God has created us to live in community. He gave us spouses in marriage, He gave us children in family units, He gave us neighbors to serve, He gave us the Church to love, and He gave us Himself from whom we draw all strength. We all function in a variety of relationships, and when two sinners are in community there will be conflict, misunderstanding and hurt at some point. Sometimes the offense is gross and must be dealt with through the normal means of confrontation, confession and forgiveness. But what about those little things? What about a miscommunication? Must everything be addresses formally?
Scripture is exceedingly clear: We, as spouses, as families, as community and as the Church must strive to live together in peace. Our primary goal within the body is unity and peace.
“Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.”
– Phil 2.1-2
“To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.”
– 1 Peter 3.8-9
“Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment.”
– 1 Cor 1.10
And if someone has sinned, we are commanded to call him to repentance for the sake of His soul.
“Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.”
– Gal 6.1
“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If 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.”
– Matt 18.15-17
But what about that person who has not sinned, but has hurt our feelings? What about when two people with good motives have a miscommunication? What about those things that are merely preference or relational?
If our goal is peace and unity, then there will certainly be times that we must confront one another, even over relational issues. But there will also be times that we simply let it go. Scripture teaches us that we should love our neighbors as we love ourselves (Matt 22.39). Some of us have hyper-sensitive consciences and beat ourselves up over every little word that we say. But for the most part we are experts of excuses. We can overlook our idiosyncrasies masterfully and often are blind to them. Do you love your spouse that much? To overlook his quirks that annoy you or step on your toes? Scripture also teaches us that we should strive to outdo one another in showing honor (Rom 12.10). If your brother, friend or fellow church member unknowingly offended you or said something in an abrasive manner, is it your heart’s response to seek to honor him all the more? Are you in competition with him to see who can love and respect the other better?
Paul sums it up beautifully:
Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
– Eph 4.1-3
So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.
– Col 3.12-13
In these two letters, Paul encourages the believers to show tolerance for one another in love, and to bear with one another. These commands are separate and unique from forgiving one another, as he defines in his letter to the Colossians – that forgiveness requires a complaint against one another – assuming an offense associated with sin. We ought not, for the sake of our souls, sweep sin under the rug. If someone has sinned and we bore it witness, then we must call one another to repentance. The Holy Spirit has been given to us for the purpose of recognizing sin:
“And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment…”
– John 16.8
The Holy Spirit within us will convict us of our own sin, but also the sins of our brothers and sisters in Christ. I might have a blind spot in my life that I need my spouse or small group to point out, and if it is our goal as believers to be more Christlike, then this is a glorious and beautiful part of our community: pushing one another on to holiness.
But there will also be times that I will rub someone the wrong way. We have cultural microcosms within the greater culture of the United States, and northerners are known to be more direct and blunt while southerners are known to be more soft and relational. These two cultures will undoubtedly misunderstand one another relationally and professionally when forced to interact. Thus we are commanded to “bear with one another” and “show tolerance for one another in love”. Most of these offenses will be completely one sided. Since there is not sin factor at play, one party in relationship might find another annoying, or misunderstand the meaning or intention of another, but these are the types of quirks that can be overlooked or tolerated.
So what do we do? How do we ford these relational waters? In the spirit of unity and peace, we must consider one another better than ourselves and humbly examine the situation:
“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”
– Phil 2.3-4
When we die to ourselves and consider the other person, we ask these kinds of questions: What happened? Why am I hurt or upset? Did he intend to offend me? What is going on in his life that caused him to do or say what he did? Did I offend him?
If we conclude that there is no sin that needs to be addressed in the situation, then we must ask ourselves, “Can I get over this? Or do I need to talk it out?” Some people need to talk things out to have resolution and closure. Some people can bear with one another by extending a measure of grace and letting it go. This is where we must know ourselves. If you will become embittered against someone’s personality, then approach your brother in Christ and discuss what happened. Do not let the spirit of bitterness take root in your life:
“See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled…”
– Heb 12.15
Let us seek, therefore, to put one another first; to consider their needs, their personalities, their life circumstances. Let us seek to grow in maturity and understand our own personalities: do I need to talk through day-to-day miscommunications? Or am I able to let things go without growing bitter? Let us remember the command of Christ to die to ourselves, to be humble, to love our neighbor in the same manner that we love ourselves, and to outdo one another in showing honor. Make it a friendly competition – in sincerity and love! Challenge yourself! How can I honor so-and-so today? How can I push my spouse on to holiness? How can I love my community in such a way that is selfless? What quirks do I need to bear and tolerate? And what quirks do we need to address for the sake of unity?
We do not always have to formally address every situation. Sometimes we just love someone for who they are, and give them the benefit of the doubt.