Dealing with an Offence
Someone said: “If you think you’ve found the perfect church, don’t join it; because you’d spoil it!” Their meaning is perhaps obvious. In any collection of human beings there will be a multiplicity of faults and shortcomings. As we grow older we learn to strive personally for the best, but accept less than that in others. However, sometimes people will do wrong things that simply should not be ignored, especially when the offender is part of the church and the offence brings disrepute.
Some proposed steps, based on Bible statements, is given here. A significant principle is to strive for the wrongdoer to realize what they have done, cease doing it, confess their fault and be restored to the right path. In all this, we should aim to address the problem as directly as possible, involving only the people that need to be involved. The outcome can then be very positive.
Biblical steps to take:
- The sin must be acknowledged for what it is, not minimized or brushed under the carpet (1 Cor.5:2,6). There should be complete fairness and no favouritism (Deut.1:17; Mark 12:14).
- The offender who realizes his/her sin must confess it to anyone directly affected and to God, and ask for forgiveness (Matt.5:23,24; 1 Jn 1:9; James 5:16).
- The offender must not continue to practice the sin; repentance includes acknowledgment of the sin and cessation of it, turning from it (1 Cor.5:11; Gal.5:21; Col.3:8,9; Matt.3:8)
- The offender must also accept any criminal penalty the law imposes (Rom.13:4; 1 Pet.2:13-20). Also, a person’s trustworthiness may be damaged by sins they commit, and this can have a long term impact on friendships and service for the Lord (Micah 7:5; 1 Tim.3:10,11)
- The person offended (sinned against) should ensure the sinner acknowledges what sin he/she has committed, with a view to hearing an admission of guilt from them (Matt.18:15). If the offender refuses to acknowledge the sin, more people should be involved until if necessary the whole church acts to judge the offender (Matt.18:16-17). The objective is to enable forgiveness of the acknowledged sin, so that all parties can be cleansed by God (1 Jn 1:7-10).
- If the offender does not acknowledge the sin, the person offended should pray that God will bring them to repentance (2 Tim.2:24-26).
- It is sinfully wrong to bear grudges (Lev.19:18; Mark 11:25; Ephesians 4:31; James 5:9)
- Forgiveness from God requires us to forgive those who sin against us (Matt.6:14,15; Matt.5:7; Luke 6:36-38). Even if the sin against us is repeated many times over, forgiveness must be repeatedly granted (Matt.18:21,22). Failure to forgive is a sin in itself, and has serious consequences.
- Forgiveness must not be just in word, but from the heart (Matt.18:35; Eph.4:32). If we fail to forgive, we expose ourselves to God not forgiving us and not cleansing us.
- If we tolerate sin (including the sin of failure to forgive) the church is significantly affected (1 Cor.5:6-8).
For the sake of the people directly affected, and the churches they are part of, there should be no ongoing sin. A person (or church) failing to forgive a repentant sinner will suffer from the ongoing refusal of God to forgive them. Even non-Christian medical professionals, who do not fully apply the Scriptures, declare that holding grudges results in ongoing adverse effects, e.g. this WebMD article
We should appeal to those we love who are having difficulty in forgiving a repentant sinner to open themselves to God’s mercy and to unburden themselves to Him; forgive the repentant person and if there are still hard thoughts turn them over to God to deal with justly. Even in cases where the hurt is too deep for other people to understand, if we were to continue to try to punish the repentant sinner, we are ourselves defying God instead of letting Him be the absolutely just avenger (Rom.12:19).
We should not assume that everyone is aware of the above scriptural requirements. It is better to simply share the 10 Bible-based steps with whoever needs to know, and ask if they accept them or if they think there are other Scriptures that apply to their specific situation. Insults must be avoided at all costs, and there should be no attempt to make it a personal issue, lining supporters up on opposing sides based on personalities!