Let us pray: Dear Savior, all of us face interpersonal conflicts with others that are always the result of sin. Sin corrupts our judgment and the judgment of others so much that often silly things get blown out of proportion, positions harden, pride gets involved, and soon souls are imperiled. Today we thank You for giving us Godly wisdom in how to handle such issues in life for the betterment of everyone involved. And also, move us to act upon Your wise counsel and use it on a daily basis. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE ULTIMATE RESOLVER OF ALL CONFLICT!
TEXT: Matthew 18: 15-20
Fellow Redeemed Sinners:
Big companies host seminars on it. Judges often send people to attend classes in it. School counselors use it daily. Psychologists devote a sizeable chunk of their practices to it. What am I talking about? Conflict resolution. As our nation has become less neighborly, more and more conflicts seem to get out-of-hand. Issues that were once settled over a friendly cup of coffee now seem to involve lawyers, judges, the police, and family mediators. It’s a sad commentary on our nation, isn’t it?
Today, Christ steps into the void of personal disputes. He provides God’s directives on how we Christians need to operate in addressing such disputes. Note well that His words, although eternally wise, are not meant for society as a whole. We see that fact illustrated by His injunction to: “tell it to the church” if your personal attempts at resolution fail. Obviously telling it to the church is meaningless when dealing with non-believers and societal conflicts.
But, Christ demands better behavior from His followers than He does from the world at large. He tells us to “walk as children of light” not of darkness. He tells us that we are to be: “in the world, but not of the world.” He reminds us that we, above all other people, “walk by faith and not by sight.” In short, believers are expected to put God’s Word first, whereas society as a whole just doesn’t get the connection.
So, how are Christians to handle personal conflicts with other Christians? Well, right here He tells us how. And so today, let’s study:
CONFLICT RESOLUTION FOR THE CHRISTIAN
My now sainted mother had a great memory. She used to recall an event that occurred in her home church when she was about 9 or 10 years old. It seems that one long-time member got his back up over something silly and long forgotten. Most members just shrugged off his complaints as coming from a cranky old man. But after having his questions answered and rejecting sound advice, he got up at a church meeting and vowed to: “Split the church!” if he didn’t get his way. Well, he didn’t succeed. And later he left in shame, continuing to hold onto his pride instead of listening to others and swallowing it.
Those are the types of things that Christ had in mind when He gave the disciples this blessed guidance. He is the Lord of souls. He is the One Who died for all people—cranky ones and more timid people alike. He didn’t want sin and/or silliness to divide His followers then and He doesn’t want it to divide them today. He wants everyone to embrace Divine truth, to shun sin, to listen to those who counsel repentance, and to thereby bring peace and harmony to His earthly kingdom. He ultimately wants to save souls on the way to perdition via their pride because He died for those souls. And He also wants to protect the sheep when one of their number turns into a wolf. And so right here He says this:
“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.” There’s the first step toward Christian conflict resolution. Note that Christ says: “If he sins against you.” Jesus doesn’t say: “If he disagrees with you about the size of the parking lot, or the color of the carpet.” Specific sins, violations against the commandments, are the one and only basis for beginning this conflict resolution process. And by God’s grace, since all parties are under it, such a calling to account by a loving brother or sister in Christ should be received for what it is: love in action. And then the issue is done, never to be brought up again.
However, Christ was not an idealist. He well knew the reality of human pride far better than any of us who are afflicted by it. And so, He knew that sometimes sin-tainted humans will get their back up at such admonition and reject the love of another. If that occurs, the next step needs to follow. “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.'”
First and foremost, any conflict between fellow believers that includes open sin must be dealt with. To do nothing is to violate the whole second table of the law: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Unrepented sin can and will kill a soul eternally and ultimately lead that soul into hell. To prevent that from happening, Jesus says to take a couple fellow believers with you. This is to help insure that you’re not wrong in your understanding of God’s truth and how it applies in this situation. So, talk the issue over again. Address the sin involved. Be specific. Be kind, loving, yet honest. “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.”
This means the Pastor and/or the church elders need to get involved. For now the private matter has become public. After all, the other witnesses can now attest to the sin and the reaction of the one involved toward repentance. Again, out of love, the same old ground will be plowed. Ample time and opportunity for repentance and understanding will be given. We all love every single soul. We don’t want to knee-jerk into merely an emotional reaction. But, if recalcitrance is still this hard-headed sinner’s reaction, the final step needs to be followed as well. “And if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
That means formal excommunication proceedings need to follow. But again, Christians will only do this when there is no other recourse, and they will do it only out of love for that now lost soul and the souls at church that he, or she, is hurting and will hurt by their presence. And the ultimate hope is that this final step will make them think seriously about their sin, repent of it, and then be welcomed back with open arms. One final thought here. True excommunication is not just “kicking a person out of a particular congregation.” No, it is saying they have divorced themselves from God and His Church as a whole and will be lost to hell if they die in their unrepented sin. It’s serious business.
Christ concludes this section by reminding the disciples, and us, today, that when we use His Word honestly and truthfully to seek repentance from another, two things will occur. Either they will say they are sorry to God, or they will harden themselves. Thus, our pronouncement of: “You’re forgiven, or you’re not forgiven” is as valid as if Christ Himself uttered it. For He does utter it, through His Word that we’re using. And also, lest anyone think just two or three Christians gathering together to help another recognize their sins is being presumptuous, He says: “where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”
Conflict resolution on any level is tough. Conflict resolution for the Christian is tough love in action. But always remember: love is involved.—Love for Christ. Love for the sinning soul. And love for those they have or are hurting. The world may never understand these things, but you who have received Christ’s gracious love do. Amen