Biblical Reconciliation

Congratulations to the young people on starting a new magazine for the covenant youth. It is certainly a very worthwhile venture. May God put His blessing on this venture and use it for building up the young people and strengthening the bonds of the communion of saints.

The subject of reconciliation between those who have been alienated from each other is an important one. We are, after all, a part of the church of Christ; and we live together in the communion of saints. If some in the communion we enjoy are angry with each other, will not speak to each other, and avoid fellowship with others, the communion of the saints suffers. It suffers because the communion of the saints is possible only where there is love for God and love for each other.

The Lord demands of us that we live in peace with each other. He demands of us that we bear each others burdens (Gal. 6:1, 2; 5:13, 14), enjoy each other’s fellowship and seek each other’s good. If we do not do what he demands of us, we sin. And sin is always the one thing that breaks up communion and fellowship. The communion of the saints means that we live in peace with each other (Psalm 122:6-9).

But in the communion of the saints we are all sinners. And it is a fact, as we all know, that we sin all the time. Not every sin requires reconciliation to restore fellowship. It may be, for example, that a group of people are together, and one of those present says something unkind about another person. Most of the time we can let these things be as they are with perhaps a short reprimand. We assume of each other that we are all children of God, and that we confess our sins to God. We do not make a big issue out of every sin that our fellow believers or fellow young people commit. There would be no end to that, and it would be very foolish.

But there are other kinds of sins that cannot simply be overlooked. Maybe someone is our group and fellowship has gone to a movie and is now bragging about it; we are offended by that, because we believe that movie attendance is not pleasing to God; and we especially are troubled by the fact that one of our fellow saints brags about it or talks about it as if he or she has done something that others ought to do as well.Such a sin is, of course a public sin, and the whole group has heard what was said. There are others in the group who are also offended. All are witnesses to a sin in one of our fellow saints. What now must be done?

Or maybe someone has committed a sin of which one of us is the only one who knows it. Supposing, for example, we see someone entering a movie house, although this person does not know that we have seen it. It is a secret sin, for nobody knows except the person sinning and the one who saw that person enter a theater. What must be done?

But maybe someone has said or done something to us personally so that we are badly hurt. Maybe someone has called us a liar; or maybe someone has poked fun of something we did. Maybe it was done when others were present; or maybe it was done when we were alone with that person. The one was a public sin, for others witnessed it; the other was a secret sin, for only I and one other person know. What Ephesians 4:26 says is important. When someone sins against us, it angers us. But we must not remain angry, We must cease being angry before the end of the day. What must be done?

These questions need answering.First of all, there is one principle that is so important that we must know it and observe it. In all matters of sin that require reconciliation, the fewer who know about the sin, the better. It is easier to be reconciled when only two are involved than when 13 or 14 are involved. It is easier to be reconciled when only some of the saints are involved than when the consistory must get involved. It is easier for reconciliation to be accomplished when only some in the congregation know about the sin rather than when the sin becomes public knowledge.

This principle is so important that we must all do everything we can to carry it out. I have found, in my own ministry how true this is. I have found this principle to hold for any sin. I have learned this when only two people were involved and when people and a consistory were involved.

I have found it to be true when and if the whole matter finally goes to a classis or even to a synod. There is almost no hope of reconciliation when other ecclesiastical

bodies become involved – even though sometimes they must become involved, for that is the only way to settle a problem.

And so: Keep sins of others secret! Do not get on your hand phone to text messages to others about it; or talk to others: “Do you know what so-and-so did?” We are always eager to tell others about somebody’s sin because by telling someone else what so-and-so did, we mean also to say, “We are not that kind of sinner; we would never do that. Look how holy we are.” That is exactly the way not to reconcile. That makes all problems of sin worse than they ever were.

Another point is that we must be very sure a sin has actually been committed. I recall once that someone said to me, “So-and- so was very cruel to me. I wanted to greet her cheerfully and she would not even talk with me. What must I do?” Obviously the answer was: “Go to her and ask her about it.” This was done, and it turned out that the other person was preoccupied by problems at home, did not mean to be curt and cruel, and felt very sad about it that she had left that impression.

We must be careful in this matter of reconciliation that our concern with sin and the breach it causes in the church of Christ is not concern for ourselves. We do not see another’s sin as a splendid occasion to parade before others our own holiness, but we seek the welfare of the church. So often when someone hurts me, my concern is my feelings, my hurt, my reputation, my honor. If we seek reconciliation for our own sakes, we might

just as well not seek it at all. We are only trying to salvage our own pride, regain our own reputation and shown how pious we are. This is damnable in the sight of God. We want our fellow saints to be saved and will do anything to save them

How then are we commanded to seek reconciliation?

Let us look at it from our own individual viewpoints. That is, I am going to speak in the rst person; if I try to keep all the “hes” and “shes” straight and try to explain what happens under different circumstances, I will get hopelessly tangled up in pronouns, and so will you.

If I am witness to a sin of one of my fellow saints, I must go to that person to admonish him/her to repent. This is my solemn obligation before God. To fail is to make myself guilty of sin, for the one who sinned is my fellow saints and has threatened his salvation bu his sin.

I must be sure, however, that the person I saw was indeed guilty of a sin. And I can be certain only by talking with the person who, I think, sinned. I recall that two men once came to me for advice. They had been fishing in Lake Michigan and were on shore in a town quite a bit south of where they lived. They had seen one of their fellow saints in town with a strange woman, and were certain that their fellow saint was guilty of adultery. They went to this man and told him what they had seen and called him to repentance. But the man said that he had a boat docked in the marina of that town and was talking to a lady about selling it to her. They could not prove that he was lying, although they were sure he was. They wanted to go to the consistory and charge the man with adultery.

