One of the hardest things we have to learn is how to deal with others who have offended us, while doing it with love and self-control. If you’re a parent, you know this quite well. And no one does this perfectly, so we all have some growth in this area. Can an offense be overlooked or does it need to be dealt with? The world calls this emotional intelligence, but leaves out the spiritual element and our need for the gospel.
Finger pointing and the blame game started right after the fall and taking up an offense ensued. Enmity and jealousy were introduced and you know the rest of the story…
Let Scripture Guides Us
Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends (Proverbs 17:9).
Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense (Proverbs 19:11).
Do not take to heart all the things that people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. Your heart knows that many times you yourself have cursed others (Ecclesiastes 7:21–22).
Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling (1 Peter 4:8-9).
And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them (Luke 6:31).
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).
Is It Really Something To Be Offended About?
Is it a potato? A what? Yes, a potato. In our family, believe it or not, there was once an argument over a baked potato among two of our children. Heels dug in, neither side would let it go, and tempers flared. After all calmed down it was rather silly and they knew it, but in the heat of the moment sinful hearts were revealed. We now have a saying when a minor offense comes up. Are you making this a potato?
Sometimes we like to argue and fight over insignificant things because it’s in our sin nature to take up an offense, point fingers, and insist on a satisfactory outcome in the courtroom of our own justice.
Consider these verses:
If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord” (Romans 12:18-19).
See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone (1 Thessalonians 5:15).
The next time there’s a potato in your family, point it out, talk about how it needs to be overlooked, and explain that love covers a multitude of sins. Explain how we should be gracious and merciful, and how it relates to the gospel…”but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Let’s help train one another to overlook the offense because we live in a broken world where offenses come frequently. Age and spiritual maturity help, but some situations are much more difficult than others. Sometimes it requires dealing with it.
How Would You Handle These Two Examples?
A family member isn’t coming home for Christmas this year, they’re going on vacation instead. This breaks a longstanding family tradition and now other family members aren’t coming either. You can sense the tension.
A friend at work applied for the same managerial position you did after you told them about it. You feel you’re more qualified and taken advantage of. They received and accepted the offer and now you work for them.
When It Can’t Be Overlooked
The rule of thumb is what love can’t cover, it has to be dealt with. Overlooking an offense in a loving self-controlled way is healthy, but conflict avoidance, with the appearance of overlooking, isn’t healthy.
Avoiding conflict often means sweeping the dust under the rug, letting it accumulate, and then all the mess comes out later. I’m not talking about taking time to calm down, or needing some space. I’m also not talking about separation because of safety from an abusive situation. Sometimes temporary separation is necessary. I’m talking about avoiding someone because you don’t want to deal with an offense that’s eating at you.
If love can’t cover it, meaning you can’t forgive and let it go because it’s bothering you so badly, or because the offense was so sinful, that’s when you have to deal with it. The rules are clear, we’re to go directly to the person and have the conversation about the offense to try and resolve the matter.
Verses 15-20 provide the guidelines for dealing with someone who has sinned against us and the aim is to confront gently and attempt to restore the relationship. One practical way to work through an offense is to explain how the offense makes us feel versus attacking someone for what they did or didn’t do. Meaning, telling the person when you did X, I felt Y and it really bothered me is a better approach than letting them have it with a verbal barrage for what they did to you and making sure they know how wrong it was. Explaining to them that you want to work through things because you care about the relationship also goes a long way toward mending it.
This may take a lot of work and self-control, but it’s a loving step towards forgiveness and reconciliation versus attacking or simply retreating into an entrenched position of “you’re the worst.” Telling someone how you feel shows vulnerability and opens the door of communication, attacking someone slams the door and often creates more conflict, and entrenching into our position creates a stalemate. Remember, if possible, try to live peaceably with others…it takes the willingness of the other person to work through things fully. Sadly, it may not be possible.
Therefore, serious offenses and stubbornness of heart may require others to be engaged. This is where seeking wise counsel and bringing one or more into the mix helps. Each step of the way the circle is enlarged, but the aim is to keep it as small as possible.
Outside the church, this may have to be dealt with within the family circle, HR department, or governing authorities. Within the church, this process is known as church discipline. The last step is few and far between, but the first step is practiced all the time in one on one conversations and no one else is even aware. The entire church is rarely involved. Yet God knows our stubborn hearts and He provides this process to help confront serious offenses in a Biblical, God honoring and loving way.
Growth And Hope
Whether it’s a potato or a more serious issue, we find forgiveness, hope, peace, and comfort in the gospel. Relationship difficulties sprout opportunities to trust God more, to grow in our love for God and others, and to grow in our understanding of how we should forgive because we’ve been forgiven.
Be encouraged, Revelation 21 tells us all will be made right. One day the brokenness we experience will end, the relationships between God and His people will be fully restored, we won’t offend or be offended, justice will prevail, and there will be joy and peace forevermore.