One thing I’ve always struggled to keep straight is the admonition in Matthew 18 to go to a brother who has sinned against you. You see, my mind always thinks of it in reverse. If you know you’ve sinned against a brother, you go to him and confess your fault etc. The problem is, that’s backwards. Don’t get me wrong, I think that if you know you’ve offended or sinned against someone, you should go confess your wrong. I think that fits in with James when he says, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” (James 5:16) However, it’s clear that Matthew has the opposite admonition.
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. 16But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
Why do I do that? Why do I think in terms of sinning against someone instead of them sinning against me? Is it because of my natural dislike of confrontation? Probably. I really don’t like the ugliness that almost inevitably comes with it. Why is that? Why does it have to turn ugly? Why, when someone comes to us and tells us that we’ve hurt them, can’t we say, “I am deeply sorry. Please forgive me.” I mean, if it was unintentional, the apology is not negated by the lack of intention. If we didn’t mean to hurt someone it doesn’t make us a liar if we apologize for having done it anyway. If the allegations aren’t true, USUALLY we can still apologize and say, “I apologize for hurting you. Please forgive me.” You may not have said the things they claim you said or did the things they think you did, but you can still apologize for hurting them. Sometimes, it makes sense to say, “Oh, that would hurt so much to hear someone say that. I am so sorry you think I said that. I assure you that is not what I said,” but other times Ma Ingalls’ maxim is best. “Least said, soonest mended.”
There’s also another element to my reticence. You see, I was taught to let things go. I was taught that it’s ok for people to be wrong– just make sure you’re in the right. If at all possible, let someone’s offenses against you go– it’s not usually personal, and if it is, the person is rarely worth the angst. So, when someone does something that offends me or if they “sin” against me, I tend first to be irritated (I’m human!!!) and then my childhood training comes in. I really do just tend to let it go. It’s not worth it. They either didn’t mean to do it or if they did, do I really care what someone who is willing to be ugly toward me says or does? Yeah, sometimes I do. Sometimes I can’t let it go. I think THOSE are the times I am COMMANDED to go to them ala Matthew 18 and say, “When you did this to me, it was wrong. I am here to tell you that it hurt me and I’m having trouble getting past it.”
I guess what I’m trying to reconcile is how Matthew 7:12 comes into play with Matthew 18. Me, I’d rather someone overlook a fault, assume the best of me and trust that I wasn’t trying to be deliberately hurtful. I mean, am I characterized by snapping at people when they are in my home? Well, then if I did that, is it possible that I was really under a lot of stress and didn’t even realize I’d been so rude? Can you overlook that in me? If I’d want someone to do that for me, I need to be willing to do that for them. When they are demanding and expect things of me without asking, can I overlook that? If they said something unkind about my husband or children, can I ignore it as false and someone not recognizing the truth of who that person is? Is that not a I Corinthians 13 response as well? 1 Peter 4:8 reminds us to “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” We’re told love is preeminent. Furthermore, it covers a multitude of sins. So, I would assume it isn’t wrong to overlook an offense.
But let’s face it. We’ve all had it happen. Someone says or does something that cuts deeply. No matter how hard we try to let it go, no matter how badly we want to let it go, we can’t. We pray that the Lord would take it away from us, but we still can’t. I think this is why Matthew 18 was written– for these occasions. It was written to help us and show us that there is a time to confront sin. Notice that Matthew 18 actually says “sins” against you. Against you, not against someone you know or someone you met once or even you just saw them sin against someone else. I think this was probably put in there for thunderpuppies so that they wouldn’t go around confronting everyone on every nitpicky thing. If you steal from me, and I can’t cover that in love (or don’t think it’s loving to cover it), I am REQUIRED to go to you and say, “You stole this from me. That was wrong. Let’s work this out between you, me and the Lord.” If you don’t, I’m required to bring someone with knowledge of it. My guess is someone who knows that I owned that particular book with my name inscribed in the front cover that you’ve now covered with a sticker. 😉 Snort. I may find out that you thought you bought it at my garage sale and are mortified that you were going to keep what wasn’t yours. I may find out that you don’t really care. Frankly, I hope I’d be willing to give you that book and assume the best of you. That was probably a bad example. Oh well. The principle holds.
I just wonder if we don’t spend too much time holding onto our rights and “talking” everything to death instead of covering people’s sins against us in love. Then again, it isn’t loving to excuse or ignore habitual sin in someone. And on it goes. Sigh. I still wonder why I always reverse the order in my mind. Why do we do that with scripture? Why aren’t we more careful?