I told them they must not do that, because they had no certain proof, but that if what they suspected was true, sooner or later the sin would come out, as it did. It is easy to misinterpret someone else’s actions and we must be careful that we do not charge anyone falsely or unheard (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 43, 112).

The reaction of the person we go to see may be either that he claims what he did is no sin, or that he did not do what I am claiming he did, or that, although he did what I claim he did, he is not sorry for his actions. Whatever the reason, he refuses to confess the wrong of what he did.

In the case he refuses to repent and confess his sin, I must go a second time, but this time with a witness. This witness need not be a witness to the sin; if the sin is secret, most likely there is no one else who witnessed the sin. But a witness must go along in order to be able to testify that I truly did go to my brother and seek his repentance.

This is what Jesus meant when He outlined the procedure we are to follow in reconciliation (Matthew 18:15-21).

It is clear from Jesus’ words that the same procedure must be followed if someone sins against me. Jesus particularly refers to this: “If thy brother shall trespass against thee . . .” (verse 15). In a way, any sin of my brother, even if I am only a witness to it, is “against me,” for it is against the communion of the saints, and I am a part of the communion of the saints. Yet there are times when no others are aware of the sin, but only I know.

How we go makes all the difference in the world. I must not go in a better-than–thou spirit, and leave the impression with my brother that I would never do anything like that. I must not go to my brother with a whip to lash him with my tongue and angrily tell him how devilishly wrong he is. I must go in a spirit of meekness, showing a true heart-felt desire that he repent, and, if he does repent, not send him to the cross, but to kneel there with him and confess my own sins as he confesses his.

But if the one I go to see will not confess his sins even after going with a witness, then I must report it to the consistory, and they must make the matter a matter of discipline. Even when this happens, the sin must be kept as secret as possible. I must tell no one, not even my own wife. The witness must speak of it to no one, not even his closest friend. The consistory must tell it to no one, not even the wives of the elders. If a sin becomes public knowledge, reconciliation is all the more dif cult and the congregation is guilty of violating the ninth commandment, that is, guilty of backbiting and/or slander.

But there is another side to this matter. Jesus speaks of it in the Sermon on the Mount: “Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift” (Matthew 5:23, 24). This is an important text and is often forgotten.

Jesus is talking here in the context of a serious warning not to be angry with our brother under any circumstances, nor to speak evil of him – even if we think he deserves it (Eph. 4:26). Let me go back to the use of first person pronouns. I may be angry with my brother because he has said to others that my preaching was lousy, or too doctrinal, or always talking about how great are our sins. Or he may write in “Facebook” (a blog I refuse to go to, read or use: it is only a good excuse for some people to pour out their venom against others) that I do not do myself what I say in my preaching. All this comes to my attention. And I become very angry with the one who wrote it. I say to myself or to others, “That rascal; he doesn’t know what he is talking about. He ought to mind his own business and look at his own faults. I won’t have anything to do with him until he comes to me to apologize.” If that is what I do, I sin as much as he does.

So on Sunday I go to church to worship God with my other fellow saints. This is what Jesus means by bringing our gift to the altar. In the old dispensation the saints came to worship God with a gift – a cow or sheep or dove, to be sacrificed. While I am in church I am still thinking about what so-and-so said or wrote about me; and maybe I even see him sitting six rows ahead of me.

As long as there is this problem, I cannot worship. There is disharmony, anger, and trouble between me and a brother. The communion of the saints is broken. Something must be done. Reconciliation must take place. And so Jesus instructs me to go to my brother and be reconciled with him. Now I have an obligation placed on me, and I may not simply sit back and wait for my brother to come to me. I may not tell someone else about what my brother has done to me. I may not ask someone else to go to this brother and tell him how angry I am. I must go to him. Jesus puts the obligation on me.

And once again, I may not go in a spirit of anger. I must not come to him and start raving to him about my hurt and about how dreadfully wicked he acted. I seek his salvation, and I desire reconciliation. Maybe I was partly to fault; and I ought to be ready to admit it. But in any case, we are both sinners.

Troubles among young people are probably the most common problems among young people. They say or do things that hurt others. And sooner or later, if they are true covenant young people, they will want reconciliation. If I have hurt someone, I ought to go to confess to the other my wrong. If I do not go to the one whom I hurt but that person comes to me, I ought to confess my wrong with sorrow. If I hurt someone in the presence of other young people, I ought to confess to them all and tell them all that I have been reconciled to the one I hurt. If confession is made, the sin is forgiven by God and He will once again bless the communion of the saints. If God forgives, we must also forgive each other. How could we do any different?

It is very difficult for any of us to express sorrow for our sins. I have said it a dozen times and now I say it again: The two hardest words in any language to say are, “I’m sorry.” We are too proud, too ready to condemn our brother, too insistent on our own position and reputation. Yet it must be done. James is very specificc about it: “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed” (James 5:16). And by “healed” James means reconciled to each other and the spiritual wound healed.Sometimes, for one reason or another, we do not want to go to our brother when we remember he has something against us.In case we do not want to go to see our brother, there is only one course of action to follow: Forget it! We must forget it completely. We must not hold what our brother has done against him. We must so completely forget it that we do not even remember what our brother has done. If we do not do this, there is a wound in the body of Christ, a breach in the communion of the saints. Such terrible things must not happen in the church.

Paul admonishes us to think others to be better than ourselves (Phil 2:3). The whole passage is worth reading at least once a month. When we live in the church by these principles we follow Christ who was our Servant that He might save us. And the result is peace and unity in the church.

Written by: Prof. Herman Hanko | Issue 1