Confession and recompense
Scripture Reading: Lev. 6:1-7; Matt. 5:23-26
I. A conscience void of offense
After we have believed in the Lord, we must build up a habit of confessing and recompensing. If we have offended anyone or have come short of anyone, we should learn to confess or to recompense. On the one hand, we have to confess to God, and on the other hand, we have to confess to and recompense man. If a man does not confess to God nor apologize or recompense man, his conscience will easily become hardened. Once the conscience becomes hardened, a serious and fundamental problem develops: It becomes difficult for God’s light to shine into a man. A person must build up a habit of confessing and making recompense so that he can maintain a sensitive and keen conscience before the Lord.
There was once a worker of the Lord who used to ask others, “When was the last time you confessed to someone?” If it has been a long time since a person’s last confession to another person, there has to be some problem with this person’s conscience. We often offend others. If a person has offended someone yet has no feeling about it, his conscience must be sick or abnormal. The length of time since your last confession is an indication of whether or not there is a problem between you and God. If the period of time is long, it proves that there is a lack of light in your spirit. If the time is short, that is, if you recently have made a confession to others, it proves that the feeling of your conscience is still sensitive. In order to live under God’s light, we need a sensitive conscience, and in order for our conscience to remain sensitive, we need to continually condemn sin as sin. We need to confess to God, and we also need to make confessions and recompenses to man.
If we have offended God and the offense has nothing to do with man, we do not need to confess to man. We should not overdo anything. If a brother or sister’s sins are unrelated to man, having only offended God, he or she only needs to confess to God; there is absolutely no need to confess to man. I hope that we will pay attention to this principle.
What kind of sins offend man? How should a person apologize to another person or recompense another person when he offends him or comes short in his dealings with him? In order to be clear about this, we need to carefully study two portions of Scriptures.
II. The trespass offering in Leviticus 6
There are two sides to the trespass offering: One is revealed in Leviticus 5 and the other in Leviticus 6. Chapter five tells us that we should confess to God and offer up sacrifices for forgiveness of our miscellaneous sins. Chapter six tells us that it is not enough to offer up a sacrifice to God if we have offended a person materially; we should also restore something to the offended party. Chapter six says that if we have offended anyone in material things, we should take care of the matter with men. Of course, we also need to confess to God and ask for His forgiveness. But just dealing with God is not enough. We cannot ask God to forgive us on behalf of the ones whom we have offended.
How should we take care of the matter from man’s side? Let us look at the trespass offering in Leviticus 6.
A. Some sins that are trespasses against man
Leviticus 6:2-7: “When a person sins and acts unfaithfully against Jehovah,” — All sins are ultimately trespasses against Jehovah — “and lies to his fellowman in regard to a deposit or a security, or through robbery, or if he has extorted from his fellowman, or has found what was lost and lied about it, and has sworn falsely — concerning any of the things a man may do to sin thereby — then it shall be, when he sins and is guilty, that he shall return what he took by robbery, or what he got by extortion, or the deposit which was deposited with him, or the lost thing which he found, or anything about which he swore falsely; he shall make restitution for it in full and add to it one-fifth more; he shall give it to whom it belongs on the day he is found guilty. Then he shall bring to the priest his trespass offering to Jehovah, a ram without blemish from the flock, according to the valuation, for a trespass offering. And the priest shall make propitiation for him before Jehovah, and he shall be forgiven for whatever he may have done by which he has become guilty.” A person who has offended anyone or transgressed against anyone in material things has to settle it with men before he can be forgiven. If he does not settle it with men, he will not be forgiven.
There are six kinds of transgressions against man in these verses:
(1)Lying to one’s fellowman in regard to a deposit: This means to be entrusted with something and then to purposely withhold the good and costly portions while surrendering the inferior portions. This is lying, and it is a sin before God. We should not lie to others in regard to their deposit but rather guard it faithfully. God’s children should always guard faithfully the things that others have entrusted to them. If we cannot guard it, we should not accept such a deposit. Once we accept it, we should do our best to guard it. If anything happens to it through our unfaithfulness, we have trespassed against man.
