Forgiving and Confronting Wrongdoers: A Biblical Perspective on Dealing with Offences

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Joseph’s narrative in Genesis reads like a script for a blockbuster film; there are fancy garments, a palace full of riches, and twelve sons. We learn that Joseph had two dreams in Genesis 37. Both might be interpreted to mean that his father and brothers will ultimately honour him. His brothers, insulted, sold him to Midianites, who eventually traded him to an Egyptian buyer. His brothers’ pride and animosity drove them to do this heinous deed.

Genesis 37:28 — So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt.

Genesis 37:36 — Meanwhile, the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard.

Humiliation And Offence

I can’t help but imagine how young Joseph felt about his brothers. I think he behaved similarly to how most of us would have. According to Genesis, Joseph rose to the position of second in command in Egypt when he was entrusted with the interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream concerning an impending famine.

Seven years later, the country of Canaan was hit by a devastating famine. When Jacob, Joseph’s father, learned that food was available in Egypt, he sent several of his sons there to make purchases. Upon their arrival, they had a conversation with Joseph, but they had no idea that he was really their brother. They brought food back to the house, but their brother Simeon was nowhere to be seen. They eventually went back to Egypt to stock up on supplies. Upon their return, Joseph informed his brothers who he really was.

Genesis 45:8 — So now, it is not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me an adviser to Pharaoh, lord over all his household, and ruler over all the land of Egypt.

What Did Joseph Say In Reply?

He kept his cool and admitted that God was ultimately in charge. After their father passed away, Joseph’s siblings were understandably concerned that he would take revenge on them.

Genesis 45:15 — He kissed all his brothers and wept over them. After this his brothers talked with him.

This is the message that Joseph’s brothers eventually sent:

Genesis 50:16-17 — So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave these instructions before he died: ‘Tell Joseph this: Please forgive the sin of your brothers and the wrong they did when they treated you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sin of the servants of the God of your father.” When this message was reported to him, Joseph wept.

These passages and the ones that follow them in Genesis 50 show that Joseph never spoke out against his brothers’ treatment of him while he was a child. Indeed, it is evident that Joseph had already pardoned them. Joseph had forgiven them on his own accord and without conditions.

Genesis 45:14-15 — Then he threw himself on the neck of his brother Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin wept on his neck. He kissed all his brothers and wept over them. After this his brothers talked with him.

Genesis 50:17-21 — ‘Tell Joseph this: Please forgive the sin of your brothers and the wrong they did when they treated you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sin of the servants of the God of your father.” When this message was reported to him, Joseph wept. Then his brothers also came and threw themselves down before him; they said, “Here we are; we are your slaves.” But Joseph answered them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant to harm me, but God intended it for a good purpose, so he could preserve the lives of many people, as you can see this day. So now, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your little children.” Then he consoled them and spoke kindly to them.

Retaliation For An Offence

If someone insulted you, how would you react? What is your reaction? Samson’s life shows how some individuals react to wrongdoing; he slew many Philistines in order to avenge the death of his wife and her father. As Samson said in Judges 15:7,

Judges 15:7 — Samson said to them, “Because you did this, I will get revenge against you before I quit fighting.”

This is a common attitude among many people. If you wrong me, I will seek retribution. After suffering an injury, we want payback. However, Romans 12:17–19 instructs us to never take vengeance.

Romans 12:17-19 — Do not repay anyone evil for evil; consider what is good before all people. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all people. Do not avenge yourselves, dear friends, but give place to God’s wrath, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.

From My Circumstances

Recently, I had a disagreement with a close relative about the latter’s pattern of using us for their own benefit during difficult times and abandoning us when circumstances improve. (I did not speak to the person directly.) In my anger, I spoke much against the relative, ignoring what my wife was advising me to keep a Christ-like attitude. She then urged me to look at Jesus and give to anybody in need without hoping for anything in return. My pride prevented me from listening to her advice since I didn’t want to admit that I was wrong.

After composing myself, I prayed to God for forgiveness and asked for the grace to see and love others the way He does.

When someone wrongs us, we often reply by insulting them. It’s a more respectable method of retaliation than murder. However, 1 Peter 3:8-9 cautions us against taking such a stance.

1 Peter 3:8-9 — Finally, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, affectionate, compassionate, and humble. Do not return evil for evil or insult for insult, but instead bless others because you were called to inherit a blessing.

Instead of responding with hostility or insults, we should instead offer a blessing.

Gossip

Our third response option is less direct. Gossip is the name for it. We avoid contact with the perpetrator. We prefer to speak ill of them to others behind their backs.

Defining “gossip”

It’s not hard to spot gossip. Consider these three questions:

  • Will this be a killjoy for people?
  • Is it required? and,
  • The purpose of my actions. Why am I doing this?

