By: Pastor Jimmy Trent
In a recent sermon, Pastor Aaron preached a much needed point (see the sermon clip here) about how we should respond when possibly wronged by another person. In doing so, he opened up a much larger conversation about godly conflict that we need to unpack a little more. The passage referenced in the sermon is a teaching of Jesus from Matthew 7:1-5 where Jesus is instructing us on how we ought to judge others. Many unfortunately have taken this verses as if we are not to judge others. The task of this post is how we are to judge others as Jesus instructs us.
First Things, First
The thing I hope you took away from the Pastor Aaron’s plea is that when you face conflict, God is desiring to change you as much as He desires to change the person who has hurt you. Jesus makes this point very clear in the metaphor he uses with the log and the speck. Think about it: in effect so long as it has to do with you, he says that your issue is a log (massive) compared to your brother’s speck (very small). We need to heed Jesus’ focus here and understand that our first order of business when facing conflict is to look at what is going on in our own hearts that is contributing to the conflict we find ourselves in.
James 4:1 gives us wonderful direction on how to do this when he asks the questions,
“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is is not this, that your passions (read pleasures or desires) are at war within you?”
Searching our own hearts first is crucial, as it prioritizes God’s work in you and protects your brother from further damage in the conflict that you may bring because of your “passions”.
Remove the Speck
As mentioned above, Jesus’ point is not for us to abstain from judging each other but that he wants us to do it well. Assuming that you have worked through your issues concerning the conflict by seeking God’s wisdom and self evaluating, Jesus says that you can now “see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matt. 7:5). How then do we do this?
Assuming that your brother has harmed you and forgiveness needs to be sought and granted, the first step is to seek out your brother privately in an attempt to reconcile the conflict (Matt. 18:15-20). This is not one of many options. Going to your brother who has sinned against you is an expected part of gospel relationships. Paul warns us concerning these challenging conversations in Galatians 6:1 saying that we need to “Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” There is no guarantee that the conversation will be all sweet and sappy and that the one who sinned will be ready to admit their fault and seek forgiveness. You may walk into a hornets nest. So it is imperative that you are “spiritual” (Gal. 6:1) meaning that you are prayerfully filled with the Holy Spirit and resting in your identity as a child of God. This will guard you against any further hurt the person may cause in your attempts to confront and allow you to stay engaged when the work to resolve the conflict requires more effort.
Paul instructs us to “restore him in a spirit of gentleness” which is only possible once we have removed our agendas from the conflict. It is crucial that we have God’s glory and the good of others at the center of our motivation before we will be able to pursue them with gentleness. When I face conflict (as I have my fair share) I find that it is most helpful if I approach the person who has hurt me by admitting my faults and seeking their forgiveness as a first priority. This, I think, is Spirit-filled gentleness. With that as a starting point, I now have a platform for engaging the other person with how I feel hurt by their actions. I prefer something like this, “When you did _______, I felt _______. Did you intend to do that? Can you help me understand this from your perspective?” Again, this is gentle and typically does not add fuel to the fire. Our hope is that a conversation, gently but truthfully pursued, will produce repentance, faith, forgiveness and reconciliation. If agreement cannot be reached then we agree to seek outside help.
Forgiveness, Swallowing the Debt
One final thought on the topic of forgiveness. In order for biblical conflict resolution to happen, true forgiveness has to be exchanged. Forgiveness is best understood as paying another’s debt. When I sin against you, it costs you. For you to forgive me, you have to swallow that debt, and absorb the cost yourself (See The Unmerciful Servant, Matt. 18:21-35). This is impossible apart from you having experienced the very same thing in your own life. The debt of your sin against God (Rom. 6:23) is an insurmountable mountain. You cannot work enough in a thousand lifetimes to pay it off. In God’s love He has forgiven that debt and swallowed it up with the offering up of His Son, Jesus. Jesus paid our debt making us sons of God with a rich inheritance with which we offer up forgiveness to others pointing them to the One who can forgive a debt that only God can pay with the death of His Son.
Before We Close
Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 7 is often times limited in its application to the context of interpersonal conflict where person A sins against person B and the subsequent actions that should be taken to resolve said conflict. While this is an application of the text there is a broader application that we have as fellow believers. Galatians 6:1 speaks to this broader application, that if you see a brother “caught in any transgression” we are to pursue that brother in a similar way that we have already discussed. This means that the sin does not have to be directly against you but more generally against you as a fellow member of the same body, that is Jesus Christ.
May God’s grace empower us to love one another well.