By Steven Chan
1. Although this subject matter has been discussed many times during our Bible Classes, some brethren are still confused on what the Bible says on this matter. It is the purpose of this article to outline what the Bible expects us to do when a brother offended us.
2. It is God’s Will that brethren dwell together in love, peace and harmony.
a. Psa 133:1: “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!”
b. 1 John 3:10-12: “In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother. 11 For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another, 12 not as Cain who was of the wicked one and murdered his brother”. John 13:34-35: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
c. Rom 14:19, 21: “Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another… It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak.”
d. 1 Cor 1:10: “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.”
3. What happens if a brother offended you?
a. It is not difficult to offend another. James 3:2: “For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.”(KJV)
b. But not all offenses are sinful. The Pharisees were offended by what Jesus said: “Then His disciples came and said to Him, “Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” (Matt 15:12). Paul asked: “Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth?” Neither Jesus nor Paul committed sin in speaking the truth which offended their audience.
c. Some actions which are not sinful in themselves, may be sinful if they cause some brethren to stumble in their faith: Rom 14:15-16,21: “ if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died. 16 Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil… It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak.”
d. Since none of us are perfect and may offend others by what we say or do, we ought to “bear with one another”, “and “forgive one another just as God has forgiven us”. Eph 4:1-2: “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, 2 with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, 3 endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Eph 4:31-32: “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. 32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.”
When the Jews stoned Stephen for offending them by telling them the truth, Stephen prayed: “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.”(Acts 7:60) What they did to him was a “sin” but Stephen asked God not to charge them with that sin.
But the Bible teaches that one needs to repent in order to receive forgiveness from God (Luke 13:3; Acts 2:38). While Stephen asked God not to lay this charge against the Jews who had stoned him, the latter may only receive God’s forgiveness of their sins if they repent but that is a matter between them and God (when they are judged by God – Rom 14:10-13; 1 Cor 4:5; James 4:11-12).
e. In the event that one is offended to such an extent that it has affected one’s relationship with the offending brother, then Jesus said in Matt 18:15-17: “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’17 And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.”
It is often the case that the one who offended another, may not be aware that he had offended the other person. So, it is only logical that the offended person “go and tell him his fault” but only with him “alone”. There is no need to blow this matter out of proportion or to try to get “support” or “sympathy” from others before one has spoken to the offender “alone”.
If one has not gone to speak to the person alone about his “fault” or “wrong done to you” and instead go on your life “sulking” and being “bitter” towards that offending brother then that would not be appropriate conduct.
Is one obligated to always go and speak to the brother about his fault committed against him? If one is able to “bear” with it and be able to “forgive” the other person (and not allow that fault or offense to cause you to be estranged from him) then just like Stephen, one may bear with it and pray for God not to lay the charge against him.
But if the one who is offended feels the need to remove that “fault” because it is affecting one’s relationship with the offender, then one should “go and tell him his fault alone” so that “reconciliation” may be achieved.
f. If one is aware that a brother or sister has been offended by one’s action such that one’s relationship is somewhat estranged (as implied by the need for reconciliation), then Jesus said in Matt 5:23-24: “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
Since one is aware that one’s offence has caused a rift in the relationship then it is important to take the necessary action to seek reconciliation because God desires that brethren dwell together in love, unity and peace (Heb 13:1; Eph 4:1-3; Rom 14:17)
Should the brother who was offended be obligated to forgive the offender if the latter sought forgiveness from him? Jesus answered in Luke 17:3-4: “Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. 4 And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.”
If the brother repents, it is obligatory that one forgives him.
4. Some have observed thus: it seems that the offended is always expected to “forgive” the offender but the offender is not required to “repent and ask for forgiveness”. Is this appropriate?
The first part is true as shown in the above discussion as per the example of Jesus on the cross (“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” Luke 23:34) and Stephen in Acts 7:60, and also from the exhortation of Paul in Eph 4:1-3; 31-32.
As regards the offender, it is clear from the above discussion that the offender needs to “repent” if he is made aware of his “fault” as per Matt 18:15-17. If the offender refuses to repent of his sin/offence/fault in spite of effort by brethren then the church will need to be informed and the necessary disciplinary action taken so that the offending brother repents and be forgiven by God.
It is important to highlight that the discussion above applies to a brother who commits a “personal offence” against another.
5. If a brother sinned in persisting to teach erroneous doctrines or being factious or divisive or, in continuing to live a sinful or disorderly life, then the Bible clearly teaches that brethren are not in a position to “forgive” such actions until and unless the “brother in error” repents as shown in:-
a. The one who goes onward and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ (2 John 9-11)
b. The factious or divisive brother (Rom 16:17; Titus 3:10-11)
c. The brother who led an immoral or unrighteous life by having his father’s wife (1 Cor 5:1-13; 2 Tim 3:1-5)
d. The brother who walks disorderly by refusing to work (2 Thess 3:6-15)
This is because such actions are not “personal offences” committed against brethren but are transgressions directly against God and His teachings. Such brethrenwho turned away from the truth, need to be turned back from continuing in their sinful way: “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted” (Gal 6:1). “Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, 20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.” (James 5:19-20)
Hopefully the above clarifies the subject matter.