(2)Lying to one’s fellowman in regard to a security: This means to deal falsely or to lie in business transactions or to profit through improper means or to usurp something that is not yours in trade. This is to sin before the Lord, and it should be dealt with in a strict way.
(3)Robbing a fellowman: Although this may not happen among the saints, we still have to say something about it. No one may acquire anything by way of robbery. Anyone who tries to usurp the possessions of others by means of his status or power has committed a sin.
(4)Extorting from one’s fellowman: It is a sin to take advantage of anyone through the influence of one’s own position and power. In God’s eyes His children should never do such a thing. This kind of conduct must be dealt with.
(5)Finding what is lost and lying about it: New believers must pay special attention to this matter. Many people have lied about the things which others have lost. To turn something into nothing, to reduce much to little, or to exchange what is bad for what is good is the same as lying. Something is there, yet you say that nothing is there. There may be much, but you say that there is little. Something may be good, but you say that it is bad — all this is lying. Others have lost something, and you take advantage of them, extorting some gain and benefit out of them; this is sin. A Christian must not take possession of others’ belongings and make them his own. If you have picked up something by accident, you have to guard it well and return it to the owner. Never claim lost items as your own. It is wrong to keep lost articles; it is more wrong to usurp the possessions of others by illegal means. To turn other’s possessions into one’s own by any unrighteous means is wrong. A believer should not do anything that profits himself at the expense of others.
(6)Swearing falsely: It is a sin to swear falsely concerning any material thing. You know something, yet you say that you do not know. You have seen something, yet you say that you have not seen it. Something is there, yet you say that nothing is there. Anyone who swears falsely has sinned.
“Concerning any of the things a man may do to sin thereby” — this refers to transgressions against men in terms of material things. God’s children should learn and always remember this lesson — they should not make the possessions of others their own. The possessions of others belong to them. Do not make their possessions yours. Whoever swears falsely in any of the things mentioned above and transgresses against others has sinned.
Brothers and sisters, if there is any dishonesty in anything you do, if you have acquired anything at the expense of others, or if you have acquired anything by means of these six ways, you have sinned. You have to deal with these sins thoroughly.
Our manner of life has to be righteous, and our conscience must be void of offense before God. God’s Word says, “Then it shall be, when he sins and is guilty, that he shall return what he took by robbery” (v. 4). The word return is very important. There are two aspects to the trespass offering. On the one hand, there is the need of propitiation before God. On the other hand, there is the need to “return” to man that which has been taken. Do not think that propitiation before God is sufficient. You must also return to man that which has been taken. If you do not return it, something is lacking. The trespass offering in Leviticus 5 deals with sins that do not involve material transgressions against people. Of course, there is no need to return anything in that case. But the sins spoken of in chapter six involve material loss, in which case one must return something. Propitiation through sacrifice was not enough. One still had to “return” that which was taken. This is why verse 4 says, “Then it shall be, when he sins and is guilty, that he shall return what he took by robbery.” Everything acquired through sinful means must be returned. One must return what was taken by robbery, what was gained through extortion, what was deposited with him, whatever has been found, and whatever has been falsely sworn. All of these things must be returned.
How does a person return these things? “He shall make restitution for it in full and add to it one-fifth more; he shall give it to whom it belongs on the day he is found guilty” (v. 5). Here are three things that we need to take note of.
First, we have to make restitution in full. We are wrong if we do not make any restitution. We are equally wrong if our restitution is not made in full. No one should consider an apology as being sufficient. If the object in question remains in our house, it proves that we are still wrong; we have to return it in full.
Second, God wants us to not only return in full, but also to add one-fifth more when we make a recompense. Why must we add one-fifth? According to this principle, we have to return abundantly. If we have taken money or things from others, God wants us to add one-fifth to the full amount when we return it. God does not want His children to return the bare minimum. In printing books one has to leave margins at the top, bottom, left, and right of a page. Similarly, we should not be stingy in apologizing to people and returning what has been taken from them. We must be generous and liberal.
