Read: Matthew 18
“If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back.” (Matthew 18:15)
Jesus understood that one of the greatest threats to the Kingdom Life would be disharmony in the family of God. Conflicts between brothers and sisters in Christ could potentially derail God’s purposes in the local fellowship and give Satan the upper hand if they weren’t handled properly. The great Puritan preacher Richard Baxter observed,
“He that is not a son of Peace is not a son of God. All other sins destroy the Church consequentially; but Division and Separation demolish it directly.”
So he provided his twelve disciples—and by extension, followers in every age, including you and me—a template for conflict resolution.
To resolve a conflict with a God-honoring outcome, the most foundational and critical principle that must be followed comes from the first part of Christ’s words: “If a brother sins against you.” The offended party must assess whether the offense was truly a sin, or if it was simply an act that irritated or violated their personal preferences.
In my experience facilitating conflict resolution over the years, much of what people find offensive never rises to the level of a sin that needs to be confronted. In these cases, the offended party was, in reality, the culprit, and simply needed to grow thicker skin, develop greater tolerance, and/or learn to more effectively communicate their upset with the offender with grace and love.
Another essential to conflict resolution, once it has been determined that the offense was indeed the result of a sin, is to address the issue privately, just between the two parties. Too many people are quick to jump past this hoop and go right to group involvement. If you have not first addressed your hurt with the offender, do not take it to others and try to get them on your side. God will not honor that kind of action, and it will not produce reconciliation.
Jesus does provide a clause by which others should be drawn into the dispute in verses 16-20: If the sinning party won’t listen to you. That is when others may need to be brought in to mediate and reconcile the offense. These participants should be godly and objective representatives of Christ’s church (not necessarily church officials—simply mature, respectable Christians). Christ himself has placed his mantle of authority on this group to settle the dispute and if needs be, administer discipline to an unrepentant brother or sister—discipline that will stand up even in the courts of heaven.
A final essential to conflict resolution is that the desired outcome is to be restoration. Jesus said, “If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back.” Unfortunately, some people believe that getting what they want is the goal. It is not. Resolving the dispute, forgiving the offense, restoring the relationship, and preserving the harmony of the church is the outcome most honoring to God.
Conflict is an unavoidable fact of life—in general and in the family of God. It can either be a cause for fractured relationships and deep hurt, or it can be an opportunity for personal, relational growth, spiritual and Kingdom growth.
Though not always easy, if we simply follow Christ’s template for conflict resolution, we will experience the latter.
“If you have been putting off going to another person to try to achieve reconciliation with him, you have wronged him.” ~Jay E. Adams
What If God Took Over?
Living as a peace-maker in God’s family will require you to first be quick to deal with your own offenses and sins. Robert Williams suggests a rule called 7 A’s of Confession that would helpful for you to absorb into your response to people you have wounded.:
- Address everyone involved and only them. Talk to them about my faults. Do it right away and be persistent. Only talk to people who are part of the problem or part of the solution.
- Avoid “if”, “but”, “maybe”. That’s just blaming the other party and finding fault with them for my own failure. “If I offended you”, “Maybe I was wrong”, “If you hadn’t said that”, “I’m sorry, but you..”
- Admit specifically what you did, when possible.
- Apologize – express your sorrow for your sin
- Ask for forgiveness. Most people leave this out. The other party might be 99% wrong, but this isn’t about them right now. It’s about your own log.
- Accept the consequences. Make restitution. It’s what you ought to do. Don’t demand that they pretend nothing happened.
- Alter your behavior. You won’t be perfect, but you’ll get better. Repent before God.