“If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. If that person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector.” Matthew 18:15-17 (NLT)
I don’t know about you, but I definitely need to hear this again.
“If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him – work it out between the two of you. If he listens, you’ve made a friend. If he won’t listen, take one or two others along so that the presence of witnesses will keep things honest, and try again. If he still won’t listen, tell the church. If he won’t listen to the church, you’ll have to start over from scratch, confront him with the need for repentance, and offer again God’s forgiving love.” (The Message)
If I’m honest, this is not the way I usually handle conflict. A literal interpretation of these words from Jesus would mean doing an about-face from my current default mechanism for conflict resolution. It’s not that I disagree with Jesus or think that His way isn’t the best way; it’s just that I’m so stuck in mine.
What is Jesus’ way when it comes to responding to awkward and painful relationship issues? This text deals specifically with how a believer is to respond when offended, hurt or disrespected by a brother or sister in the faith. Can I just say, to get it off of my chest, that nothing makes my heart hurt more than the unchecked emotions and unbridled tongues of those whose rulebook includes basically two entries:
- LOVE the Lord your God with everything you’ve got.
- LOVE everyone around you as you love yourself.
How CAN we say we subscribe to the first if we don’t also practice the latter?
The only way to carry out these words of Jesus is to take ALL conflict face to face.
Our response to the pain inflicted by friends and family in the church must first be one-on-one. Face to face. This is Jesus’ way – the way He’s calling us to walk – and yet we often choose to do something like this instead:
Match their argumentative or hurtful posture with a like-minded response.
Talk with a different friend (or friends) about the situation first.
Send an email, make a phone call, write a memo, send a text.
Build a wall of silence and keep your distance.
Unless we seek out the one whose words or actions have hurt us and do the difficult and often painful work of sitting down and addressing what has happened, we fail to honor Jesus’ teaching. In addition, by adding our murmurs to the rumor mill, we end up contributing gossip rather than grace; tearing down the community rather than building it up.
I really believe that the majority of conflict could be resolved by simply adopting this face to face approach and choosing to take our feelings and concerns directly to the source. It’s counterintuitive, really, to respond in any other way, yet we do it all the time in both our personal lives and corporate settings.
The side-effects of taking Jesus’ advice and going to the source of relational conflict are absolutely worth paying attention to:
No one else gets dragged into a fixable situation, which goes a long way to preserve the peace in a community.
The name of the person you’re at odds with is less likely to be dragged through the mud, protecting their reputation among the people.
YOUR name and reputation are protected, too, because you chose to tackle the issue, not the person.
Most people will ultimately feel valued by your choice to approach them first, giving them and their behavior the benefit of the doubt.
Handling conflict in this way allows for the possibility of a friendship to grow. Any other method stifles future friendly contact.
If being Literal 4 Lent is appealing to you, then we’ve got our work cut out for us! There is more here, in Matthew 18:15-17, for us to learn – we will come back to this text again.
For now, make face to face your mantra and pay attention… to how it changes you.
- Treat Them Like Gentiles and Tax Collectors (conversationinfaith.wordpress.com)