Proverbs 20:19 advises us to stay away from gossip. Broadcasting rumours about other people are condemned. Therefore, spreading rumours about wrongdoers is not a God-honoring response.

Proverbs 20:19 — The one who goes about gossiping reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with someone who is always opening his mouth.

Avoiding problems is the fourth method of dealing with them. This approach is much less combative and prevents the spread of rumours.

Proverbs 18:1 — One who has isolated himself seeks his own desires; he rejects all sound judgment.

So, avoiding problems is also a bad idea. They are completely focused on themselves. Jesus expands on this in the Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 5:44-47 — But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be like your Father in heaven, since he causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Even the tax collectors do the same, don’t they? And if you only greet your brothers, what more do you do? Even the Gentiles do the same, don’t they?

This was spoken by Jesus before a large congregation of Jewish listeners. They have an extreme disliking to the general public. In light of this, He questioned, “What are you doing that is different from what others are doing?” He was primarily telling them they were just as bad as the ones they despise. The takeaway was to not isolate yourself for no good reason.

Offence And The Way To Cope

Just now, we examined four methods for dealing with an offence. However, there is still another that needs our attention. Sounds mystical. It’s really typical of religious people. Matthew 18:15 has this variant in the KJV, NKJV, NET and ESV, each of which translates the Bible into its own language. This is the section:

Matthew 18:15 — Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. (KJV)

Matthew 18:15 — Moreover if your brother shall trespass against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone: if he shall hear you, you have gained your brother. (NKJV)

Matthew 18:15 — “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. (ESV)

Matthew 18:15 — “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault when the two of you are alone. If he listens to you, you have regained your brother. (NET)

If your brother sins against you, the first sentence of this passage in the ESV translation states to “go and tell him his fault;” that is, to confront him.

In the KJV, the word “against thee” does not belong in the version. As a result, many people have spoken directly to their aggressors. They’re certain the Bible says so. Some of those who have sought Christian counselling claim they were even encouraged to do so. But a believer shouldn’t confront their wrongdoer for three main reasons.

Methods For Correctly Interpreting The Bible

First, the word “against thee” or “against you” is absent in the better Greek copies of Matthew 18:15, so we should not confront our offenders on that basis alone. To clarify, I am not referring to the Nestle-Aland or Majority texts, but rather to the ancient copies upon which even the Nestles or Majority texts are based when I say that the finest Greek manuscripts do not have the line “against thee.”

A doctrine should never be based on a text that is open to many interpretations. You may safely disregard this statement. That is, we shouldn’t base our approach to an offender on Matthew 18:15, specifically the line “against you.”

Matthew 18:15-22 are explained in Luke 17:3–4. The connection between Matthew 18:15-18, Matthew 18:21-22, and Luke 17:3-4 provides a second argument against confronting an offender who has personally offended us. Take a look at Luke 17:3-4:

Luke 17:3-4 — Watch yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him. If he repents, forgive him. Even if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times returns to you saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

If your brother sins, rebuke him…,” parallels Matthew 18:15-18. Matthew 18:15 instructs them to privately point out his error to him. Both verses instruct us to confront a brother who has fallen into sin and into sinful habits.

Peter asked Jesus in Matthew 18:21–22 how frequently we should forgive someone who has wronged us, and Jesus answered in verse 4. According to Luke 17:4, Jesus’s response was “up to seventy times seven.” Jesus says it a little differently, but the essence is the same: forgive and never stop forgiving.

Matthew 18:21-22 — Then Peter came to him and said, “Lord, how many times must I forgive my brother who sins against me? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, I tell you, but seventy-seven times!

Luke 17:4 — Even if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times returns to you saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

Therefore, Matthew 18:15-18, and Matthew 18:21-22 is a parallel to Luke 17:3-4; but, if we adopt the unclear wording “against you,” then they are not similar.

Forgive Completely And Without Conditions

The Bible itself provides evidence to the contrary. The third justification for avoiding confrontation is that the Bible teaches us to forgive completely and without conditions. Consider the devastation that would befall a church if its members obeyed the command to confront everyone who had ever offended them before we look at these cases.

Wouldn’t it become old fairly fast if you had a friend who attempted to call you out on every little thing you did wrong? Furthermore, wouldn’t it be disastrous for a marriage if the two people in it believed it was their sacred duty to face each other for every offence?

Some people wrongly interpret passages like Luke 17:3: “If your brother sins, rebuke him,” and Matthew 18:15 “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault…” to apply universally. We’d have no time to accomplish anything else if we had to face each other over every little offence.

Forgiveness Examples From the Bible

When we have been wronged, we must provide unqualified and one-sided forgiveness, with a few exceptions we shall get into later. Here we shall examine four arguments in favour of unconditional and one-sided forgiveness.

