Even when you’re tired of trying to work things out with others, someone understands your frustration, your confusion, your indifference. God understands because…He was the most misunderstood man to ever walk the earth. His parents didn’t know how to handle his intellectual maturity. Political and religious leaders accused him of blasphemy and anarchy. Townspeople tried to throw him over a cliff. His co-workers questioned his motives. His closest friends turned their back on him in his greatest hour of need. Yet in the midst of all the criticism, betrayal, and abandonment, this man called Jesus did not angrily defend himself or retaliate with harsh words or unkind actions.
– from the Tapestry Series booklet, Connected © 1999 by International Bible Society
God knows how difficult relationships can be. As evidence of His concern for us, the Bible is full of stories of relationships gone bad. It’s also full of wisdom and instruction on how to conduct our relationships and how we are to respond when we encounter the inevitable problems that arise when humans beings co-exist.
Are these instructions clear? Yes! Are they easy to carry out? No! In fact, obeying these instructions will require all of the integrity, character, patience, grace, kindness, gentleness, and perseverance we can muster – and more besides!
But do not lose heart! The road to healthy relationships has some rough spots, but is it not impassable. God has walked the road before us. When Jesus came to earth, he had to deal with all kinds of “people” problems. He has had personal experience in dealing with relationships challenges just like the ones we face. So He offers us far more than dos and don’ts. When we are overwhelmed and brokenhearted in our relationships, Jesus our Savior, who has borne the same burdens, can sympathize with us. And He goes far beyond offering His sympathy. He has also given us the gift of His Holy Spirit to empower us as we work through even the most difficult human relationships.
So let’s take a look at our relationship problems. In one way or another, most of them are rooted in some type of hurt or woundedness. Sometimes the relationship goes awry because we are hurt, sometimes because we have hurt another.
What should I do when someone has wronged me?
- Although our initial reaction may be to respond with anger or even to retaliate, the Bible tells us not to “repay anyone evil for evil” (Romans 12:17).
- Sometimes others hurt our feelings unintentionally and may even be unaware that we are hurt. Perhaps the reason for our hurt is that we are being overly sensitive or have place unrealistic or improper expectations on our offender. But we can ask God to help us search our heart to see if the offense is warranted. “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts” (Psalm 139:23).
- If we are to respond or take any action toward restoration, we need to make sure we are operating in God’s love, not just our own. We can ask God to help us love our offender. “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other” (1 Thessalonians 3:12).
- Because God pours out his grace (which means undeserved kindness) on us, we also need to offer grace to those who mistreat or wrong us. The grace we offer to one another says, “You are broken, just like me. So I choose to treat you with kindness and favor.” Grace is something God will give to us (2 Corinthians 9:8).
- When others hurt our feelings, they often are responding out of their own pain or woundedness. They need our prayers. In fact, the Bible instructs us to “pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
- When we have been offended, the Bible instructs us to forgive our offender. We do this not because we feel like forgiving. Few people ever feel like forgiving. We forgive because God tells us to. Forgiveness is an act of our will, not our emotions. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).
- Sometimes an offense hurts us so deeply that we have to forgive our offender many times. We may need to forgive our offender not only for the offense but also for the painful consequences that may have resulted. God understands the pain we can inflict upon one another. He knows that we need His help and offers us His Spirit to help us forgive. Scripture promises that God will “give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him” (Luke 11:13).
- The Bible tells us to go to our offender (note that it doesn’t say go to our neighbors, friends, etc.) and discuss the offense. The goal of this private discussion is to present the offense with honesty, humility, and gentleness so that the relationship can be restored. Scripture tells us that “if he listens to you, you have won your brother over” (Matthew 18:15).
When our feelings are hurt, we need God’s wisdom to help us identify and evaluate the reasons for our pain and then to determine how to respond. “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all” (James 1:5).
What should I do when I have wronged someone?
- If we have done anything to hurt or bring retaliation to another, we need to ask God to forgive us for our actions (Matthew 6:12).
- God wants us to go to those we have hurt or offended and ask for their forgiveness (Matthew 5:23-24).
- When we ask for forgiveness, we’re not supposed to bring up the failings of others as the reason for our actions (Matthew 7:1-5). For example, we don’t say, “Please forgive me for calling you a hypocrite. I know it was wrong for me to say that, even though it’s true.”
- When we ask for forgiveness, we don’t offer excuses for ourselves. There is no justification for sin. We risk undermining reconciliation when we try to explain away our actions or minimize the pain we have caused.
- Saying, “I’m sorry” is not the same as asking for forgiveness. “I’m sorry” expresses our feelings but it doesn’t address the offense. The person we have hurt needs us to identify our wrongful action and ask for forgiveness for that action. For example, “Please forgive me for calling you a hypocrite. It was wrong for me to make that hurtful comment.”
- Reconcilation in our relationships is so important to God that the Bible tells us that it must be done before worship or service to Him (Matthew 5:23-24).
- If our actions warrant restitution, we should return, pay back, or repair what’s been damaged (Exodus 22:1-7). Our offenses may at times cause emotional damage that cannot be repaired simply by asking for forgiveness. In such cases, we can continue to pray for healing and we can reach out in love to that person. Our love is not sincere, however, if we give gifts or manipulate circumstances to win back someone’s favor (Romans 12:9).
What should I do when I’ve tried everything to restore a relationship but nothing has worked?
- Remember, we are responsible before God for our actions toward others. We are not responsible for their actions or responses. “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).
- Regardless of how we are being treated in a relationship, we need to continue to pray for the other person (Matthew 5:44).
- We need to resist the temptation to engage in a verbal volley. It takes two to keep a fight or dispute going. The Bible tells us that a “gentle answers turns away wrath” (Proverbs 15:1).
- Emotional pain can impair our ability to see a situation clearly. Sometimes we need an objective and caring professional such as a pastor or counselor to help us sort through a relationship conflict. The Bible gives us abundant permission to seek wise counsel (see Proverbs 15:22; 19:20; 20:18).
- Ultimately we need to hand our conflicts over to God. “Let the LORD, the Judge, decide the dispute this day” (Judges 11:27).
- We need to trust God to handle our conflicts justly. “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when we suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23).
We can’t heal every wounded relationship. But we can do our part. We can reach out with God’s wisdom, grace, and forgiveness and take the steps that lead toward restoration. And we can trust God for the result.
Editor’s Note: These guidelines are not intended to be an exhaustive study on relationship reconcilation. If you are struggling with a difficult relationship problem, consider talking with a caring professional, perhaps a pastor or Christian counselor.
Don’t Go There!
In the Bible, God provides a number of cautions related to relationships. He especially warns against certain behaviors that are easy to fall into when we face difficulties in our relationships. He doesn’t want us to:
- Walk in judgement of our offender (Romans 14:1-13).
- Slander our offender (Leviticus 19:16-18).
- Dwell on the offense (Philippians 4:8).
- Deny the situation and walk away wounded and potentially bitter (Hebrews 13:15).