Offence is an insidious thing. It does not rest until it has been satisfied, and it gets its satisfaction in destruction. Although it likes to have the appearance of wanting to stay hidden, it really desires to spread and infect others, and thereby infect the whole Body.
As long as the Church exists in its present form there will be occasions of offence.
How these are dealt with will impact the health of the church both as a body and as individuals. If dealt with properly, according to the Word, it will ultimately strengthen the Body (although there will most certainly be tense and uncomfortable moments).
Conversely, if offence is not dealt with as God has set forth, it will hinder the growth of the Body, and may even destroy it.
There are several scriptures that tell us how we should or shouldn’t handle offence, and I think it will do us good to take a close look at them.
The first (and perhaps the most important) is Matthew 18:15, where Jesus is teaching about offence.
Here’s the text in the NKJV: “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established’. And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector”.
First, Jesus is instructing us that when someone sins against us to go to them and work it out if it is possible.
There are probably several reasons for this instruction, but two come to mind immediately:
1) God wants people to work out their issues at the lowest level possible. By doing so, the offence is contained at the lowest level and people who are unaware of the sinful action remain unaware and are therefore not able to take up the offence. This keeps the offence from spreading throughout the body and makes reconciliation easier for both the offended party as well as the offender.
2) The person who committed the sin might very well not know that it was a sin. Note that Jesus said to “show him his fault”. God wants us to work through these things for edification.
Also note that Jesus said that “if he hears you, you have gained your brother”. The KJV phrases it “if he shall hear thee”. The meaning of the word “hear” is twofold: If the brother listens to the offended person and understands the offence (which takes spiritual revelation), then he or she will naturally repent, make the situation as right, and seek forgiveness from the offended party. At this point the issue can be put to rest.
However, if the person is unwilling to listen, or doesn’t agree that an offence has been committed, then in essence the offender has not “heard”, and the offended person continues to carry the offence.
Next, if the offended party is unable to “gain” the brother, they must then take the issue to one or two others in order to resolve the conflict. Why can’t the person simply drop the matter? Because this person will be downcast in their spirit, and the downcast feelings will be transferred to the rest of the body.
It is impossible for one who has been offended to not allow those feelings to spill over to the rest of the body. God has enabled everyone with a bit of discernment (whether a lot or a little) and all can sense the harsh feelings given enough time. It is unavoidable in a true, close-knit body of believers, because it is a spiritual principle (And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it” 1 Corinthians 12:26).
Even if the offended party is able to fully set aside the offence, the matter must be pursued so that the offender can be confronted so as to prevent the person from committing the same offence again against someone else in the body.
It is important to understand that the others who are approached have been put in a position of evaluating the situation in order to resolve it and must take great caution not to take sides until the entire situation is fully understood.
“The one who first states a case seems right, until the other comes and cross-examines” Proverbs 18:17 NRSV.
If these persons do not take extra caution it is very easy to take up the offence and become jaded and unable to properly evaluate the situation.
It is also important that both parties truthfully divulge all points in the issue as best they can, regardless of how painful it may be to do so, in order to get the fullest picture of the situation. This will necessitate a spirit of humbleness on both parties.
The others are there to mediate the situation so as to come to a correct (but not necessarily fun) outcome; they must identify whether an offence (sin) actually took place or whether the offended party has erroneously perceived the actions of the offender to be sin. Once it has been established that a sin has taken place, the remedy for the situation will usually become apparent.
Lastly, if the party is unable to resolve it with two or three witnesses, then they are to take it to the church for the same process.
The church has then been put in the position of evaluating the situation in an attempt to correct the offending brother. While this might seem dreadful if it gets to this level, and it may very well cause intense debate in the body, it is for good reason. It becomes harder for the offender to continue in their sin when confronted with an entire body of believers who agree that they are in error.
This also provides additional safeguards to ensure the situation has been handled correctly. It causes the body to press into the Lord more intensely to ensure they correctly evaluate the situation, and causes growth of the body.
If the person will not hear even the church then they are to be to the body as a “heathen and a tax collector” and put out of the church until such time as they realize their sin and repent. This is necessary for the health of the body. If such persons are allowed to continue in fellowship strife will be the order of the day until such time it is rectified.