Summary: We all live with the consequences of conflict – the hurt and pain. Jesus gives us some real advice on how to properly deal with sin and conflict – and has some surprises about a very well known section of Scripture.
How much time do we spend in conflict? It started back with Cain & Abel. You remember the story – the two first brothers argued because God favored Abel’s sacrifice more than Cain’s. You know how the story ends – with the first murder – and it seems, brothers (and even brothers and sisters) have been at each other’s throats ever since.
I admit that some of my earliest memories are not times spent by a crackling fire on a cold winter’s eve – dad playing the violin and mom reading endearing stories to all of us kids as we nestled close together in perfect harmony.
No some my earliest memories are chasing my older sister around the house when I was three years old – of teasing my younger sister and pulling her braids. Now, don’t get me wrong – I love my sisters – but you know how it goes – it seems like there is always conflict.
Conflict is the cause of so much of the pain that exists or has existed in this world. Conflict usually comes about for two reasons – you have something I want and you won’t give it to me – or you have offended me and I must do something about it. Conflict takes up our energy and keeps us from doing other things. I wonder sometimes how much we could do if we dealt with conflict and moved on to do God’s work.
That is what we’re going to look at today – in a very well known section of Matthew that we’re going to look at in a new way.
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. 16 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.’ 17 If he 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.
If you have been a Christian for any length of time you are no doubt familiar with this section of the Word. It is so common, in fact, that I hear people say "I need to Matthew 18 them," as if there is some magic formula or regulation contained here. Many of us believe that it is the way to solve interpersonal problems – if someone does you wrong then it’s not up to them to apologize but you to try to make it right. And I think this is at least a good step – instead of dealing with conflict by striking out against the other person, at least we’re trying to do the right Scripturally. But …
I want to correct some misconceptions about Matthew 18. The first thing is that this is for the church – not for the world. Jesus has different standards for when the people in the world around us sin. Our primary responsibility is to use the sin as an opportunity to share the gospel – not correct each fault we see. You can’t make a dirty rag clean by pointing out the dirt – the rag must be washed.
But as it relates to the church – there is an important textual matter to point out: the words "against you" are not in the two earliest manuscripts of Matthew. If you take it out verse 15 reads: "If your brother sins, go and show him his fault."
You see, instead of Jesus being the antidote for personal problems between individuals – this is a guide for helping the church not be weakened by sin by making it all of our responsibility for helping the weaker among us. Now some take this to the extreme and feel it is their personal responsibility to point out every weakness they see in everyone else – but I want to change that misconception too. So let’s walk through this point by point.
Step 1 – The One on One
1. You earn the right to correct
You can’t just blow someone away – you’ve got to establish a relationship of trust so that you can take someone aside and tell them – "you need to watch this area of your life."
2. A quiet correction is better than a public rebuke or worse yet – gossip.
Often when we see someone sinning we react by shunning them or talking about them behind their backs instead of quietly, privately, confronting the problem. This is good for churches because it saves church leaders from having to intervene when hurt feelings get out of hand.
3. You’re not an accuser, but a counselor.