The offended party, first, lacks sufficient spirituality. The first paragraph gives instructions on how to handle an offence when church punishment is necessary. Although the topic is church discipline, a universal principle about forgiving wrongdoing will be made clear.

Galatians 6:1-2 — Brothers and sisters, if a person is discovered in some sin, you who are spiritual restore such a person in a spirit of gentleness. Pay close attention to yourselves, so that you are not tempted too. Carry one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

Three basic facts may be gleaned from this. The first is that the perpetrator stands to gain from any conflict. In this text, the aggrieved party is not the main focus. Confrontation is intended to restore the offender, not to condemn them. When a Christian sins, the purpose is to help them restore their connection with God, since the Greek word for “restore” implies “to mend, or to put in order.”

Truth number two is that it must be spiritual people who engage in the conflict. If we’re being really honest, the offended party is seldom the kind of person who would qualify to have a spiritual conversation with someone who has been caught in a sin. Because of the offence, they are still having trouble and feeling upset. Since the party that is hurt is not spiritual enough, they should not confront the perpetrator. It will be tough for them to meet Paul’s standards.

The People Who Set an Example

Joseph did not try to make amends with his brothers for the wrong they caused by selling him into slavery, as we have seen. Joseph’s mercy was unreserved and one-sided.

In Luke 23:34, we see another instance of Jesus’ forgiveness being both unconditional and unilateral towards His persecutors. People on the ground were making fun of and criticising Him. They said Pilate should not have made a sign proclaiming Jesus as the Jewish king. The criminals on the cross mocked Him. The elites plotted to eliminate Him. Nevertheless, what did Jesus do? He extended mercy without conditions or consideration,

Luke 23:34 — [But Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”] Then they threw dice to divide his clothes.

This was not what the fanatics wanted. Jesus did this voluntarily.

Stephen

Take a look at a third case in point, Stephen in Acts 7:59-60 while he was being stoned to death. The mob demanded that he be killed. Before he became known as Paul, Saul was present. Stephen, however, pleaded,

Acts 7:59-60 — They continued to stone Stephen while he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” Then he fell to his knees and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” When he had said this, he died.

Finally, Jesus’ own words. Jesus’ teaching clearly says such should be the norm, thus it’s probably the best reason why the hurt / offended party’s forgiveness should be unconditional and unilateral. Here God makes a proclamation.

Matthew 5:38-40 — “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist the evildoer. But whoever strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other to him as well. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your coat also.

In verse 38, Jesus explains the teachings of the Pharisees and the scribes. They say that you should give an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or an offence for an offence if someone offends you. The authorities have expanded the scope of Mosaic civil law to include all cases of individual wrongdoing.

But I say,” Jesus said, “that you shall not seek vengeance on one another.”

What Exactly Did Jesus Mean?

If someone slaps you on the cheek, don’t give them another smack on the cheek since Jesus never taught that. He didn’t say it’s okay if they crush your other ear, did he? If they strike you in the nose, let them strike your chin instead. I need to react to illustrate my point. His message was not like that. He was emphasising that we not seek vengeance against others. Do not seek vengeance if someone has wronged you.

Matthew 5:41 — And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two.

Paul’s Message

Lastly, we should be humble in our pursuit of unity and peace, which is the fourth and last reason why forgiveness should be unconditional and unilateral.

Ephesians 4:1-3 — I, therefore, the prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live worthily of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, putting up with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

When Should We Have A Talk with Someone?

Is there ever a moment when it’s time to confront someone, considering that forgiveness is supposed to be unilateral and un-reliant on the other person’s actions? Matthew 18:15-18 contains the relevant verses. The term “church discipline instructions” is often used to refer to this section.

Matthew 18:15-18 — “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault when the two of you are alone. If he listens to you, you have regained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others with you, so that at the testimony of two or three witnesses every matter may be established. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. If he refuses to listen to the church, treat him like a Gentile or a tax collector. “I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you release on earth will have been released in heaven.

Jesus’s teaching in this text is that we should approach a person directly when we see them sinning. Jesus does not imply that we should criticise other Christians for every little thing they do wrong. Otherwise, we’ll have to constantly face everyone. He means a serious transgression or a series of smaller ones.

The sinner is saved if and only if he or she reacts. If the offender does not take the hint and apologise, two or three people should approach them directly. The point isn’t to shame people for their wrongdoing but to set them free from it and back in right standing with God. Then, if the individual does not change after hearing the message twice or thrice, Jesus says the church should become involved. I think it’s important to consult the church’s leadership at this stage.

In 1 Corinthians 5, a boy and his stepmother serve as a case study in church discipline.

1 Corinthians 5:1 — It is actually reported that sexual immorality exists among you, the kind of immorality that is not permitted even among the Gentiles, so that someone is cohabiting with his father’s wife.

