Churches are made up of people and of groups of relationships. God understands that the nature of people will include conflict. Even in churches. So it is no surprise that the Bible addresses what to do WHEN … not if… Christian relationships are broken.
Take Igor and me for example.
From our outward appearances it would seem that we have little in common. And indeed, when we first met in the summer of 2013, we didn’t have an immediate bond. But we kept spending time together, week after week. We were also attending the same church and over time, we developed a comfortable friendship. It doesn’t always turn out this way, but in our case it did.
Then this past November, a heated discussion left us both mad and hurt, and to be quite honest, wondering if we even wanted to continue the friendship. We found ourselves at a turning point. Where do we go from here?
I knew from Proverbs 27:17 that iron sharpens iron, so somewhat instinctively went to Toni to discuss the situation. To me, talking about a conflict with a trusted and honest friend sheds a brighter light on the issue, and begins the process of releasing whatever is bottled up inside…. anger, hurt, resentment, fear.. и така на такa.
Consider the FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control compared to anger, resentment, fear, etc. It makes sense that if such non-fruit of the Spirit emotions remain bottled up in me, there remains less room for the peace of Christ that transcends my understanding. And if I’ve learned anything in Christianity, I really want to live in that peace. Jesus freed me to be free, and I choose to live in that freedom.
Matthew 18:15 will address what to do when you’ve a conflict with a brother or sister in Christ. “If a brother sins against you, go to him privately and confront him with his fault. If he listens and confesses it, you have won back a brother.”
While I was more prone to avoid the issue and hope that it would simply disappear, Matthew 18:15 both instructs and teaches me how to deal with conflict. And clearly I should, for the sake of friendship and for the good of the body. As time doesn’t really heal all wounds, we texted a couple of days later and agreed to meet. (I was really happy to text and not call)
I was more than a little anxious as I waited for Igor to arrive, and surely would’ve avoided this conversation if possible. But since I have had enough experience practicing this scripture in my own life (lele, not my first conflict) and have seen others addressing similar struggles, I knew that this offered the best chance at reconciliation. In addition, this was necessary so that I might remain in the wonderful peace of Christ.
I also knew from experience, that avoiding this talk would likely lead to continued hurt and anger between us, and would result is us being uncomfortable around each other, or avoiding each other all together. Maybe even cause one of us would leave the church body.
After our initial uncomfortable conversation, it was soon evident that Igor was familiar with Matthew 18:15 as well. He expressed himself clearly and calmly, and even listened when I spoke. From my perspective it was obvious that he had given up the “right to be right”. In other words, he wasn’t interested in placing blame or holding on to hurt feelings, but rather in moving forward in our friendship. So within a short period of time, our “argument” began to evaporate.
This quarrel could have easily destroyed our friendship, our brotherhood, and even separated our families. But, instead, by merely MUTUALLY honoring this “code of Christian conduct” described in Matthew 18, we left after a couple of hours of talking, more closely bonded together in Christ and in friendship than ever before.
Please don’t miss this point – in spite of our failures, and by merely understanding and following God’s word (theology), what had become a crumbling relationship was not only been mended, but indeed, rebuilt even stronger. That’s a big deal, and is part of the Good News for all Christians that we proclaim tonight!
From my (Igor) perspective, the problem between me and Bobby was that we very often use different words to describe similar situations. What he understands as “experience” in my vocabulary means reliance of the self alone where there is no real room for formal theological education. The flip side I think, that in Bobby’s world, the idea of theological education mostly meant a pompous throwing around with knowledge without any real regard for personal growth and walking with Christ.
So you can guess the tension between two guys, where one swears in experience and the other in theological education. I always came to our hangout times from the experience I had at theology school, where students would drill one another and point out every single mistake from their peer’s sermon. The goal of course was to sharpen the preacher’s skill in precisely and effectively communicate the biblical truth from the passage he/she selected to preach on.
From my perspective, this process of forgiveness and reconciliation plaid out very orderly:
- The person you’re about to talk to, he’s not your enemy
- Define the words you use if you want clear communication
- Who cares who’s right, the key is to understand and be understood
- The one who ends the dispute is the one who is right
For a reason I didn’t understand at the time, something went wrong in our friendship and the next right step was to talk to him again. I had the time to chew through the situation, I had the needed talk to Toni just to blow off some steam, and the next thing was of course to talk to Bobby. Even though the whole situation was frustrating and painful for me, I already went through the first point in my mind and heart: I was not about to talk to an enemy, but a dear friend.
Looking back at the situation, the crucial point in us restoring our friendship was the attitude we both had: We will not let this friendship fall apart. Everything we said that afternoon was based on the clear understanding that this is a conversation between friends, between brothers. And brothers can work things out by knowing the next right step, and taking it, one step at a time.
Yeah we could have just throw the friendship off. Yeah we could ignore what the Bible says about conflict resolution. And yeah, we could both justify ourselves for not reaching out to the other. But when it comes to real Christian living, it isn’t about self-justification. It isn’t about giving up on one another. It is all about Christ growing in our lives and us being transformed into His likeness every step of the way.
How this has affected the church…
- We’d have a lost friendship and an awkward situation any time we’d meet in town
- We’d not have church as just a week later things changed that required me, Igor, to step into the leadership role.
- We definitely would not be here sharing with you tonight
We’ve done a simple thing: Took what Matthew 18 says, and applied it. Simple as that. And it worked, both from his experience and my proper theology.