Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg

with Tom Fuller


Resolving Conflict God\'s Way

Matthew 18:15-35

Someone once said \"Being a Christian would be so easy if it weren\'t for all the people in the church!\" Interpersonal relationships are one of the biggest challenges we face as a member of the body of Christ. We have enough trouble getting along under normal circumstances, but it is especially difficult when it comes to handling conflict. Sadly, we tend to follow this fractured verse: \"They will know you are my disciples by your disdain, one for another.\"

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When someone does something that offends us our first response is to avoid that person completely, or attack them mercilessly. We say bad things about them to other people, or we look for ways to make them fail. We try to get others to go in and fix the perceived problem. And when someone actually does make a mistake or, heaven forbid, sin-we swoop into attack.

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In many ways our behavior in times of conflict or sin is really lead by pride-how do we make ourselves look better and others look bad-how we can rise in the pecking order. It sounds so bad when I say it like that and we say we would never do such a thing, but in reality I have seen it often in the body of Christ. But it is not the way of our Lord.

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The last half of Matthew 18 talks about handling interpersonal conflict, but it is often misunderstood or misused. People use Matthew 18 almost like a verb-I\'m going to Matthew 18 them, like it is some secret weapon we use to attack. In fact, it goes against our normal reaction and shows us how to respond in the heart of humility.

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15

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This passage is so misused that we must really refocus our thoughts completely. The context is how to treat others in the body of Christ. It comes from the character of God as summarized in the Law-Love God, love others. Instead of looking down on the immature and the lost, we go after them and love them and treat them with respect.

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When it comes to those that goof up, the principal is gentle restoration, with a slowly escalating accountability.

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The first thing to understand is that this starts not when someone does something you don\'t like, or when you\'ve done something wrong. Jesus here is talking about when a \"brother\" \"sins\". Secondly it is when they \"sin\" against you. It isn\'t our job to be the behavior police, always going about correcting their behavior. The earliest manuscripts do not use the words \"against you.\" There is a place when you recognize serious, unrepentant sin in another brother or sister\'s life - that you could speak into that life. But recognize that it is for the purposes of restoration, not punishment and is within the confines of the church.

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Now, that\'s not to say there isn\'t a role for discipleship:

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Galatians 6:1-2 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.

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Thirdly. It is \"sin\" we are talking about, not differences in style. Interestingly, two different words are used between this passage and Galatians 6. Here the word \"sin\" means \"to miss the mark.\" In Galatians, \"transgression\" means \"to side slip\" or \"fall away.\"

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Fourth, it\'s just between the two of you. Often times people come up to me, unhappy with something someone else has done. First they should decide if this behavior clearly violates the character of God, second they shouldn\'t come to me, they should go them. But that\'s difficult. It\'s much easier to have the pastor lay down the law, but having to go directly to someone and talk about sin is dangerous. It could ruin a friendship. Or it could save someone from continuing to do something harmful to them and others.

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I would consider the following: Do you have place in this person\'s life to speak this? Is the matter a real sin they have committed or just something that offended you?

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Prov 10:12 Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.

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And Prov 17:9-10 Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter? separates close friends. 10 A rebuke goes deeper into a man of understanding than a hundred blows into a fool.

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And: 1 Peter 4:8-9 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.

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It doesn\'t mean we wink at sin, but we must really judge if something is negatively effecting the person, or causing others to stumble greatly in their walk.

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So Rule 1: Make sure it is sin, make sure you have place, make sure it is private, at least at first.

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If that doesn\'t work and the person just blows you off, the next step isn\'t to gossiping about that person and have them publicly flogged. The next step is to verify with others who have also observed the same problem or can lend credibility to what you are saying.

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In the Law, a person could only be convicted by more than one witness. And if they were stoned, the witnesses who condemned them had to fling the first stones. (Deuteronomy 17:6-7). It\'s also possible that the two witnesses are for the second meeting-to witness to the presentation of the facts so it can\'t turn into a \"he said, she said\" debate.

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Again, what is the goal? Is it to punish? No. It is to restore. The idea is to communicate in a way that the person understands. That\'s one of the translations of the Greek word Akouo, or akousee, from which we get the word acoustic.

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If they respond, realize their sin and repent, then you have restored the relationship between you and helped restore the person\'s fellowship with God. If not, then you take it to the next level-one, by the way, that should be seldom used.

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17

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This is the second and last time the word \"church\" is used in the gospels. One could use this as an excuse for gossip, but that\'s not what is in view here.

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Paul suggested this approach in 1 Corinthians 5:1-5

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It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father\'s wife. 2 And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.

3 For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing.4 When you are assembled? in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 you are? to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so? that his spirit may be saved? in the day of the Lord.

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This is not excommunication. This has nothing to do with salvation. It is discipline with the hope that disassociation will result in recognition, repentance, and restoration. Interestingly, the \"you\" in verse 17 is singular. There does come a time when you must remove fellowship from someone who will not respond.

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18

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This verse absolutely must be viewed in its context. Too many people have cherry-picked this verse and used it to mean binding the devil or some other thing. It has simply to do with the fact that the church\'s decision is binding. The hope is that any such decision would be made carefully, prayerfully, Scripturally, and with an eye to ultimate restoration. There is no court of appeals.

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19

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This verse too must be viewed in light of church discipline, though it is also universally true that Jesus is in the midst of the gathering of believers. The two or three probably means the ones who went to the sinning believer. If these, after much prayer and counsel, agree as to the outcome, God will back them up-mostly because the influence of the Holy Spirit is there guiding the decision.

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As people we are vulnerable, so are church leaders. I think that even some churches do not \"tremble at the words of the God of Israel\" (Ezra 9) and use church discipline as a way to obtain or maintain power (which is the same thing the Pharisees and Sadducees did in murdering Jesus).

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21 - 22

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Peter is probably thinking ahead to the person who does repent-what is my responsibility in forgiveness? Is there a limit to the number of times someone can blow it and I should forgive them? He picks a large number, but Jesus in essence says \"don\'t count the number of times you forgive.\" God has unlimited forgiveness for us in Christ Jesus, so we too should have unlimited forgiveness for others. He illustrates it by a parable:

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23 - 25

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The servant, possibly a tax collector or other official, was said to owe 20 million dollars. He could have seen his family sold, and himself thrown into prison for life-this was such an astronomical sum of money he would never be able to pay. But after throwing himself on the king\'s mercy he is forgiven (which never would have happened).

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Then the servant turns around and throws another guy into jail for owing $20 (100 days wages). When the king hears of it he realizes that the servant just didn\'t get how much he had been forgiven and throws that first guy in prison where they would torture him to find hidden sources of money or until he sold his land to pay the debt-but 20 million?

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The lesson is clear. The debt God canceled against us we could never repay, so we should have that same forgiving attitude towards others.

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This is so vital when it comes to dealing with sin in the body of Christ. It is truly all about the heart. A hard heart must be dealt with with increasing measures, but always with restoration in mind. A soft heart should be forgiven, assisted, coached, prayed for, disciple, encouraged.

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Conclusions

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Conflict should not be avoided either by stuffing, gossiping, or making someone else deal with it.

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Conflict should be dealt with truthfully, according to the Scriptures, not exaggerated.

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Conflict should be handled gently, always leaving room for repentance and always offering forgiveness.

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One note-forgiveness does not equal trust. Forgiveness is owed, trust is earned.