Summary: Conflict is inevitable, even within the walls of the church. How we handle conflict is important. Jesus outlined for us four steps to take when someone sins against us.
WHEN SOMEONE SINS AGAINST YOU
A tired truck driver pulled his rig into an all-night truck stop. The waitress had just served him when three tough looking, leather jacketed motorcyclist walked in and started giving him a hard time. Not only did they verbally abuse him, one grabbed the cheeseburger off his plate, another took a handful of his French fries, and the third picked up his coffee and began to drink it. How do you think he responded? He calmly rose, walked to the front of the restaurant. Put his money for the food on the cash register, and went out the door. The waitress followed him to put the money in the till and stood watching out the door as the big truck drove away into the night. When she returned, one of the bikers said to her, “Well, he’s not much of a man, is he?” She replied, “I don’t know about that, but he sure is not much of a truck driver. He just ran over three motorcycles on his way out of the parking lot.”
Matt 18:15 "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.
First, notice that Jesus is speaking here to the church. He is addressing Christians. This is dealing with believers who are in conflict. Unity is always an important issue in the church.
Larry Crabb wrote “The difference between spiritual and unspiritual community is not whether conflict exists, but rather 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.” In other words, it is how we handle conflict that determines the level of our spiritual maturity!
The truth of the matter is that relationships can be strengthened through conflict only IF we handle them correctly. What makes or breaks relationships, and churches, is how we choose to respond to conflict. We must learn how to walk in love while dealing with conflict when it comes. In this passage Jesus gives us a very simple four step plan on how to handle conflict in the church when it happens:
1. The First Step – the subjective view
This is where most people often make a critical mistake! The first thing to do if someone hurts you is to go to them privately. This means that you do not go to your friends, or family, or pastor, or spouse first, but rather you go to the person with whom there is a problem. If someone comes to you with a problem about another person, here is the very first thing you need to ask them, “Have you addressed this with that person first?” If not, encourage them to do so. That is where Jesus said to start.
If you are planning to come to me as a pastor about a conflict with another person, let me save you some time. Talk to the person about the problem first. I can’t help you if you are not willing to address the issue with them first.
I remember when I first moved to Kuwait. A member of the congregation came to my office and started the conversation by saying, “Pastor Steve, I am glad you are here. I have some real concerns about Pastor Jerry (the Senior Pastor)”. I stopped the person and called Pastor Jerry on the phone saying there was someone in my office that wanted to speak with him. When he arrived I left and they had a good conversation. No one ever tried that again.
Gal 6:1-2 Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. 2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
God calls us as a family of believers to help one another seek restoration. Here are some guidelines for when you are hurt and need to confront someone on an issue:
Prepare with prayer. Always go into confrontation with an attitude of humility and love. Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Pray for the person continually. It is hard to stay mad at someone you are praying for.
Deal with the issue ASAP! Don’t put off the conflict for weeks or months in the hopes that it will just go away by itself. The situation will only get worse as anger and bitterness begin to take root. People who bottle up conflict will explode eventually. As well, the offense will get blown out of proportion the longer it sits unaddressed. As it says in Ephesians 4:26 “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry!”