How MUST Christians Handle Conflict With Each Other? #193
Hello friends, and happy Wednesday to you! Wednesdays are the best days of the week, right? Everybody knows that Wednesdays are at least 27% better than every other day, and especially better than stupid Saturdays, right? Am I right? I can’t hear you…
Oh dear, it appears that we have found ourselves in the midst of a fight, and the podcast is barely one minute in. What can we do to resolve this conflict that YOU obviously started? Well…everybody fights and argues…even Christians, and even Christians who are pastors. My dear wife – who is a lovely person that pretty much everybody likes, and probably likes more than me…we fight too. Sometimes it’s my fault – sometime her’s, sometimes neither and most of the time it’s both of our faults, but most human relationships will be punctuated with conflict from time to time because we are still sinners and because the tongue is a ‘restless evil’ that is nearly impossible to tame. Most people think conflict and arguments are all about who is right, and who is wrong, but the older you live, the more you realize that conflict where one person is almost completely right and the other is almost completely wrong are exceedingly rare – rarer than a unicorn. Most arguments among Christians are more like the one that Pauls’ friends Euodia and Syntyche experienced. Notice what he tells them:
2 I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to agree in the Lord. 3 Yes, I also ask you, true partner, to help these women who have contended for the gospel at my side,
Wait, Paul – which one was right? Who should win the argument….are you Team Eudoia or Team Syntyche?? And Paul says – JUST AGREE in the Lord. very interesting. Sometimes it is hard to agree, however – especially in an instance where somebody has genuinely wronged you. What does Jesus command us to do when somebody in the church or in the faith has wronged us? Post about it on Instagram? Subtweet them on Twitter without using their name? Text all of your friends so that they can be on our side? Complain and mope and get angry? NO!! None of those are acceptable. Let’s read the Jesus process for peacemaking in Matthew 18:
15 “If your brother sins against you, go tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 But if he won’t listen, take one or two others with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every fact may be established. 17 If he doesn’t pay attention to them, tell the church. If he doesn’t pay attention even to the church, let him be like a Gentile and a tax collector to you….21 Then Peter approached him and asked, “Lord, how many times must I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? As many as seven times?” 22 “I tell you, not as many as seven,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven…34 And because he was angry, his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured until he could pay everything that was owed.35 So also my heavenly Father will do to you unless every one of you forgives his brother or sister from your heart.”
Selections from Matthew 18
Whoa, momma – that’s some heavy stuff right there. Jesus says that those who DON’T forgive FROM THE HEART will receive tormenting punishment from God. Wait a minute – that’s not fair, I hear you saying. SOMEBODY HURT ME, and I’M the one in trouble if I don’t forgive them?! Yes, that is exactly correct – 100% correct. WHY?! And part of the answer is that, even if in this one particular case you were the ‘good guy’ who did no wrong, I assure you that you’ve been the bad guy just as often, and unforgiveness is a terrible and egregious sin in the eyes of the Father. How do we know it’s bad? Because Jesus here says the Father will torment those who don’t forgive, and elsewhere He says that those who refuse to forgive will NOT be forgiven themselves. Why so bad? Because WE are the ungracious servant in Jesus’ Matthew 18 parable – HOW DARE we hold somebody accountable for sinning against us, refusing to forgive them, when God has forgiven us so much. (* Note: There are rare occasions where somebody has not sinned a 100 denarii worth against us, but a few thousand or more denarii worth. Elizabeth…) I think forgiveness is appropriate in those situations as well, but counseling also, and an understanding that God does not let brutal acts of molestation, abuse and trauma go unpunished. Vengeance is His!)