Some people do not add one-fifth to their recompense. In fact, they return much less than one-fifth of what was owed. They apologize by saying, “Although I offended you in this matter, I was not wrong in other matters. In other matters I did not offend you; rather, you offended me.” This is a settling of accounts, not a confession. If you want to confess, do not be that stingy. It is all right to apologize more than you need to, but do not apologize less. Why did you sin in the first place? Since you have to recompense now, be more generous. Do not take things away from others and then return only that much to them. You have to return generously.
God’s children should behave in a way that is worthy of their dignity. Even in the matter of confession, we should do it in a way that is worthy of our dignity. An apology that is in the way of settling accounts is not the kind of confession that God’s children should have. God’s children should confess their transgressions thoroughly and add one-fifth to the recompense. No one should be calculating and unwilling to make the smallest of sacrifices when confessing. If you are concerned about how much each party owes the other when you apologize, you are not behaving like a Christian. Some people say, “I was not angry at first, but your words made me angry. Since I have confessed my wrong already, it is your turn to confess your wrong.” This is altogether a matter of settling accounts; this is not a confession. If you are making a confession, you should go an extra mile. Be more generous in the matter of confession. Do not withhold anything in your confession; instead, try to be liberal in it.
Adding one-fifth to our confession or recompense reminds us that offending others is a losing proposition and that we should never do it again. When a new believer offends others, he should realize that he will suffer loss eventually, even though he may gain something temporarily. He took five-fifths, but he has to return six-fifths. It is easy to take something from someone. But when you return it, you have to not only return it in full but also add one-fifth.
Third, we should make our confession and recompense as soon as possible. Verse 5 says, “He shall give it to whom it belongs on the day he is found guilty.” If it is within our ability to return the object, or if the object in question is still in our hand, we should return it on the day we learn of this sin. It is easy for people to delay in this matter. But the more God’s children put off confession and recompense, the more their feeling will become dull. As soon as we receive the light, we have to act upon it. We have to return it that very day. Hopefully, our brothers and sisters will take a straight path from the day they become a Christian. We should never take advantage of others and never be unrighteous. The basic principle of the Christian life on earth is not to take advantage of others. Taking advantage of others in any way is wrong. We must not take advantage of others. Instead, we must be righteous from the very beginning.
We have to give back to others. But this is not all. We should not think that everything is settled after we have made our apology and recompense. The matter is not settled. “Then he shall bring to the priest his trespass offering to Jehovah, a ram without blemish from the flock, according to the valuation, for a trespass offering” (v. 6). After we have confessed to and recompensed others, we still have to go to God for forgiveness. The trespass offering in chapter five deals with just God because no material loss is involved. But chapter six speaks of transgression against man. Therefore, one must deal with man first, before going to God to ask for forgiveness. Before a matter has been settled with man, one cannot go to God to ask for forgiveness. What happens once one has settled the matter with man and has asked for forgiveness before God? “The priest shall make propitiation for him before Jehovah, and he shall be forgiven for whatever he may have done by which he has become guilty” (v. 7). This is what the Lord wants. Whoever has transgressed materially against man should try his best to make recompense. Then he can come before God and ask for forgiveness through the Lord’s blood.
We should not consider this as a trivial matter. Once we are careless, we take advantage of others and transgress against them. God’s children should remember this point and pay attention to it all their lives. In whatever matter they have transgressed against others, they should return these things to them and ask God for forgiveness.
III. The teaching of Matthew 5
Now let us turn to another portion — Matthew 5. This chapter is different from Leviticus 6, which speaks of transgressions against man just in terms of material things. Matthew 5 deals with more than just transgressions in material things.
Matthew 5:23-26 says, “Therefore if you are offering your gift at the altar and there you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and first go and be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Be well disposed quickly toward your opponent at law, while you are with him on the way, lest the opponent deliver you to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Truly I say to you, You shall by no means come out from there until you pay the last quadrans.” The quadrans spoken of here do not refer to just physical quadrans. They refer to the principle of coming up short in something.
The Lord says, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there you remember that your brother has something against you.” This specifically refers to disputes among God’s children and among the brothers. If you are offering a gift at the altar, that is, if you are offering something to God, and suddenly remember that your brother has something against you, this remembering is God’s leading. The Holy Spirit often gives you a necessary thought and reminds you of necessary things. When you remember something or are reminded of something, do not put the thought aside and think that it is merely a thought. As soon as you remember something, you should carefully deal with it.
