You ever have that one person that really rubs you the wrong way? That kind of person where it seems like, nothing you do is done right? When I was working in construction I had a superintendent that was like that. My dad and I were doing the metal stud framing for the Elephant Bar Restaurant in Stockton, California. We were there for a while, because of all the unique hanging ceilings and sofets that had to be built. Well, my dad went on vacation for a week and I was left alone to work on the ceilings; no big deal, since I had been doing these things since I was twelve and thanks to having been working full time for that last year and a half, it had become second nature to me.
But then there was the superintendent. Every day he would come in and talk about how he was so angry that they would leave me there to work on the ceilings; how messed up they’d turn out. When I would ask him what was wrong, he would have to go because of important issues to take care of. Fancy that, right?
At the end of the week I was getting pretty tired of it, but I was a Christian and I wanted a good witness on the job. I would do my best to show Christ to the other workers and on occasion I was able to share a little about my faith with them. So I endured the rudeness. When my dad got back, I was praised for getting the work done so fast, so that we could work on the more difficult round tapered ceiling. Then it happened, one day while I was on the lift putting in some of the support for the ceiling, the superintendent came in and started criticizing my work and my dad for leaving me there alone. Let’s just say I lost it at that point, I came down and berated him for his rude and inaccurate words and attitude. Now I have to admit that I would have loved to gotten into a physical altercation with the man, luckily my dad was there to ease the situation.
On the way home and that night I realized what I had done and how I had tarnished the name of my Savior on that job sight. To top it all off, this was all going on while I was leading a small group on the topic of being a peace keeper. A peace maker, perfect timing right? Let’s just say, God convicted me and I had to go back and make amends.
To often in our lives we deal with problem relationships the wrong way. We allow our anger and our hate for a person to grow inside of us and then explode in ways that not only damage any possibility for sharing Christ with that person, but also the people around us.
And all to often this happens right here in the church. I don’t know if it’s the family can take it idea. You know that idea that, “My family will always be here for me, so I can act like a jerk to them.” Maybe that’s, it maybe we think, “Well, they’re Christians so they should be able to handle my anger and hate.” Maybe we don’t think about it or maybe we just don’t care. What ever the reason is, God has not called us to deal with problem relationships with anger or with exploding emotions. Instead God has called us to take care of problem relationships in a way that honors him. Today we’re going to look at the process in Scripture that shows us God’s proper way of dealing with problem relationships. Take a look in your Bibles to Matthew chapter 18 starting in verse 15.
We find our passage in the midst of a talk that Jesus’ is giving to his disciples. This talk started because the disciples wanted to know who would be the greatest in the kingdom. This led Jesus to tell them that those who makes themselves as children are the greatest. But Jesus goes on to talk about temptation, and the lost sheep. Then in verse 15 he begins to tell how to deal with problem relationships. Apart of me wonders if Jesus starts to talk about problem relationships, because we know later on there’s a decent within the disciples ranks of wanting to be greater than the others. Maybe Jesus is seeing some of that decent coming up and wants to address it. But for whatever reason, Jesus tells us how we need to deal with problem relationships; more specifically, problem relationships in the church.
Let’s read together Matthew 18 verse 15 through 17.
15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence 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, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”
So to start off, let’s think about what is going on in the passage. Jesus is giving us a three step process. First is the one on one direct talk. The second is involving two or three others in the talk. And finally it is the whole church that gets involved. Let’s take each step one by one and dissect what is happening. But before we do that we have to remember that there are three tools we need to have in dealing with problem relationships. Prayer, Speaking to others in love, and a willingness to be wrong. If we understand the need for those from the outset, this process becomes a whole lot easier. So now let’s get into Jesus’ three step process in dealing with problem relationships.
First, even before the one on one talk, we need to make a conscious decision to deal with the problem in a godly way. Dealing with problem relationships cannot be done out of reaction, or anger. Remember, the context of the passage, it follows Jesus’ teaching on temptation which teaches us to not be the one that brings a temptation to someone. In this case the temptation would be causing hostility and division. The other teaching this follows is the lost sheep, where the whole goal is to bring another back to a good relationship with God and in this case each other.
