How to Resolve a Conflict According to Jesus

I have called this teaching practical, because aspects of it can be used to great advantage in many organizations. Indeed they are used in many secular organizations today. There may even be some churches which make feeble attempts to incorporate this teaching in their own organizations. However, the bottom line is that this teaching, like so much that Jesus said was not given by Jesus in some generic form, to be applied to our own personal advantage. He was prescribing something that would only really work if people linked it to everything else that he taught. Otherwise, all we have is a useful tool that can be used to promote evil as well as good. I’m talking about Jesus’ formula for resolving differences between people. Well, Christians in particular. Heaven knows there are a lot of differences between Christians that could use a little resolving. But if the end result is that we kick out the good guys and keep the bad guys then obedience to this one teaching of Jesus would actually be working in opposition to Jesus and the bigger Kingdom of Heaven. Similarly, if a multi-national corporation uses such a system for resolving conflicts it will only result in the corporation becoming more efficient in whatever it aims to do. And I strongly doubt that the corporation’s goal would be to promote Jesus and the Kingdom of Heaven. Do you see what I’m saying? A good technique can make a bad organization more efficient at being bad. But it can also make a good organization, that is, the true church of Jesus, the Kingdom of Heaven much more efficient at being good. You need to observe the bigger picture, to know what is really happening. The teaching I’m talking about appears in Matthew chapter 18 verses 15, 16 and 17. It comes in three stages. I will read and discuss them one by one. The first step is, “If your brother or sister trespasses against you “go and tell them their fault, between you and them alone. “If they accept your criticism, you have saved the relationship and spared their reputation.” How many of us do this? Jesus is telling us not to talk about someone else’s faults in their absence. Today, we would call that gossiping. In Bible language it was called whispering, murmuring or back-biting. Gossiping is, in fact, one of the worst evils in the world. It has destroyed innumerable reputations, often quite unfairly. To do that, without even trying to salvage the relationship is probably the most understated evil in the world today. We treat gossiping almost like it’s harmless…easily laughed at and presumably unavoidable. The reason why I said this rule is the most practical and why I say many other organizations use at least bits and pieces of it is because even our courts require people to confront one another, often involving witnesses if we are to justly determine who is at fault in a disagreement. But when you listen privately to talk about another person, whether Christian or not you’re offering a platform for slander passing judgement on another individual, without even offering that individual a chance to defend themselves. Whether you are the one slandering the person or you’re listening to someone else who is slandering the person, you are both guilty. Yet nine times out of ten, this is the way that most churches deal with differences, isn’t it? In public, we sing about how we are one in the Spirit and one in the Lord, but in the backrooms we put one another down on the basis of almost any difference in beliefs or behavior. Even different congregations within the same denomination are prone to compete with one another in this way. Now, I know how easy it is to be drawn into such a vice, on an individual level. We often start out sounding quite fair and pious…wanting only to solve a problem that we see in another brother or sister. So we wring our hands and we say (somewhat self-righteously) “Oh dear, what can we do about brother so-and-so’s behavior?” Or, “we really need to pray about sister so-and-so’s behavior.” As the talk proceeds, stronger and stronger accusations arise. And it is difficult far either party to then say “Stop! I don’t want to hear any more of this”, without sounding self-righteous. After all, did we not start out by listening ourselves and possibly adding some of our own negative thoughts? Religious people have the most difficulty with this business of gossiping because so much of our personal identity has to do with being “nice guys”. Unrealistic nice guys. That is, people who never get into arguments. If we were to tell someone, to their face, that we disagree with something they have done or said an argument might ensue, and in the end, we might lose a friend. Yet Jesus said that we stand a greater chance of losing a friend by talking behind their backs. Proverbs 27:6 says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” Do you want to be a follower of Jesus? Do you want to be a true friend to others? If you do, then you need to see that God hates mummuring, gossiping talking about people behind their backs. What are you going to do about changing that? We need to treat this as seriously as we would an injunction against murder or against commiting adultery. It could make a huge difference in our lives personally if we would come down heavily on any hint of talking about someone else behind their backs. Smash that sin! Commit yourself to never doing it again. Now, the second step; that is, when you have talked to the person about a fault and the two of you still cannot reach agreement on what should be done. “If they will not listen to you, then take one or two more people that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.” At this stage, the complaint becomes a little more formal. You may be surprised at how often differences can be worked out at the first stage. But if the feared outcome results, that is, if someone takes offence at your criticism then you have the right to involve one or two other people preferably someone whom the other party will respect as well as you go over the issues again in front of your witnesses. Do you know of any church where this happens? It is surprising how many times even professional counselors will say just leave it with me, I’ll have a talk with so-and-so.” Do not accept that. They usually do it because they want to say things in your absence that they would not be prepared to say in your presence. They are usaully more interested in promoting themselves in the eyes of both of you. You should not even inform your witnesses of what the issues are until all of you are together with everyone hearing the same facts, and the witness or witnesses hearing the facts for the first time. Resolving disagreements the way that Jesus taught it requires all parties to be consistent in what they say. The two people engaging in an argument will almost certainly be on their best behavior in a effort to convince the witness or witnesses that they are not the one at fault. And the witnesses will need to make comments that take into account the relationship with both parties. They will do their best to find a resolution. But they will not be able to trick both parties into thinking that it is the other party whom they think is at fault, as often happens when counselors talk to people separately. Nevertheless, the problem may still not be resolved especially if one party has decided to take a stubbornly proud approach refusing to listen to any criticism against themselves. So, this is where you go to the third stage. “If they refuse to listen, tell it to the whole church, and if they refuse to listen to the church “let them be to you as non-Christians.” In other words, there’s a serious possibility that someone will be kicked out of the church if the third stage does not work. But you may be surprised as how rarely that happens. By taking it through all three stages the way Jesus taught, and allowing people to here the facts most differences will be resolved amicably. Nevertheless, the worst possible scenario does need to be kept in mind in order to recognize the seriousness of what is being discussed. Now, ironically, most churches do have ways to kick out people who do not conform with certain rules. But often the way they do this ignores the three steps that Jesus taught. When leaders in most churches decide to expel people, offenders are often kicked out the back door without anyway for them to defend themselves, nor for the congregation to hear the facts and to decide whether the expulsion was justified. On the other hand, many genuine problems are overlooked in churches because church leaders lack the courage to even threaten excommunication especially when the offender is a generous donor. When, in the entire history of the church, for example, has anyone ever been kicked out for being greedy? Even though the Bible teaches that the love of money is the root of all evil. Someone has said that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Failure to use the grievance system that Jesus taught results over and over again in trial by gossip and abuse of power, whether by the pastor or by the church board. Even when a matter may be discussed in an open church meeting eventually it is almost certainly proceeded by many hours of lobbying against the individual whom those in power wish to expel. It simply is not fair. Of course, this is consistent with the overall lack of respect for anything that Jesus taught which is what I’m addressing in this series of videos. I’m absolutely certain that Jesus himself would be kicked out of most churches today, and he would not be given a chance to defend himself. Such secretive underhandedness defies the pattern that Jesus taught his church to use. If your church does not follow the pattern that Jesus demanded of his followers when they have disagreements then it’s a sure bet that your church is not following anything else that Jesus taught either. Most of us would have to admit that this is not going to be an easy command of Jesus to remember and follow. But that is no reason to give up. We need the courage to speak up when others come to us with talk about people who are not present to defend themselves. And perhaps even more courage to face people ourselves that we feel have been behaving poorly, and lovingly correct them. I don’t have an organization to offer as a replacement for churches that do not obey Jesus. But I would encourage individuals who want to obey Jesus more than the traditions of the church to do all they can to get in touch with others who believe the same. You can, for example, message me on this channel by going to my homepage and clicking on the link called ‘About’. Please do consider subscribing if you haven’t already, and click on the little bell next to the icon so that you can be notified as new videos are released on this channel. Thank you for listening.

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