I was inspired by a profound statement made by Michael Snetzer. In paraphrase, he said that for two Christians, there is no such thing as irreconcilable differences. If two people believe the Gospel, then for the one who sinned, the Gospel compels them to repent and ask forgiveness. For the one sinned against, the Gospel compels them to forgive their offender.
This is so true. Ongoing conflict between two believers is actually pretty telling that either one or neither of them truly believe or understand the fullness of the Gospel. Not to mention that it’s also a damaging witness to the world about the ability of the Gospel to bring reconciliation. This is the exact thing that Paul was rebuking the Corinthian church for, saying that “to have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you” (1 Corinthians 6:7), and to allow that dispute to be seen publicly by unbelievers only adds shame to the defeat (1 Corinthians 6:4-5).
There are two realities that Paul appeals to in order to show the foolishness of what the Corinthians were doing: their exalted position in the life to come (1 Corinthians 6:2-3), and their current status as those who are not like the world, but have been “washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). In other words, Paul was saying that the Gospel renders all accounts settled—not only between man and God, but also between the saints; and to continue in conflict with one another is antithetical to the message that we are supposed to be sending to the world as redeemed sinners that have been reconciled to God.
In fact, ongoing conflict between believers nullifies the effectiveness and sincerity of the work that has been entrusted to us. All Christians are workers in the “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18). The world is at enmity with God (James 4:4) and our duty in the here and now is to implore those separated from God to be reconciled to God through Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20). Our plea becomes nothing more than a clanging cymbal when we are embroiled with each other in the same conflict that we are urging sinners to escape from. We don’t believe our own message, so why should they?
For those who have sinned against another: the Gospel demands that you seek forgiveness and restitution from those that you have hurt. The command comes from our Lord Himself: “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, then come offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24). Until you have made amends, Jesus says that you shouldn’t even consider trying to offer anything to the Lord. In other words, you’re not right with God until you’re right with everyone else.
For those who have been sinned against: the Gospel demands that you forgive those who have offended you. This command also comes straight from our Lord: “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him” (Luke 17:3-4). Notice here that the obligation is placed on the one who was wronged to truly forgive, not for the one who did the wrong to “truly” repent. The Gospel root for this is seen in several places, but most clearly in the fact that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). This is to be done no matter the nature of the offense. C.S. Lewis said it best: “To be Christian is to forgive the inexcusable in others, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”
Failure on either parties behalf is a failure to live out the reality of the Gospel to it’s fullest ramifications. I understand that the outcome of the situation may be different if one or both parties are unbelievers, but the responsibilities put forth here are laid upon all believers, no matter who they are in suit against. “If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18). Sometimes reconciliation may not come, even between believers, which is unfortunate, but it’s up to you to be faithful to uphold your end of this. Reconciliation and forgiveness are two of the most humble, yet powerful means by which we can show to the world what it means to be a Kingdom citizen. It’s completely contrary to what the world says we should do, but that’s what makes it so powerful.
“God was reconciling the world to Himself through Christ, not counting men’s trespasses against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19). God’s business was taking the initiative upon Himself to reconcile the broken relationship between us and Him. We are to be about the same business as our Father; that’s what sons do (John 5:19). If we neglect this, we fail to honor what God did in us because it’s imitating this same kind of love and forgiveness that He has shown us that pleases Him (Ephesians 5:1-2). “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).