When conflict happens, here is our outline for peacemaking from Jesus:
- Step one is to PRIVATELY talk to the person and let them know of their fault. A few keys here. It needs to be privately – ONE on ONE – not after you’ve whispered about it to somebody else. First to them…the point here is that NOBODY else needs to know about the sin but you and the person. This is likely how you would want to be treated also. Also important: Jesus says “if your brother sins against you, go tell him his fault.” I believe the key word there is ‘sin.’ In order to tell your brother their fault, you probably should be able to show from Scripture how they’ve sinned. Did they just say something – non-sinfully – that hurt your feelings? Perhaps it was a misunderstanding or mistake. Show grace and talk about it…but save Matthew 18 peacemaking for when somebody has hurt you by sinning against you. (Lies, slander, false accusations, etc)What should your attitude be in such a conversation? I think Paul helps us here:If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take note of that person; don’t associate with him, so that he may be ashamed. 15 Yet don’t consider him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother. (2nd Thessalonians 3:14-15)
Brothers and sisters, if someone is overtaken in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual, restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so that you also won’t be tempted. Galatians 6:1
- Step two is to take ONE or TWO (not more…) others and have them help with the situation. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a confrontation – it should be a peacekeeping mission.
- Step three – if all else fails in the previous steps – is to tell the whole church about the sin. I believe this assumes that the person that has sinned is unrepentant, and like we discussed yesterday, unrepentant sin is dangerous.All situations are not guaranteed to be solved by this process, but this is the divinely appointed process that Jesus gives us for being in conflict, and we are not allowed to handle conflict in other ways as His followers.One more thing: What does it mean to treat somebody as a pagan or tax collector if they refuse to repent? It’s a great question, and I love Tim Keller’s answer to it, so I’ll close with that:What does it mean to treat someone as a pagan and a tax collector? It sounds terrible till you realize how Jesus treated pagans and tax collectors.
How did he treat them? He loved them, but he knew they were spiritually clueless. I remember this years ago, not in this church, by the way. I wrote a letter after one of these processes in which the elders worked with a couple of people and neither of them would reconcile to each other. We removed both of them from membership, but we loved them.
Here’s what I wrote. I said, “You are not acting consistently with the gospel you profess to believe. We are not saying you aren’t saved, we’re not saying you’re not a Christian, but we’re removing your privileges of membership. We’re going to lovingly but firmly treat you as a non-believer in the gospel till you wake up to the fact you are acting like a non-believer in the gospel.” That didn’t mean, of course, to shun or be mean to them in any way.
Some of you are saying, “Why in the world would I as a New Yorker want to belong to a church like that? Why would I want to put myself under authority? Why would I want to put myself in a church and give them the right to hold my feet to the fire like that? I decide what is right or wrong for me. Nobody tells me how to live my life.”
Let me tell you a story. Do you remember the story of Ulysses and the Sirens? Homer. Ulysses is coming back from the Trojan War, and he’s in a boat. The only way home is to go by the island of the Sirens. The Sirens were women who sat on the rocks and sang. He’s told when men heard the singing they went mad with desire. They would drive their ship into the rocks, and they’d perish.
Ulysses says, “I’m the captain. Therefore, I’m going to keep my ears open, but I’m tying myself to the mast.” Then he told all of his soldiers and sailors. They put wax in their ears. He said, “When we get near the island of the Sirens, I’ll probably hear the music, and I’ll probably go crazy. I’ll tell you to turn right into the rocks. I’ll scream at you, and I’ll yell at you and curse you. I’ll be out of my mind. Don’t listen to me. Stay on course.” It’s called the Ulysses pact.
He says, “I know I’ll be out of my mind, and I don’t want you to listen to me when I’m out of my mind. I want you to stay on course and keep me to the course I am setting for myself now.” Of course, that’s what happened. He got near the islands, and he heard the sound. He went berserk, and he screamed and cursed. He told them to turn right, and they didn’t. They kept on course.
The Bible says in Hebrews 3, “Exhort one another daily lest you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” What does that mean? Sin is deceitful, and if you’re a Christian, you know sometimes you’ll be deceived by your own heart. Sometimes your ego will kick in. Sometimes your self-defense mechanisms will go up. Sometimes you’ll lose perspective, and you’ll kind of go spiritually nuts.
It’s your job to say to your Christian brothers and sisters around you, “You have a right to come and hold my feet to the fire when I’m not living the way I want to live. I will have those periods.”
Timothy J. Keller, The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive, 2012-2013 (New York: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2013).