“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. 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. – Matthew 18:15-17
Jesus gives us the best remedy for conflict resolution here. When you are hurt or offended by someone else the best first step you can take, if you value the relationship, is to take them aside in private and share with them how they have offended or hurt you. Jesus says if they listen you have won them over. Meaning, problem solved! Pretty simple huh?
You may be facing a situation with someone else and you’re thinking, “But Joseph, you don’t understand my situation. It’s not that simple.” Well look at Jesus’ words in the text above. Did He condition this by saying it only applied to certain situations or would only work in certain situations? Nope. He says, If your brother sins… period. Some late manuscripts add if you’re brother sins against you.
Either way, His unconditional use of the word sin covers all transgressions and all offenses. Whatever it may be that has hurt or offended you, the first thing you are to do if you value that relationship is talk to them in private. If they listen you have won them over and now the two of you can work together on a solution.
Many conflicts can be solved with such a simple step. “Hey, Joseph, you did this and I don’t like it, I don’t think it was right, and it hurt me.” “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to. I had no idea. What can I do different next time.” Simple. You won him/her over, he/she confessed and repented and sought to work toward reconciliation together… conflict solved.
But it’s in our human nature to skip that first step. We like to jump to the second and third steps. The second step, Jesus says, if they do not listen to you when you talk to them in private, is to take two or three witnesses. Now, in the strictest biblical sense by witnesses Jesus means people who actually witnessed the offense. That is why He quotes from Deuteronomy, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be established. Notice that the Scriptures say fact. Not speculation or feelings. We’re after the facts in conflict resolution. Not what we feel like the facts are. That’s why sometimes witnesses will be needed.
“Hey, Joseph. You know I tried to tell you yesterday that you did this thing and I felt like it was wrong and it hurt me but you didn’t agree with me.”
“Well, Sheryl and Catherine here saw it too amd they agree with me that it was wrong and could’ve been handled differently.”
Then the witnesses share what they have to say and if he/she listens to them then conflict solved.
Now we know that there are not going to be witnesses in every offense. Especially in intimate relationships where many offenses can be made behind closed doors and the perpetrator can be good at convincing others in public that they’re a little angel. That’s when I believe that at this point if you cannot find witnesses who saw it for themselves you bring in mediators or someone who may not have saw the direct offense but did see afterwards the affects of it.
“Joseph, do you remember what I shared with you yesterday?”
“Well I was wondering if you would be willing to sit down and discuss it with me, Sheryl and Catherine. I know they weren’t there to witness it but I shared with them, they feel like I’m right, and they saw how it affected me.”
“Ok. Let’s talk then. I apologize if you feel like I didn’t listen to you yesterday.”
Boom. Conflict solved. Unless he/she responds with pride and arrogance and refuses to listen or have mediators involved. Then you take it to the church. To brothers and sisters in Christ who know the individual and know that they are prone to act in certain ways sometimes even if nobody else saw it.
If he/she refuses to listen even to them then there can be no resolution and your best path is to simply remove them from your life. But what we are most prone to do as humans is skip the private conversation and go straight to the witnesses or the mediators. Or, even worse, we go to the witnesses or the mediators but we don’t actually give the perpetrator a chance to repent or be heard.
Yet, even worse still, we go straight to the “church” or a larger body of people with our offense and present it to them as if we have already tried to present it to the perpetrator. Even worse than that, we don’t ask this larger body of people to try to talk to the perpetrator for us. And still even worse than that, we take the offense to a larger body of people who either are not Christians, who are Christians known to be judgmental and condemning; or, even worse of all, who are people who don’t even know the perpetrator so they’re more prone to hang on every word you say over theirs.
The point is, when we do not follow Jesus’ method of conflict resolution. When we do not give those who have a offended us a chance to hear, be heard and repent. The result will always be the same. They will end up becoming to us as Gentiles amd tax collectors. Meaning, there will be no resolution where there could’ve been and we can lose many good friends and loved ones if we do this.
– Joseph Sterling