Mark D. Roberts

Mark D. Roberts


What To Do When You Sin Against Someone

posted by Mark D. Roberts

So far in this series we’ve focused on the main question: What should you do if somebody sins against you? The answer, in a nutshell: Go to that person. Even though you’re the wronged party, you should initiate reconciliation, according to Jesus. This runs contrary to the popular wisdom that says, “Look, I’m the victim here. I’m not going to anybody. If so-and-so will come to me, great. But otherwise I’m not budging.” Though this sounds reasonable, it’s incompatible with Jesus’ teaching. Even and especially when you’re the victim, it’s your job to get the reconciling ball rolling.

But what if you’re on the sinning side of the equation? Or what if someone else believes that you’ve sinned against him or her, even if you haven’t? What should you do if you know that someone in your Christian community has a bone to pick with you?

Again, common wisdom would tend to say, “Look, if somebody has a problem with me, then that person should seek me out.” This can even sound noble, “I’d be willing to meet with anyone who has a problem with me, but I’m not going to initiate if that person won’t do it.” Given what Jesus has said about the wronged party going to the offender, it’s clear that responsibility lies with the victim for initiating reconciliation. But does this mean the offender is off the hook? Hardly, according to Jesus.

In a passage from the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said this:

So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. (Matt 5:23-24)

This is a surprising text for two reasons. First, it puts the burden of reconciliation on the offender (or one perceived to be the offender). If I have sinned against somebody and know that person is angry with me, it is my responsibility to initiate reconciliation. “But wait,” you might object, “I thought it was the victim’s responsibility!” Yes, indeed it is. In fact it is the responsibility of both parties to seek to mend the relationship. Neither one is free to wait for the other. Thus whether you have been wronged by someone or you’re the one who did the wronging, Jesus tells you to reach out to the other party. Reconciliation is so important that it’s something both parties are responsible to get started. (Photo: A famous moment of forgiveness. In May 1981 Mehmet Ali Agca shot Pope John Paul II in an attempt to kill him. The attempt failed, though the Pope was severely injured. Even so, he asked Catholics to forgive Agca, explaining that he had done so himself. Two years later John Paul II met with Agca, offering his forgiveness personally.)

pope-agca-5.jpg

The second surprise in Matthew 5:23-24 is Jesus’ clear statement of priorities. Reconciliation with a brother or sister takes precedence even over worship. This is truly astounding. It is also one of the most frequently disobeyed commands in all of Scripture. I know Christians who, for years and years, have come faithfully to worship while failing to mend broken relationships with fellow Christians. They think, no doubt, that their relationship with God is what really matters, and that everything else is secondary. But Jesus, in a shocking passage, says that we should seek reconciliation with brother of sister even before offering our gift of worship to God.

Several years ago, my church was celebrating communion. I had finished my part as the officiant and was sitting in a front pew. A man in the church came up to me and asked to speak with me privately. I took him aside and listened as he said, “I need to confess to you that I have had lots of resentment towards you in the past. I now realize that it’s mostly my own issue. I felt snubbed by you in a couple of instances where you could have been more attentive to me. I’ve harbored this for years. But I realize I need to confess this to you now. Will you please forgive me?” He was attempting to apply the logic of Matthew 5:23-24 in a new situation.

I was stunned. To be honest, my gut reaction was to be defensive: “What do you mean I snubbed you? When did this happen? Why didn’t you tell me years ago? etc. etc.” But, by God’s grace, I was able to hear what this man was saying to me and feel his heart in the matter. I offered sincere forgiveness and suggested that sometime later we might talk it through. We prayed for a moment and then he went to receive communion.

As I thought about what happened, I realized that this man had been exceedingly faithful to the intentions of Jesus. He sensed, rightly, that the breach in our relationship – for which he took most of the blame – was something that needed to be mended even before he went to the Lord’s Table. It also impressed me that what this man did was very rare and very gutsy. We’re just not inclined to do this sort of thing.

Please understand that I’m NOT suggesting you go up to your pastor in the middle of communion next Sunday in order to work our your difficulties. In most cases, another time would be more appropriate. But if you are harboring negative feelings toward your pastor – or anyone else in your church – you should initiate reconciliation PDQ.

A common objection to what I’m suggesting here goes like this: “But wait a minute. What you’re talking about would take a lot of time. Are you actually suggesting that we need to seek reconciliation with everyone in the church against whom we have some negative feeling, or who has wronged us, or whom we have wronged? There isn’t enough time in the day for this! It’s so impractical.” Well, yes, this is what I’m suggesting. And, yes, it may take a substantial investment of time if you haven’t been tending to these things for a while. But the guidance I’m giving isn’t mine; it comes from Jesus himself. And if Jesus says this is what you should do, then this is what you should do.

If you make the effort to reconcile, it will take time. But, in most cases, the results will be well worth that effort. Both you and your church will be stronger and healthier. Both you and the church will be more resilient to the kind of division that can ruin both individuals and churches.

