It happens to all of us. At some point in our lives: someone will hurt us deeply. Sometimes it is physical. Sometimes it is emotional. Sometimes it happens with words. Sometimes it happens with actions.
Nevertheless, Scripture does give us some very candid and direct counsel for proceeding in these situations. Christians, as redeemed people, are expected to be the "bigger person," take initiative, and help to set our relationships back on a godly course.
The following rubric is intended to help you proceed when your soul aches from the pain caused by others.
NOTE: This is a general guideline and cannot possibly take every variant situation into consideration.
1. Was the offense physical, violent, sexual, or criminal? If yes, move to #2. If no, move to #3.
2. If the act committed against you was criminal, you have a right and obligation to report it to the proper authorities (i.e. the police) especially if it was of a violent or sexual nature. In these cases, confronting the person personally is usually not a good idea. Here, you run the risk of being abused again, as well as possibly leaving a door open to the abuse of another. You should consider talking to your pastor or a trusted counselor about this, or even a good friend. Ultimately, you will want to find peace in your heart through forgiveness, even though you do not need to put yourself into harm's way again. Trust God to bring about justice in His own time ("Vengeance is mine saith the Lord") and seek the healing hands of Christ.
3. If the offense was not criminal, you should begin seeking reconciliation with the person involved, even if you yourself have not committed any offense against them. You may be totally innocent in the matter, or partially at fault. Likely, the offending party may not even be aware of his offense, and you will burn inside destroying only yourself by harboring your resentment. For this reason, you should ask another question: Is the offending party a Christian? If no, move to #4. If yes, move to #5.
4. Since the offending party is not a Christian, you have an opportunity to share the grace of God that you have personally experienced through Christ. These offenses should be seen as opportunities given by God to show an unbelieving world what true forgiveness looks like. Go to the person personally (if possible) and share your feelings in this matter, and how you are seeking God's peace. Offer the offender true, unconditional forgiveness. If you own part of the fault, apologize unconditionally as well. As the opportunity presents itself, you would do well to share the Gospel with him or her. Although the parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18:23-35) is in the context of sins committed against other believers, the application is broad enough for all kinds of hurts and grievances: consider how much God has already forgiven you, and seek to model your grace after His!
5. If the offending party is also Christian, we have clear obligations to follow the reconciliation pattern given in Matthew 18:15-20. Notice this passage is in particular reference to when a "brother sins against you" (18:15, emphasis added). These steps given by Jesus assume that the offender is a Christian, and has a sensitive spirit to receive the guidance of the church in his or her life. Here, Jesus has given us a four-part movement for seeking reconciliation, [a] gracious, personal confrontation (verse 15), [b] gracious confrontation with witnesses (verse 16), [c] church leadership intervention with possible disciplinary sanctions (verse 17) and finally [d] terminating the relationship (verse 17). This last step, is to be considered a drastic measure only, and should almost never be the case among professing Christians.
Although the first step is the hardest, it is almost always the most important. How many relationships can be restored if we would only take Jesus' words of counsel here more seriously? How many inner grievances could be mended and healed if we heeded the counsel of the Master?
Unfortunately many of us either jump far too quickly to get others involved (the sin of gossip) or else are content to burn quietly inside harming only ourselves (the sin of unforgiveness).
Take a step of grace today and begin mending your relationship without further delay!
-Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida.