If your brother sins against you, go to him and show him his fault. But do it privately, just between yourselves. If he listens to you, you have won your brother back. But if he will not listen to you, take one or two other persons with you, so that “every accusation may be upheld by the testimony of two or more witnesses,” as the scripture says. And if he will not listen to them, then tell the whole thing to the church. Finally, if he will not listen to the church, treat him as though he were a pagan or a tax collector.
Here’s a little practical advice from Jesus about what do when someone offends you.
- Talk to them friend privately and tell them how you feel. If that fails, then…
- Take a couple of people with you and try again. If that fails, then…
- Tell the entire faith community. If that fails, then…
- Treat him like a stranger.
Good advice, right? If all else fails, then shun the person. Write him off, right?
Seems a little harsh, coming from Jesus. But think again. Shunning is what we would probably do, not what Jesus would do. My pastor got me on the right track on this one. Again, in order to understand what Jesus is really saying you have to go back to the Law of Moses about the treatment of strangers and outcasts. Jewish Law says “Show love for those foreigners, because you were once foreigners in Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:19). If all else fails, Jesus says that you should treat them like strangers, which means you should love them. And of course we should follow his example do what he does with strangers and outcasts – dine with them, converse with them, care for them, heal them, feed them, be kind to them.
I think most churches could do a better job at teaching people how to get along with each other. Christians are generally viewed as being a pretty argumentative, opinionated, contentious bunch. I don’t think that’s what Jesus had in mind. I was appalled when I saw all the sanctimonious rudeness at the Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church when the subject of homosexuality was raised for discussion. Both sides were equally rude. I couldn’t stand it. After about 30 years of all out warfare surrounding this subject it seems that they have finally called some kind of truce on the vehement rhetoric for the time being. Everyone’s opinions are set in stone and no one wants to listen to an opinions other than their own. Very sad. And, to me, very embarrassing. Not my idea of what Christianity should look like.
My current church had a season conflict a couple of years ago so they turned to a Mennonite program called “Agreeing and Disagreeing in Love” for help. Here’ the gist of it:
- Accept that conflict is a normal part of our life in the church.
- Affirm the hope that as God walks with us in conflict, we can work through to growth.
- Commit to prayer for a mutually satisfactory solution
- Go directly to those with whom we disagree; avoid behind-the-back criticism
- Go in gentleness, patience and humility.
- Listen carefully, summarize and check out what is heard before responding.
- Be slow to judge, avoid labeling, end name calling, discard threats and act in a nondefensive, nonreactive way.
- Be willing to negotiate
- Work through the disagreements constructively, identifying issues, interests, and needs of both (rather than take positions).
- Generate a variety of options for meeting both parties’ needs (rather than defending one’s own way).
- Evaluate options by how they meet the needs and satisfy the interests of all sides (not one side’s values).
- Collaborate in working out a joint solution (so both sides gain, both grow and win).
- Cooperate with the emerging agreement (accept the possible, not demand your ideal).
- Reward each other for each step forward, toward agreement (celebrate mutuality).
- Be steadfast in love.
- Be open to accepting outside mediation.
- Trust the community.
The Mennonites’ advice is a little more detailed than that of Jesus, but the spirit of it is the same. Turning your back on another person is not an option. Some kind of peaceful resolution is always possible if people keep their emotions in check and refrain from trying to control each other. If we can’t demonstrate that we can achieve peace within our church communities then we really don’t have any credibility when we talk about healing the world. It’s something we all need to continue to work on. Love and respect are the keys. It is both possible and necessary.
And it seems to have worked. As far as I know everyone is reconciled and in good spirits. Sometimes we just need to take a step back and look at what we are doing from the eyes of those on the outside looking in. We need to take a step back and make sure what whatever we are doing looks like love.
What does this scripture say to you?