You know, I never cease to be amazed by the average Christian’s inability to resolve conflict. It is almost as though many of us check our courage at the door when we accept Christ and from that moment forward we opt to avoid anything resembling confrontation, instead choosing to run like a river when the snow melts whenever something happens between us and one of our fellow Christians that might actually require some work on our part.
And yes, I think I am qualified to speak on this subject, having been raised in the church, having been a Christian most of my life, and having spent over twenty years in music ministry where I have often had the dubious privilege of seeing and hearing a lot of things that I probably shouldn’t as the result of being the guest artist in a given church.
What is it that makes us so incapable of handling conflict? Disagreements? Issues? In the vast majority of cases I see where Christians have an issue with somebody, the single most common response is to simply cut ties with that person altogether and walk away. Of course I’m still waiting on somebody to demonstrate to me where that is Scripturally sound, but I digress.
In my time on the road, I have seen people turned out by their Christian brothers over decisions they have made that crossed the line into sin. These people instantly became like lepers to their church, or depending on their level of visibility, to the Christian community as a whole. Now nobody is excusing or endorsing sin, but are these actions really in line with the Savior who sat down and had dinner with sinners (Matt 9: 10)? Or the one who told the woman caught in adultery “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more”? (John 8: 1-11).
I have also seen minor issues destroy marriages, ministries, and relationships, simply because one party or both were too filled with pride to be able to say, “Hey, I was wrong. Can you forgive me?” Or the other party was unwilling to grant the forgiveness requested of them. Or both.
So what is the Scriptural admonishment for handling conflicts? Matthew 18: 15-17 is very clear on the matter: “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. 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. 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.”
Are you listening? Yes, there is a time when you cut your ties and walk away, but only after taking the two previous steps. Firstly, we have an issue with someone; we go to them and bring it to light. Hopefully they hear us, the issue is resolved, and the relationship is restored. If they do not listen, we aren’t off the hook just yet….we go back to them a second attempt, this time bringing witnesses. If that doesn’t fly, we bring the issue before the church, and if they still refuse to listen, at that point, and only that point, are we granted permission to walk away from them and don’t look back.
Unfortunately, we are far too often guilty of skipping right over the first two verses and going right to the last part. For whatever reason we are either unable to take the necessary steps toward reconciliation (which is pretty bad), or we are unwilling (which is inexcusable).
How we as Christians treat each other is a powerful testimony before the world. What does it say about us when, instead of seeking healing and restoration, that we choose to go our separate ways in bitterness and resentment? How does it make us look when minor disagreements or issues prove beyond our ability to overcome and heal? And what does it tell the rest of the world when the example set is that everything will be okay just as long as you say and do everything correctly? Who in their right mind would want to be a part of any body of believers that lived by that kind of deal?
We need to be willing to confront, to hear, and to do the right thing. It may be hard to go to somebody and tell them you messed up, but do it anyway. It is the right thing to do. I firmly believe that in most cases, the other party will be all too willing to listen, and that is the point where restoration begins. Then again, they may not hear you, but you can walk away knowing you did the right thing, and you’ll be surprised at how much lighter the load is.
What if you’re on the other side and somebody comes to you and says, hey, I screwed up, I apologize, and will you forgive me? I don’t know about you, but that is one of the few situations in life that I don’t have to even pray about. We are commanded to forgive as Christ has forgiven us, and Christ doesn’t put conditions or trial periods or any other stipulations on forgiveness. When we repent and ask Him for forgiveness for our trespasses, He grants it freely, and tosses it as far as the east is from the west. Why then should we do any less when someone makes the same request of us?
It isn’t often talked about, but I wholeheartedly believe that the lack of conflict resolution is one of the biggest problems facing the church today. It is my prayer that more of us will develop the courage, the fortitude, to face these problems head on, coupled with the desire to see healing and restoration among our churches, marriages, and relationships.
I’ve said it before, and I close with it now….as Christians, we are all family, and at the end of the day we are going to be spending eternity together. With that little nugget in mind, how then do we defend the practice of holding grudges or ill will towards anybody else while we are here? What say you?