What Does The Bible Say About Reconciliation Between Believers?

by Dr. Michael L. Williams · Print Print · Email Email

Everyone has experienced a time when they had a disagreement with someone else. Most of the time, we work out our differences and move on. However, sometimes we do not work out our differences and either try to forget about it, or we hold bitterness and anger toward the other person. As believers, God has provided us with clear guidance on how to resolve our issues. Therefore, it is important to understand what does the Bible say about reconciliation between believers?

What does it mean to reconcile with someone?

To reconcile with someone means we try to restore friendly relations so that we can get along with or have reconciliation with each other. Reconciliation is defined as (1): 1. The restoration of friendly relations. 2. The action of making one view or belief compatible with another.

We see from this definition that reconciliation involves restoring friendly relations so that we can get along with one another. However, the motivation differs between the Christian and non-Christian.

Reconciliation is the process of restoring friendly relationships with one another so that we can get along.

Reconciliation is the process of restoring friendly relationships with one another so that we can get along.

How is reconciliation different for believers?

For the believer, the restoration of friendly relations demonstrates the peace and unity that we can have in Jesus Christ. Reconciliation also fulfills what Jesus said would be a key element in demonstrating to the world that we are Christians, that we love one another (John 13:34-35; John 15:12). Likewise, reconciliation shows us that relationships are more important than religion.

Jesus spoke about this when he was having dinner at Matthew’s house and others questioned why he was there with tax collectors and sinners. In Matthew 9:12-13. Jesus said to them, “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” By these words, Jesus emphasized that repenting and restoring relationships were what was most important to God (See also Hosea 6:4-10 and Matthew 12:7).

Another thing that makes reconciliation different for believers as the Old Testament Hebrew word for reconciliation. The Hebrew word for reconciliation is kapar, which is pronounced kaw-far’. It is most often translated into the English word, atonement. It brings to mind that when Jesus died on the cross for us He provided an atonement for our sins with the Father (Romans 5:10; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21).

The English word for atonement literally means a condition without tension. Therefore, the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross removed the tension between us and God. No other word could serve as a better example of what reconciliation should mean between believers. Our reconciliation with one another has its Biblical foundation in the atonement of Christ.

What can believers learn about reconciliation from the Bible?

The Bible teaches in Matthew 5:21-25 that reconciliation should take place as soon as possible. It even tells us that if we are at church and realize that we need to reconcile with someone, we should leave church and immediately go to them. Then we can return to the church after reconciliation has taken place.

This is reinforced in Matthew 18:15-20 where the process of reconciliation for believers is described. It tells us in verse 15 that when we go to make reconciliation, we should go alone and keep it private. Unfortunately, in most cases when there is a dispute between two parties in the church, everyone in the church knows about it before the parties involved. The rule of thumb should be that if someone is not part of the problem or part of the solution then it should be classified as gossip to speak with them about it.

If the other person refuses to reconcile or discuss the issue, then Matthew 18:16 tells us to take one or two others so that both sides of the story can be confirmed. Again, the issue is kept private at this point. However, if there is still no reconciliation, then and only then should it be brought to the church (Matthew 18:17). We are told in verse 17 that if the party or parties refuse to listen to the church, then they should be removed from the congregation.

Unfortunately, most churches do not follow this process and the issue creates major dissension and often causes a split in the church congregation. Paul pointed out the wickedness of not following the Biblical model in 1 Corinthians 6:1-8. He said that the local church should be resolving issues that many people brought to civil courts. He pointed out that even the least esteemed person in the church was a better judge than an unbeliever. Sadly, the same holds true today, believers would rather sue one another than have the local church decide what is right.

What should be our approach when reconciling with someone else?

The Bible teaches that when we approach someone else with a problem, we should do it in a spirit of meekness. Our motivation should be to communicate the problem in a way that attacks the problem and not the person. This communicates grace and love to the other person and a willingness to restore the relationship. (See Proverbs 10:12, Galatians 6:1-5, and Ephesians 4:1-3, 25, 29-31).

