Sometimes we fret over whether or not a confrontation will shatter a relationship that seems cracked and falling apart. How do we discern whether or not to confront someone for a sin and ask for an apology?
The following examines the Scriptures to answer this question and adapts the thoughts of others into my own words.1 Much more could be said than what follows, but here at least three questions to help determine whether or not a confrontation is necessary.
First, is this sin important?
Don’t get me wrong with this question—every sin is important in that it violates the infinitely holy nature of our perfectly pure God. The idea with this question is to discern the relative importance of the sin.
Sometimes Scripture indicates encourages nonretaliation. We can expect to be persecuted by our enemies, and we must love them in return (Matthew 5:10–12). When enemies or anyone slaps us or takes our coats, we can overlook this kind of offense and give kindness in return (Matthew 5:38–41). A minor offense does not need a major response. If the offense is minor, let your “love cover a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). It might just be your “glory to overlook an offense” (Proverbs 19:11). Jesus taught this love (Matthew 5:10–12, 39–40) and lived it out as well (Isa 53:7; Matthew 27:12; Mark 14:61; 15:4–5; Luke 23:9; John 19:9; 1 Peter 2:22–23).
Second, is this sin intentional?
It is one thing for someone to offend another in a premeditated manner. It is quite another for someone to offend another by accident. In connecting this question to the previous question, an important matter may be worth mentioning to the offender. However, if the matter is not important, and if the offender intended no offense (as best we know), then it is likely best to “overlook an offense” (Proverbs 19:11).
Third, is this sin individual?
By individual, I mean that the offender has offended you and you alone. It could be a private or public offense. It might even be quite serious. However, even then, if the sin is against you and no one else, you may choose to overlook the sin.
Joseph overlooked the sin of his brothers selling and sending him away (Genesis 45:4–5; 50:20). David overlooked Shimei’s curses and casting rocks (2 Samuel 16:5–14; 19:18–23). Jesus prayed for the forgiveness of His killers (Luke 23:34), and Stephen did so as well (Acts 7:60). Not every killer came to Christ, but some of them did in time (cf. Mark 15:39; Acts 2:37; 9:17).
For whatever these individuals overlooked, God Almighty would exact perfect justice in time. But whether or not an offender finds forgiveness from God, we as individuals can overlook sin. This love does not mean that justice might demand consequences and a formal apology for serious sin, but it does mean that we can overlook what we can and be willing to forgive.
So, should you expect your offender to say “I’m sorry”? As one pastor put it, “The short answer is that it is a matter of wisdom or discernment.”2
Hopefully the three questions above provide some general wisdom and discernment. And for anything left unsaid, I would encourage you to read the book cited in the notes below.
Next week, I hope to write on forgiveness again and clarify when Scripture requires someone to confront the offender.
All quotes ESV
- See especially Chris Brauns, Unpacking Forgiveness (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008) and John MacArthur, The Freedom and Power of Forgiveness (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1998).
- Brauns, Unpacking Forgiveness, 98.