Jesus teaches an important three-part lesson in Matthew 18:15-17 (Amplified), one that everyone, including the Church, would do well to learn. “If your brother wrongs you, go and show him his fault, between you and him privately. If he listens to you, you have won back your brother.” Really good advice. But what happens all too often is this: someone offends us then we go behind their back and tell everyone what happened and how upset we are. It’s called gossiping and accomplishes nothing but to create more strife and discourse. It never actually settles a matter.
Misunderstandings like this happen all the time, including among Christians who should know better. Instead of trying to resolve the problem, the offended party too often tries to prove he is right and the other party wrong, garner sympathy, and make the offender look as bad as possible. That’s called a dysfunctional relationship!
We need to confront wrongs and do it Jesus’ way. First we are to go to our offending brother or sister privately, without anyone else around, and speak the truth in love. We are to tell that person how and why they offended us, then give him/her an opportunity to make it right. Then Jesus says, “But if he does not listen, take along with you one or two others, so that every word may be confirmed and upheld by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” Not it gets harder and wisdom needs to prevail. If the situation indeed rises to this level as in domestic violence or sexual abuse, the “witnesses” you bring must be reputable, like a pastor or church elder or someone well respected and impartial. They are to “bear witness” to the conversation and confirm what was actually said to avoid further misunderstanding or confusion. That’s important in order to prevent a “he said, she said” kind of scenario where the truth can be muddled on both sides.
But what happens if that still doesn’t resolve the conflict? Jesus covers that, too, in part three. “If he pays no attention to them, refusing to listen and obey, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a pagan and tax collector.” The situation must be really grave to warrant rising to this level because Jesus is saying that if step one and two fail, it will be necessary to tell the church body, and if the offender still won’t listen, stop associating with him.
This is serious stuff and the last two steps are not meant for minor infractions and probably few, if any, of us will ever need to follow them. But the very first step I do see as needful, that of confronting, privately those who offend us rather than making it a forum for discord or allowing the wrong to fester like a sore that will only become larger over time. I think Jesus’ first step can be successfully used not only with our friends and church family, but between husbands and wives, parents and children, brothers and sisters. In short, anyone who has a gripe with someone would do well to confront that person with love and truth. Doing it will go a long way in resolving issues and creating happy, peaceful relationships. Not doing it will keep the problem festering and over time make it worse.
Until next time,