If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has some thing against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother, then come and offer your gift….
If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.
In both passages, the first step in handling conflict is emphasized: It is always my move first. In Matthew 5, I am the offender and I am to go and be reconciled. In Matthew 18, I have been offended-but still I am to go and be reconciled. It is always my responsibility to be the initiator.
Note also that reconciliation takes precedence over worship, showing the importance God places on the right kind of relationships and the proper handling of conflict. Reconciliation has been defined by Merrill F. Unger as “the restoration of friendship and fellowship after estrangement.” Reconciliation has to do with relationships, and it does not necessarily mean agreement or understanding on every issue. Reconciliation between people and the resolution of issues are two separate things.
Too often these are confused, and we demand agreement on every issue before we can experience reconciliation. This is not biblical thinking. The Bible teaches unity, but does not demand uniformity.
Individuals will always have different ways of thinking about the same issues, even among husband and wife and parents and children. Obviously there must be agreement on some basic issues, but there must also be a great allowance for diversity in other areas. Someone has said that a good relationship between husband and wife means they think together, and not necessarily alike.
So when there is conflict my primary objective must be to be reconciled to the other person, reestablishing a oneness of heart and mutual confidence. There may still be disagreement regarding certain issues, but reconciliation means believing confidently that both of us are being mutually honest, and are willing to accept one another on that basis.
Honesty is essential to experiencing reconciliation. “Each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body” (Ephesians 4:25). I must be willing to take the risk of expressing myself and exposing myself whenever necessary. I must be willing to say what I really think and how I really feel.
But this does not give me license for the careless expression of hurtful statements. In expressing truth I must be willing to exercise self-control, and not speak impulsively.
Look at the guidelines regarding our speech in Ephesians 4:15-“Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ” The context of this verse has to do with speaking true doctrine, but the principles apply to speaking the truth in any situation.
We are to speak the truth in love, and love demands that I put the best interest of the other person ahead of my own. Patience and kindness (1 Corinthians 13:4) are to be the controlling factors.
My expression of truth must also be helpful and edifying. We are to “in all things grow up.” In an interpersonal conflict, therefore, my speaking the truth should produce growth and development, not destruction. I must never speak hurtfully or sarcastically.
Speaking truthfully in this way should create a greater degree of Christlikeness in both of us. We are to grow up “into him who is the Head, that is Christ.” I should think about this before expressing the truth to the other person. How would it produce Christlikeness in us?
Over and done with
The Scriptures clearly demand two important steps in effectively handling and terminating conflict.
1. Confession-We have already established that it is always my move first, and my first action in making that move should be confession-both to God and to the person involved.
But what if I’m not at fault? What if my wife is the offender? Then I must confess that I was offended, and that I probably reacted wrongly to what she did. And since we have seen in Scripture that pride is at the root of conflict, I must confess that I’ve been proud. Otherwise, the conflict would not have arisen.
2. Forgiveness-In Luke 17:3-6 Jesus said to his disciples,
So watch yourselves. If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, “I repent,’ forgive him.
Note that he said first of all, “Watch yourselves.” In other words, make sure your own attitude is right. Begin with yourself. Be willing to take the first step. Take the plank out of your own eye. This is always the place to begin in forgiving.
The disciples replied in verse five that this was too much for them. They said, “Increase our faith!” Christ’s answer to them, in essence, was that they didn’t need more faith. They needed to obey what they already knew.
We know we should forgive; therefore we must do it. Forgiveness is not based on feeling, but on obedience to the command of Jesus Christ. Forgiveness is an act of the will.
But how can I forgive something I can’t forget?
Jesus did not say, “Forgive someone when you are able to forget what he has done.” Actually, it may not be possible to forget something at first. Our memories are given to us by God. We record things there and remember them. But what we do with our memories is our responsibility.
Forgiving, therefore, requires first of all our commitment to not raise that issue against that person again. It may still come to our mind occasionally, but each time it does we must choose not to bring it to the other person’s attention, holding it over his head.
God tells us about his forgiveness in Isaiah 43:25—
I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.
This is also the attitude we should have in forgiveness.
Second, forgiving means not mentioning the offense to a third party.
And third, it means not allowing ourselves to brood over the offense. I remember one man who came to me asking for counsel. He had been a pastor, and related to me in detail what had happened twelve years before when he had been offended by a certain group in his church. He moved to another church and had a similar experience about three years later. Finally he told me of a third church he had been involved in three years later, and how his involvement there also ended in an unhappy situation.
All of these incidents were recounted in detail about how he had been mistreated and misunderstood. Yet after telling about each one he would say, “But I don’t hold anything against them.”
After forty-five minutes he asked, “George, what do you think I should do?”
I asked him if he really wanted me to answer honestly. He said he did. I went on to point out that he was full of an unforgiving, unforgetting spirit. His life had been warped by the resentment and bitterness he was holding inside, and this had undoubtedly affected many other lives as well.
What a tragedy that someone should suffer in this way when God tells us so clearly how to deal with such matters.
A new relationship
The Bible tells us that after confessing and forgiving we must establish a new relationship-a biblically oriented relationship-with the person we have been in conflict with. This will require making ourselves vulnerable to that person.
God wants us to live in harmony with one another, that together our lives can glorify him (Romans 15:5-6). So he says, “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (Romans 15:7). Acceptance means we recognize the worth of each other, and demonstrate an honest, mutual concern. We desire not only to reestablish the relationship and to end the conflict, but also together to grow in Christ.
So what is the purpose of all this? Why should I be concerned about effectively ending conflict? Is it just for my own peace of mind, my own personal benefit?
I will experience personal peace and benefit by ending conflict biblically, but we see the real reason in Romans 15:6-“that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”