AFTER YOU READ MATTHEW 18
Divisiveness, hatred, unforgiveness, rudeness, bullying, offensiveness have been given a new venue in today’s world: social media. Maybe we should call it “anti-social media!” But let’s not stop there or pick on social media when rudeness and bitterness rests not online but in your heart and mine, and unforgiveness, bullying, rudeness, and divisiveness exists with or without social media.
The importance of what Jesus teaches here is inversely proportional to how much and how well the teaching is practiced today. Jesus teaches a very practical yet idealistic lesson on reconciliation, complete with steps. If there were ever a need for a sermon with steps, here is one! So in this blog I’ll divide it into the four steps Jesus suggests for winning back a brother or sister when something has come between you.
“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.
“This needs courage; it also needs prayer and humility,” says N.T. Wright. Often we’d rather pretend there isn’t a problem, avoid conflict. Prayer could lead you to realize you are wrong before you ever go to a brother or sister. It also prepares you for what’s coming: counter accusations and perspectives. There may be truth you must listen to in what the other person says. You are not going to simply confront but to understand. I’ve known the joy of being confronted and feeling the weight of someone else off-loading a burden or concern for me or a conflict, and I’ve known the joy of having a conflict within me or between another person and me, and going to that person to address it. It’s difficult but what Jesus says is really true. The bond that talking directly about heart matters is beautiful and you may gain a brother or sister from the deal.
But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’
Sometimes going directly to a person doesn’t work. But keep in mind you may not have communicated well, and you may have blind spots. Jesus suggests taking one or two witnesses (this comes from Old Testament law about evidence), but before you do this, those wise people — and you should choose wise people! — ought to give you a reality check, tell you uncomfortable truths about yourself or your role in the conflict. You may find this next second step of going with one or two witnesses unnecessary because of their truth-telling before you go.
If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church;
The third step is to inform the Christian assembly or accountability group. Jesus could have been talking here about a synagogue group, house church. In huge churches today, I don’t think it would be very effective if people bring their conflicts to those assemblies of thousands of people. Confession can happen in those settings for sure! And at The Journey we often confess our sins to one another, but in those larger assemblies, we don’t often air our grievances without many attempts at reconciliation more personally.
if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
Ugh! The good news is we don’t often have to reach this step if the previous three steps have been taken. The bad news is that some of us have experienced this step where a person has been treated like a non-friend, an outcast. N.T. Wright points out that Paul wrestles with this same problem in 1 Corinthians 5. “We don’t like the sound of this, but we need to ask what the alternatives are. If there is real evil involved, refusal to face it means a necessary break of fellowship. Reconciliation can only come after the problem has been faced,” says N.T. Wright.
19 “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
Thank you Jesus for what you say at the end of these steps. It’s very assuring and transforming of relationships and conflicts. Your real presence, Jesus, is with us. We want to imagine you, Lord, sitting with us in these conflicts, in our attempts at reconciliation. In fact, your presence, Holy Spirit is what makes reconciliation, forgiveness, mutual respect and love possible.
Bill Hybels in the 2017 Global Leadership Summit, said, “We as Christ followers don’t get to choose who we respect or disrespect.” How do we address incivility before, during, and after it occurs? Hybels suggests we practice civility in our homes, churches, businesses, and civic groups and gives these guidelines.
- Do not demonize people who disagree with you.
- Enjoy spirited conversation without having to cut and draw blood.
- Don’t dominate and interrupt people.
- Keep the volume, temperature, and blood pressure down.
- Avoid incendiary and demeaning remarks, name-calling. Expunge all these kinds of words from your vocabulary.
- Be courteous in word and deed. Never stereotype.
- Be open to new data and information from many and varied sources, including but not limited to Scripture, and form your opinions carefully rather than spouting opinions you’ve heard from a talk show or particular web site or opinionated person.
- Show up when you say you will show up.
- Set rules of respect for everyone.
- Convene a meeting of leaders and draft a code of conduct for your organization.
Greg Taylor preaches for The Journey. Greg’s wife, Jill, teaches math at Broken Arrow High School and Tulsa Community College. Greg and Jill have three adult children, Ashley, Anna, and Jacob. Greg is the author of many books, including his latest co-authored with Randy Harris, Daring Faith: Meeting Jesus in the Book of John.