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Saturday, July 11, 2009

Handling Conflict in the Body of Christ

In Matthew 18:15-19, Jesus says: “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. 16 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. 17 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. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

This passage of Scripture tells me a lot about community and conflict.

1) The heart of this passage is relationship and reconciliation between members of the Body of Christ, whether you are the offender in the conflict or the offended (or both). This passage is not about asserting rights, seeking justice, or being right. This passage is about restoring relationship.

2) If my sister comes to me and tells me that I have deeply hurt her, because I love her and want to be in relationship with her, I should listen with a humble heart. If I have caused her any offense, I should do all that I can to remove the barrier between us. This does not mean that I can lie or just pretend that everything is okay. This does not mean that I can agree with her or support her in her sin if she is in sin. This does not mean I can “confess” to sinning when I have not, simply for the sake of peace. Truth needs to be honored in this process for the sake of honoring God and for the sake of real sincere relationship with my sister. If I cannot understand her grievance against me, I should humbly pray and ask God to show me if there is any deceit in my heart. I should lovingly ask her to show me my offense from Scripture and I should look there myself. If I am still unable to see my sin against her and if she is still insistent that I have sinned against her, we should get help from others in the Body of Christ.

3) The next step in the process is to bring 1 or 2 brothers or sisters in Christ to help mediate between us. If my sister and I have talked it through and we still cannot see eye to eye, we need to bring 1 or 2 other brothers or sisters along. This step assumes that we are in community. It seems the following must be true of this type of community:

a. We know and love Jesus and each other

b. We know the Word and appeal to it as the highest standard of truth over everything else--including our emotions, opinions, desires, and the emotions, opinions, desires of others.
c. We are accountable to one another, which means that we are humbly submitted to one another in love and we recognize that we need each other’s encouragement, admonishment, and rebuke because our hearts and our sin are deceitful.
d. We have given one another mutual permission to speak Scriptural truth into each other’s lives and circumstances.
e. We are committed to each other’s interests and we consider the pains and joys of one us to be the pains and joys of the whole Body.
f. We are devoted to one another.

If these things are true, both the offended party and the offending party will have reason to listen when 1 or 2 brothers and sisters come along side them to listen and evaluate the situation through prayer and Scripture. It means that we will not stubbornly forge our own path and part ways when our brothers and sisters are pleading with us in love from the Scriptures.

4) The next step is when a brother or sister refuses to submit to the Scriptures. This person refuses to be repentant and refuses to be reconciled. This heart is contrary to gospel love. God has loved us from the beginning. We betrayed His Perfect Righteousness by choosing evil instead. Instead of being faithful to our Holy God who loves us and brings us every good (peace, hope, inexpressible joy, provision etc), we instead whored ourselves out to sin. This is true of every one of us. This is betrayal and offense against God in the deepest sense. Yet our God, who has never sinned—ever--pursued us. In the process, He didn’t sweep our sin under the carpet or pretend everything was okay. He didn’t change the standards of Righteousness to accommodate our sin. He confronted us with truth in love. He then demonstrated His unimaginable love for us by humbling Himself and becoming a servant for those of us who betrayed Him. He suffered and died and paid the ultimate price to make things right between us again—to reconcile us to Him!!! This is why it is so wrong when believers refuse to be reconciled, whether that is actively through an angry severing of relationship or passively through a silent abandonment.
When a believer refuses to be reconciled, we must treat that person like an unbeliever because they are living so contrary to the gospel—they are living like they do not know and love the gospel—they are living like an unbeliever. Matthew 18 tells us to treat our brother or sister who refuses to be reconciled as a “Gentile” or “tax collector”. Gentiles at the time were those living outside of a covenantal relationship with God. Tax collectors in Biblical times were basically crooks who exploited and oppressed others by financially cheating them. How do you think Jesus wants us to treat people who don’t believe in Him? With Love!! How do you think Jesus wants us to treat people who cheat and oppress us? With Love!! Obviously though, there is no Biblical fellowship with unbelievers—because they don’t believe in Scriptures and they do not worship Jesus. For those who are like the tax collectors, we cannot have Biblical fellowship with them either because they are behaving like they don’t believe in the authority of Scriptures and they are behaving like they are not submitted to Jesus. They are behaving like they are independent rather than submitted to God and His people. Furthermore, they have shown themselves to be untrustworthy, and we must be as wise as serpents and innocent as doves with them. Though we cannot trust them, we are called to love them lavishly and to seek to bless them in the ways in which the Lord calls us. Regardless, whether a person is behaving like they do not believe in the gospel of grace or whether they are even oppressing us, our goal in treating them like an “Gentile” or “tax collector” must always come from a heart of love for them and a desire to see them reconciled to Christ and His Body. If we don't have this heart, we must pray diligently for the Spirit to produce this heart in us.

5) The Body of Christ is so important to Jesus. We are His agents--we are called to be Christ to one another. That is a sobering, humbling, and convicting truth. It means that the way we treat one another is profoundly important to Jesus. May we continually seek to be filled with His Spirit because that is the only way that we could accurately represent Jesus to each other and to the world.

Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for reconciling ourselves to you. Thank you, Jesus, for humbling yourself and becoming a servant even though you are the King of Kings. Spirit, give us a heart for the gospel that permeates the way we think and live. Give us your heart of love for those around us. Help us to do all that we can to live in peace with our brothers and sisters. Make us humble with you and with one another. Help us to never compromise against your Word though. I pray for your intervention in the brokenness of your Body. I pray that you would give your Church a heart for unity. I pray that you would open our eyes in new ways to see your beautiful gospel for what it is. I pray this in Jesus Name, Amen.

1 Cor 13:11-14 “Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. 12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. 13 All the saints greet you. 14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”

Romans 12:18 “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”

Matthew 5:23 “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
1 Peter 3:8 "Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 9 Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing."

Ephesians 4:1-16 "I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift. 8 Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,and he gave gifts to men.” 9 (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love."

2 Cor 5:17-21 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Ephesians 2:11-22 “Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”

Colossians 1:15-23 “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. 21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.”

Philippians 4:2 "I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. 3 Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life."

Philippians 2:1-11 "So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

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