Matthew 18: 15-17
15 “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.
If a Christian brother or sister is seriously wronged by another believer, the first thing he/she is instructed to do is to go to the individual privately in gentleness and love to discuss the offense. We are not to complain to others (gossip) or to avoid the issue altogether. Offenses left unchecked can lead to harboring bitterness, division within the body, enabling sinful behavior and more. Depending on our personality traits, we tend to either flee (ignore) or engage aggressively (not humbly) when disagreements occur. Let’s face it, most of us don’t enjoy handling conflicts (caused by sin). But conflicts are bound to arise nonetheless—even among Christians. So, whether it is your nature to fight or to flee, thankfully the Bible gives us directives as to how to handle the difficult task of conflict resolution within the body of Christ. We must not use our personality tendencies as an excuse to not appropriately approach a serious conflict. Jesus calls His people to live in love and unity (see John 17:20-23). Where there are sinful disagreements, there is no unity. Without unity, we fail to represent our Father who is One in unity with His Son and the Holy Spirit. Our purpose in conflict resolution is not to get our way, but for Christ-honoring unity.
Even though our position in Christ has been perfected, the Bible makes it clear that none of us are perfect in a practical sense. When a believer chooses to disobey God, the Holy Spirit quickly holds us to account—in fact, the Spirit’s conviction is a sign of true faith. We should expect that those who know Christ would be sensitive to the Spirit's prompting and repent when our conscience confronts us with our sin. But understanding our human weaknesses and tendencies to make excuses for sinful behavior, God employs more than the encouragement of His Spirit to keep us on the right path—when necessary, He also uses others in the body of Christ as His mouthpiece. With this “double-whammy” of conviction, the inaudible voice of His Spirit, and the audible voice of accountability partners, most sin issues can be quickly resolved. As the Matthew 18 strategy reveals, an individual may ultimately be put out of the church, not because of the initial failure, but because of an ongoing lack of sensitivity to God's Spirit as He speaks through our conscience, His written Word and our spiritual family.
In what ways will you implement God’s instructions the next time you face conflict? Is there someone you should talk to about a past or current sin issue?