Dr. Rick Koole
In every church I’ve been a part of, there are people carrying hurts that they have suffered from someone else in their own congregation. In many cases, a bitterness developed that has taken the joy out of their life and may have had a negative impact on the whole congregation. This is not something new.
In fact, Matthew 18 not only states the problem, but then addresses how to deal with the situation. It’s my opinion that if Matthew 18 is followed on a regular basis, 90% of relational squabbles in churches as well as families and friends would be fixed.
Matthew 18:15 begins by stating the problem: if your brother sins against you. This verse tells us that the person that did the hurting was a close friend, family member, or another member of the church. It’s those closest to us that can hurt us the most.
We also see that what they did was serious; it’s called a sin, which may include many things including lies or gossip. And we also see that it was against you personally. Following is the process the Bible gives us to seek resolution.
Step One: Go and show him his fault, just between the two of you (Matthew 18:15). Don’t share your grievance with your pastor or to some of your other friends until you have already met and sought restoration with the one who has hurt you.
After pastoring for four decades, I can honestly say that failure to obey this first step is the single greatest source of relational conflict in families, friendships, and churches. I’ve also learned that in most cases, there was some misunderstanding that a face-to-face meeting could have cleared up allowing the two parties to walk out with a restored friendship.
Matthew 18:15 also states clearly the purpose of meeting when it says, if he listens to you, you have won your brother over. The goal should always be the restoration of fellowship, and in most cases, that is exactly what happens. But what should we do if it is not successful?
Step Two: 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 (Matthew 18:16). This is where others can help. This may include your pastor or another wise individual from your church. They should be unbiased individuals who will listen to both sides of the conflict and attempt to find a resolution.
Step Three: If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church (Matthew 18:17). It is a serious mistake for a church to ignore an individual in their midst who refuses to repent of sinning against another member of the church. Left unaddressed, it can lead to division and bitterness within the body. Church discipline is not a popular subject, however in rare cases it’s necessary to show that certain behaviors are unacceptable. The goal must however still be the restoration of the individual.
Step Four: In rare cases, an individual might still refuse reconciliation, in which case the Bible says, “And if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector” (verse 17). In other words, although you may still love them, they can no longer be treated like a trusted member of the family. But, as in the other steps, restoration of fellowship should remain the goal of the process.