“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” — Matthew 18:15-17
The hardest part about maintaining unity in real time is managing and resolving interpersonal conflict. Offenses, real and perceived, happen all the time. How we settle them will either bring us closer together or drive us further apart.
Notice how Jesus tells His disciples to handle conflict in Matthew 18. Jesus is talking about “sin,” a violation of God’s standard. For our purposes, this could mean disrespectful or dishonest behavior, for example, not matters of personal preference. Also notice He says first go directly to your brother, in private, not anyone else! Otherwise, that’s how gossip starts and makes matters worse, as others start taking sides without being fully informed.
If you can’t settle your differences one on one, then try to hash it out with a couple of independent observers with no skin in the game, yet preferably people who know what it means to be on God’s side. What if that doesn’t work? Our Scripture tells the Church what to do, but we’re talking outside the Church here. What does it mean to “treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector” (v. 17)? It means you still love them, but be careful trusting them. Pagans are welcome in the Church, but should not be trusted with ministry.
To deal with conflict in this way takes faith and courage that only the Lord can provide, but it’s essential in maintaining true unity.
— Jerry Birch, Cleveland Cavaliers chaplain
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