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Burying the Hatchet: The Offending Party

Burying the Hatchet: The Offending Party
  • Every broken relationship has an offending party.

True reconciliation calls for a repentant heart on their part, a change of mind, a turn-around, a going back to someone with an admission of wrong and a request for forgiveness. Paul framed it like this to Philemon:

I am sending him [Onesimus] — who is my very heart — back to you. Philemon 12 NIV

Onesimus, the offending party, had become one “heart” with Paul. They were now more closely related as brothers in Christ through the blood of Jesus than to their own blood relatives who did not know Him. Since Christ had now transformed Onesimus’s life, he had no option but to go back and make things right. The Greek word for this repentance literally means “to change one’s mind.” Onesimus had a genuine change of mind about his past actions. He was not headed home to argue his case. He was on his way back to admit his wrong and hopefully bury the hatchet with Philemon. Some of us make this journey back, but when we arrive on the scene, we try to justify our past actions or even argue our case. Not Onesimus. He was taking responsibility.

Let’s revisit the story from chapter 1 about the Prodigal Son, the greatest short story ever told by Jesus. The prodigal was the offending party. He skipped out on his dad and left home with his inheritance. After wasting it all, he “came to himself” (Luke 15:17). He changed his mind about the entire ordeal. This led to a change of volition, of will, as he said,

I will arise and go to my father. — Luke 15:18

And this resulted in a change of action when he got up and headed home.

  • Repentance is a change of mind that affects a change of will that results in a change of action.

And the father greeted the boy with open arms and a receptive heart that was void of retaliation or resentment. They buried the hatchet then and there. Onesimus, like the prodigal, was on his way home. He doesn’t send a word of apology back from someone else. This was personal. He was going back himself.

When we have relationships that are based upon the solid foundation of being properly related to our source, the Lord Jesus, we are not out to escape our past, get a pass, or run from our mistakes. But

  • a relationship with Him enables us to face our past, find a new beginning, and make wiser choices going forward.

Onesimus was headed home to Philemon to face the consequences of what he did and hopefully to make right his previous wrong.

This might be a different story today if Onesimus had sought counsel from some so-called professionals in the field today, instead of finding it in the wise counsel of the apostle Paul. Some today, after listening to his story, would have offered advice that said, “Look, forget about the past. You can find justification for what happened. Put it behind you. Go on with your life. Learn from your mistakes. Forget about Philemon.” And had he taken counsel like this, he would have lived out his days, as many do today, with something left unfinished and a dark cloud that always hung over his head. That is no way to live a positive and purposeful life.

Often the way forward is back. Back — to admit I was wrong in ways I always insisted I was right. Back — to make the previous wrong right. This is one of the great paradoxes of the Christian life.

  • In God’s economy, the way up is down, and the way down is up.

Paul added an additional paradox to the equation that the way forward is back. He wrote,

I am sending him — who is my very heart — back to you. — Philemon 12 NIV

It was along these same lines of seeing that the way forward is back that Jesus said,

If you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.Matthew 5:23–24

Do you see it? This is one of life’s great paradoxes — the way forward is back!

This is the actual point of frustration with many of us, although it is seldom recognized as such. That is, we try to move on, to go forward, but something is left undone, and we must first go back in order to go forward. It just may be that unless someone reading these words goes back, forward progress will be thwarted, and future days will be spent in relational cul-de-sacs, roundabouts, or worse, dead ends.

Only in Hollywood is such nonsense as “Love means never having to say you are sorry” successful. In real life, relationships do not succeed on that premise.

  • Those who enjoy profitable, long-term relationships know what it is to go back to say, “I am sorry. I was wrong. Please forgive me.”

Onesimus gives us hope. If you think your particular case is hopeless, look at his. There is always hope for anyone who will admit to being the offending party. When we do, we can join Onesimus in some pretty good company. Moses, the highly revered emancipator of the Jewish people, was a murderer. But he discovered the way forward was back. After forty years on the back side of a desert, he went back and delivered a nation. And what about King David? He was exhibit A of an offending party. He stole the affections of another man’s wife, got her pregnant, and even orchestrated her husband’s demise and death. But later, plagued with remorse and repentance, he discovered the way forward was back. If anyone should doubt the sincerity of his repentance, simply read the Fifty-First Psalm. And let’s not forget Jonah. He shook his fist in the face of God and His plan and later, while in the belly of a great fish, discovered the way forward was back. God gave him a second chance. Finally, no talk of the second chance would be complete without a mention of Simon Peter, the big fisherman. He did what he insisted he would never do. He denied he ever knew the Christ. But he, too, discovered the life-changing principle that the way forward is back. He went back, met Christ on the seashore in genuine repentance, and then did he ever go forward. Just read of his exploits in the book of Acts.

  • When we go back, God forgives. And then we can move forward to our greatest days. The way forward is still back.

Who is it that gets the ball of reconciliation rolling? Both sides must do their part. There must be a repentant heart on the part of the offending party and a receptive heart on the part of the offended party. Relational difficulties persist when we who are the offending party become blind to our own abuses and refuse to admit we were wrong. After a while of continuing to try to justify our actions, we actually begin to believe the lie. Consequently, too many of us live out our days with unfinished business.

The hatchet of broken relationships will never be buried until there is genuine repentance on the part of the offending party. The way forward is back!

Excerpted with permission from The Connection Code by O. S. Hawkins, copyright Dr. O. S. Hawkins.

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Your Turn

Has someone become offended by your actions? Do you need to go back and offer an apology and genuine remorse? The way forward to peace and greater days is back! ~ Devotionals Daily