If you remember that your brother has something against you, this means you have transgressed against him. Your transgression may or may not be in material things. Perhaps you have offended him by acting unrighteously towards him. The emphasis is not on material things but on that which sets others against you. A new believer should realize that if he offends a person and does not apologize and ask for forgiveness, he is finished as soon as the offended party mentions his name and sighs before God. Whatever he offers to God will not be accepted. Whatever he prays will be turned down. We should not allow any brother or sister to sigh before God because of us. Once he or she sighs, we are finished before God. If we have done something wrong or if we have offended or hurt someone, the offended party need not accuse us before God. All he has to say before God is, “Oh! So-and-so…” or, for that matter, he just needs to utter an “Oh” and whatever we offer to God will be rejected. All he has to do is sigh a little because of us before God. We must not give any brother or sister the reason or the ground to sigh before God because of us. If we give him or her a reason to sigh, we will lose all our spiritual prospects and all our gifts to God will be annulled.
If you are offering a gift at the altar and remember that your brother has anything against you or has any reason to sigh because of you, do not offer up your gift. If you want to offer to God, “First go and be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” God wants the gift, but you must first be reconciled to others. Those who are not reconciled to men will not be able to offer a gift to God. You must “leave your gift there before the altar, and first go and be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Do you see the proper way? You must first go and be reconciled to your brother. What does it mean to be reconciled to one’s brother? It means to remove the brother’s wrath. You may need to either apologize or recompense. However, the point is to satisfy your brother. It is not a matter of adding one-fifth or one-tenth; it is a matter of reconciliation. Reconciliation means satisfying the other’s demand.
When you have offended and transgressed against your brother, when he is disturbed and feels that you are unrighteous, and when you have caused him to sigh before God, your spiritual fellowship with God is interrupted; your spiritual prospects are gone. You may not have the slightest feeling that you are in darkness, and you may feel that you are all right, but the gift you offer at the altar has become void. You cannot ask anything of God. You cannot even give anything to God. You cannot offer anything to God, much less receive any answer from Him. You may have offered up everything on the altar, but God is not pleased with any of it. Therefore, when you come to God’s altar, you must first be reconciled to your brother. Whatever demands he has, you must try your best to satisfy him. Learn to satisfy the righteous requirement of God as well as the righteous requirement of your brother. You can offer your gift to God only after you have done this. This is quite serious.
We should not offend others easily. In particular, we must not offend a brother or a sister lightly. If we offend a brother or a sister, we immediately fall under God’s judgment, and it is not easy to be recovered. In verse 25 the Lord emphasized, “Be well disposed quickly toward your opponent at law, while you are with him on the way.” Here is a brother who has suffered injustice at our hand; he is not at peace before God. The Lord’s words to us are in human terms. Our brother is like a plaintiff in a court of law. The expression while you are with him on the way is wonderful. Today we are all still on the way. Our brother has not died and neither have we. He is here, and we are here. He is on the way, and we are also on the way. We have to be well disposed quickly with him. It is very easy for us to not be here someday; it is very easy for us to not be on the way. It is also very easy for our brother to not be here and to not be on the way. No one knows who will go first. By then it will be too late to do anything. While he and we are still on the way, that is, while both parties are still here, there is the opportunity to speak to one another and apologize. We should be reconciled to each other quickly. The door of salvation will not be open forever. The same is true with the door of mutual confession among the brothers. Brothers have often regretted that they lost their opportunity to confess to each other; the offended party is no longer on the way. If we have any offense toward men, we should seize whatever opportunity we have to be reconciled to them quickly while we are both still on the way. We do not know whether or not others will be here tomorrow. We also do not know whether or not we ourselves will be here tomorrow. Therefore, we have to be well disposed with the brothers while we are still on the way. Once one party is no longer on the way, it is impossible to settle the matter.
We have to realize how serious this matter is! You cannot be nonchalant or careless about it. While there is still today, be well disposed with your brother quickly! If you know that a brother has a complaint against you, you have to deal with it. You must try your best to apologize lest there be no opportunity to reconcile later.