According to verse 6, the church remained apathetic towards their immorality and took no action, prompting Paul to reprimand them in verses 6-13. Paul urges them to throw them out of the church. In addition to the boy and his stepmother, the church had also sinned. The apostle needed to set them straight. What a tragic turn of events!

1 Corinthians 5:6-13 — Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast affects the whole batch of dough? Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch of dough – you are, in fact, without yeast. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. So then, let us celebrate the festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of vice and evil, but with the bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth. I wrote you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people. In no way did I mean the immoral people of this world, or the greedy and swindlers and idolaters, since you would then have to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who calls himself a Christian who is sexually immoral, or greedy, or an idolater, or verbally abusive, or a drunkard, or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person. For what do I have to do with judging those outside? Are you not to judge those inside? But God will judge those outside. Remove the evil person from among you.

Some Christians still hold the outdated belief that church discipline is cruel, insensitive, invasive, and unloving. Those who think this way are either willfully blind to the evident message of Scripture or have been misled into thinking that Scripture is not authoritative. Those who act this way are themselves sinners.

In 1 Timothy 1:20, we see yet another instance of church punishment.

1 Timothy 1:20 — Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.

Blasphemy led to the punishment of these two individuals. This is an extreme case of wrongdoing.

Church punishment between two sinning members is seen in Philippians 4:2-3. Euodia and Syntyche were the two people in question. They couldn’t get along, and everyone in the church knew it.

Philippians 4:2-3 — I appeal to Euodia and to Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I say also to you, true companion, help them. They have struggled together in the gospel ministry along with me and Clement and my other coworkers, whose names are in the book of life.

What Approach Should We Take?

The guidelines for doing so are found in Galatians 6:1.

Galatians 6:1 — Brothers and sisters, if a person is discovered in some sin, you who are spiritual restore such a person in a spirit of gentleness. Pay close attention to yourselves, so that you are not tempted too.

To begin, we always want to restore rather than condemn when we have to approach someone. Second, it’s important to be pleasant and compassionate while having that encounter. The point is reconciliation, not alienation. This is just another argument against the victim initiating the confrontation.

The offended party almost never acts loving, neutral, or warm. In contrast, they are often overly sensitive, offended, and motivated by vengeance. In other words, the aggrieved party isn’t the best choice for this task. Therefore, the aggrieved individual should avoid making eye contact with the offender. They must forgive unconditionally. Always aim to mend when confronting someone about their misbehaviour.

Synopsis – What Should We Do?

To begin, if you are the one who has been wronged, you must forgive completely and without conditions. You are to approach someone with the principles stated in Galatians 6:1 if you witness them sinning against oneself or another person. If the sin is not blatant or harmful to the church, there is no need for confrontation. As we strive for unity and the approval of our Lord, may we all receive God’s grace and blessing.

Prayer

Heavenly Father,

As I reflect upon the story of Joseph and his journey from betrayal to forgiveness, I am reminded of the power of your mercy and grace. Just as Joseph forgave his brothers for their sinful deeds, I am called to extend forgiveness to those who have wronged me. Help me, Lord, to embrace the example set by Joseph and the teachings of Christ, so that I may find the strength to forgive without conditions, and to let go of the burdens of anger and resentment.

In moments of hurt and humiliation, grant me the wisdom to respond not with retaliation, gossip, or avoidance, but with a heart of compassion and love. Help me to remember that true strength lies in showing mercy, in seeking reconciliation, and in choosing unity over division. Let me not be consumed by the desire for vengeance, but rather, let your words guide me in seeking peace and understanding.

Just as Joseph extended forgiveness to his brothers, even when they did not fully comprehend their actions, help me to extend forgiveness even when it may not be acknowledged or sought by the wrongdoer. Let me embody the teachings of Jesus, who forgave his persecutors from the cross, and Stephen, who forgave those who stoned him. May my heart overflow with a love that transcends human limitations and seeks the well-being of others.

Lord, grant me the humility to approach those who have wronged me with gentleness and a spirit of restoration, just as Galatians 6:1 instructs. Let my actions be guided by your grace, and may I be a vessel of your peace in a world often consumed by conflict.

I pray for the strength to always choose forgiveness over resentment, to love unconditionally, and to extend the same grace that you have bestowed upon me. In moments of hurt, remind me of your boundless mercy, and help me to reflect that mercy in my interactions with others.

Thank you, Lord, for the example of Joseph, for the teachings of Jesus, and for the guidance of your Word. May I continually strive to walk in the path of forgiveness and reconciliation, bringing glory to your name through my actions and attitudes. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.

Blessing,

Godwin.

 
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Godwin Shon Sequeira
Godwin Shon Sequeira
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Blessings to you.