In addition to this, we must be willing to ask for forgiveness and forgive if asked (Matthew 18:21-35). To forgive means that we give up our right to enforce justice when we have been wronged. Asking for forgiveness is different than apologizing. An apology only applies when no wrong has been done because the root of the word apology means “without the Word.” This makes an apology only appropriate when no Biblical offense has taken place.

Forgiveness involves a two-way transaction between the individuals. The offender(s) humbles themselves and ask for forgiveness and the person who was offended grants forgiveness. When we grant forgiveness we release our right to enforce justice and bring up the topic again. Our motivation to forgive is based on the fact that God forgave us of our sins and removed them from our account when we confessed our sins to Him.

Theologically speaking, the penalty for our sins was not dismissed, but transferred to Jesus Christ when He died upon the cross. Because of His great act of love, we are able to love and forgive others (Psalms 103:8-12; Proverbs 10:12). They should motivate us to do everything in our power to restore our relationships with others even if we’re not the person who has done wrong. In the same way, Christ did the same for us (Romans 5:8-9; Romans 12:1-2; Ephesians 5:21; 1 John 4:19).

Practically speaking, believers have an advantage over non-believers because they share the Holy Spirit who empowers them to humble themselves and to seek the will of God. Likewise, the more time we spend in God’s Word as a believer, the more the Holy Spirit changes our mind to think like Christ. This makes reconciliation easier for believers, but only if they seek the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Conclusion

Reconciliation is the process of restoring friendly relationships with one another so that we can get along. The Bible teaches that reconciliation should take place as soon as possible. The Bible also provides a process for believers to resolve their differences. When this process is followed, it will lead to reconciliation if both parties are seeking the will of God and the leading of the Holy Spirit. Reconciliation to God through Jesus Christ is the motivator for believers to reconcile with one another. Finally, believers have an advantage over nonbelievers when it comes to reconciliation because of the power and leading of the Holy Spirit.

More about forgiveness here: What Does the Bible Say About Forgiveness?

Resources – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, King James Version. (1) Google. (2015). “Reconciliation”. Retrieved from Google, https://www.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl#q=reconciliation

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

DocReits May 22, 2015 at 12:28 am

Hi Dr Williams,

I disagree with your definitions of apology and forgiveness. I understand you are taking a high definition of the word apology when you state,

“the word apology means “without the Word.” This makes an apology only appropriate when no Biblical offense has taken place.”

This is the 21st century though and the word apology has come to be defined as , ” an admission of error or discourtesy accompanied by an expression of regret “(Merriam/Webster)

An apology is offered therefore often without the expectation of forgiveness. In fact it often does not come with forgiveness from the other side. We would expect forgiveness from Christians but even in this quarter forgiveness is often hard to come by. An example would be the official apology from the Catholic Church regarding pedophilia among some of their priests. The Catholic Church was sued by many who were harmed, in civil court…a sign of un-forgiveness.

An apology is a sign of regret then even when it involves a Biblical offense. It shows remorse on the part of the offender. The next step, after the apology(expression of remorse) is to seek forgiveness.

Further you state that forgiveness is a contract, “Forgiveness involves a two-way transaction between the individuals. The offender(s) humbles themselves and ask for forgiveness and the person who was offended grants forgiveness.” I submit that forgiveness is often a one way street. The Bible clearly states that, “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions.”(Mark 11:25).

This obviously does not involve asking forgiveness or granting forgiveness from/to the person you offended or offended you, but to offer your forgiveness before God. Granted we are to leave our gift at the altar and be reconciled to our brother, if possible, but often this is impossible. What if the one who offended us is dead? In another article I recently posted about the best quote on forgiveness I have ever heard, “True forgiveness is accepting the apology you will never receive”.

Blessings,

DocReits

Reply

Dr. Michael L Williams May 22, 2015 at 12:51 pm

Thanks for the comment DocReits. I am taking the linguistic original meaning of the word apology. Even Webster’s alludes to an apology not being appropriate when wrongdoing has occurred. In the top definitions they use the words: a. “a formal justification b. excuse. They list the top two synonyms as: alibi and excuse. Nowhere do any of their descriptions of the word allude to a confession of wrongdoing except in the social sense which changes with time.

