The Principle of God’s Sovereignty
Before we become too upset about offenses, we should remember that God is the sovereign of the universe. God knows everything that we encounter in this life because He is sovereign over circumstance. It may very well be that he has brought suffering into our lives for His glory and for our good.
James 1:2-5 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.
We should not become upset or discouraged every time we face trials in our lives because these difficulties have a maturing affect on us. Through hardship we learn patience and this continuing patience produces spiritual maturity. Whether our trials are financial, circumstancial, or relational, they all contribute to our spiritual growth – when we respond to them in a way which pleases God.
Let’s consider Joseph as an example:
Genesis 50:19-20 But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.
Joseph responded “am I in the place of God”? He recognized God as the Sovereign One who orchestrated every hardship for a purpose. Joseph’s understanding of God’s sovereignty enabled him to suffer graciously.
Now consider the example of David:
2 Samuel 16:5-12 When King David came to Bahurim, there came out a man of the family of the house of Saul, whose name was Shimei, the son of Gera, and as he came he cursed continually. 6 And he threw stones at David and at all the servants of King David, and all the people and all the mighty men were on his right hand and on his left. 7 And Shimei said as he cursed, “Get out, get out, you man of blood, you worthless man! 8 The LORD has avenged on you all the blood of the house of Saul, in whose place you have reigned, and the LORD has given the kingdom into the hand of your son Absalom. See, your evil is on you, for you are a man of blood.” 9 Then Abishai the son of Zeruiah said to the king, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and take off his head.” 10 But the king said, “What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah? If he is cursing because the LORD has said to him, ‘Curse David,’ who then shall say, ‘Why have you done so?'” 11 And David said to Abishai and to all his servants, “Behold, my own son seeks my life; how much more now may this Benjaminite! Leave him alone, and let him curse, for the LORD has told him to. 12 It may be that the LORD will look on the wrong done to me, and that the LORD will repay me with good for his cursing today.”
David was a king, surrounded by his men of war. He could have easily avenged himself upon Shimei. But David, understanding that God is sovereign, chose rather to let Shimei curse him. David knew that it could have been God who allowed this to happen and that God could avenge him this wrong if He saw fit.
Both David and Joseph offer us tremendous examples of suffering graciously in light of God’s sovereignty. They absorbed the offenses of others and did not react, knowing that God was in control. Proverbs 19:11 summarizes the principle of graceful suffering well; Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.
Now consider a third principle – The Principle of God’s Justice.
The Principle of God’s Justice
1 Peter 2:21-23 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.
When Christ was beaten and vilified he did not respond in kind. He did not stoop to the level of his abusers and threaten or revile back. This is remarkable example especially considering the fact that Christ was absolutely sinless and any suffering that he experienced was unjust and undeserved. Christ did not respond to his accusers. Instead, he “continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly”. Jesus is teaching us here that there is only one who always judges with righteous judgement and that is God himself (John 8:50). It is far better to commit our cause to God, the righteous judge, than to constantly question whether or not our handling of a situation is right. We know that however God works out the situation, it will be in perfect harmony with his justice.
Psalms 35:1 Of David. Contend, O LORD, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me!
Psalms 9:4 For you have maintained my just cause; you have sat on the throne, giving righteous judgment.
Psalms 75:7 but it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another.
The Christian should rely on God as the righteous judge. If we are sinned against and are unsure whether or not we should respond, or how we should handle the situation, it may be better to simply commit our cause to God in prayer and trust him to vindicate us if need be.
The principle of God’s justice should be liberating to the believer. It means that we do not have to go through life constantly defending ourselves. It means that we do not have to be on edge and ready to pounce upon every offense or slander against us. Instead, we can peacefully entrust every offense to God and allow him to judge in His timing, as He sees fit.
A willingness to suffer graciously, a recognition of God’s sovereignty and a relinquishing of our offense to God’s justice will go a long way in preventing additional conflicts in the church. If each of us were to practice these three principles, offenses would rarely escalate to the level of confrontation.
We are all growing into the image of Christ, but we all still struggle with sin. For this reason, Jesus’ first instructions to the church were given in regard to how to handle offenses through forgiveness. Naturally then, we should not be surprised when we are offended by fellow believers in the church. The key is in how each party responds to these offenses.
As we’ve learned in this study, the first priority is to consider whether or not we can handle an offense in our own heart without ever having to approach our brother about it. The principles of graceful suffering, God’s justice and God’s sovereignty should enable us to deal with offenses on a heart level without ever approaching our brother. However, if confrontation is absolutely inevitable – perhaps because it is abundantly clear to both parties that an offense has taken place and reconciliation can only come through discussing it together – then the Bible gives us a clear procedure to follow.
Firstly, we should approach our brother privately. Speaking to our brother in confidence without ever sharing the offense with others ensures that we keep ourselves pure from gossip or slander; it prevents others from taking up offenses for us; and it ensures that long after we’ve been reconciled, others do not have lingering animosity toward the one who offended us.
If we approach our brother about an offense and they willingly hear us and reconcile with us – then we’ve gained our brother. The offense is forgiven and our relationship with him ought to be fully restored. But, what if we’ve determined that we must approach our brother over an offense and he is unwilling to reconcile? According to Christ, this is no light matter and should be dealt with very seriously. In the next lesson we will see how such a situation may need to escalate to the point where our brother is approached with counsel, by the congregation or ultimately, put out of the church.