A friend of yours sees you talking to her boyfriend and goes off on you for it. “What were you talking to him about! Why was he talking to you. Why were you flirting with him, you know he’s mine!” But actually, he was asking you what the homework for science was… he forgot to write it down. Your friend has stormed off and you’re left feeling like you have no idea what just happened. What do you do…
Here’s what Jesus says in Matthew 18:15-17
“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
1. Go to settle the matter PRIVATELY
Don’t talk about the problem with everyone except the person your problem is with! Go and work it out. Sure, take time to cool down and let him/her cool down too – but don’t talk about the conflict with others while cooling down (that will probably only heat you up even more, anyway!).
Cool down, think about the conflict, and ask yourself how much of it is your own fault. Share in the blame. Sometimes when we’ve cooled down, we realize that it’s really not that big a deal and that we should just overlook the problem; BUT that does NOT mean that we don’t go and talk to the person and tell them, “I’m ok, it’s not a big deal, your friendship is more important to me than this conflict, let’s move on.” Don’t just ignore the problem and tell yourself that you’re being the “bigger person” by overlooking the offense – if you do that you’re probably just shoving the conflict in the basement and letting it grow moldy… and that’s not good!
2. Bring one or two witnesses with you
Notice that Jesus says to establish what happened (“the testimony”) by two or three “witnesses.” He doesn’t say “Bring some people whom you’re close friends with so they can defend you against the other person.” If you bring others into the conflict who can’t be impartial, then you’re just waging war and drawing battle lines.
Find people who witnessed the initial conflict to mediate. They were there, they can help you both realize some details you may not realize and help bring about the peace that you desire.
3. Bring the conflict and the other person before the Church
Keep in mind that the “church” at that time would meet in people’s homes. So really, each “church” was like a small group. I don’t believe this is a biblical excuse to slander other Christians during the Sunday morning worship time as a “prayer request.” The goal here is for other Christians to step in, help resolve the conflict between two Christians who are committed to Christ and to the church and to bring about the peace and unity that Jesus desires for his children.
4. If he/she won’t listen to the Church, treat him like a nonbeliever
Technically, Jesus says “treat him as you would a pagan or tax collector.” So that begs the question, “How did Jesus treat pagans and tax collectors?”
Jesus died on the cross for pagans to be forgiven. Jesus called a tax collector to become a disciple and later an apostle (Matthew). I hope it’s obvious that this isn’t Jesus giving us permission to be mean or cruel towards people we have unresolved conflicts with.
This fourth step is also an aknowledgement that you can follow steps 1-3 perfectly, and there will be times when the conflict will not be resolved. But if there’s unresolved conflict, I hope it’s not because you’ve neglected to do all you could do. Do everything in your power so that unresolved conflicts are the other person’s fault, not yours. If you’ve done all you can do to bring about peace, then the guilt isn’t on you.
We ought to be kind, gracious, patient, and even loving towards those people we have a difficult time loving. That’s how God through Christ has treated us; it’s how we should treat others.