Reconciliation- For the Church, Not the Courts!

by Attorney David M. Hnath

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The Act of Reconciling

The Steps of Reconciliation

The Ministry of Reconciliation

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PART I- The Act of Reconciling

As a Christian, our perspective on life must, by definition, be different than that of the non-believer. Whenever we have a problem, we have a life manual to turn to- the Bible. As Christians, we believe that the Word of God speaks with authority in all areas of our lives.

Or do we? Why is it that we often fail to turn to Scripture when we see Christians having problems with each other? We have a tendency to bury our heads in the sand, pretending it's none of our business- after all, they would have come to us if they wanted us to stick our nose in, wouldn't they? We even turn to Scripture to "justify" our unwillingness to "interfere":

"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 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?" (Matthew 7:1-3, NIV)
And, of course, we cannot ignore that warning. Christians who judge other Christians must examine two things: their own lives, and their motives for judging. We are not to condemn others' actions to lift ourselves up and make us look more spiritual- that's hypocrisy. But to judge another believer through eyes of compassion, with an aim of reconciliation is to obey God's Word: "Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently." (Galatians 6:1, NIV)

In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus outlines exactly how we are to go to the church to reconcile our relationships. Many churches today, however, do not have the courage to allow for their members to "tell it to the church." Instead of being counseled on the basic truths of reconciliation, many Christians seeking counseling from pastors and elders are invariably told that what they are looking at is not a problem for the church, but rather a legal matter, and that the best thing they can do is get a good lawyer and look out for their "rights!"

The apostle Paul writes just the opposite to the church in Corinth. "If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints?...I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers?" (I Corinthians 6:1,5, NIV). The church today needs men of courage and strong conviction like Paul. This would be a departure from most churches today which a prominent Christian attorney described as being composed of "one head rooster, a lot of hens, and a lack of true masculinity."

Fighting in court takes money- reconciliation takes guts! To be reconciled, even the wronged party has to expose himself before the Lord and admit that he, too, is not perfect. Only then can the process of healing begin!

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PART II- The Steps of Reconciliation

Last month, we examined the biblical basis for reconciliation of relationships and the role of the church (that is, the body of believers) in that process. Next, we will look at the three steps of reconciliation- with God, with self, and then with the other party- focusing this month on reconciliation with God and self.

To begin the process of reconciliation, one basic principle must be observed: "I can't change others, but with God's help I can change myself." In other words, to restore a relationship, we must start by examining ourselves. God is a God of mercy, but He is also a God of justice. In his first epistle, John wrote: "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (I John 1:8-9, NIV).

The first step, then, is ours. We have to admit there's a problem, then go to His court, asking forgiveness and seeking God's merciful justice. We must learn to live in the light, not just claim to be in it. And if we don't, we are doomed to spiritual darkness, being overcome by the world instead of overcoming: "Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble" (I John 2:9-10 NIV).

In order to be reconciled to God, we must go one step further. We must ask forgiveness from the person we have a dispute with, whether we are the wronged party or not! The fact that the other person may have committed the greater wrong does not mean we can sit back and wait for them to ask for our forgiveness. Even though we may feel greatly wronged, we have a duty to initiate reconciliation by asking the other person's forgiveness. "Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift" (Matthew 5:23-24 NIV).

Perhaps the toughest step in the reconciliation process is to be reconciled to yourself! It is one thing to know that God forgives us of our sins- His Word tells us so. It's quite another thing to accept forgiveness- learning to love and accept oneself is not an easy thing to do!

Christ makes us complete. Paul said in his letter to the Colossians that "ye are complete" in Christ. (Colossians 2:10). How many of us, though, just can't accept that! We look to become complete individuals by looking for acceptance by family, friends, or the pastor of our church, or by being successful in our chosen profession, or by trying to take any and all positions available at church to "prove" ourselves complete. We tend to equate our work at church with spirituality, and often work toward a nervous breakdown in our search for peace through works.

What we are really searching for is reconciliation to ourselves- only then can we enjoy the peace we're searching for. Once that has been accomplished, we can dare say "no" and "suffer" the consequences! It all boils down to the motivation for our work- are we seeking the praises of men, or the praises of God?

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PART III- The Ministry of Reconciliation

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: That God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And He has commtted to us the message of reconciliation" ( II Corinthians 5:17-19, NIV).

So, as Christians we all have this "ministry of reconciliation" - but, just what is this ministry, anyway?

Simply put, the ministry of reconciliation is a ministry by which believers are reconciled, one to another. What else could it be? We just saw that it is God who reconciles the unbeliever to Himself through Christ. This is salvation. But consider what happens as a result of salvation- men and women of diverse socio-economic backgrounds are thrown into one big melting pot, the church! Men and women who, without the common bond of Jesus Christ would most likely have little or nothing to do with each other! Whence fellowship without reconciliation? It is not simply enough to be reconciled- the church is called to undertake the task of reconciliation. Reconciliation among men is the identifying mark of God's new creation!

True Repentance
Consequences, however, follow behavior, even after we are saved. To ask for forgiveness, but then try to avoid the consequences of our actions, is not true repentance. If there is no repentance, there is no change. To avoid consequences, to ignore them, is not change- to deal with them, to go forward and face the consequences, is the real change. Reconciliation does not eliminate the consequences of sin from people's lives, but rather, it helps them through the consequences so that they may be totally healed! It is much more difficult to confront someone in their sin than it is to let their actions go. We often justify our "hands off" attitude by saying "we'll love them no matter how deeply they fall into sin." "I'll pray for you" doesn't cut it- "I'll help you through" is the attitude we need to adopt!

Once we have read about the ministry of reconciliation, it becomes our responsibility to become a leader in this area, to take the initiative to lead those in the Body of Christ, in an attitude of love, to be reconciled to God, themselves, and others (Galatians 6:1). If we ignore their faults, they will continue to walk in their old paths, often unknowingly repeating old patterns. They will never mature, and the church, the Body of Christ as a whole, will suffer. We must undertake, individually and collectively, the ministry of reconciliation which was laid before us at salvation.

First printed in The American Night Watch Newsletter, Volume III, Part 6, June1995 (Part I), Volume III, Part 7, July1995 (Part II), Volume III, Part 8, August1995 (Part III).

Copyright 1999 David M. Hnath. All Rights Reserved.

The American Night Watch is a trademark of the Christian ministry of Sterling M. Durgy.

Quotes are from the New International Version of The Holy Bible. New International Version and NIV are registered trademarks of the International Bible Society.

Permission is granted to reprint this article as long as the copyright is included, this statement is included, and the article is not sold to the recipients.

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This page was last updated October 22, 1999.