So even before we deal with the problem relationship, we make sure we are in the right. In Matthew 7: 3-5 Jesus puts it this way, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.”
So even before pursing a mending of the relationship we must look to see if we ourselves are in the right, by analyzing the situation with a clear prayerful head. We need to ask ourselves, “Am I in the right? Have I sinned in this situation? Am I being sensitive or have I really been sinned against?” If we take time and prayerfully ask theses questions to ourselves, we can know that we are moving forward in a right way, rather than with a vengeful spirit working in our lives.
So if we have down that, we can confront the person that has sinned against us. Did you notice in the passage that Jesus never said anything about to confront someone that has sinned against someone else? But think about it, how often do we champion someone else's cause? Or fight someone else's battles? We might do that for our children at times, but that’s not what God would have us do for our bothers and sisters in Christ. To often we step into a problem that we have no reason to be apart of, yet that is not what Christ wants from us. Instead we should stay away from campion another’s battle, but rather give counsel instead.
Now that we’ve gotten past that let’s talk about moving through this process of dealing with the problem relationships in our lives. So, we’ve prayed, next we need to confront those who have sinned against us.
Jesus says to tell him his fault. What’s that mean? Since we have thought through the situation, we’re going to be specific with what exactly the offense was. We’re not making ungrounded accusations or trying to cause more problems. To often I have had to give counsel to teens that are upset with a someone; the two people that are fighting can’t see anything good in the other person because everything that person does is wrong. The situation then gets blown way out of proportion. This happens all the time with little kids right?
I’ve watched as Israel and Elisabeth are playing and Izzy accidentally hurts Elisa. Oh you would think Izzy just beat her within an inch of her life. To bring a fault to a person, is to be precise, realistic and not blowing it out of proportion.
Now, if this process goes well, the person will repent and we leave it on the cross, because Jesus’ paid it in full and we move on. Do we bring it up, nope. Do we treat the person differently, nope. We move on and leave it and we treat them as a brother or sister in good standing.
But if the person doesn’t repent, we move on to step two which is to bring another person or two into the conversation. But we need to make sure that these people we bring in are people that are not just plants. We don’t want biased minds or people that have a stake in the outcome of this. Why, so that they can judge the situation logically and without bias. That might be hard, because we need to find people that won’t take our side. We need to find people that will tell us that we are wrong, because if we find people that are “yes” men to us, guess what? The problem is going to get worse, not better. If we get yes men, or women for that matter, we’re going to be saying to the person we’re confronting that we’re not interested in reconciliation, but in being right. So we need to make sure that the people we bring in are objective and respected by both parties involved.
When we find these objective and respectable people then we can confront the person again. Remember, this needs to be done prayerfully and thought through. We need to explain the situation to the people and ask them if we are in the wrong. If we are, we drop it; if not then we approach the person again with the one or two people we’ve brought in with us. Both sides are explained and if the objective people say we are in the wrong, we ask for forgiveness; if the other person is wrong and If all goes well, we accept their repentance and we move on. i
If not we go to the last step which is to take it before the entire church so that we can deal with the situation, because at this point it’s more than just a minor sin. There is a heart issue that can lead to a destructive and divisive attitude within the church. Now we might not need to bring this in front of the entire church, but at least to the elders who are in charge of the spiritual health of the church body. Prayer and counsel is needed to make this determination.
So, if we have done everything right, meaning, we have prayed about it, checked ourselves, been loving in our approach, found unbiased people to deal in the situation. Then when we bring it before the church we know that the situation has been dealt in a godly way. If not, who are we to blame for the problem getting so big? We have only ourselves to blame, because we haven’t handled the situation in a Christ focused way. And if we have not handled it in a Christ focused way we have just created unneeded strife within the body of Christ.
So, we have done everything right and we’re in front of the church. If the church agrees that we have been sinned against and the person repents, we forgive and move on. If not, that person should be asked to leave the church.
