We are in a season where it seems there have never been more strong opinions about a variety of topics, and more opportunities to offend others. To some degree, disagreement and conflict with those we care about is inevitable in a fallen world. And certainly, disagreement isn’t inherently sinful. But sin can easily be involved in our communication and responses. So how do we navigate that with grace, and work towards reconciliation when we do offend one another? Here are some thoughts I shared with a reader who asked for advice:
It is not your job to focus on your friend’s sins, even as it is not their job to focus on your sins. The fact that they may do so does not mean you should do the same. They are accountable for their choices; you are accountable for yours. Your leading the way in confession and admission and apology for whatever you could have done better may or may not prompt them to do so themselves. But whether or not it does, it is still right and Christ-honoring.
It may well be true that they have heart issues that need to be addressed. But the way to do this most effectively is to address your own issues first. Your primary job is to deal with your own issues, only secondarily theirs.
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:3-4).
I think the plank and speck analogy offers helpful insights. Was Jesus really saying that every time we see something in our brother’s eye there is always something worse in ours? Sometimes, yes, but surely not always. I think the point is that our first duty is always to see our own faults, not the faults of others. And in the case of a relational conflict, if we are acutely aware of our sinfulness, we will see the bigness of our faults outweighing those of our brother. When Paul calls himself the chief of sinners, was he really saying no one on the planet had sinned more? I think, rather, he was saying, “I am the worst sinner I know.” Why? Because he knows his own sins far better than anyone else’s, even those who might in fact be worse sinners. But his focus is on his own sin, and by putting the focus there he humbly calls on God for His grace and sets the example of coming to terms with his faults.
So Jesus didn’t say, “Forget about the speck in your brother’s eye,” but rather take care of the problems closest to you, the big ones in your own life, so then and ONLY then can you really help your brother address his issues.
Romans 14:19 says, “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.” Making every effort means going out of our way to pursue peace with others in God’s family, even when doing so is inconvenient or sacrificial. Love never says, “Grow up, believe and act how I do, since as usual, I’m right again.” There is a road to peace and building others up. It doesn’t come naturally or happen on its own—it takes focused effort and leaning into the Spirit’s help.
“All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” (1 Peter 5:5-6)
“Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. ‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” (Ephesians 4:25-27)
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” (Colossians 3:12-14)
I also encourage you to watch my message, “When Christians Disagree about Beliefs and Actions.” See too my book The Grace and Truth Paradox.