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Summary: Relationships are very difficult with the pressure of today’s incredible pace of life. Jesus’ command is that we keep our relationships honest and loving.

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Seeking Clear Hearts

December 26, 2004

would like to invite you to look at the chart which was handed out. It is rather simple, but helps us all understand how God would have us treat each other when disagreements arise. Please note, I did not say “if” disagreements arise, but “when”. In the matter of relationships between human beings there can be but three certainties – they begin, they end, and in the middle there is a tension that either brings us closer or drives us apart. God wants us closer; Satan wants us divided. Beloved, that is a tie vote – each of us carries a ballot that will make the difference in our relationships.

Conflict between brothers.

I. PRIVATE MEETING to get facts straight.

Possibilities from first meeting:

1. Reconciliation....no further action necessary.

2. Guilt uncovered, apology offered, forgiveness extended...reconciliation...no further action, unless conflict has somehow become public. In this case, public statement or meeting to quench gossip. Rumor-passers must publicly acknowledge & request (& receive) forgiveness.

3. Guilt uncovered, but no repentance; requires...

II. SEMI-PRIVATE MEETING to continue reconciliation attempts. Meeting should be with one or two spiritually-mature individuals who are generally revered to have wisdom.

Possibilities from second meeting:

1. Repentance is demnonstrated, forgiveness requested and extended. Brothers reconciled.

2. Still no repentance; requires...

III. FULL ASSEMBLY MEETING to achieve reconciliation or separation.

Possibilities from final meeting:

1. Repentance and request for forgiveness -- these extended and received. Reconciliation.

2. Still no repentance...church body excommunicates unrepentant party.

THE MEANING OF JESUS’ WORDS

Our Lord gave us some direct commands…

• Going in His name to make disciples, baptizing (Matthew 28:18-20)

• Observing the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:24)

• Following by denying self and taking up the cross daily (Luke 9:23)

One of the most important aspects we need to see about God’s plan for believers who have disagreements is that when believers experience conflict, every box (step) in that chart flows in the direction of restoration of relationships. Contrary to the “witch-hunt” stories about kicking people out of church – God designed this to facilitate the health of believers by repairing relationships. It is important to see why Jesus gave this process to us; it is vitally important that we understand the process to be done the way Jesus said it was to be done.

Incidentally, there is a whole other methodology for dealings with pagans, unbelievers. This is for Christians. The church must listen and obey, because this is one of those commands from our Lord and Master; it is not optional.

Notice the steps:

Step ONE

A disagreement happens – the one who senses the offense is to immediately go to the other believer.

In our text (Matthew 18), Jesus lays the responsibility on the one who “feels” offended. But in Matthew 5:23-24 he tells his followers that if you sense your fellow-believer has a beef against you, you are to go to him quickly. Jesus even puts it in the context of being in church when the offering plate is passed. He said (paraphrased), drop your check in the plate, get up immediately – even before the choir sings – and go be reconciled to your brother. Nothing should get in the way of that first, private meeting.

Step TWO

In the private meeting with your fellow-believer there can be one or two outcomes. One possibility is that you reconcile with each other, meaning you come to an understanding which is satisfactory to both, and have “clear hearts” about the offense being blotted-out. The other possibility is that you remain deadlocked, each with a different opinion that leaves one or both of you cold and unforgiving towards each other.

In the first case – clear hearts – there is nothing else to do; fellowship has been restored. In the case of deadlock, there should be (at least) a second try, this time with the help of impartial and spiritually-wise believers, two or three at the most. Both the “offended” and “offender” are to be present. There is no proxy reconciliation. All parties must hear and be heard. If one will not come to the reconciliation table, THAT believer is presumed to be in the wrong.

It is the same in our justice system in America. If you are accused, and fail to appear in the court, you will be judged guilty. You have a right to a defense, but you must participate.

Once again, if “clear-hearts” can be achieved, fellowship restored, there is no other mention of the disagreement. If deadlock persists, there is need for:

Step THREE

The church disciplinary meeting is for all the believers in the local assembly to make a final decision. Upon hearing the grievances and the responses, the church is to decide between right and wrong. All believers, offended, offender, and all the assembly is to take the result of this decision and treat it as the only way to “hearts all clear”.

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