I did indeed end up talking at length with man who needed my forgiveness before communion. And, as it turned out, I did need to confess that I had wronged him in a couple of ways. My offenses weren’t great, and he was right that much of the hurt he had fabricated in his own heart. But, in the end, we were both able to confess, to apologize, and to forgive. The result was a much deeper friendship in Christ. In fact, because we shared some difficult and tender moments together, our relationship is both stronger and dearer today than it was before. A few years later when we faced considerable conflict in our relationship, we had a solid foundation upon which to build a bridge of understanding. To this day, I value the friendship I have with this brother in Christ. And he, I believe, would say the same about me.

Before I wrap up this series, I want to reflect a bit further on how the teaching of Jesus might be lived out in today’s world, especially given the extent to which our lives are permeated by electronic communication devices. More next time. 



  • Eunice

    Oh! I am guilty of not reconciling the person I am resentment since last night. I am consciously know the truth in dealing when such someone sin against me that I have to reconciled, yet, my heart was hardened not talk with this person that I am angry at and justified my reasons not to talk to her! Well, the truth I don’t like to reconciles with her because, she want to control me and not sensitive enough to listen to me. She keep repeating issues and I am tired of it. This morning she called me by phone not to reconcile but different issues and I didn’t answer her back until now. I will contemplate this message again until my heart will be soften.
    Learning God’s grace and humility….
    Eunice

  • Gary

    Jesus teahces to exchang grace for grace. Follow me, walk as I walk, pick up that cross and continue. Sin is of the law and it was the law tat put Jesus on a cross for blaspheme. If we break a law and another is offended, as Jesus broke the law and was accused. Jesus did a wrong against thei law that said, you cant be son of God that would make you equal with Him. It isnt that Jesus was wrong in his statements, it is that he was wrong in the eyes of the law for that particular. In Christ there is no sin at all, it is outside Christ that one is a sinner, it is Christ in YOU who is without sin and Christ simply means to be anointed of Gods Spirit, the anointed one.
    It is the law that one is a sinner for if Christ be in you, it is ipossible to be in sin. 1 John 3:5-9.

  • sheila d.

    A friend or should I say a so called friend and I worked at the same place for a few months and I had to file a complaint against one of the people that I was working under for sexual harassment which I tried to keep from; anyway I was transferred from the post I was working from to another and when I got there the person who I thought was my friend asked me what happened so I told her. When personnel called her to ask her if I had told her what happen she replied no. I had to go before the board to tell my side of the story and I told it the same way it was written on the grievance months before. Well the person that I thought was my friend stopped talking to me and when I would see her she stopped speaking and all. To make a long story short I started to seek the Lord and one day I went to the Post Office and while I was on my way there I could hear the voice of the Lord telling me to ask this girl for forgiveness and I found myself saying “why do I have to ask for forgiveness she wronged me I didn’t her. She was nowhere around and as I was leaving the Post Office “who showed up? It was the person that God had revealed to me to ask for forgiveness while I was trying to debate. Well some years later I run across this article and it let me know the importance of asking for forgiveness and to help me to realize why Jesus died on the cross and to let me know that I am not weak for asking for forgiveness for blessed to know the Word and to realize that as long as I live there will be weak moments when we all will sin but to ask for forgiveness is my strength in the Lord.

  • Suzito

    “But if you are harboring negative feelings toward your pastor – or anyone else in your church – you should initiate reconciliation”
    That is a tricky statement in that feelings are a bad thing to base anything on, they can be misleading or maybe someone just rubs you the wrong way. While forgiveness and seeking forgiveness is a decision of the will, not to be driven by the emotions. I suppose if you have a lot of negative “feelings” you should explore the source, maybe it is as simple as you are the one that needs the attitude adjustment that can be handled with earnest prayer and maybe even fasting. Then if you are lead to discuss the matter with the other party then by all means proceed.

  • Barbara H

    I am in a very bad place right now because I got involved in a relationship with a man who was unhappy in his marriage, and his honesty in confessing our relationship and telling her he wanted to be with me caused his wife to separate from him for several months. Last week I spent a week at his home while she was living in separation from him in another state. During that time, he and I attended church together, and the following evening, we watched a movie, the last of 3 he had gotten from the library for us to watch while I was there. It turned out to be the movie, “Fireproof,” about a couple who were having marital problems and considering divorce, who wound up being reconciled through the power of prayer and the Lord’s help. Both of us were emotionally affected by the movie, and we prayed together and then decided it was best for him to offer to attempt reconciliation with his wife and completely confess the intimacy of the relationship he and I had shared for the past several months. Three days ago, he sent me an email saying he had confessed everything to her, and she still was willing to go to marital counseling in an attempt to reconcile their marriage. He said he would not contact me again and requested I not call or email him. I am heartbroken, but I know in my heart of hearts we have done the right thing in this matter. My question is, How can I possibly ask for her forgiveness for having committed adultery with her estranged husband? I don’t even know her, I have never met her or even spoken to her, they were already separated before I actually met him for the first time. Should I write her a letter? I don’t know what to do, I have already confessed my sin to God and feel as though He has forgiven me, but I feel as though I owe her an apology somehow.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Karen M-M.

    Thank you so much for this series. I must admit that it is something that I so desperately needed at this time in my life. May God richly bless you as you continue to pour into the lives of others – His children.

    Blessings – Karen

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment mm

    What if you sinned against someone thats to young to understand what you did ?

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