LESSON 8: EMBRACING Healthy RELATIONSHIPS THROUGH FORGIVENESS AND RECONCILIATION

Lesson Aim
To help the participants appreciate the importance of forgiveness in the restoration of broken relationships.
Lesson Objectives
By the end of the lesson the participant should:
• Understand the biblical meaning and importance of forgiveness in restoring broken relationships.
• Appreciate healing that comes with restoring broken relationships.
• Commit to restore broken relationships in his or her life.

Introduction
Good interpersonal relationships are God’s gift to humanity. Without exception, human beings cherish and thrive best in environments that uphold and nurture healthy relationships at all levels. Accordingly, any breakdown of relationships leads to human suffering directly proportionate to the significance of the particular strained relationship.

Others, like in work environments, bring untold pain and heartache leading to paralysis in life. We also know that broken relationships account for innumerable emotional and physical sicknesses. Lives are threatened and occasionally lost through negligence of God given relationships.

Discussion Question
What is the most difficult thing to do, on your part, when seeking to restore a broken relationship and initiate reconciliation?

1. Forgiveness is the first step towards restoring broken relationships
a) What is forgiveness about?
Forgiveness is an intentional, conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of.

resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether you think they actually deserve forgiveness or not

Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, nor does it mean condoning or excusing offenses. But it is the process through which a victim undergoes a change in thought, feelings and attitude regarding an offense, and lets go of negative emotions such as vengefulness, with an increased ability to wish the offender well.

Matthew 6:12
“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
Forgiveness is the gateway to experiencing great spiritual freedom. Lack of it is also one of the reasons many lives are crippled with disease, bitterness and depression.

So what is forgiveness about?
i. Forgiving another person is a personal choice that is not dependent on them. It is your right to tell a person, “I forgive you.”

ii. Forgiveness is the exercise of our God given freedom to set others and ourselves free. It allows both the offender and the offended to move on from the feelings of anger, bitterness and resentment that weaken us.

iii. Forgiveness helps one to manage the hurt. Holding another person responsible feels better and justifiable but leaves our inner woundedness getting worse by the day.

b) How to embrace forgiveness
Forgiveness best makes sense when we remove the focus from blaming others to understanding oneself.

No one else is responsible for our hurt but ourselves. God has given every one of us the power and responsibility on how to respond to everyone and everything.

Romans 12:14-21
“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone”
Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”[b] Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Romans 14:19 (NIV)
Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.
i. Resolve to live in harmony and at peace with everyone.

ii. Purpose to bless rather than to curse those who persecute or mistreat you.

iii. Decide not to repay anyone evil for evil.

iv. Purpose not to take revenge because vengeance belongs to God.

v. Choose to act in the opposite spirit contrary to your offender’s expectation.

Note: Guard your hurt from hate
The primary principle here is the decision not to let your hurt become hate. This choice demands recognizing your hurt and addressing the root cause. Essentially, this process means accepting that the presence of hate is an indicator of some hurt that demands attention to heal.

c) Why is forgiveness important?
Forgiveness is key in restoring broken relationships

Beneath all broken relationships is the common problem of unresolved anger and resentment which breed the twin sins of bitterness and lack of forgiveness.

It must start with the acknowledgement that the other person is hurting on account of you.

Matthew 18:15-18
“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. 16 But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. 18 “I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”.

Giving and Receiving Forgiveness
While most people desire to forgive and to be forgiven, many do not know how to carry forth the process. To understand this better, look at the following table.
REFER TO TABLE IN THE BOOK.

d) The challenge of forgiveness
Forgiveness is a hard lesson. It has to be learnt. It is not a natural instinct. This is the reason some people would literally, “…better die than forgive.”

Matthew 18:21-22
“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”

Asking to be forgiven when we are the offenders is very easy. Forgiving another person is harder and calls for much openness to self.

Matthew 7:3-5
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

Some offenders seem like they are deliberate and do not care that we get hurt by their actions.

i. Forgiving another person does not make you the weaker person. Instead it gives you strength to make the right choice of moving on with life.

ii. One has to choose to be vulnerable to say they are hurting and tell their story.

iii. There is so much heartache when we are hurt by a person we trusted.

Implications:
Forgiveness releases the person who has wronged us from the penalty of being separated from us. It also clears the way for your relationship to develop unhindered by memories of past wrongs.

2. Importance of reconciliation in restoring broke relationships.
The goal of restoring a broken relationship is the reconciliation of two or more persons who have previously been alienated by a conflict. Many people however do not know how to properly and fully achieve this goal.

Once forgiveness has been given and received, effort must be invested in closing the existing gap of separation.
Discussion Question
What is reconciliation and what does it entail?

a) What avenues do we have for reconciliation?
i. Remind yourself of your love for the other person and your sacrificial commitment to restore the broken relationship.

John 15:13
“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his live for his friends.”
Read Philippians 2:4; Romans 15:2

ii. Address the heart first by talking to God in prayer about the conflict before talking to the person.

James 4:1-2
“What causes fights and quarrels among you… You want something but don’t get it . You do not have, because you do not ask God.”
Psalm 27:14
“Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”

iii. Take a humble attitude before God and the other person and admit your part in the conflict.

Matthew 5:23-24
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”
Proverbs 6:3
“So do this, my son, to free yourself, since you have fallen into your neighbour’s hands: Go—to the point of exhaustion—and give your neighbour no rest!”

iv. Admit your own contribution in breaking the relationship and confess it.

Matthew 7:5
“You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
1 John 1:8-9
“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

v. Honestly ask for forgiveness and generously grant it.

Matthew 6:14-15
“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
Colossians. 3:12-14
“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you”
(see also 1 Cor. 13:5; Psalm 103:12 and Isaiah 43:25).

