I used to teach Bible study to a group of women in a former church, and one time while teaching the book of 1 John I made a comment about loving unbelievers enough to tell them that they are going to hell if they die without knowing Christ as their Savior.
One of the women in the study was deeply offended by my statement and confronted me about it. After discussion with our pastor I determined that because she was offended I needed to ask her forgiveness. I was very clear that I was not confessing that what I said was wrong because it was not wrong; I was asking forgiveness for offending her.
There is a distinct difference between asking for forgiveness for sinning against someone and asking forgiveness for offending them or hurting them.
If I am angry at you I may just ignore you as I walk past you. I don't want to speak to you, and I want you to know it! I am giving you the cold shoulder and that is sinning in my anger. I am holding bitterness and manipulating you by my silence. In this case, I need to confess my sin to you and ask your forgiveness.
If I am preoccupied with something as I walk past you and I don't speak to you I am not sinning against you, but I may be offending you. In this case there is no actual sin, I am just distracted. I still need to ask your forgiveness once I realize I have hurt you simply because of our relationship in the family of God.
Our flesh continues to live on even after we have been crucified with Christ and we are still very capable of saying hurtful things, being unkind, self- serving, and thick headed. In our flesh and fallen nature we offend without realizing it and we hurt others deeply at times.
I think another reason we struggle with these issues because so many people are holding us up to their standards and often times their standards are unknown to us until we violate them!
Regardless of our understanding, we are obligated to make it right with those we have offended as well as those we have sinned against. This goes such a long, long way toward preventing bitterness from growing in the hearts of our friends and family members!
While we are not responsible for how people "hear" what we say we are completely responsible for our part in reconciliation once we realize we have offended someone. I know some people are very reluctant to ask forgiveness for how their words are interpreted or understood (I was!) but once I took the words of Matt 5:23 seriously my attitude changed on this.
It is more important that God be glorified by a reconciled relationship than my pride be upheld by standing in my perceived righteousness. Let us be women of grace and confession. Let us be women of reconciliation.