Now about six years ago we were talking about this in a youth Sunday school class. And when we got to this point a girl raised her hand and said, “Who gives you the right to do that. You’re just as much as a sinner as me.” The reality is she was right, I am just as much as a sinner as she is. But Jesus lays down this step-by-step process so that every opportunity of reconciliation can occur. If it comes to a point where a person is so adamant that they have not sin, yet the church is in agreement that they have, then the person is in a place where they are rejecting the Word of God and the counsel of the godly.
Jesus says to treat a person like this as a Gentile. What’s that mean? Basically Jesus is saying that we treat the person like we would treat anyone who doesn’t follow God. With compassion and love, but in need of reconciliation with God.
It’s not a place that any person wants to find themselves in, because the problem goes deeper than a one on one sin. There’s deep seeded issues of pride and divisiveness that could destroy the church. In none of this are there sides to be taken or egos to be stroked. Instead we must have a desire for restoration and unity to occur.
So how does this look in practice? In 1st Corinthians 5 Paul brings attention to a man who is living in sexual immorality. It has gotten to the point where Paul, who isn’t actually in Corinth, has heard about it. So Paul says to engage in step three and to put the person out of the church. Okay seems harsh, but we need to look at what Paul says in his second letter to the Corinthian church. In 2nd Corinthians Paul tells the people in chapter 2 to receive the person, who they had set out, back into the Church. Because the end goal of this whole process is not to get rid of sinners, but instead build a godly, open and honest church.
But we can’t do that when we don’t deal with problem relationship in a godly way. Our actions must be loved based, not only in sharing the good news of the Gospel, but when we have to deal with the problems too. We need to be followers of Jesus who are willing to first, check ourselves. To make sure that we aren’t doing things that would put us into the wrong. Because sometimes we feel like someone has sinned against us and it’s just our own messed up view of the situation that has clouded our judgment. Instead of blaming another, we need to work that out ourselves within the confines of our relationship with God and maybe some godly counsel from a more mature Christian.
After we do that we need to make sure that we have thought through the problem and are clear about it. We need to approach the person with love and a restoring attitude. If that doesn’t work, we bring in people that can be objective in dealing with the situation and we need to be willing to accept it if we are the ones who are in the wrong.
Finally, as a church we need to desire not to take sides, but rather to work towards restoration by encouraging each other to follow Jesus’ plan for fixing problem relationships.
How many churches have split because sides were taken and egos were stroked? That’s not God’s plan and we need to step away from our emotions and allow the Spirit to work.
Think about this, the way God fixed humanities problem relationship was to send Jesus, to live as a servant and die on a cross. Being God, Jesus didn’t need to do it, God doesn’t need to have us in a relationship with him. Instead God desired it and Jesus wanted to mend the relationship. If God desires to fix problem relationship, we should as well. And it’s not so people can look at us and say, “Wow, they are so godly, look how they dealt with that sinner.” No, it’s about us wanting to show the greatness of God and point it all back to him.
Each of us has probably one problem relationship in our lives; it might be someone we see every day or once in a great while. Have we attempted to mend the relationship? Are we holding on to anger, or hatred for the person? Each of our relationships is important to God, because he wishes to be in the midst of those relationships so that people can be drawn to him. If we have problem relationships, they need to be mended. Jesus has set the example on the cross. If we say we are followers of Jesus, yet do not put his teachings into practice, are we truly following him?
For those who have put their trust into Jesus as their Savior, he has given us the Holy Spirit to set us on the right course to mend these relationships.
But maybe you are not a follower of Jesus, but you desire to mend the problem relationships in your life. It all starts with realizing that we have problems, the greatest being our sin. Sin is our disobedience to what God has told us is right. The punishment for sin is death, but God sent Jesus to take that punishment which made him the first mender of problem relationships. When we accept what he has done for us and put our trust into him we can start on the path to mending the other problem relationships in our lives.
But today we have a choice, we can either leave here with no change and continue to live with problem relationships or we can choose to search out and mend those relationships so that people can see the greatness of God. Which do you choose?