Let’s say that you have a conflict with a family member, a coworker, or another Christian in Idaho Falls that is not being fixed between the two of you. You have talked to this person but issues have not been resolved. And if you feel compelled that you are unable to let go of the issue, what would Jesus instruct you to do?
Jesus tells us in Matthew 18:15-19:
“Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”
Today, we are looking at our fourth message in this series on conflict and gospel grace reconciliation. With today’s content, I am utilizing thoughts from Ken Sande in Billings, Montana, who leads a ministry focused on Christian peacemaking. The Scripture references are taken from the New King James Version of the Bible.
So what is step four in the process of pursuing reconciliation in the midst of conflict? You should pray about bringing one or two others to hear the conflict between you and that other person.
“We should try to keep the circle of people involved in conflict as small as possible for as long as possible.” – Sande
“I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life.” (Philippians 4:2-3)
“Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matter? Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life? If then you have judgments concerning things pertaining to this life, do you appoint those who are least esteemed by the church to judge? I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren? But brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers! Now therefore, it is already an utter failure for you that you go to law against one another. Why do you not rather accept wrong? Why do you not rather let yourselves be cheated? No, you yourselves do wrong and cheat, and you do these things to your brethren!” (I Corinthians 6:1-8)
Ken Sande provides a sample illustration of how to engage in initiating help from someone else in the conflict: “Bob, I would prefer to resolve this matter just between the two of us. Since that has not happened and because this involves issues that are too important to walk away from, my only other option is to obey what the Bible commands, which means asking some people from our churches to help us out. I would prefer that we go together to get that help, but if you will not cooperate, I’ll ask for it by myself.”
It is in this conflict, two men can seek the help of a godly peacemaker, whether that might be another friend, neighbor, church member, or pastor. Sometimes, this can extend out to continual sessions for counsel and prayer together. The additional one or two also serve as witnesses to what they observe. So what if there is no repentance? What if there is no demonstration made to pursue God’s will and peace? What if there is no display of humility in the issues of conflict?
“And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.”
Share the conflict with the spiritual elders in your church. The elders would desire to meet with those of you in conflict. The elders might desire to consult as well with the one or two others that have met with you in the conflict. You should listen to the counsel of the elders.
“Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you” (Hebrews 13:17).
The only times that you may disobey the elders is if they are clearly asking you to disobey Scripture. For instance, Acts 4 states, “So they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said to them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard’” (Acts 4:18-20). Peter and the other apostles declare in Acts 5:29, “We ought to obey God rather than men.”
But going back to the elders’ instruction and counsel, if the elders witness unrepentance in regards to sin, this must be lovingly shared to the members of the congregation. And the whole congregation must move together in church discipline towards an unrepentant member of the congregation.
Only God knows the true hearts of individuals, but a congregation must not allow one to continue as a member of the local fellowship when that individual is teaching contrary or living a contrast to the life and gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
So what would be examples of this in the Bible?
“Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple” (Romans 16:17-18).
“It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles—that a man has his father’s wife! And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed, might be taken away from you. For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. I wrote to you in my epistle not keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person. For what have I do to with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore put away from yourselves the evil person” (I Corinthians 5).
“I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:6-9).
“But we command you, brethren, in the name of Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us.” (II Thessalonians 3:6)
“Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses. Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear” (I Timothy 5:19-20).
“But avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and useless. Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned” (Titus 3:9-11).
In these passages, we have examples of those attacking essential doctrines of Christianity or living in notorious immorality. When a church member is blatantly teaching that which is contrary to Scripture or living an ongoing, unrepentant life of sin, the local assembly is to move congregationally (a church vote) in removing the sinning person’s membership.
Is this loving? Deitrich Bonhoeffer writes, “Nothing is so cruel as the tenderness that consigns another to his sin. Nothing can be more compassionate than the severe rebuke that calls a brother back from the path of sin.”
Three concluding notes of caution:
- Some in the practice of church discipline will wrongly call people (divisive) heretics and practice church discipline. Wrong application.
- Some in the practicing of discipline will completely cut themselves off from those they have disciplined. They think only law and never offer gracious gospel to the one they disciplined. This is a mistake. Wrong heart motives. We are to continue a loving, evangelical witness.
- Some practice second, third, fourth degrees, etc. of separation. Their thinking is “I have separated myself from this person and so must you to the same degree. If you don’t follow my example, then I will separate from you.” Wrong zeal.
In following these paths, we quickly lose the main purpose of love and gospel grace reconciliation. We have become the Pharisees, and we place ourselves on a pathway of bitterness.
We must have hearts that pursue love, grace, peace, and forgiveness.
Ken Sande says forgiveness can be expressed with four promises: (1) I will not dwell on this incident. (2) I will not bring up this incident again and use it against you. (3) I will not talk to others about this incident. (4) I will not let this incident stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.
“Here is the ultimate weapon: deliberate, focused love (cf. Luke 6:27-28; I Cor. 13:4-7).” – Sande
“Bless those you persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion. Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord. Therefore ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:14-21)
Peter says, “Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing” (I Peter 3:8-9).