Following this, the Lord speaks again in human terms, saying, “Lest the opponent deliver you to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Truly I say to you, You shall by no means come out from there until you pay the last quadrans.” We will not go into biblical interpretation concerning the paying of the last quadrans. We are only pointing out the practice of paying the last quadrans. We have to see that this matter must be resolved properly. If we do not resolve it properly, the case will not be settled. The Lord is not speaking of a future judgment or of being thrown into and being released from an actual prison. The Lord’s emphasis is not on these things. His concern is that we would be reconciled today, that we would pay every quadrans today, not putting the matter off until later. We must do this while we are still on the way. We must not put off the matter today and hope that it will be resolved later. This is unwise, and it does not pay to leave the matter to the future.
God’s children should learn this lesson well. We must make recompense when recompense is due and confession when confession is due. We should make recompense again and again and apologize again and again. We should not allow a brother or sister to harbor any complaint against us. If our conscience is pure, and the wrong is clearly not on our side, we can be at peace. Otherwise, if there is any wrongdoing on our part, we must confess. We must be above reproach in our conduct. We should not always think that others are wrong and we are right. It is certainly wrong to ignore the complaints of others and to instead insist that we are right.
IV. A few practical considerations
First, the scope of your confession should be as wide as the scope of your offense. You should do everything according to God’s Word and should not take the extreme way. Do not overdo anything. Once you overdo, you will come under Satan’s attack. If you offend many people, you must confess to many people. If you offend only one individual, you should confess only to that individual. To confess to an individual when you have offended many people is to under-confess. To confess to many people when you have offended only one individual is to overdo. The scope of confession depends on the scope of offense. The scope of testifying is another matter. Sometimes you have offended one individual, but because you want to testify to the brothers and sisters, you tell them about it. That is another matter altogether. As far as apology and confession is concerned, it should only be according to the scope of the offense. We should not go beyond that scope. We have to pay particular attention to this point.
Second, our confession must be thorough. We must not hide anything to save our “face” or our interest. There are, of course, times when we have to exercise due care in the way we confess; we have to take care of the interest and benefit of others. Perhaps we only should confess that we have offended others in a general way without going into detail. If we have difficulties in making decisions in complicated situations, it is best for us to fellowship with some experienced brothers and sisters so that they can help us do the right thing.
Third, there may be times when you are unable to make the necessary recompense. However, the ability to recompense and the desire to recompense are two different things. Some may not be able to recompense, but at least they should have the desire to recompense. If one is unable to make recompense immediately, he should tell the offended one, “I want to recompense you, but I cannot do it today. Please bear with me; I will do it as soon as possible.”
Fourth, the law in the Old Testament states that if the rightful recipient of one’s recompense has passed away and has left no relatives to accept the recompense, it should go to the priests who serve Jehovah (Num. 5:8). According to this principle, if the recipient of your recompense is no longer available, the recompense should go to his relatives. If he has no relatives, you should give it to the church. If you can make recompense to someone, you should give it to him or to his relatives. You cannot give it to the church for the sake of convenience. However, if someone wants to make confession but the offended party has passed away and there seems to be no opportunity to confess, he can confess the matter to the church according to this principle.
Fifth, after making confession you need to make sure that you are not condemned in your conscience. It is possible for one’s conscience to suffer repeated condemnation even after he has confessed. We must be clear that the Lord’s blood has cleansed our conscience. His death has given us a conscience that is void of offense before God and has enabled us to draw near to God. All these are facts. However, we must see that in order to be clean before man, we need to deal with many sins. We need to settle all offenses in material things as well as in other matters. But we should not allow Satan to condemn us excessively.
Sixth, confession is related to physical healing. James 5:16 says, “Therefore confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed.” The result of confession is often God’s healing. Sickness often comes in when there are hindrances among God’s children. If we confess our sins one to another, our sickness will be healed.
Hopefully, the brothers and sisters will be thorough in the matter of confession and recompense. This is the way to maintain their purity. If anyone has transgressed against man, he should confess his sins to God on the one hand, and he must deal with the matter seriously with man on the other hand. Only then will his conscience remain bold. When the conscience is bold, a person can make considerable progress in his spiritual pursuit.