Questions: We have experienced immense conflict and division within our church family. People in the church want us to reconcile which brings up several interrelated questions, such as:
- How can grievous division occur, when the same Holy Spirit who lives in me, lives in those responsible for accusing and slandering me/my family?
- How does one accurately represent Christian love in the local community, while working to resolve conflict?
- What does reconciliation look like, and is it only possible, when the truth is presented AND accepted by ALL parties?
- Are Christians required to reconcile?
- Yes, all believers have the Holy Spirit residing within them. However, we do not all obey or follow the Holy Spirit in all our actions. We continue to have free-will, and unfortunately, it is sometimes used to say and do things that are contrary to the Lord’s ways. It is definitely harder to handle when a brother or sister is the one who offends us, as opposed to those we are not close with. Yet, we are commanded to forgive regardless of their admission of guilt or continued offense.
The same Holy Spirit that lives in you, lives in other believers; even those that do hurtful things. I’m going to say something that may shock you; but sometimes, the other person is just as hurt as you are, because they received an offense from you or someone else. How can this happen if the fruit of the Spirit is love, peace, joy, kindness, gentleness, self-control, goodness, faithfulness, and forbearance/patience? The issue comes from the other parts of our personhood; our will, emotions, thoughts, and physical being. If our thoughts were completely pure from the point of salvation on, there would be no need for the instruction to take all thoughts captive. See 2 Corinthians 10:5. Therefore, there is precedent that our thoughts and actions can still be negatively influenced by the kingdom of darkness; even though our spirit is secure, since the Holy Spirit resides within us.
Psalms 55:12-14 points out a differing standard of expectation between those we know mean us harm, an enemy, and those who are close as friends and family. Wounds from those that are close to us and are fellow Christians, can cut so much deeper. We expect more, because of the standards God sets and calls His children to. We expect more, because we believe that we deserve loyalty, grace, mercy, and love.
- Unfortunately, many Christians do not act in love toward one another. It is a great blemish on the Bride of Christ (the Church) and harms our witness to the community.
They’ll know we are Christians by our love. Sometimes the love, exhibited between those in a church, more resembles the love present in intense sibling rivalry. Love isn’t an absence of conflict, but rather the ability to resolve conflict well. There is still a powerful testimony to others in coming to a place of resolution, even if the preceding event was messy, loud, and hurtful.
- Let’s look at a verse that is often misconstrued thereby contributing to the confusion around reconciliation. Matthew 5:23-24 (NIV) says:
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”
These verses provide instruction that we are to go to someone we have wronged. Unfortunately, many people twist this concept and feel they must approach the offending party. Read it again. That’s not what the verses say.
If you have something against another person, it can be addressed through forgiveness, without the other party ever having to participate. However, if you have offended someone, disappointed them, cheated them somehow, etc., and you are aware of it (A.K.A. convicted), God instructs us to take responsibility for our choices. In as much as it depends on you, live peaceably with others (Romans 12:18). To the best of your ability, if you have initiated an offense, approach the other person and work to reconcile.
- Are we commanded to reconcile (Matthew 5:23-24), and if so, what does that look like?
There are differing uses of reconcile in Hebrew. There is katallage which is reconciliation in terms of salvation and being reconciled to God through Christ’s atonement. Reconciliation, in these verses in Matthew, however, apply a differing concept. It establishes God’s desire for us to love others with a Christ-like love; even when they offend us; even when it is incredibly hard.
According to Strong’s Concordance, in this section of Matthew, the Greek word used is diallagethi (diallasso) which implies reaching a mutual concession and ending needless hostility. In some cases, you can experience a change of heart, exchange ideology in conversation with a desire to come back together and journey in favor with each other. This would emulate the reconciliation represented by the Greek word kalallasso. In other instances, the only way to move past hostility is to operate in full forgiveness, ceasing to operate in anger, but terminating the relationship because of the inability to reach mutual concession.
In today’s terms, we often define reconciliation as making peace, removing enmity between parties, or to change a position thoroughly. This involves great intentionality by each opposing party. Let’s face it. Both parties think they were right or are justified to maintain their stance. It isn’t as simple as the facade of shaking hands and pretending to “make nice” for the benefit of those around you.
Reconciliation is not equal to restoration. The relationship will never be the same again even if you choose to continue to journey together. It is forever changed because of the event in the past. Trust will have to be re-earned, and new boundaries may necessarily be established.
Can you make peace and remove the discord, without continuing to journey in close relationship? We believe so. Making peace comes from wrestling through the forgiveness process completely, until you are at a place of resolution. You are able to completely let go of the right to be offended and surrender all the prickly emotions that come with that injury.
We are to love our neighbor as ourselves. God establishes His desire and prioritization of peace among believers (Go to your brother or sister) over and above any religious observance (Leave your sacrifice at the altar.) It is also impossible to be completely in harmony with the Father, if there is pride, division, and judgment in our heart towards another.
Making peace and establishing a place of reconciliation, by seeking to live in harmony with others, is a personal heart issue. Are you willing to reconcile? Are you willing, even if you have to admit places you were wrong? Are you willing, even if the parties cannot come to a place of agreement on a particular issue? Are you willing, even if your side of the issue isn’t accurately represented?
To change thoroughly may not mean changing one’s position, but rather being able to shift and see the other person in a different light. We are wise to leave judgment to God, rather than imposing our impressions on another’s perceived motives. Being reconciled to another person is a turning of your heart towards them rather than staying in a defensive position.
We can be reconciled in our heart, by no longer harboring any animosity towards the other, without being restored in relationship. You bear the responsibility for your thoughts and actions. While you are not responsible for the choices of another, you may, unfortunately, be required to endure the consequences of their choices as they impact you.
Each of these is a required action. Forgiveness is active. Seek wise counsel along the way, if needed, but keep working out your faith by operating in obedience to the Father.
Forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same. In the book, Forgiving the Unforgivable, Dr. Stoop says it this way,
Forgiveness is always necessary for there to be reconciliation, but forgiveness does not guarantee there will be reconciliation [to the point of restoration]….it [restoration] requires the genuine participation of the other person (pg.42, underline and brackets added).
Forgiveness is a singular activity. It is something I do within me, and I don’t need the other person to participate in the process for me to forgive. Reconciliation [to the point of restoration] is a bilateral process, requiring the participation of both parties. For there to be genuine reconciliation, I need to forgive and the other person needs to show godly sorrow over what he or she has done. Forgiveness is required of us as believers, but reconciliation [to the extent of restoration] is optional and depends on the attitude of the offender (pp 48-50, brackets added).
So, are we commanded to reconcile? Yes, but not necessarily to the point of full restoration of the relationship. While reconciliation and restoration are used interchangeably, they define different processes.
Unfortunately, many confuse these two concepts as being one and the same. Reconciliation may be limited by the willingness of the other party to engage in the necessary process. On your part, reconciliation may only be able to extend as far as completely forgiving the offense and being willing to be restored in relationship, if the other party also desires. In this arrangement, each party will come with the intent of acknowledging their own faults, take responsibility for choices or words that have caused hurt, and ask for forgiveness from the other, without further defending the initial position taken.
For further discussion on forgiveness, please refer to our book Breaking the Burdensome Yoke:A Discipleship Course in Forgiving and Grieving.
Featured Image Photo Credit: Josue Michel
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