“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. 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.’ 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,” – Jesus (Matthew 18:15-17).
In my experience, most people are terrible at dealing with any sort of conflict or disagreement. I say most and not all because there are some people that are better than others at dealing with such things.
Much of Christs’ teaching has to do with how we ought to relate to others. The above passage is no different. Jesus is here talking about what you ought to do if someone “sins against you.” For our purposes, let’s broaden that a little bit to anything that someone does to upset you including saying something that you may disagree with.
When someone becomes offended or upset I most often see one of two reactions: 1) The hurt person goes and complains to someone else about the particular situation or, 2) The hurt person says nothing but stores up bitterness towards the person that has upset them. Both of these reactions, although prevalent, are extremely problematic and poisonous. Let’s say someone says something that I disagree with. Is that unfortunate? Maybe. However, what is even more unfortunate and just flat out poisonous is if I react in one of the two ways listed above. Let’s look a bit longer at the above responses.
1) If you are hurt or upset by something that a person says your reaction ought not be to run and complain (“tell”) to someone else for, “a gossip separates close friends” (Prov. 16:28 ). Gossiping can very well fuel your own discontent towards the person that has upset you. Sharing and gossiping with someone about how terrible another person is for saying such a thing simply gets you more worked up and angry at the person that has done the hurting and this in no way resembles the love and grace we are to show others. Yet this happens every single day. People are hurt all the time and their first reaction is to tell someone else (now certainly I’m not saying that you should ALWAYS approach the person that hurt you because in some cases this may not be safe, but I’m simply talking about your average situation where something was said that you may disagree with etc). When will we learn to practice better, more constructive ways of dealing with hurt?
2) Likewise, if someone says something that is upsetting to you it is unwise to do nothing and allow yourself to become bitter. Paul exhorts the church in Ephesus to “get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice,” (4:31). Bitterness ought to have no place in Christ’s Body. Likewise, the writer of Hebrews says we ought to “see to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many,” (12:15). The writer of Hebrews teaches that bitterness can “cause trouble and defile many.”
As Christians, we *ought* to relate to people differently. If we are upset about something that has been said we should not react by gossiping or becoming bitter because these reactions are not reflective of being created anew. We are made *new* in Christ and ought to demonstrate a better way of living, that includes a better way of dealing with conflict and hurt. Jesus prescribes a better way when he says, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you,” (Mt. 18:15). If we truly believe this and do it we can save ourselves all of the hassle that comes with the previous two options and in so doing we can actually demonstrate a better way. When you go directly to the person to show them their fault (instead of going directly to someone else to show them someone else’s fault!) you eliminate the gossip. There is no chatting amongst people. There is no hearing things from third or fourth or FIFTH parties! If you are hurt, go directly to the person and let them know you are hurt. When this happens and it is kept “just between the two of you” then “you have won your brother over” and it is an edifying experience for all those parties involved: People are encouraged by one another, the truth is spoken in love and we are able to grow *together* as a Body and rejoice in that! (The same cannot be said about gossip). Likewise, if we handle conflict in such a way it leaves little room for bitterness. If you are hurt and go to the person to talk about it and share your hurt with them and they listen to you then you both grow closer and there is mutual healing and edification. This eradicates any bitterness because you are left healed and encouraged.
I think that the Church has much to learn in the area of dealing with hurt/conflict, however, when I see Jesus I see hope. As Christ’s Body we can demonstrate a better way! In fact, this is our DUTY! So let us do away with childish things such as gossip and bitterness and let us pursue truth and reconciliation, and over these things let us put on love.
Grace and peace.