As we were growing up as kids, there were plenty of experiences that we had to wait to encounter. Whether it was walking, talking, crossing the street on our own, growth spurts, WHATEVER! – at any given stage or age there was inevitably something you and I were waiting to experience. Well, except one thing… There was something that none of us have ever needed to wait for. Actually, it came upon us before we even knew what hit us. Before permits, puberty, and even before potty training, you and I have both have experienced it: offense.
Though it began in childhood, it didn’t stop there. The reality is that you and I still run the risk of this painful experience every time we venture to talk to another human being. Whether you decide to share a cup of coffee with a person, or the rest of your life with a person, with your interaction comes the potential for you to be hurt or irritated – it’s life.
As a child experiencing offense, I was taught the “Matthew 18 Routine.” Matthew 18:15-20 is the classic text on dealing with offense and I’ve read it many times. To summarize, if someone offends you, your first step needs to be having a conversation “between you and him alone,” not with everyone else, including your 257 Facebook friends. This is pretty basic. However, during my latest reading the following phrase stood out to me: “If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” This is the purpose of the initial conversation: to gain your brother.
To have gained something implies that something was lost. Offense causes something to be lost between two brothers. With it comes the potential for animosity to replace affection, or for alienation to replace closeness; this is a big loss – especially between Christians brothers and sisters who have both experienced the exchange of alienation for adoption through Jesus Christ. So, the point of having a Matthew 18 conversation with someone is not “to get it off of your chest,” or to vent your anger. While it may initially feel cathartic, approaching such a conversation with these motives will actually self-destruct the ultimate purpose: to regain that which was lost.
This is an unfortunate result and one that too many of us are probably familiar with. Perhaps the offending brother doesn’t know his offense. Perhaps he does, and simply needs to be confronted and made aware of the results of his actions. Whatever the situation, we should follow the heart of Matthew 18 here and make our primary purpose reconciliation. Let’s approach our conversations prayerfully, with grace and self-control, and fully aware of what Christ has done to unite us in Him. Then let’s keep our eyes on the goal: reconciliation.