Last week, we learned some tips on how to respond to personality conflicts in a healthy way. From Hebrews 12, we were all challenged to see to it that no bitter root grows up between each other.
As many of us shared last week, conflict makes us uncomfortable. It causes awkwardness in our relationships and it can tear them apart if we don’t handle that conflict in a healthy way. However, God created us uniquely from one another and purposed conflict to help us to better understand each other.
Conflict handled correctly results in us being closer together and more mature individually. Responding in a healthy way builds our character and enables us to grow. This is how God intends for conflict to end – resolved in togetherness and mutual understanding.
However, not all conflict is good and not all conflict is God intended. So far, we’ve learned about the natural conflict that results from the differences in our personalities, which are God-created.
Today, we’ll learn about how to respond when our conflict is the result of being wronged or sinned against as we continue our series, “Bless This Home.”
Has anyone in your family ever wronged you? If you recall from our first message, the very first family got off to a fairly rocky start. The first sin, first eviction, first set of lies, first murder, etc. Not only have we all been wronged, but we’ve also all wronged others. We have all been sinned against and we all have sinned against others.
Today, we’re dealing with minor offenses. We’ll learn about this at the conclusion of the message, but I want to be sure that this is very clear up front.
If you are in a serious situation where your well being is at risk, please go to the appropriate authorities and get yourself to a safe place as soon as possible. We can help connect you to those resources if your not sure where to go or what to do.
That being said, how do we respond when conflict occurs because someone has wronged us? How can we follow Hebrews 12 and not allow a root of bitterness to grow up in our lives when someone hurts us? How can we guard our hearts when we’ve been cut deep? How can we begin to heal?
First and foremost, we have to turn to the Christian ‘F’ word. Forgive.
This initial step goes against everything that our flesh is telling us to do. You are hurt and you want to hurt them back. You have been stolen from and you want to destroy them. You have been violated and you want to expose their darkness to the world. Our flesh says, “Retaliate, vengeance is yours!” The Holy Spirit says, “Forgive, vengeance is the Lord’s!”
Perhaps the reason we are so resistant to forgive those who sin against us is because we don’t understand what forgiveness truly is. We learned last week that my response is my responsibility. We are accountable to God only for our own lives, we can’t control what others do. Forgiveness is far more about us than it is about those who have sinned against us.
Forgiveness is not ignoring wrongdoing or sweeping it under the rug. Forgiveness actually begins with confessing and admitting the wrong that was done. Forgiveness is then choosing not to retaliate in response. Forgiveness is a choice not to return wrongdoing with more wrongdoing. Two wrongs do not make a right. Being wronged does not give us a pass to act wrongly.
It is possible to forgive someone who wrongs us and to still allow natural consequences of that wrongdoing to take place. If the wrongdoing is serious enough and it becomes necessary, it is appropriate to allow the authorities to do their job and still forgive that person. That is, if our motive for allowing the involvement of the proper authorities is not a form of vengeance or retaliation, but for the good of all involved.
Consider this reality. Though Jesus forgives us of our sins, He still often allows the natural consequences of them to remain. They serve not to punish us or make us pay for our wrongdoing, but as a tool to teach us and to encourage us to truly repent and not to turn back to those sins again.
Consider this, it sometimes requires some serious pain to prevent me from touching that hot stove a second time.
Forgiveness is not an emotional reaction. In fact, our emotions won’t usually change at first. Over time, however, they will fade away as God’s peace replaces the hurt, betrayal, and anger that we feel when someone wrongs us. It’s sort of like a church bell. The emotions don’t stop ringing as soon as we let go through forgiveness, but they will only begin to fade when we let go of that rope and stop pulling it over and over again.
Forgiveness enables us to stop the pain and begin the healing process in our own lives. Unforgiveness has little impact on the person who wronged us, but repeats their wound over and over again in our own life causing a root of bitterness to being growing.
Immediately after Jesus teaches us to pray those words that we often refer to as the Lord’s prayer, He said:
14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
Forgiveness is step one because it is simply what God requires of us.
The next step is an ideal one, but not one that is always possible.
Proverbs 19:11 (NLT)
Sensible people control their temper; they earn respect by overlooking wrongs.
Proverbs 19:11 (NIV/KJV)
…it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.
If we are able to, we can shrug off the offense, overlook it, and move on. As we allow the Holy Spirit to develop our character and mature us, we’ll be able to do this more and more often. However, even the most mature Christian will be unable to do this from time to time. Sometimes God wants us to move on from this step to the next.
The test that I use personally to know whether I can just overlook an offense or not is how I feel when I’m around that person. If I can be around that person and not have my relationship with them affected, then I can let it go and move on.
However, if I’m around that person and I start thinking about how they offended or wronged me and my emotions start getting stirred right back up, then this means that I’m not going to be able to just overlook this one. God may have a good purpose and intent for this being the case, too.
If we can overlook it and let it go, then that’s it. The conflict is resolved and we can go to the last step. All is forgiven and put in the past and we can move forward unhindered by it together. If not, we must move on to the next step.
We learned last week that God has a purpose even in conflict. This continues to be the case this week. Most of us are uncomfortable confronting someone when they’ve wronged us, but it is a healthy thing to do for ourselves and also for others. None of us want to confront those who have wronged us, but all of us should if we cannot overlook it.
