By: Brian Borgman
As a pastor, I spend a good amount of time trying to help people reconcile. The Apostle Paul had the same issues in his day (Phil. 4:2-3). Reconciliation is common and necessary because interpersonal conflict is a reality in a fallen world. We sin against each other, we offend each other, and there can be breaches among God’s people, yes, breaches among those indwelt by the same Spirit and loving the same Lord.
It comes as no surprise that offenses can often be exaggerated, or even made up. An exaggerated offense is one where the offense is real, but overall insignificant. An offense can become exaggerated when we think too highly of ourselves. Made-up offenses are offenses that have no basis in reality. They are not usually maliciously made up, but there is misperception and misinterpretation of words or actions. We are always interpreting and our interpretation is not always accurate. We easily misinterpret. Whether the offense is real, real but exaggerated, or only perceived, the breach is still a breach and it is tragic.
The good news is that when interpersonal conflict occurs it is an opportunity for the Gospel to shine. The conflict provides a platform for Christ to be cherished and displayed. However, Christians can often ignore the Gospel under these circumstances. Dave Harvey in his book, When Sinners Say I Do, talks about the “fog of war.” The fog of war is a reference to the clouded perspective that invades our minds and hearts amid conflict. We become so focused on the conflict or the hurt that our vision is narrowed and we don’t want to see anything else. This is the recipe for bitterness.
The only way interpersonal conflict can become an opportunity for the Gospel is if we can allow the rays of the light of God’s Word to burn off the fog. Here are some ways we can burn off the fog:
When you’re the offended party
If the offense was against us, we need to view the person who sinned against us as sinner in need of God’s grace. Too often we see the offender as an enemy who treated us in a way that we did not deserve. We need to understand, this person is not an enemy, this person is a sinner who sinned against me. But I too am a sinner, who sins and who desperately needs grace. When I know that about myself and know that about the other person, the fog can begin to lift.
As a sinner myself, I need to examine myself, looking to see what log is in my eye (Matt. 7:3-5). I need to check my own heart for pride. Why am I so angry over this offense? Our anger over an offense can be nothing more than our pride, an idol of respect or esteem, that was knocked over. This helps us put the offense in perspective. I am not innocent in the matter. I contributed somehow. My reaction has also been sinful. As I deal with myself first, the sunlight of God’s Word starts to burn off some of the fog.
Next, If I am a recipient of grace then I am under obligation to extend grace (Eph. 4:32). How do I do this? I need to seriously look at the offense. Can it be covered in love? (1 Pet. 4:8). Did I overreact? Have I exaggerated the offense? Is there a chance I misinterpreted the apparent offense? Perhaps I should give the person the benefit of the doubt. If any of these things are true, I can cover it in love. If it was a real offense that was a clear violation of God’s Word, then I need to go to the person in love (Matt. 18:15-17). This is not negotiable. If the offense cannot be covered in love, then I must go in love. The purpose of me going to the person must be reconciliation and repentance. I must be ready not just to confront, but to own up to my own sinfulness in the event. I must realize that if I don’t go when I should go, all I do is set the table for a bitterness banquet in my own heart. Bitterness is simply not an option (Heb. 12:15).
What if the person does not respond the way I think he should? What if she doesn’t own up to every jot and tittle? What if he doesn’t see things exactly the way I do? Again, we must beware of our own pride. We need to be concerned with truth, but we also need to be ready for grace. Over the years I have rarely found that two people see the event in the same way. Part of it is our own sinfulness. But part of it is sometimes just different perspectives, different priorities or different convictions. When we believe the person is trying to deal honestly with us and is not resisting repentance, then we need some latitude on how much agreement is necessary. Agreement is important (Phil. 4:2), but total agreement may not be possible. At some point, I need to value reconciliation over being right in every detail.
I also need to have an attitude of forgiveness, being ready to quickly forgive. Forgiveness is hardly optional (Matt. 6:12, 14; 18:21-35). We should be eager to forgive. Such eagerness is like a breeze that disperses the fog.
When you’re the offender
If we find that we are the offender, real or perceived, what shall we do? There are things we can do to help burn off the fog. We can begin by trying to understand the other person’s complaint. If we are quick to defend ourselves, we are not listening well (Jas. 1:19). I do not think that confessing to sins that we did not commit is helpful because it is not truthful, but we should be willing to accept whatever we did do and keep in mind that we may have done more than our own sinful hearts think we did (Jer. 17:9).
We need to specifically ask for forgiveness and not simply and lamely say, “I apologize” or “I am sorry.” Confession, asking for forgiveness and repentance are vital for reconciliation.
What if there is an impasse?
It is rare for two people to come together who want to honor Christ through reconciliation not to reconcile. It is rare for two people who have humbled themselves before God and each other not to come to peace. But on occasion, there may be an impasse. If so, can the other person and I agree to disagree, but still be reconciled? Can I say, ‘I understand that you sincerely do not see it the way I see it, and before God, I accept that and want to move on’? If the other person and I cannot come to that kind of gracious conclusion, then it may be wise to seek a mediator, a wise, mature, godly person. But be forewarned, inviting that person in means that it may not go the way you think it should go (Prov. 18:17). That person may see things you have been blind to and you must be willing to submit to their counsel.
Brothers and sisters, we have been saved by the Prince of Peace through the Gospel of Peace. We are called to live in peace with each other. Let’s not allow the fog of war to overshadow the Gospel of peace.