How Should I Go About It?
In the last chapter we saw that not every offense should be confronted. There are times when the best thing to do is drop the matter and let love cover it. Having said that, not every offense can be overlooked as Jesus indicates in Matthew 18:15-20.
So, what specifically should an individual do if he has been offended? What course of action did Jesus say to take?
Jesus does not make it complicated. He says, "go." Do not fret. Do not stew. Once you have decided that it is not a matter that should be dropped, and certainly after you have examined your own life carefully (Matthew 7:1-5), go and take care of the matter.
The exhortation to "go" is actually for the offender as well! In a complementary passage, Matthew 5, Jesus teaches that if you realize you have offended someone, you should be the one to approach him or her to make things right (Matthew 5:23-24).
A parenthesis here: our responsibility to admonish is not limited to when we have personally been offended. See Luke 17:3-4. Jesus taught that if we see another believer sinning, even if we are not the one offended, we have a responsibility to lovingly confront that person.
The thought of confronting someone about his or her sin runs against the culturally conditioned sensibilities of our culture. Radical individualism teaches that what someone else does is not any of our business unless we are directly offended. But this is not what Jesus taught. Similarly, see Proverbs 27:5-6.
Forgiveness is a figurative handshake. You cannot shake hands alone. For forgiveness to happen, you need to seek out the offending party (or the offended party if you are the offender), extend your hand, and pray that the other party will offer his or hers to you.
Many deal with conflict in one of two dysfunctional ways. The first is to blow up completely and have a shouting match with the offender. The second dysfunctional way in which people respond to conflict is to avoid it entirely. An evasion like this often follows an initial blowup. Once the lines have been drawn, the two parties simply keep their distance. At the same time they're avoiding one another, they may be talking and involving all kinds of other people unnecessarily.
No two situations are the same, so it would be foolish to try to provide a script. But keeping several guidelines in mind will help.
An Overall Summary of How Christians Should Approach Conflict Resolution:
- Be humble. Biblical humility is seeing ourselves as completely dependent on God. The only way we can truly grow in humility is to be increasingly absorbed in the greatness of the Triune God.
- Be urgent in avoiding and resolving any conflicts. The thought of causing others to stumble and walk away from the faith because of a conflict should terrify us all.
- Know when to drop the matter (Proverbs 19:11). Be sure first to remove the log from your own eye (Matthew 7:1-5).
- Follow the action plan that Jesus gave:
- Keep the circle small. Talk to as few people as possible.
- Be gracious. "Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person" (Colossians 4:6).
- Take no revenge, not even a little.
- Listen first, and be prepared to ask forgiveness yourself. Even if you are the "one or two others" being taken along, you might be surprised. There may be something that you need to own up to.
- Take the other person at his word. Don't try to evaluate motives.
- Choose the time and place carefully (Proverbs 27:14).
- Choose your words carefully (Proverbs 25:11). Pray that God would give you the grace and discernment to say the right thing in the right way.
- Be patient and have modest expectations.
- Second, if necessary, take one or two others along. Identify wise people who can think clearly about the offense.
- Third, if appropriate, follow formal church discipline. God graciously works in and through church discipline.