Note: When you ask forgiveness, the forgiving person forfeits his or her right to ever bring the matter up again. This way, he or she chooses to remember the particular offenses no more; just as the LORD our God does (Isaiah 43:25-26). This is also true when you grant forgiveness to another person. You put the matter behind you and agree never to bring it up again. In this way, forgiveness is an indispensable component to restoration of a broken relationship.

b) How does effective reconciliation take place?
Communication is the Golden Rule in restoring relationships.
Even with good intentions, the process of restoring a broken relationship is often hampered by poor communication. Thus;

i. Deliberately choose to attack the problem but not the offending person.

Psalm 73:21-22
“When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, 22 I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.”

ii. Be completely honest in speaking the truth in love – remembering that shouting does not make your words true.

Proverbs 15:1
“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

iii. Remain focused on the current issue and desist from digging out/up your old issues resolved in the past.

Proverbs 19:11
“A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.”

iv. Choose to emphasise reconciliation more than to pursue resolution of the underlying issues.

Matthew 5:9
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God

v. Be sympathetic with the pain and feelings of the other person.

Ephesians 4:29
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

Vi. Resolve to always act soberly with understanding rather than Reacting impulsively in the heat of the argument.

Proverbs 20:3
“It is a man’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel”.

c. How does one initiate reconciliation?
i. Reassure the other person of your unconditional forgiveness or acceptance of his/her forgiveness.
Proverbs 17:9 NKJV
“He who covers a transgression seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates friends.’’

ii. Consider and treat any need for restitution as part of forgiveness rather than as a condition for forgiveness.
Proverbs 19:11
“A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offence.”

iii. Desist from causing more hurt to the other person irrespective of his/her response to your offer of forgiveness.

Psalm 7:14-16
“He who is pregnant with evil and conceives trouble gives birth to disillusionment. He who digs a hole and scoops it out falls into the pit he has made. 16The trouble he causes recoils on himself; his violence comes down on his own head.“

iv. Restitute or compensate, as much as is practically possible, anything owed to the other person.

Exodus 21:34
“…the owner of the pit shall make restoration. He shall give money to its owner, and the dead beast shall be his” (ESV).

v. Begin to treat the other person as if there had been nothing wrong between the two of you.

d) When do broken relationships need arbitration and mediation?
The process of restoring a broken relationship may at times necessitate the involvement of a third party.

Being a non-partisan intermediary, an arbitrator/mediator should have no other interest except the reconciliation of the warring/hostile parties through an objective process.

i. An arbitrator or mediator should be considered only after private efforts at reconciling have failed. The offended person is allowed to choose one or two arbitrators/mediators.

Matthew 18:15-17
“If your brother or sister[a] sins,[b] go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.“
Note: This means that the process is still fairly private at this stage and should not be made public.

ii. A stubborn and unyielding offender gives room for the aggrieved person to refer the conflict to the church.

Matthew 18:16-17
“But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.”

iii. If persistently unrepentant, the church should excommunicate the offender.
Matthew 18:17
If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

iv. The church can treat the excommunicated offender as a non-believer.

Matthew 18:17
“If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.“
Implication: God considers a Christian who refuses to be reconciled to another, even after the intervention of the Church, to have denied his or her faith in Christ. Such a person is considered dangerous in the company of other Christians and should be isolated so as not to contaminate the body of Christ.

What about lawsuits?
Christians are discouraged from seeking arbitration from ungodly secular courts. Instead, they should rather commit such matters to persons “of little account in the church!” The Bible views two believers fighting in a court of law, before unbelievers, as shameful evidence of failure of the Church to mediate.
1 Corinthians 6:1, 4-6
“If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints? … 4Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, appoint as judges even men of little account in the church! 5 I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? 6 But instead, one brother goes to law against another – and this is in front of unbelievers!”

With the goal of reconciling two warring parties, and aware of the reality of their failure, inability or failed attempts to resolve their conflict, a mediator must wisely create an environment that promises reconciliation.

2 Corinthians. 5:18-19 NIV.
“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”

Thus, initial effort must be invested to ensure the following;
i.Willingness: Readiness of the concerned parties to pursue reconciliation (and healing) through mediation with the particular arbitrator.

ii. Acknowledgement: Recognition of pain and hurt – express fully the extent and depth of your pain without reservations and without intent to manipulate. Admit also that you have also hurt the other person.

iii. Ceasefire: Commitment to cease from all hostility – stop anything (actions or words) that can aggravate the situation.
iv. Covenant: Promise not to hurt the other person any more in the process of mediation.

v. Respect: Allow space for the other person’s opinion and respect him/her even if in disagreement (disagree honourably).

vi. Sacrifice: Willingness to ‘give and take’ in creating a win-win situation.

vii. Commitment: Pledge to uphold and to act on the agreement and resolutions reached

Note: Even the law of Kenya has increasingly recognized the need for mediation in resolving conflicts. Partly, this is a recognition that the normal judicial process often leads to greater hostility as the opponents pile evidences to prove each other wrong. In the process, the need for reconciliation is unfortunately lost and one party is finally likely to be left dissatisfied, with a loathing desire for vengeance henceforth.

CONCLUSION
The Bible is primarily a book about relationships. It begins by introducing and highlighting the most important relationship human beings should have – that with the Almighty God. It then proceeds to show how reconciliation with God should lead to a restoration of human relationships. In His plan of salvation, God reconciles human beings to Himself and gives them the capacity to also reconcile with others. This includes the ability to forgive another person’s mistakes with the intention of being reconciled. Apart from the pain caused by a broken relationship, failure to restore human relationships is disobedience to God’s will. Thus, failure to restore a broken relationship is evidence of negligence of God’s grace and provision.