Seeking Reconciliation after Sin
A Christ Teaching on Dispute Resolution
We discuss Christ’s teaching on sin, repentance, and forgiveness. He admonishes us to refrain from causing others to sin and to forgive people that sin against us. He talked about sin in terms of things a person may do against other persons, thereby defining principles applicable to dispute resolution.
The teaching focused on individual responsibilities in avoiding sin, seeking forgiveness of a sin committed against another person, and accepting repentance and forgiving a person that has sinned against them [Luke 17:1–4]. The responsibilities include rebuking a person for committing sin against another person and forgiving them if they repent, irrespective of the frequency of occurrence. In this study, we discuss the meaning of causing others to sin (being a channel for temptation to others), rebuking a person that sins against another, seeking forgiveness, and forgiving others. Christ emphasized repentance as necessary for forgiveness. We recall a previous study on the life of Joseph (eleventh son of Jacob) that illustrates the benefits of repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation.
Channel for Temptation
A person is a channel for temptation if their action causes a condition that leads to another person’s fall to temptation. That is, a person’s action causes another person to commit sin. The action could be directed at the second person, a third person, or a non-human object. If the action causes the second person to sin, then the first person has channeled temptation to the second. Christ admonished against such behavior [Luke 17:1–2]: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble.” An incident from the life of Joseph illustrates.
PROSPERITY TO POTIPHAR Joseph was a slave servant in Egypt in the house of Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guard. As we discussed in a previous bible study at This_Link, he was obedient, hard-working, and resourceful. He had the reputation of being attentive to needs, got involved in providing for the needs that he identified, and was successful in his tasks. Potiphar soon became aware of Joseph’s reputation as a child of God that was involved in a wide range of tasks and was successful in every task [Genesis 39:3]. He elevated Joseph to the position of his personal assistant, placed him in charge of his household and everything he owned. Potiphar prospered in everything thereafter. Joseph’s presence in his life brought blessing to his household and business and his wealth grew substantially.
TEMPTATION TO POTIPHAR However, Potiphar’s wife developed an illicit attraction for Joseph but was not able to lure him into having an affair with her. She framed him by lying to her husband that the “Hebrew slave you brought us came to me to make sport of me” [Genesis 39:17]. Potiphar burned with anger toward Joseph and imprisoned him without trial or any opportunity to defend himself. His action was a sin against Joseph that resulted from temptation that came to him through his wife’s action. His wife was a channel for temptation to Potiphar.
Responsibility to Rebuke
We have a responsibility to rebuke a person for sinning against us based on Christ’s teaching: “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them…” [Luke 17:3]. To rebuke effectively, it is necessary to let the person know what they did and why it is a sin. However, the interaction is quite delicate. It is important to be polite and firm to convey care and sincerity. The person will likely have an alternative understanding of the situation, resulting in a potential for the discussion to escalate into a dispute. However, the solution is not to “look the other way” and allow the effect of the sin to linger and maybe grow.
DISPUTE SEPARATES US FROM GOD A lingering dispute not only interferes with interaction among the disputants but also could block their interaction with God. Christ advises us to focus on settling our disputes. To emphasize that a lingering dispute could block interaction with God, he advised that we postpone worshiping and focus on settling personal disputes [Matthew 5:23–24]: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”
REBUKE TO RECONCILE Rebuking or attempting to rebuke brings us face to face with the situation and offers an opportunity to seek reconciliation. As we discuss subsequently in this study, reconciliation requires forgiveness. Further, forgiveness requires repentance that entails each person recognizing what they did wrong, feeling a remorse for doing it, and committing to turn from such behavior to a behavior that is consistent with living in the image of God. Therefore, delicate though it may be, rebuking a person for committing sin against you is an important first step in seeking reconciliation.
Repentance and Forgiveness
Christ admonishes us to forgive a person that sins against us if the person repents and as often as the person sins and repents. The teaching conveys several principles: Repentance is needed for forgiveness, seek forgiveness if you sin against somebody, and be prepared to forgive if someone sins against you. Also, the frequency of occurrence is not important in considering forgiveness of a person that has sinned against you and repented.
REPENTANCE requires a person recognizing that they have done something wrong, i.e., committed an act that they shouldn’t have committed against someone or something. The person feels remorseful in their heart and makes a personal commitment to turn from the behavior (that led to the wrongdoing or sin) to the opposite behavior consistent with living in the image of God. Thereafter, the person communicates the repentance to the other party (e.g., person that was wronged) by acknowledging what he/she did and the change in behavior that he/she has committed to making. Therefore, repentance begins from the heart and is communicated to the wronged party both verbally and in attitude. An expression of repentance that is not heart-felt is deceitful and does not satisfy the requirement for forgiveness.
