sinned, who knows they sinned, and regrets it. Remember that God’s heart is for restoration and reconciliation. For people in this situation, here are the basic steps to Restoration:
- It is critical for the person who committed the sin to beg the one that was hurt for forgiveness. And it is also equally critical that the person needs to extend that forgiveness. I love how in 2 Corinthians 2:8 Paul begs the church to reaffirm its love for someone who had sinned and been cast out. The idea is that in 1 Corinthians 5, Paul tells them to cast someone out for sinning, and the person repents. Now in 2 Corinthians, he begs the church to accept the person back. It is also no accident that Matthew 18 goes on to discuss the importance of forgiveness.
- Depending on the nature of the sin, and the position of the person involved, it may be necessary step down from leadership positions in the church until the issue is resolved. The reason is that private sins in public positions can do a tremendous amount of damage to God’s reputation! In most cases, the person should probably discuss the situation with the pastor and seek their direction.
- In cases of infidelity, there is a need to reestablish trust. One way is for both spouses to go together to the person who has been cheated with. The person who cheated can tell them it was a mistake, regret it, and ask them to never contact him again. In my case, I was able to arrange this in advance.
- For issues involving marriage, there is timeless instruction in scripture. Men – Pursue Ephesians 5:25-29 relentlessly! Love your wife even when she is hard to love. Women – Pursue Ephesians 5:22-24 relentlessly! Respect the husband even when he does things that are not respectable. A great resource for couples is a book called “Love and Respect” with associated workbooks
- Option 3: But what about the times when there is suspicion, but insufficient evidence? These cases are the most difficult. There can be unresolved broken trust, accused people who did nothing wrong, etc. Innocent until proven guilty is however the basic underlying premise in God’s system of jurisprudence, which is why you must establish facts to declare guilt. In these cases, the person needs to be treated as if they are innocent.
- Option 4: The person is definitely guilty and not at all sorry, (Matt 18:16 “If he refuses to listen to them”). This is the person who would rather continue in their sin then change. They don’t regret their sin. They regret getting caught. Again, God’s heart is for that person’s restoration, so trust and obey God’s plan.
- Vs 17 – 3rd approach the church. When the person refuses to repent, you contact the pastor. (“Tell it to the church”) The idea is that for the church to attempt to convince the person to repent. If they are also unsuccessful in obtaining repentance, then they will discharge the person from the church until a time at which the person does repent. Matthew 18:15-17 “Let him be as a Gentile and a Tax collector”, 1 Cor 5:11-12 “Do not eat with anyone who bears the name brother and sins.” In other words, suspend the relationship until repentance. And long and pray for it to come.
Just one last thing to think about. How many times have you cut someone who is Christian out of your life after they hurt you? Isn’t that what we go straight to? Anger and avoidance? We want to be a policeman, dispensing the ticket. Instead, God wants us to treat the situation like an emergency room, with careful procedures and a goal to heal and restore. And if the person doesn’t claim to be a brother (i.e. Christian) to begin with, none of this applies. Of course they are trapped in sin, they are slaves to it! In those cases, if they are willing to keep us in their lives, we ought maintain a secular relationship when possible in the hopes that it leads to their salvation.
Hike the Good Hike,