One day in the future, we’ll experience a place and time of no conflict. The bible is very clear on that (Rev 21:4) and so should we. But until that day, however, there will be conflict… between 1 country and another… 1 tribe or family and another… 1 person and another. Even in church – the body of Christ – IT WILL HAPPEN!
If you are a follower of Jesus you will come into conflict with someone from church. Or someone from church will do or say something out of order, that offends you. That person may well be me. I hope I’d never do that intentionally – but I’m not perfect. It could be me!
From time to time there are people in church who disagree with me and I want them to know that it’s ok. We can disagree and still be part of church; still be part of the body. I won’t look of you any less, if you challenge me over something about which you have a legitimate concern! Of course I might not agree with you – but we can agree to disagree. It’s ok!
Some people think that if you come into conflict with the Vicar or leadership then that’s it, you can’t be in the same church again. Rubbish! WE CAN DISAGREE WITHOUT FALLING OUT.
Jesus says that in the church – there will be conflict. The Question is: how do we cope? What do we do?
Fortunately, Jesus Christ gives some very clear, specific advice. This is because he wants his church to be united and strong!
Unfortunately these days, many Christians don’t read the bible – so are not aware what to do when conflict comes. Or (worse) they read the bible teaching, but disregard it, thinking that somehow it doesn’t apply to them – that they know better.
So, what does Jesus teach about conflict? It’s very simple and can be found in Matthew Chapter 18.
Jesus teaches a 4 stage process of what to do, in Matthew 18:15-20.
5 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they 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 they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
18 “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
19 “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
Step 1: 1 to 1
(18:15a) – ‘if someone sins against you…’
This refers to a particular situation, or event. Something happens. A Christian offends you. What should you do? You go and see them alone. Tell them: ‘This has happened. This is how I feel’ (it’s best not to go in all guns blazing and say: ‘look what you’ve done…!’)
Don’t go and talk to others. It’s clear that we go straight to the person. In fact, if someone comes gossiping to you about what so and so has done, you should ask if they’ve been to see the person first. If not, end the conversation by suggesting they talk to so and so face to face.
It amazes me how often Christian people do the very opposite of this. For example sometimes I discover I’ve offended someone, and I’m about last person in church to find out! I can’t state this strongly enough: If we all DID THIS, there’d be a lot sorted out behind closed doors. No dirty laundry in public and we’d be a much healthier people. A lot of conflicts would be resolved quickly. Gossip would decrease. Church would be stronger, more united and more coherent. More the one body of Christ.
Jesus says: ‘If they listen to you, you have won them over.’ So this is the hope of the 1 to 1. Reconciliation and restoration. Because reconciliation is something God LOVES to bring about. In fact, this whole chapter in Matthew is about this: Ch 18 vv.1-9: how to protect little ones (children, disciples) from sinning; Ch 18 vv.10-14: how to rescue little ones who stumble; Ch 18 vv21-35: how we should forgive those who are repentant of doing wrong.
So the 1 on 1 is always our first step. But what if they don’t accept what you say?
Step 2: 2 or 3 (v.16a)
Go again – but this time take 2 or 3 witnesses (friends from church). Present your case, let him/her respond and maybe let the witnesses ask a few questions of you both. The hope is still reconciliation and restoration. Very often that happens after a 1 to 1, but if they won’t listen to YOU, don’t give up, you need to discretely tell 1 or 2 others and go back to the person.
But what if they still don’t accept what you’re saying?
Step 3: Tell Church (v.17a)
The Church here could mean ‘whole church’ ie. gather a whole church meeting or it could mean ’leadership’ of the church, who represent the whole church on a day to day basis. My recommendation would be that you’d go to the leadership, as it just cuts down the amount of people who know, and reduces the potential for gossip.
It’s very important that you go through step 1 and step 2 first. Follow the steps Jesus gives us, in the order Jesus gives us. We don’t go to leadership or someone ‘above’ the person first. This is a good principle in all conflicts – including in work places as well as churches.
I had someone last week make a complaint to me about someone in Church. So I asked them if they have first spoken to the person themselves. They hadn’t. So I told them to do what Jesus tells us here – to go through Step 1 and Step 2 before getting to Step 3. It’s what Jesus tells us to do and it’s the best way. I also know what it’s like to be complained about, because over the years I’ve been on the receiving end of complaints about me given straight to my superiors, and it is not nice. I want to have been given a chance to talk to the person myself, rather than receiving their complaint through my boss.
But what if they don’t accept view of ‘church’?
Step 4: They Leave Church (v.17b)
This verse means regard them as those ‘outside’ – which doesn’t mean treat them badly but with respect, love and prayer like Jesus treated those outside the church. Love them. Pray for them.
This is a very simple and very effective process. It works and works well. It is the BEST way.
I’ve had to do this on a number of occasions with people and it has been good, if not easy. It stops things festering.
Here’ some final thoughts on this process.
1) It is very clear from the passage that we are to just do it. Many people handle conflict very badly. Many don’t know how to deal with conflict. This passage tells us clearly what to do.
2) The easiest way to handle conflict is to either push it under the carpet or to walk away from the relationship. With the first one of these you often find that the issue you pushed under the carpet has a way of crawling out again! The second option, although often appealing, is actually the cowardly thing to do. That’s NOT the attitude of Jesus Christ. He calls us to be brave: to face up to conflict and work for relationships restored.
3) If we don’t follow this process, what will happen? If we look in 2 Cor 12:20 we see that gossip is spread and rumours circulate. There should be no place for that in God’s church. If we handle things badly we make room for devil to come in – and he will – and we know he loves to destroy, not build: to tear down, not build up (Eph 4:27). In fact sometimes we can do devil’s work for him as we allow groups or cliques to form around particular issues or personalities. This can be a bad witness to those outside church. When some are working very hard trying to grow church it’s just not helpful when others destroy it from inside.
4) If someone comes to you and says you’ve offended them, then what?
Listen to them. If you know you’ve acted in wrong way, say so – apologise. If you don’t think you have done anything wrong, don’t take offence. Have a tough skin. Be humble and say something like: ‘if I’ve offended you, I’m sorry. If I’ve done something without realising, I’m sorry’. Then Pray. Pray together if you can. When we pray, we welcome the presence of God. This is always a good thing! Our unity is in GOD and praying helps us remember and experience that truth.
Finally, when it comes to conflict, never forget: God’s given you 2 ears and 1 mouth – use them in that proportion.