Feb 6, 2014

3 Steps and 3 Keys to Handling Conflict the Jesus Way

Fighting happens.  Conflict happens.  People will wrong you, even the people you love the most.  Every marriage, every friendship, and every church deals with this.  We all have different ways and feelings about conflict.  Some of us thrive in it and some of us avoid it all together.  Some of us have deep and ugly wounds in our lives because of it.  No matter who you are or how you feel about it, know this:  Jesus has a clear path through conflict.  In Matthew 18:15-17 Jesus lays out some good stuff for us to follow as we handle those who have hurt us and the conflict that we have with them.  He gives us 3 keys to remember and 3 steps to follow.

Key 1
Matthew 18:15 “you have gained your brother”

The key to handling conflict is to have the right purpose when entering conflict.  The purpose that Jesus lays out is one of restoration, “gaining a brother.”  So often we go into to conflict with wrong intentions.  We want to prove we are right or win the argument.  Biblical conflict goes deeper than just being right, it’s about regaining a right relationship.

Key 2
Matthew 18:15 “If your brother sins against you”

Sin is the root of real conflict.  Know the difference between sin and just a simple disagreement.  Way too often we over play a simple disagreement with another person and we sin by losing a friendship, marriage, or church over a disagreement.  Two mature adults should be able to disagree and get along...it’s sin not to.  If you are angry and hurt that a person disagrees with you, then you need to relax and calm down.  Don’t fight or lose a friend over a disagreement.   The source of true conflict is sin.  Something wrong has been done and so something must be done.  Sin is worth fighting and a friend who has sinned against you is worth fight for.

Now, to the steps to handling real conflict.

Step 1 – One on One
Matthew 18:15  "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.

Simply put:  go talk to them and tell them what they have done wrong.  The goal of this step is not to scorn, shame, or embarrass.  The goal is to restore.  It is an act of true brotherly love and concern. 

There are two positive things about this approach.  First, it gives the person the benefit of the doubt.  Maybe they didn’t know what they were doing or didn’t mean to hurt you.  They might be just as shocked as you were, unaware that their sinful actions were hurting you.

Second, it also shows the person you that you truly love and value their relationship and that you believe they do too.  It gives them the opportunity to demonstrate their love and care for you by making things right to restore their relationship to you.  It shows that you trust their love.

Step one is usually where we usually go off script and where we go wrong.  The sinful nature in us wants to do anything but step one.  It’s easier to avoid it altogether.  It’s easier to call it quits.  It’s easier to assume the other person will know they hurt you and come to you and make it right.  It is easier to enjoy the sympathy of others when we tell others what someone did.  It’s easier to make others think less of the other person and more of you.

These other ways seem easier, but in the long run not one of them will turn out well and their outcome is way more painful.  You are the one who loses.  Trust me, I’ve tried them all.  I’ve lost good friends over this and ultimately it was just as much my fault!  I may not have been the one that sinned first, but by gossiping, avoiding, or quitting, I sinned too.  I acted just as unlovingly to them by not loving them enough to talk with them one on one.  They may have been a bad friend, but I was one too. 

Too many marriages are lost, too many friendships are dissolved, too many churches are split, too many families are now only related by blood all because step one was not done.  Far too much talking behind backs goes on in churches, marriages, and friendships.  We are beating ourselves and each other up and no one wins.  That is not the way of Jesus.

Remember, the goal is to gain or restore a friend, not to lose one.  Love them enough to talk to them.  In my experience, 9 times out of 10, the issue is resolved in step one.

Step 2 – Two on One
Matthew 18:16  But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.

Simply put:  Take another person with you and privately confront the person.  Here’s why this is such a good idea.  It gives legitimacy and credibility to your case.  It’s no longer just a “he said, she said” issue.  There are others who saw, heard it, and thought it too.  This is vital if a person refuses to repent after you’ve talked with them one on one.  The Old Testament law gave great weight to the confrontation and evidence of two people:

Deuteronomy 19:15  “A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established.
Side note: If you can’t find anyone who will stand with you, then you may not really have anything to stand on.  You may need to reevaluate the situation and look deeply at what has been done.  

Hearing it from more than one person can help open their eyes.  Maybe the other person will help you state what’s been done wrong in a clearer and more understandable way.  It also shows love as it protects the reputation of the sinner, attempts to handle the matter quietly and quickly, and keeps the issue from causing more problems.  Once again the goal is to regain a brother!

Step 3 – All on One
Matthew 18:17  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

After one on one, then after two on one, if the person still refuses to repent then take it before the church.  We rarely see this today.  Why?

Is it because we are so good at step 1 and 2 that we never have to get to this step?  Hey, there are too many split churches, too many divorced Christians, too many fighting families, and too much hypocrisy for me to believe this is the case.

No, maybe it’s because we’ve found other unbiblical ways to handle our conflicts with another’s sin:  gossip, avoidance, lawyers, lawsuits, complacency, and Xanax.  Maybe it’s because we are too comfortable with conflict, unrepentance, and sin in the church.  Maybe it’s because we don’t really love each other like we should.  Maybe it’s because rarely do steps 1 and 2 properly, so why do step 3?

If you are dealing with a true friend, a true Christian, and a person with the conviction of the Holy Spirit inside them, then confronting them through Step 1, Step 2, and Step 3 properly will more often than not lead to their repentance and rarely will you ever have to do what Jesus says to do next.  But, if they remain unrepentant and resolved to their sinful actions then we must show them love by doing what Jesus says and “treat them as an unbeliever.”  Now, this is not excommunication, but it definitely is a change in the way you relate to that person and their standing with you.  Most importantly it is a change of direction and approach of ministry to that person.  Our job is now to do exactly what we are supposed to do to unbelievers:  pray for them, minister to them, witness to them, be among them, but not of them.  Should we remove them from the membership rolls of the church?  In some cases, absolutely.  But the goal is still to work to restore them to right fellowship through repentance and forgiveness.

Romans 12:20-21  on the contrary, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head."  21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

You know what is missing in this whole process?  Payback, winning, getting it your way, or slandering someone.  Those things are the way of the world and the way of the flesh, not the way of Jesus.  The way of Jesus is love and these three steps are the way he calls us to love those who hurt us.

Key 3
I said there were three keys.  Here’s the third:  Forgiveness.   Listen to the very next thing Jesus was asked after he laid the 3 steps out:

Matthew 18:21-22  Then Peter came up and said to him, "Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?"  22 Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.

Marghanita Laski was a famous novelist and secular humanist, listen to what she said before her death, “What I envy most about you Christians is your forgiveness; I have nobody to forgive me.” (John Stott, The Contemporary Christian) 

By far this is the hardest key, but it is also the most Godly and the most freeing.  We are never more like Jesus and never do we live life more like Jesus than when we make the choice to forgive.  The greatest thing that God did for us was to forgive us in Jesus Christ.  We should always be willing and eager to do the same for each other.  Forgiveness is the toughest but also the fullest expression of love.

Sometimes friends can become enemies, but don’t let that be your fault.  Do everything you can to keep them from becoming enemies.  Seek the steps of regaining a friend, a spouse, and brother or sister in Christ.  Remember:

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends.
1 Corinthians 13:7-8