In the book of James, the warning is given that “the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity…and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell” (James 3:6). There is power in the tongue to bless, or to curse. There is also power in the tongue to cause misunderstanding, for individuals listening must interpret what is being communicated. Sometimes, the interpretation is diametrically opposite to what is being intended.
With misunderstanding comes the severance of a relationship, usually based upon wounded pride, a sense of unfairness, and the attitude that a person who is critical to any degree cannot be a true friend. Of course this is not a gospel response, but it is a human response. The practical result is that, “A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city” (Prov. 18:19).
Having been misunderstood by individuals, sometimes deliberately misunderstood, I can testify to the truthfulness of the proverb. A person who believes they have been criticized often feels threatened, unloved, and betrayed. In emotional pain, some individuals chose to retaliate against the offending party.
When a person chooses to retaliate, instead of being forgiving and longsuffering, there are some weapons of choice in the arsenal of offense. One of the most effective is silence. Another is cold indifference. Avoidance is a potent weapon. Assigning evil motives, and sharing them indiscriminately is psychologically satisfying. Some people are determined to hurt as deeply as they have been hurt, and then some. So, what can a person do who has offended someone?
First, an apology can be offered if it is known a person has been wounded. Sometimes it is not easy to discern if a person is angry with you. It is not uncommon for a person to pretend not to notice a negative comment when in reality they are deeply bitter and angry.
Second, do something in secret for an offended person. “A gift in secret pacifieth anger” (Prov. 21:14). This is an unusual divine remedy, but it is the will of the Lord. Seek a way to do something good to a person who is angry with you, but do it in secret.
Third, pray and ask the Lord for forgiveness especially if wisdom, or restraint, was not shown in the initial comment of concern.
Fourth, commit the matter to the Lord. There is nothing more that can be done.
Do not be surprised if a person who feels offended is not open to reconciliation. David Brainerd is one of the most respected people in church history. He never finished college, being expelled from Yale for criticizing a professor. Even after he privately and publically apologized for his comments, Brainerd was never forgiven. He was never reconciled to that professor because the instructor would not accept his heartfelt repentance. David Brainerd learned that, “A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city”.
Is there someone you will not forgive, or be reconciled to?