Saturday, August 23, 2014

Inviting Jesus into your conflicts - Matthew 18:15-20

Years ago, a large statue of Jesus was erected high in the Andes Mountains on the border between Argentina and Chile. Called "Christ of the Andes," the statue symbolized a promise between the two countries that as long as the statue stands, there will be peace between them. Not long after it was built, the Chileans got angry and wanted to forget that promise – you see - the statue had its back turned to Chile. Just when tempers were at their highest, a newspaperman saved the day. In an editorial that not only satisfied the people but made them laugh, he simply said, "The people of Argentina need more watching over than the Chileans.”

A cute story illustrating a shameful reality – how quickly we can get bent out of shape with one another. Often over something silly, we can forget our relationships and treat people as enemies. We wear our feelings on our sleeves… words that linger in our minds… actions we suspect for the worst… and the next thing you know, we are all wadded up with each other. And what’s WORSE, the Lord’s people choose to behave no differently than the world when these disagreements arise. We want God’s blessings… we WANT the Lord to hear our prayers… but we DON’T want Him telling us how to manage our conflicts. Any restraint the Holy Spirit offers us we set aside in favor of getting in the last shot or letting everyone else know how we’ve been wronged. But here’s the deal, if we fail to obey the Lord’s directions regarding how we handle conflict, what RIGHT do we have to expect His blessings?? Why would we assume things would turn out well for us?

So… what would Jesus have us do?? When our feelings are hurt, when there is tension in the air, He would have us do 3 things that may not ALWAYS lead to peace with people – but at least we will have peace in our hearts knowing we did what the Lord expected us to do. 3 things. What are they??

1. First, He would have us Be Proactive in settling conflict. Proactive. Jesus said in v. 15, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault” You can’t get any clearer than that.

Typically, when WE have been offended, we EXPECT the OFFENDER to come to US. In fact, to think otherwise seems almost ridiculous. So WHY would the Lord tell us that the obligation is on OUR part when we didn’t do anything wrong? I can think of three reasons:

First, because it is pride in us that demands an apology. It is the flesh that causes us to choose STRIFE over peace… to value the last word over unity. And because PRIDE is the exact OPPOSITE of what we OUGHT to be and do, the Lord would have us take the first step towards reconciliation.

Second, because the Lord demonstrates grace so freely towards US, when we are unwilling to forgive, we fail to see our OWN sin – the many times WE have failed - and how often we have been forgiven. Grace demands us to release people from the debt they owe us – Just like Jesus did for US.

And THIRD, we ought to be proactive in settling conflicts because JESUS TOLD US TOO. It is NOT a matter of emotion – or whether we FEEL like it – it is a matter of OBEDIENCE. Without which, we cannot please the Lord. Get in the habit of handling things QUICKLY before they take on a life of their own

As a Child of God, the responsibility is on YOU not THEM. BE proactive.

2. Second, Be Private in settling conflict. Private. Jesus said in v. 15, “go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” I wonder how many brothers and sisters we have LOST because we failed to keep our conflicts private?? What would be the rationale behind keeping it between the two people involved?

Well FIRST, keeping the dispute private shows respect to the individual. It says we care more about THEM than we do spreading malicious gossip about them or rallying troops to our cause.

Secondly, It gives them a fair chance to explain their behavior. Have you ever considered the fact that they may not have intended to offend you? They may not even have a CLUE you are upset about something they did. Many times, our offenses are simply misunderstandings based on assumptions.

Third and even MORE importantly, sharing the disagreement with others only forces people to choose sides. Jesus would have UNITY in the family of God – our sharing with others makes that virtually impossible. (psalm 133) It’s nobody else’s business. Sharing our disputes with uninvolved friends only drives wedges, and makes unity impossible.

But by keeping it private, you are giving the offender an opportunity to make things right before this thing gains momentum and takes the conflict to a deeper, personal level, where bridges are burned.

We say, “I’m only speaking the TRUTH…” as if THAT is all that matters. But Paul taught us to “speak the truth IN LOVE.” The next time you are tempted to let your tongue get the best of you, ask yourself three important questions: (1) What do I hope to gain by sharing this? (2) Would I have the courage to say these things if the person was present? And (3) Would I feel convicted if I said these things in front of Jesus?