Love confronts sin with the purpose of building that person up and helping them to reach their full potential. It does not confront sin to belittle someone or to cause further offense. We are all still learning and growing, we will sin against others and not even realize that we’ve done it. Unless others bring it to our attention, we’ll likely repeat that sin against others over and over again. Love confronts sin to stop this cycle for our own good.
To ensure that this is goal when we confront someone who has sinned against us, Jesus gave us this advice to follow:
15 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.
Aside from Jesus or your spouse, the only other person that you should speak to about when someone sins against you is that person. Most of the time, this is where the conflict is resolved and relationships are reconciled.
16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’
Sometimes for two people to reach a mutual understanding of each other, it requires a third party. When reaching this point of conflict resolution, make sure that you choose 1-2 others who care about the both of you and who can remain neutral and objective. This step shouldn’t be one where we build up a militia against the other.
Unfortunately, people can be cruel and downright wicked; even those who claim to be our brother or sister in Christ. If they were intentionally trying to hurt us or simply refuse to admit any wrongdoing, we go on to the next step.
17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church;
God designed structure in the church to help us to all grow and mature together to better show the world who He is. He gave us the five-fold ministry and elders and deacons in the church to help lead us through challenging situations like this.
If the conflict that you are dealing with isn’t with another Christian or is outside of the context of your church family, look to the leadership structure over the both of you. This could be the Human Resources department at work, the administrative board of your organization, a civil judge or magistrate, or some other form of authority who can take responsibility for addressing the conflict from a neutral perspective.
If the one-on-one conversation fails as well as using a mediator, allow your leadership to try and resolve the conflict. Of course, people are, well, people… Sometimes, the conflict cannot be resolved even here. In those cases:
and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
When we read this, our flesh tells us that this is the green light to retaliate against them. However, consider how Jesus actually treated pagans and tax collectors. That’s how He’s calling us to treat those who sinned against us as well. He reached out to them and gave them opportunities to change. He didn’t mistreat them like the religious people did, He loved them.
So when others wrong us, we first forgive, then either let it go or confront those who sin against us. Finally, we consider our boundaries.
We can’t control other people, but we can manage the access that they have to impact our own lives.
Our lives are a bit like our homes. Some areas of our homes are accessible by anyone, such as our porch. Some areas are accessible to friends and family like our living room or kitchen. Some are limited to just us and our spouse like our bedroom. Some areas are limited to only us like our shower.
Just because someone isn’t welcome to shower with you doesn’t mean that you hate them or don’t like them, it’s just not appropriate for them to have access to that intimate part of your life. You just don’t have that close of a relationship with them. 🙂 I mean, that’s pretty darn close!
People change, circumstances change, relationships change. Only God remains the same yesterday, today, and forever.
When someone wrongs us, it is a good time to consider what degree of access they have in your life. You may need to push that boundary back from the bedroom to the living room or maybe even all the way out to the porch or street. Given time and opportunities to rebuild trust, you can let them back into those areas of your life.
This is a part of what we learned last week that plants and grows a root of bitterness in our lives, not guarding our hearts. Good fences make good neighbors and good boundaries make good relationships.
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.
Of course, setting boundaries needs to be done in an appropriate manner and needs to be communicated to others. We can’t just leave someone empty our fridge while they watch our TV in frustration day after day and then fly off the handle in a fit of rage on them one day. That isn’t fair to them and it isn’t healthy for us. We need to communicate our boundaries and make them clear to others for both of our good.
Let’s say for example that you give your busy teenager a debit card to buy gas and meals, but you start noticing some larger Amazon purchases coming out of your account using that card. That’s stealing and sinning against you. So, let’s apply what we’ve learned so far.
First, we forgive them.
The first time, you may be able to overlook it. If it happens again, you may need to confront them about it and remind them of the purpose for which they have the card and that what they are doing is serious, it’s stealing form you. If it
continues after that confrontation, boundaries may need to be adjusted for the benefit of the both of you.
An appropriate boundary would be to either set a smaller limit on the card or to go back to just giving them a set amount of cash to use. After allowing time to regain trust and prove their repentance, they have the opportunity to earn that right back. There should always be a path of redemption and reconciliation in our relationships.
Maintaining healthy relationships with others requires us to maintain healthy boundaries with them. It’s not good for us to become hermits who demand that everyone stays off of our lawn and it’s equally not good for us to allow anyone and everyone to help themselves to every part of our home.
Jesus had enemies that He had no real relationship with, He taught the crowds of thousands, He lived life together with His twelve disciples and further explained His parables to them, and He was very close to three of His disciples. Those three were invited on several occasions to be with Jesus during some of His most intimate moments such as when He was transfigured and to pray with Him in the garden before His crucifixion.
It’s healthy, not sinful, for us to keep such boundaries in our relationships as well.
When someone wrongs us and refuses to apologize or change, keep your distance from them. Have acquaintances that you say, “Hi.” to in the store. Have a small group of friends that you live life together with. Make sure you have those few people who you share your heart with. Those who battle with you, have permission to correct and rebuke you, cry with you, celebrate victories with you, and share all of life’s other intimate ups and downs with.
If we learn to apply these principles when someone wrongs us or sins against us, our lives will be much more at peace and our relationships will be much healthier. People won’t be able to use us, they won’t be able to manipulate our emotions so easily, and we will mutually be blessed by one another.
Our homes will become a place where people find rest and refuge instead of conflict and strife. God will truly be able to “Bless This Home”!