Have You Tried to Make Amends?
“LOOK! How good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity! It is like the dew of Hermon that is descending upon the mountains of Zion.” (Ps. 133:1, 3) It is indeed a pleasure to see members of a family or of a Christian congregation dwelling together in loving unity, working harmoniously together. But such a condition is not always easy to maintain, human nature being what it is. At times it takes real effort.
To illustrate with a true-life account: Among the musicians regularly playing together in a 10-member orchestra were a witty Scotsman who played the viola and a serious-minded German who played the cello. Their opposite temperaments caused occasional clashes and then gradually a barrier came between the two. Evidently the cellist was causing the violist grievances. For a time the cellist shrugged off the matter, saying to himself, ‘After all, Jesus said that if your brother offends you go to him. And so, if I have offended him let him come to me.’ But then one day the cellist was reading his Bible and came across the words of Jesus: “If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then . . . offer thy gift.”—Matt. 5:23, 24, Authorized Version.
Those words jolted the cellist. He could no longer leave the burden of reconciliation on his brother, the violist, but he himself felt obligated to take the first step. So at once he went to his offended brother and found him doing what? He was in the midst of writing a letter of complaint to the president of their organization, spelling out his grievances against the cellist! There was a frank discussion and a reconciliation that resulted in lasting good relations. How glad the cellist was that he had come across that scripture that morning and had at once acted upon it!
THE OBLIGATION TO TRY TO MAKE AMENDS
Since all of us are imperfect, differences are bound to arise. Perhaps in your case it is not that you have offended another but that another has offended you. The question is: What will you do about it? Will you try to make amends?
Have you stopped talking to the one who has offended you or are you treating him coolly? Are you lying awake nights thinking about how unkind your neighbor was to you? You may wonder why it is that he does not care to come to you and apologize for the wrong he did to you. If so, you may well be hurting yourself even more than your neighbor has harmed you. It could even be that he is not at all aware that he had so greatly offended you. True, he may have realized that what he said or did was not so kind as it should have been, but may have no idea of the effect he has had on your life.
Why should you let such a strained relation continue, causing you to lose your joy? Remember, for God’s servants ‘the joy of Jehovah is their strength.’ (Neh. 8:10) If you have taken the matter to God in prayer and have tried to forgive and forget but found yourself unable to do so, or there seem to be continuing grounds for grievance, then you must go to your brother and try to make amends. God’s Word says you must take the initiative: “Go to him and show him his fault . . . If he listens to you, you have won back your brother.” (Matt. 18:15-17, An American Translation) While this has pointed application to very serious matters, it also is a general principle that Christians follow in less weighty matters.
AIDS TO TAKING THE STEP
It might be said that basically it is a matter of communication. Communication has broken down between the two of you and the problem is to get it reestablished. Where the breakdown is between two Christians, one or the other should be willing to put forth the effort.
True, for you to take the initiative will not be easy. What will help you to do so? One thing is humility. Why humility? Because more often than not it is pride that keeps us from mending broken communication. It takes humility to go to one who has offended you and try to explain to him wherein he came short, and how you have been injured by him. Many a lovers’ quarrel was never patched up just because the one that was hurt was too proud to say so.
Another thing that will help you is empathy, which has been defined as “entering fully, through imagination, into another’s feelings or motives.” In other words, putting yourself in another’s shoes, as it were. Yes, just imagine yourself in the other’s place. Suppose you had wronged someone but did not fully realize it. Would you not want that one to call it to your attention?
To use an extremely simple illustration: Suppose you had borrowed a sum of money, maybe it was only five dollars, because you happened to have been caught short. But then you forgot all about it and never paid it back. Would you not appreciate the other one’s tactfully mentioning the matter to you? Of course! Jesus said that if we wrong someone we are, in effect, in debt to that one. So if you have been wronged by another, should you not go to him and give him the benefit of the doubt, that he may straighten out matters between you? He probably will be only too glad you did.
