Reconciling a Broken Relationship
Blaine Robison, M.A.
Published 10 September 2007; Revised 29 October 2015
Sources: Unless otherwise indicated Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (1995 Updated edition). Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions.
Terminology: In order to emphasize the Hebraic nature of Scripture I use the terms Tanakh (Old Testament), Besekh (New Testament), Yeshua (Jesus) and Messiah (Christ).
Accept Your Responsibility
Have you been hurt? offended? wronged? Maybe it was a friend, a mate, a relative or someone in the congregation. There are two typical ways to respond. You can RUN. Avoid contact. Pretend you weren't hurt. Deny that it happened. Break off the relationship. Move away. And, all the while, simmer with resentment. Or, you can seek REVENGE. Fight. Get even. Tit for tat. Sue 'em. Pay back double.
While these ways are frequently followed, they do not bring resolution of the wrong nor peace of mind. Running away or taking revenge only increases anger and hatred, which in turn keeps you a victim. Yeshua (Jesus) our Messiah taught His disciples a third way. Seek to make peace and RECONCILE. Many Scriptures emphasize this call to peacemaking:
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." (Matt 5:9)
"So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another." (Rom 14:19)
"God has called us to peace." (1Cor 7:15)
"And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace." (Jas 3:18)
Will you obey your Lord and take responsibility for your relationship problem?
Boil Down the Problem
"Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you." (Matt 5:23)
"If your brother sins against you..." (Matt 18:15 ESV)
Yeshua spoke to both sides of a conflict. In the Sermon on the Mount he addresses a situation of someone getting ready to offer a sacrifice and remembers that he has unfinished business with another person. He has not fulfilled an obligation. Maybe it's a broken agreement or an unfulfilled promise. Ask yourself, "Would the other party claim I've done something wrong? What have I done to start a fight or keep the fight going?"
In the second passage Yeshua describes a situation where the disciple has been wronged. He said (see also Luke 17:3), "If your brother sins against you." Consider this question - "Why am I angry or resentful about this offense?" (Psalm 4:4) Is it because the offender did something truly wrong or was it simply that you didn't get your way? If the person did not actually do anything morally wrong, then you need to release your anger to God and overlook the matter (Prov 17:9; 19:11).
It is also important to evaluate whether there were any expectations the other party had of you or that you may have had of the offender that were not fulfilled. Consider what basic value or need was violated. It's normal to desire love, security, respect and fair play from others. Which of these needs were not met? What would your life and relationship have been like if the offense had not occurred?
Avoid blaming the other party for your feelings. No one can make you angry, anxious, upset, or disappointed. Feelings result from how you choose to think about the offense. The other person is responsible for his actions, not for your attitude.
Confess Your Offense
"Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent." (Matt 5:23-26)
Yeshua commands the disciple to go to the one he has wronged to make amends. Relationships with others are just as important as our relationship with God. Thus, resolving differences between brothers and reconciling broken relationship is far more important than any religious duty. Yeshua commands that the disciple make a sincere effort to be well disposed toward or to make friends with the adversary. Seek the opponent’s favor in order to prevent the dispute from being taken to court.
The confession needs to be clear and free of any blame. In other words, saying "I was wrong, but so were you" will not facilitate reconciliation. Confession should be a sincere effort to clear your conscience.
Confront the Offender
"If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother." Matthew 18:15 ESV
Yeshua next emphasized a significant factor for resolving complaints against another person. GO! If you've been wronged, don't seek revenge or simmer with resentment. GO! To confront is not to put down, criticize, vent your anger or use any other negative communication tactic. “Tell him his fault” means to present a reasoned, logical discussion of the facts about what the offender has done. Avoid stating your assumptions about the offender's feelings or motives as if they were facts. A tactful confrontation demonstrates that you value the goal of winning over your brother and a factual confrontation demonstrates that you value the truth.