3. But not only should we be Proactive and Private in settling conflicts, we should also Be Pure. When we have handled things the Lord’s way, if the person who has offended us is unrepentant – intentional and determined to leave the situation in turmoil, THAT’S when you involve someone else and bring a WITNESS with you. Jesus said, “ But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

WHY is this step important?? Sometimes it’s good to have a spiritual person with you who only wants peace and unity who can keep things calm – who can be impartial and see the situation from both sides.

What’s more, those people who have no interest in peaceful resolutions can make up stuff about what you said and how you said it. Having another set of ears in the conversation covers you in the case of slander. Because, trust me, not everyone will respond positively when you point out their sin.

And if they are STILL unrepentant, it is CLEAR that NOT ONLY have they rejected YOU - they are guilty of rejecting the teachings of Christ and couldn’t care LESS about how their actions affect others or reflect on the church – therefore, they should be put out of the church. Jesus said in v. 17, “And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

Does that seem extreme to you?? I mean, shouldn’t we be concerned with getting people IN church?? And here we are kicking people out?? Understand, TRUTH is more important than NUMBERS. Holiness and unity are more important than losing a family or two. BESIDES, if they refuse to do what Jesus said, they have a much BIGGER problem than being upset with you.

Their attitude, their behavior is like a cancer that will spread and infect others. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen these things handled with HUMAN reasoning snowball and taint others – so much so that the whole church is infected by the dissension that existed between 2 people or 2 families. Whole churches divided and the Spirit quenched and the gospel given a black-eye because two people refused to do the right thing?? Huh uh… put them out.

If you are wondering “how it will make us look to OTHERS if we take this kind of stand??” you are asking the wrong question. How we look to JESUS should trump ANY CONCERN we have about our reputation… because only THEN will we have HIS blessing. Which leads us to our final thought…

4. Not only does this passage teach us to be Proactive, Private, and PURE when handling conflict, it gives us a PROMISE in settling conflict when it says in v. 20 “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” No matter HOW OFTEN this is misquoted, this isn’t a promise that we will have the presence of Jesus in a poorly attended church service. It is a promise directly tied to church authority and the discipline of a rouge member who is more interested in being a tool of the devil than in pursuing peace. We have the promise of HIS blessing when we follow proper protocol in disciplining fleshly members.

What happens when we DON’T do this?? I can take you on a tour of hundreds, if not THOUSANDS of dying churches that failed to do things the Lord’s way and the hand of God has stopped blessing. There hasn’t been life in them for a very long time. Why?? God isn’t bound to bless disobedience – no matter how NOBLE our excuses sound.

BUT – BUT when we put a higher premium on honoring God than honoring man, when we are focused on keeping Christ first in all that we do… we have the promise of His presence, in all of it’s powerful, life-changing glory. We can’t get any better than THAT, folks. Pleasing HIM is all that matters.

I believe there are soooo many life-lessons that come from conflict. We don’t like it, but it is valuable to us nonetheless. We learn so many things about God, about others, and about ourselves when we are wounded.

If THAT’S true, what lessons are your conflicts teaching you about yourself right now? Sometimes, we just need to get over it. Sometimes, you just need to decide in your mind that their offense was unintentional and just let it go. Not every aggravation rises to the level of confrontation.

Sometimes I learn that I am too proud and that God is using a conflict to root pride out of me – and I need to humble myself and handle things HIS way instead of being stubborn and giving place to the devil.

And sometimes I learn that people just aren’t everything they claim to be… and really, their failure to repent is not hurting ME – it’s hurting THEM.

Maybe God has allowed you to have this disagreement to send a wake-up call to that brother or sister who needs to get their stuff together before they do something even MORE catastrophic to their testimony and the reputation of the church. Maybe God wants you to do this for THEM. You need Courage. You need Prayer. And BOY, do you need the Spirit of God there when you have this talk you’ve been avoiding.

Are you in that place right now?? Maybe you need God’s help in a situation YOU are going through? Would you invite Jesus into your conflict?