Summary: Jesus in Mt 18 offers us three routes to “conflict resolution” – similar in many ways to the three judicial routes that we have today. 1. The “ Out of Court” settlement 2. “Arbitration” in camera and 3. The full blown Confrontation in Open Court
Sharrington/ Hunworth 08-09-02
Mt 18:15-20 Conflict Resolution
This morning’s Gospel reading from Mt. 18 verses 15-20 is all about handling personal conflict in church.
The text seen in isolation - reads rather like a legal manual on how to deal with someone else’s’ sin and what steps we need to take to enable us to secure his or her excommunication.
The cut-and-dried character of the process can leave us somewhat uncomfortable. And we may end up with the feeling that we are not really sure that we want to deal with conflict in this way.
However we must see this in context.
Mt 18 is not about condemnation – it is all about forgiveness and restoration.
In the paragraph following our Gospel reading this morning, we find Peter’s question recorded
“Lord how many times should I forgive my brother? Seven times? (Mt. 18:21) ; to which Jesus replied “up to seventy times seven times” (Mt. 18:22)
And then Jesus went on to relate the parable of the Unmerciful Servant (Mt. 18: 23-35).
God forgives freely, and those who have been forgiven must respond to that forgiveness by forgiving others.
So, when we are the injured party, we are to seek out the person who has offended us and initiate the process of reconciliation.
As the Interpreter’s Commentary has put it:
“we have no right to nurse our grudges, whine about our wounds, and resist efforts at healing. We are to take the first step - to risk the engage- ment that can lead to a restored relationship.”
Jesus was realistic. He recognised that there would be conflicts within the Church - just as there have been in families since the time of Cain and Abel.
And these conflicts really do need sorting out. If they are just swept under the carpet – resentment will fester until – to mix my metaphors the dam bursts.
The apostle Paul was very wise when he said: “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger” (Eph 4:26)
Jesus in Mt 18 offers us three routes to “conflict resolution” – similar in many ways to the three judicial routes that we have today.
These judicial routes are:
1. The “ Out of Court” settlement, where the parties get together and work our their differences
2. “Arbitration” in camera before a small Tribunal -where the Tribunal helps the parties to resolve their conflict and
3. The full blown Confrontation in Open Court
Let’s start by looking at:
1. The “Out of Court” Settlement between the two parties involved
Jesus said: 15 "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.
A quiet word of correction is better than a public rebuke or worse - gossip.
Story: When I was at University, I used to play Chess for the College team. There were three of us that were vying for the top board – and I was being quite arrogant about how good I was.
One of the older members of the College Chess team , Steve took me aside one day and said:
“Martin, I’m not a Christian, but I have a number of Christian friends. And the way you are in the Chess team isn’t the way they live. You’re letting the side down. Think about it”.
His words quietly spoken changed my attitude radically that day.
As the book of Proverbs says: A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver (Pr. 25:11)
It is important that we go in an attitude of forgiveness and reconciliation, rather than in “righteous indignation”. Otherwise, we need not bother to go.
The second judicial course of action open to us in conflict resolution is Arbitration.
In our Gospel reading Jesus said: 16 But if he (the person with whom you have privately tried to resolve the conflict) 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 the person you have approached privately won’t talk to you – or won’t listen to you – then the next course of action is to take one or two people that both parties will trust to help to mediate the matter.
Sometimes an impartial judge can help resolve the conflict.
3. Full blown confrontation
Often disputes can be settled privately in these two ways.
Sadly this is not always the case, and if the matter is grave enough, Jesus offers a third course of action.
Jesus went on to say that
17 If he (the person with whom you have privately tried to resolve the conflict) 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.