Seeking Forgiveness from Another Person
To seek forgiveness, approach the person with humility and heart-felt repentance. Focus on your responsibility and repent your contribution to the undesirable occurrence. A wrongdoing often may be a link in an action-reaction sequence that provides each participant an opportunity to justify their action by claiming to have done it in reaction to something that was done to them. Seeking forgiveness requires a willingness to break the action-reaction sequence by the person focusing on the things they did instead of the things they believe were done to them.
INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY Apostle Paul expresses this succinctly in his letter to the Romans: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” [Romans 12:18]. The phrase “if it is possible” means “explore all possibilities” and implies you are likely to find a way that makes it possible. The other phrase “as far as it depends on you” means focus on the aspects that depend on you, the things you control. Leave the other party to handle the things they control. Resolving the aspects that depend on you could spur the other party on to seeking resolution of the aspects that depend on them.
Seeking Forgiveness of Another Person
Christ’s teaching in “…if they repent, forgive them” [Luke 17:3] implies preparing our heart to forgive someone that has sinned against us and providing opportunities for them to repent. Providing the other party opportunities to repent could be delicate, because engineering repentance for another or side-stepping repentance all together to jump to forgiveness and reconciliation may result in a reconciliation that is not well-founded. It is better instead to guide the person to true repentance in order to achieve lasting reconciliation.
JOSEPH RECONCILES WITH BROTHERS We recall Joseph’s reconciliation with his brothers as an excellent example. He achieved lasting reconciliation founded on true forgiveness after guiding his brothers to show their repentance. Joseph, the eleventh son of Jacob, lived at home with his father, ten senior brothers, and a baby brother. The senior brothers hated him immensely, conspired to kill him, but sold him to slavery instead.
As we discussed in a previous bible study at This_Link, he came face to face with them about twenty years later when he was extraordinarily powerful as the highest administrative officer in Egypt, next only to Pharaoh. He recognized them but they did not recognize him. They had counted him dead or permanently lost at the time they sold him to slavery.
GUIDED BROTHERS TO SHOW REPENTANCE He could have retaliated in any way he chose. Instead, he guided them to demonstrate repentance by testing them about their loyalty, extracting information from them about their family in Canaan, making them bring his baby brother Benjamin to Egypt, and tricking them into an agreement to leave Benjamin as a slave in Egypt in punishment for “stealing” Joseph’s divining cup. But Benjamin did not steal the cup. It was planted in his bag by Joseph’s servants as part of Joseph’s investigation of his brothers to query their repentance.
However, instead of leaving Benjamin in Egypt as the agreement demanded, Judah stepped up and offered to be enslaved in Egypt in place of Benjamin. “Now then, please let your servant remain here as my lord’s slave in place of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers” [Genesis 44:33]. At this point, Joseph realized his brothers had repented from the behavior that led them to selling him to slavery to a behavior whereby one of them offered himself as sacrifice to save their brother from slavery.
Fruits of Reconciliation
Joseph forgave his brothers and reconciled with them. As we discussed in a previous bible study at This_Link, the reconciliation cleared the way for his family to relocate to Egypt, where they prospered, multiplied, and grew into the present-day state of Israel. Therefore, the reconciliation set his family on a path to fulfilling God’s promise to their fathers. If Joseph did not reconcile with his brothers, the family would not have been invited to Egypt, they would have suffered full impact of the famine in Canaan, and the course of their history would have been different from what we know today.
Therefore, when Joseph faced a choice between vengeance and forgiveness, little did he know that the problem with his brothers was indeed a major impediment separating them from fulfillment of God’s promise to their fathers. He made the right choice and the impediment was removed. Any dispute could be such an impediment. Choose reconciliation (through repentance and forgiveness) and resume positive interactions to set yourselves on a path to receiving God’s blessings. Reject reconciliation and keep the impediment alive.
Summary of What We Learned
Christ admonishes us to refrain from being a channel for temptation to others, rebuke a person that sins against us and forgive them if they repent, irrespective of frequency of occurrence. Rebuking a person that sins against us poses delicate challenges but is the first step in seeking repentance and forgiveness, thereby resolving a dispute to find meaningful and lasting reconciliation.