Above all, unselfish, principled love will help you to make amends. You do not want to see your brother becoming selfish, careless, going on a way that may well lead to more and more trouble for himself and for others, do you? (Lev. 19:17) Having his best spiritual interests at heart will cause you to go out of your way to help him all you can. As the apostle describes it, unselfish love is long-suffering, does not look for its own interests, does not keep account of the injury, rejoices not in unrighteousness but in the truth. It bears, believes, hopes and endures all things, and besides, it never fails. Such a love will impel you to try to make amends.—1 Cor. 13:4-8.
HOW TO GO ABOUT IT
Just how successful your efforts will be may well depend upon how you go about it. It is very important to go in the spirit of love, not to prove him wrong and yourself right, but to effect a reconciliation; as the scripture puts it, so that you might ‘win’ him back. Be sure to be calm, self-controlled. And wait until a time when you are not charged with emotion. If you are, you can blame only yourself if you get a negative, emotionally charged response. Yes, there is the need for controlling one’s emotions, for being calm.
And there is also the need to exercise tact. Take a lesson from the prophet Nathan, who approached King David in a tactful way to tell him how Jehovah God felt about his sin with Bath-sheba. He began by using an illustration that David could view objectively. Had Nathan at once blurted out how reprehensible David’s sin was in God’s eyes, he may well have gotten a self-justifying response, or might have been told to mind his business or even have been threatened with harm!—2 Sam. 12:1-15.
You can learn also from Queen Esther. She prepared well before making her weighty petition to her husband, King Ahasuerus. (Esther 5:3-8; 7:1-10) True, your situation is nothing like hers; your life and the life of all your people are not at stake. But the underlying principle is the same, namely, if you are greatly concerned about the outcome, and you should be, then make sure that you present your case in the most favorable manner.
To illustrate with another true story: There was an orchestra conductor who had a very talented and extremely loyal pianist, but unfortunately she was very sensitive and had quite a temper. When criticized she was prone to “explode.” So whenever he had something to suggest in the way of constructive criticism, he would first casually discuss various things of mutual interest, and then, when both seemed to be in a friendly and calm mood, he would tactfully and kindly bring up the matter that needed to be called to her attention.
But suppose your brother does not listen. Then what? Then you would have to decide to what extent principle enters into the matter and to what extent you could let ‘love cover a multitude of sins.’ If it is indeed a serious matter, you would need to follow through in line with Jesus’ further instructions to take with you two witnesses. But more often than not, such should not be necessary.—Matt. 18:16; 1 Pet. 4:8.
Of course, all of this applies with equal force if the shoe is on the other foot, if you have reason to believe that you have offended another, as in the case of the cellist offending the violist. In fact, if this were the case the foregoing counsel would apply with even more force. Suppose someone had wronged you. Would you not feel relieved if he came to you, thus obviating the need of your going to him to get the matter straightened out?
In particular will a sensitive conscience help you in such an instance. That means having a keen sense of right and wrong and a desire to do what is right. When we have wronged another we are in debt to him and we should want to be honest in paying our debts by straightening out matters between us.—Matt. 6:12.
But it may be that your efforts will fail. “A reluctant brother is more unyielding than a fortress,” the proverb says. (Prov. 18:19, The New English Bible) It may be that since he has misjudged your motives there will simply be nothing that you can do to help him to come around. If so, then it will depend upon the seriousness of the matter whether you will want to pursue the matter further, say with the help of an elder in the Christian congregation.
We should indeed seek to make amends if there is some ill-will between us and a fellow Christian. After all, do not Christians have enough to contend with trying to cope with the wicked world, with the designs of the Devil and with their own inherited weaknesses without contending with one another? When there are grievances, and prayer and efforts to forgive and forget fail to ameliorate the situation then we simply must do something about it. If you have offended another, apply Matthew 5:23, 24. If another has offended you, and it is a serious offense, apply Matthew 18:15-17. Doing so, you will be doing your share to promote the pleasantness of seeing brothers dwell in love, peace and unity. You will also be proving that you are one of Christ’s disciples.—John 13:34, 35.