Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4:8
We are meant to live in community. One of the unavoidable aspects of living in community is that we will sin against one another. The journey of living in Christian community is one that is tested by other people’s sin and weakness.
Everyone reacts differently when they are sinned against by another Christian. Some react by sulking and feeling sorry for themselves. Some just blow up with anger or passive aggressive withdrawal. The problem is that there are as many ways to react badly to sin as there are ways to sin against one another. The Bible gives us two loving ways that we can react to being sinned against. We can overlook the sin or we can address the sin.
The eighteenth chapter of Matthew provides a detailed roadmap for addressing sin, but before a person follows that route, he first needs to determine whether or not this is the kind of sin he can simply overlook. Overlooking a sin is held high in Scripture.
Proverbs 19:11 – “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.”
Proverbs 12:16 – “the prudent ignores an insult”
1 Peter 4:8 – “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.”
Love covers a multitude of sins, but there are situations in which the most loving action is to address a sin, to make known to the other person that you have been offended by his words or deeds, and to give him the opportunity to repent and seek forgiveness.
Here is how you can go about determining whether this is an offense you should overlook, or an offense you should address.
- EXAMINE YOURSELF
How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye. Luke 6:42
The first step is to examine yourself. Make every effort to examine your motives. Are you seeking revenge, or just harboring a grudge? The desire to confront has to come from love and a desire to honor God.
- OK…..EXAMINE YOURSELF AGAIN
Now establishing that your motives are correct and that you are not overlooking a similar sin in your own life, examine yourself to ensure that you are right in this matter. Look for Scriptural principles to determine if you have truly been sinned against and not just some extra Biblical preference. Is this clear violation of a Scriptural principle, or are you dealing with a gray area? If this is just a gray area and there is no clear definition of right or wrong, it may be best to simply…..let it go.
- DETERMINE HOW IMPORTANT IT IS
After examining yourself and you still believe this is an issue worthy of confrontation, consider just how important a matter this is. Are you dealing with a preference or an objective right or wrong? How will this matter in the future, say five years from now? Are you making preference a Biblical standard? If, you determine that it is not important or that it is more about preference than anything else….. let it go.
- LOOK FOR PATTERNS OF BEHAVIOR
There are times that we make choices or we sin in a way that is out of character. For example, you may be consistently on time to everything but then, one day, show up late for an important meeting. In this case it would not be worth my while address this offense. However, if you are constantly showing up late for most meetings, this may be a matter that needs to be addressed. It is better to confront patterns of sin or offense than isolated incidents (though, obviously, with more painful or abusive offenses we may need to confront them immediately).
- BE SENSITIVE
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Ephesians 4:1-3
Before approaching the person who has offended you, ensure that you are being sensitive to their unique situation. There may be stresses or strains in that person’s life that are causing them to struggle or act out in ways that are not representative of who they are. Don’t try to excuse their sin but, rather, understanding that difficult times can cause even the finest Christian to act out in ways that are unusual for him. Adding the burden of confrontation may not be the wise or sensitive thing to do at that moment.
- SEEK ADVICE AND HELP
Listen to counsel and accept discipline, That you may be wise the rest of your days. – Proverbs 19:20
It is wise to seek the counsel of other mature Christians before confronting others, but make sure this is not just an opportunity to gossip and vent. Seeking wise counsel is a good way of “error-checking” your assessment of the previous four steps.
After the process of assessing your own heart, the offender, and the offense and you still feel confrontation is necessary, pursue forgiveness and reconciliation in the way Jesus outlines in Matthew 18.