"15 "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. 16 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.' 17 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." [Matthew 18:15-17]
There is little I dislike more than conflict. I truly am a person who yearns for peace - peace with God and peace with other people. However, knowing that we live in a sinful world means that we will have conflict with one another; and what I have seen as a pastor is that when two people get into conflict it usually gets very ugly very quickly.
However, this is not what Jesus desires. I would say that with conflict comes an opportunity to glorify God.
Matthew 18 is an entire chapter on reconciliation. We have the lost sheep. We have the faith of a child. We have the parable of the ten thousand talents. We have forgiveness. And right in the middle of the chapter we have Jesus inform us how to handle conflict.
And let me begin by simply saying this: when someone has hurt us we must first begin with the motive of reconciling with that individual - not winning an argument. God was, "reconciling the world to Himself" [2nd Corinthians 5] in Jesus. His motivation was not simply to, "win an argument" when He saved us. His motivation was to restore us to Himself.
Likewise, in any conflict we may have, begin any discussion with the desire to reconcile. That is a Jesus goal; and it should be ours.
The process begins when you or I know someone has something against us or we have something against them. We are to approach them privately - just the two of us. Now, do you know what I think? I think the great majority of conflicts would end if we simply followed this one rule. But we do not. We tell our friends what, "they" did to us. And they do the same. We form battle lines and create greater conflict. The devil laughs.
If someone approaches me and says, "Chris...this really hurt me...and I want to be at peace with you, but I am having a hard time..." I would certainly listen. And I do not believe that there is anything special in me - I believe any Christian would listen. This is how we are supposed to approach a brother that hurt or sinned against us.
But even if that does not work and between the two of us we cannot resolve our problem - we are to go to a 3rd party. We are to, "bring one or two others along..." Now, this does not mean our mom, dad, brother, or sister, or wife. They are not impartial. Often we cannot see our own fault in any matter. If we cannot overlook the offense or resolve, we bring an objective 3rd party involved. [Perhaps at this time a pastor, elder, or other trusted Christian friend] Someone you both trust. Listen to their guidance. See where you and the other may be at fault. Then, reconcile.
But even if this does not work, Jesus says, "tell it to the church." Now, this does not mean, "gossip about this throughout the church." He means, "bring it to the authorities in the church." You see, this is where the church has failed her people. The church is called to be an authority in the believer's life. But sadly, too often, it is not. The people of the church are called to trust in the wisdom of the church. Listen to them - and heed their wisdom.
And then even if all else fails, there is church discipline - if someone refuses to repent of their sin, "treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector...." But interestingly enough - how did Jesus treat pagans and tax collectors? While he would not treat them as believers [because at first they weren't] He would continue to call them to reconciliation.
Now, I go through all these steps because Jesus did. Yet, I am convinced that 99 % of our conflicts would end at step one if we simply followed our Lord's advice and, when someone wrongs us, we would simply privately go to them - humbly - and seek to restore the relationship.
This is what God does for me every time I confess my sin. He convicts me privately, I repent and ask for forgiveness, and He restores. I pray we follow His lead. Amen.