The example of anyone apologizing for molestation demonstrates where they were Biblically and theologically wrong. Using the words, “I apologize” really does not communicate an asking for forgiveness. A public confession and asking for forgiveness is necessary. People that I have counseled that were molested in New Mexico by religious workers who molested in other states were livid when they heard the apology. They saw the apology as a statement to get it over and not hold anyone accountable.

Likewise, look at Webster’s antonyms of the word conservative. They describe someone who is “narrow minded” and “not open minded” amongst other things. It leaves you with the impression that conservatives are stupid and intolerant. This is why I look at the historic etymology of the word which is most often reflected in dictionaries from ancient times. (Even Webster’s 1828 has some words with newer meanings as the second or third entry.)

The point I was making is that words tend to get changed over time and the original meanings are lost along with their theological importance. This is often seen with many newer translations of the Bible. This is also part of the reason that many people have redefined Biblical concepts. A perfect example is the word repentance. In the Greek and the English, the etymology of the word repentance is a change of mind. However, some modern day Christians have redefined repentance to mean turning from sin. There should be a turning from sin when your mind changes (repentance). However, if we include turning from sin in the definition, then God is a sinner in over 30 verses in the Bible! (See KJV Exodus 32:14; Jonah 3:9-10; Romans 11:29; Hebrews 7:21 for examples).

Using apologies instead of asking for forgiveness, robs the wrongdoer of the opportunity to confess their sin and make true reconciliation at the level of the heart. In counseling, it is amazing how tender the mood can become when I walk two people, especially married couples, through the process of asking and receiving forgiveness when they have done nothing but apologize for years. Everyone in the room, including me, ends up in tears and hearts are turned to the Lord.

Thanks so much for your comments. I hope that through these examples, people will seek the deep things of God and not let modern society redefine His words. Blessings.

Reply

DocReits May 23, 2015 at 3:23 pm

Great illustrations and I thank you fore your kind reply. My point was that we live in society today and we need to deal with the understanding of the way our culture understands these terms, such as the word “apology”. I understand about apologetic’s using the base word apology to mean a defense, so I get your point. But to make an apology today means to express regret. As my daughter says, “just deal with it dad”. So go with me a moment here.

I relate many things to my life experiences with my children.

They would often say, “sorry, sorry, please forgive me” when they had offended or hurt someone. This was often just to avoid punishment without the heartfelt contrition or acknowledgement of how much their grievance had hurt the one they offended.

I would stop them and say, “No! You apologize right now!!” The idea I was trying to convey was that they needed to acknowledge the pain they caused and to exhibit remorse for their action. Not remorse because of being caught or for the punishment they might receive, but regret and remorse for the pain they had caused another.

This, IMO, is missing from your article. This is done in the way of a sincere apology( the exhibition of remorse). Once remorse is in play, then all else follows in your article. That is, the avenue is then open for forgiveness.

Without this fundamental step, seeking forgiveness often has no real meaning.

Thank you for your consideration,

DocReits

Reply

Anonymous September 23, 2018 at 9:36 am

Hello,
I’m incredibly confused. I want to reconcile with my pastors family, but I really dont know how to go about it. Basically the pastors children (college age) came to me and said I was barely tolerable, and blocked me on social media, and I really dont know why, but this event triggered schizoaffective disorder in me (delusions and hallucinations). The pastor brought this to the elders first without talking to me, and they all told him I didn’t do anything wrong. I tried talking to the pastor and he said I need to take responsibility for myself and it’s hard to love my neighbor when I dont love myself and my actions have consequences, but outside of being annoying, I dont know what my actions were that caused such a rift, and the pastor wont express it…so if nobody can tell me what I did wrong, how can I repent? How can we reconcile?

Reply

Jack Wellman September 23, 2018 at 9:49 am

It appears you have done all you can, so just put this behind you and try not to bring it up again. I am saddened by their lack of humility and willingness to discuss this with you. Have you spoken with your doctors over this schizoaffective disorder? There may be treatment for it. If the elders said you did nothing wrong, then just put it behind you and go from here. At least you tried. That’s more than some people do, so there is no need to repent of it. Its over, it sounds like.

Reply

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