When a Christian friend begins to pour out his heart to us, what are we to do? This can be just as difficult to handle as a personal offense. It's hard not to simply listen and commiserate with the one we care about. Or maybe we're inclined to tell him he's being too touchy and should just forget the whole matter.
Our responsibility as a Christian brother or sister to both the offended and the offender is to see reconciliation, not to take sides, nor to quiet our hurting friend. (2 Corinthians 5:18).
Yet it's hard not to take sides once we've heard an emotional description of the offense. Is there a Biblical way to respond other than simply to listen in silence?
I've learned to keep on the watch for the beginning of a complaint about an absent individual. When I sense that I'm about to hear something I might pre-judge, I stop the person as politely as I can. Often I ask, "Do I need to know this?" Sometimes I simply ask, "Have you talked to so-and-so yourself about this?" This is what I did when a Christian I'll call Ray approached me in anger one day.
He told me that Ed, his apartment manager, had asked him to prepare his apartment for the carpet to be cleaned the next day. It took several hours that evening to rearrange furniture and get small items cleared away. When he returned from work and the carpets had not been cleaned, Ray was angry.
It was several days later when Ray started to tell me about it. I gently interrupted him and encouraged him to talk to Ed and Jeannie. Then I added that if things couldn't be resolved between them, I would go with him to talk to the managers.
When I refused to listen to Ray's complaint, he was visibly disappointed. He was aware that Ed and Jeannie were members of our church group. Perhaps he even hoped I would confront them about their broken promise.
I later learned that Ray reluctantly approached Ed. To Ray's surprise, Ed apologized, explaining that the carpet cleaners had canceled at the last minute and that he had made several unsuccessful attempts to let Ray know the cleaning was being rescheduled. Then, to Ed's surprise, Ray apologized for his attitude, as if he had done something wrong.
When we direct the offended person toward reconciliation, we must be willing to go with the wronged person if the offender does become hardened and resists correction. That kind of commitment cannot be entered into lightly. But it is implied in Jesus' instructions to His disciples.
When we become third-party to a conflict, there is at least one big pitfall to watch out for: we are often quick to take up the offense of another. The problem here is that now there are two offended people who need to be reconciled to the offending brother. This can be avoided by refusing to listen to the complaint of the offended party until we're with the two individuals together. By not listening to another's offense, we're practicing Biblical loyalty to both parties. "A friend loves at all times" (Proverbs 17:17).
Throughout the process, our responsibility is to pray that hearts will soften and that the adversary will not enter the situation to score a victory by keeping the two parties divided. There's a preliminary step that simplifies this whole process. As a church congregation we discussed the whole issue of offenses and being loyal to one another. Then we made verbal commitments to hold each other accountable regarding giving and listening to negative reports. As a family, we've also discussed it with Christians outside our local congregation, though sometimes not until the issue arises.
Jesus knew the potential damage to our spiritual health, and to the work of His kingdom, when relationships are broken. By refusing to listen to reports about others--and directing them toward the offender--we can become instruments of reconciliation. "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God" (Matthew 5:9).
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