Confronting should be done in private before involving others. This is Yeshua's command, not a suggestion. Engaging in gossip, sharing your "concern" in a prayer meeting or even "telling the truth" to your friends in order to gain allies, will likely damage any chances of reconciliation. You may seek the advice of a pastor or counselor in private on how to do the confronting, as long as you know that this conversation will be kept confidential.
Don't avoid confronting or be deceived into thinking that time alone will heal the hurt. Time never restored a relationship. A basic law of nature says that things in motion tend to stay in motion. The longer you put off confronting the less likely reconciliation will occur. Don't cheat yourself out of the potential of reconciliation.
Another problem with avoidance is that it may suggest condoning or approving the wrong. The Lord cautions us in Leviticus 19:17, "You may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him.”
Of course, it is possible that the other party may have a complaint against you. Before going, examine yourself and evaluate whether you share any of the blame for the broken relationship (Psalm 26:2). Consider the preceding section on Confession.
Dare to Forgive
The purpose of biblical confronting is to enable forgiveness, perhaps the most difficult step to achieve in the process of reconciliation. In Luke 17:3 Yeshua insists, "If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.” This principle presumes that one should not go to confront the offender without being ready to forgive. What would you do if the offender gives you a hearing, is actually convicted by your words, admits his wrong and asks your pardon?
What is the nature of forgiveness? When God forgives, the sin is actually taken away. His forgiveness cancels the debt of sin, lifts the guilt burden and restores the relationship. Thus, forgiveness is an act, not a feeling. God's forgiveness shows the way we are to forgive others.
What if I don't want to forgive? Without confronting and being ready to forgive the injustice of the wrong remains and there will be the temptation for continual mental reenactment of the hurt. Reminding oneself of the wrong can create a bitter spirit, which, in turn, can produce barriers in other relationships. Prolonged bitterness and resentment can also adversely affect one's health. Most important of all one's spiritual health can be damaged. The Lord is clear that forgiveness is a duty, the avoidance of which brings spiritual consequences (Matt 6:12; 18:32-35).
Doesn't trust come before forgiveness? Forgiveness must be granted upon a mere statement of repentance. The wrongdoer's performance after repentance cannot be a condition to granting forgiveness when it is requested. After all, God forgives us when we confess even though He has foreknowledge of our future failures.
What if the offender doesn't repent? Do not pronounce forgiveness to the offender before he admits the wrong and asks for pardon. You should release all anger and bitterness against the offender (Mark 11:25), but you should verbally grant forgiveness only after the offender professes repentance. Remember that although God is always willing to forgive, the condition is, “If we confess our sins He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins" (1Jn 1:9).
What if I can't forget? Contrary to popular myth, forgiveness doesn't mean forgetting. Forgiving does not lead to amnesia. Instead forgiveness is choosing not to remember the hurt. In other words, forgiveness is relating to the offender as though the wrong had never occurred and refraining from reminding the offender of the wrong that was forgiven. You may be tempted with the memory, but remind the tempter of the completed forgiveness and pray for God's blessing on the offender.
How many times must I forgive? If the offending person repeats the offense you must continue to forgive again and again, as many times as the offender repents and asks forgiveness.
What if the other party is not a believer? Disciples of Yeshua should always be initiators of reconciliation. Your witness could lead the non-believer to Yeshua and His salvation. When a believer has a dispute with a non-believer, he must follow the example of Yeshua. In His suffering Yeshua did not resort to deceit, insults, threats or retaliation (1Pet 2:21-23).
What do I do if these steps don't work? These steps should be followed not because they might work, but because our Lord has instructed us to follow His example. You are not responsible for someone else's unwillingness to respond. Your only responsibility is to remove barriers to reconciliation that you have control over, such as your attitudes and actions. In the end a disciple of Yeshua must trust His Heavenly Father to work justice for him, just as Yeshua “kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1Pet 2:23).
Copyright © 2004, 2011-2015 by Blaine Robison.