How do you react when you are made aware of how you’ve wronged someone?
By Patrick Kansa
In part one, I covered how we can pursue peace, even when faced with disagreement. As my wife and I were in the car discussing the subject one day, we realized that I didn’t address the other side of the story. What should we do when we are in the wrong?
Roadmap to reconciliation
In Matthew 18:15-17, we’re told to go to our brother if we feel that he’s sinned against us. The focus is usually on how to be the one who has the complaint, but how should we handle the situation when we’re the ones being approached as having caused an offense?
It’s when this occurs that we have a wonderful one-on-one opportunity to clear up any misunderstandings before they have a chance to do any further damage. It’s natural that we might feel like we’re on the defensive, as we’re likely caught a little off-guard when we’re approached. This defensive urge is one we need to resist.
It can be difficult to keep the peace; it falls largely to us, the person being approached, to maintain it. By assuming the best in the other person, we will also be able to keep in mind that we’re not being attacked, we’re actually being gently corrected, just as Christ instructed.
We can pick up some additional guidance in 1 John 4:7, “Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” Earlier in this chapter, John instructs us to test things and gives us ways that we can know if someone and their message is truly of God (verses 1-3). If our brother is coming to us in a spirit of love, trying to gently correct our misstep, how can we do anything but react in kind? If everyone involved is humble and seeking to follow God’s will, then we will find additional help to bring the matter to a close. In Matthew 18:20 we’re told, “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”
Listen with humility
The next thing we need to do (after assuming the best in the person coming to us) is to quietly listen and allow them to say everything they have on their mind. That means we need to truly listen! Our natural inclination is to start formulating a point-by-point rebuttal or explanation for our actions. However, if we do that, we may miss some important point of correction and instead end up appearing foolish as it says in Proverbs 18:13: ” He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him.”
This is further elaborated in James 1:19, where we’re instructed to be “swift to hear” and “slow to speak”. The more we listen, the less tempted we will be to interject. As we focus on what’s being said, the less we’ll worry about what our response will be. Starting with the assumption that the other is acting in your best interest, the hope is that you never have to be on guard with the correction that’s coming to you.
After we’ve listened and are continuing in the discussion, we want to explain why we did what we did or said what we said. The other party may indeed be looking for some explanation, but while we may be able to offer that explanation, we should never use it as a method to excuse what we’ve done. While we may not have felt it to be of significance, it obviously is if it caused someone to become offended.
Lessons from a major sin
There may come a time that we need to make an amends for a more serious trespass. It’s in those situations where you and I truly need to see this as an opportunity to overcome whatever shortcoming we have that brought us to this point. We have another way to remember how we should react in these types of situations, in the form of a well-known story from King David’s life.
David’s sin, specifically concerning his murder of Uriah, had displeased God, so He sent Nathan to him. This appears to be a one-on-one conversation, in line with the instruction that Jesus later gives us. David lets Nathan complete his story without interruption—it’s not until Nathan has finished speaking that David pronounces what his judgment is. It’s at that point that he is told “You are the man” (2 Samuel 12:7).
God then asks, through Nathan, why David did what he did (verse 9). God had given him so much up to that point and would have even granted him more if he had asked. However, because he had sinned in this, punishment would befall David and his house. How did David react? He didn’t try to justify his actions, or explain away the matter (verse 13).
David appeared to become immediately repentant when he confessed to the sin. How else would Nathan have been able to say that God had put away the sin and removed the immediate penalty of death that was there?
While this is an extreme example, involving a serious offense, it still illustrates the main components of how we should comport ourselves when we are told we have caused an offense, no matter how minor it may seem. First, David welcomed Nathan in, assuming him to be there for good reason and not to do him harm. Next, he listened to Nathan as he related the story, waiting until Nathan was done to speak on the matter. Then, realizing the seriousness of the offense, David was quick to repent of his actions. With that, he was reconciled to God, and his offense forgiven him.
We must hope not to find ourselves in a situation where we need to recall these steps very often. We must try to remember that when our brother comes to us, we need to assume the best in their action and respectfully listen to their words. We absolutely must not dismiss them in a way that would cause additional offense. By recognizing the hurt that they’ve experienced and what our actions or words have done to them, we are on the path to reconciliation in a peaceable manner.
As our brother mercifully follows Christ’s instruction, we too need to heed His words and make the most of the opportunity being afforded us. If we grab hold of that opening, we too will gain a brother while we both work to maintain peace, following the perfect example set for us by our Elder Brother Jesus Christ.