Saturday, October 27, 2012

Jesus' Method for Conflict Resolution

Jesus’ Method for Conflict Resolution


Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.” – Matthew 18:15-17

I was recently asked what the Bible says about relationship conflicts, and how to deal with those that are angry at you or that make you angry.  As I suspected, it says a lot! God’s word tells how to avoid conflict, and how to resolve it.  But since we rarely discuss conflict unless it’s already present, let’s get right to how to resolve it.
Jesus taught quite a bit about how to treat your neighbor, your brother, or basically those that God has placed in your life.  Each and every one is there for a purpose, just as you yourself have a purpose.  But when things go wrong, that relationship that was comforting and friendly can be painful.  Jesus gives five steps to resolving conflict in Matthew 18.

First, discuss the issue with them in private.  This is where we usually go wrong.  We go around talking to everyone else about “I think so-and-so is mad at me” instead of addressing the issue directly.  The problem with this behavior is that nothing negative stays secret for long.  There’s always that one person who relishes telling those deep dark secrets.  This creates what is called passive aggression.
Passive aggression is characterized by hostile actions that are subtle.  A passive aggressive person will smile to your face, and then talk bad about you behind your back. Passive aggression will not return your phone calls or emails, and will pretend to others that nothing is wrong.  This creates an even larger problem because you can’t resolve the problem if the other party won’t admit there is one.  Proverbs 27:5 says Open rebuke is better than love carefully concealed.”  It’s better to confront the offender than to allow the conflict to result in this behavior.  But it’s even better to do it in privacy to protect the feelings of the other person, who may see the conflict as your fault and not their own. 

Secondly, Jesus teaches us to go to them with witnesses to assure your words are known to others.  When confronted with something they have done wrong, people act differently than they would normally.  They may try to hide behind the truth by twisting your words.  Taking a friend or two with you will assure that what is said is not twisted into an untruth. But it’s important to pick your witnesses carefully.  You don’t want to create two “sides” of the argument.  Instead of picking your own friends, pick the friends of the one who has offended you, or someone they respect. In situations of conflict, it’s always good to have a mediator handy to soften the conversation and redirect it when necessary.
But if even in the presence of friends the matter cannot be resolved, we are instructed to take a third step and take it before the church.  This is not to condemn the offender, but to prove that you’ve done all you can to resolve the matter so that your reputation is not tainted by the offense being held against you.  Some people will simply not let go of anger, and choose to hold a grudge.  When this happens, you take the matter before your church, be it your pastor or your elders, and assure with your witnesses that you have done all you can to right the wrong, and yet, the relationship could not be mended. 

During the time of the disciples the Jewish synagogue had a panel of judges that would review such cases and either hold you in contempt of the situation, or release you from it.  This was done to assure that no division existed in the church, and that its members behaved as they should.
Then as a fourth step, you have to walk away from the relationship, breaking your ties with the person.  Jesus says in verse 17 to “let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. The church was already instructed to not fellowship with unbelievers or those that were immoral.  A tax collector was considered immoral because they usually skimmed from the top or took bribes.  Jesus’ instructions are clearly to drop the relationship.  This is for your own good.  You cannot make people like you.  If you’ve done all you were instructed to resolve the conflict, and have no guilt in your heart that there was something you should have said or done that might have made the difference, walk away.

But when you walk away, don’t carry a grudge yourself because your offender refused to forgive the wrong or make it right.  Jesus tells the parable of the master who is going to condemn his servant because of unpaid debt, but when the servant comes to him and begs for more time, he not only rescinds the punishment, but forgives the whole debt.  But then the servant goes to someone who owes him, and when his debtor asks for more time, he refuses to forgive him, and has him put in prison. 
Forgive as you have been forgiven is the last step in conflict resolution.  Because we have our own faults, and Jesus has forgiven them, we do not carry a grudge against those who have forgiven us.  Matthew 18 ends with verse 35 saying “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”  Did you get that?  If you hold a grudge against your offender, “So My heavenly Father also will do to you”.  Don’t let the conflict cause a problem between you and God. Forgive even when it hasn’t been asked for.  It is impossible follow the command that Jesus said was greatest of all and “love one another even as I have loved you” if you hold a grudge in your heart.

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