Summary: a 3 part series helping people to resolve conflict. part 1 of 3
We can name a great number of things we would like to avoid in our lives, standing before a crowd and giving a speech, going to the doctor, getting a shot, going to the dentist, and going to an IRS audit are some. One other thing most of us would do anything to avoid is . . . confrontation. When we think about confrontation . . . we think about conflict and when we think about conflict an image Jesus talked about comes to mind ~ “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Nobody likes to be confronted and if you’re somewhat human, you don’t like to do the confronting either. But there comes a time in life when we have to confront. This passage from Jesus gives us a great lesson for confronting fellow Christians.
There are people who begin to panic when they have to complain about something that does not work, or who need to speak to someone about something they are unhappy with. How many times have you received food in a restaurant that wasn’t very good, and either you ate it and said nothing, because deep down, and I mean deep down in your heart and soul . . . you despise conflict . . . and complaining about lousy food is worse than eating lousy food.
In his book, The Safest Place on Earth, Larry Crabb wrote, “The difference between spiritual and unspiritual community is not whether conflict exists, but it is rather in our attitude toward it and our approach to handling it. When conflict is seen as an opportunity to draw more fully on spiritual resources, we have the makings of spiritual community” (page 40).
That is a powerful statement by Crabb. We know conflict will always exist. Sane people hate conflict. They don’t like it because conflict means just that, it’s a clash, it means someone is angry and/or frustrated about something. And we have to deal with it. You see too often we choose not to deal with conflict. We assume if we ignore it enough, it will go away, and if it goes away, then life will be blissful. But more often than not, that is not the case.
Of course there are those people who love conflict. They thrive on it, and usually those people are the unhappiest people you’ll ever meet. They’re unhappy because they really don’t know what it’s like to experience joy, peace and love through the Holy Spirit.
Most of us would prefer to ignore and skip over this passage, but Jesus gives us a classic and effective way to resolve conflict.
There are 2 reasons conflict can be complicated in the church:
We have high expectations of others. Simply because people in the church profess to be followers of Jesus Christ, we expect a certain level of behavior from each other. But occasionally our expectations don’t get met.
Also, passions are strong in the church. People feel deeply. Church can become a very unsafe place when conflict is dealt with inappropriately. People get involved who don’t need to, friendships are sacrificed on the altar of ego, and oneness becomes a distant dream – like that tropical vacation we planned for last week which was destroyed by the hurricanes.
No church will be free of conflict. What makes or breaks churches is what they choose to do with conflict. It can drive us apart,
OR conflict can lead us to draw more fully on the resources available through the Holy Spirit.
If we would like to grow through conflict then we need to take a look at the four steps Jesus outlines in Matthew 18.
I’m going to spend all of our time talking about the first step for a few reasons. Every one of us will find ourselves in a situation where we’ll need to implement it. Also, most conflict among Christians can be cleared up at the first step. AND experience tells us that often the first step is ignored when conflict arises. Over the next weeks, we will finish talking about steps 2-4.
Jesus’ teaching answers the question of what to do if a brother or sister sins against you. What to do is plain and easy to understand. However, we seem to get stuck in following what Jesus calls us to do.
There are 2 critical qualifiers that determine whether or not Jesus’ teaching applies.
The first qualifier is whether or not the person you are conflicted with is a brother or sister in Christ. If the person you must confront does not claim the word of God as their standard, you have no basis on which to make your claim. You might be able to appeal to their conscience, but you come with no real authority. A brother or sister in Christ, however, should have a standard to which you can call him or her to account.