Lesson 10: Take One or Two with You
Topic: Topical Passage: Matthew 18:16
[Note: This lesson is adapted from Ken Sande, The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2004). For more information, see Peacemaker® Ministries (https://pm.training).
Good morning! Turn in your Bibles to Matthew 18:16. We’ve spent the last three weeks talking about how to confront someone else about his or her sins against you. If you carefully apply the principles we’ve discussed, hopefully the relationship will be restored. However, that will not always be the case. You cannot change another person’s heart. Sometimes, the other person will refuse to respond positively to your repeated attempts at careful, loving conversation. What do you do at that point? Do you just give up and walk away? No! God values relationships so much that He requires you to take another step, and that step is described in Matthew 18:16.
When your attempts at personal peacemaking have failed, it is time to involve others. But what does that look like? How does it work? My outline this morning is built around the answers to several basic questions about this process.
When Should I Involve Others?
Involve others only when your best efforts at personal peacemaking have failed. The principle in Matthew 18 is to keep the circle as small as possible for as long as possible. Also, make sure to give personal peacemaking your best effort. If the person does not respond well to your initial attempt to initiate conversation, you might want to try again later. You should only involve others in the situation when it becomes evident that further attempts at personal peacemaking will either be unprofitable or will aggravate the situation.
Who Should I Involve?
We saw last week from Galatians 6:1-3 that a confronter must be humble and walking in the Spirit. So look for people with these qualities. We’ve also seen that wisdom is crucial in these types of situations. Turn to 1 Corinthians 6:1-8. What is Paul so worked up about in this passage? (Believers in the church at Corinth are suing one another.) And Paul talks about why that is a problem. First and foremost, it brings disgrace to the name of Christ. Also, it is a symptom of tremendous selfishness. What solution does Paul prefer? (That believers would involve the church rather than turning to the secular courts to bring about resolution.) This is where we get the idea of Christian mediation or arbitration. What kind of person does Paul say you should look for when seeking this kind of help? (A wise man.) So when it’s time to involve other people, look for believers who are humble, wise, and Spirit-filled. Sande refers to these people as “reconcilers.”
Reconcilers may be church leaders, but they don’t have to be. There is nothing in either of these passages that suggests that you can only use pastors or deacons for this sort of ministry. In fact, 1 Corinthians 6:4 implies that even “those who are least esteemed by the church” are more qualified for this type of ministry than secular judges.
Sande suggests that it can be beneficial to involve reconcilers with expertise in the area of conflict. So he says for example that if you think another believer cheated you by cutting corners when he built your custom home, you might want to involve a Christian contractor. If the conflict is legal in nature, perhaps you could find a Christian attorney who would be willing to get involved. However, the spiritual requirements for the reconcilers are much more important than any kinds of expertise they might have. Much better to involve a novice who walks with God than an “expert” who is consistently arrogant, fleshly, or unwise.
Finally, Sande suggests involving reconcilers who are personally acquainted with both parties. In secular mediation, this is frowned upon because it is assumed that people you know may be biased. However, in a Christian context, the better the reconciler knows you and the other person, the better equipped he is to speak to the situation. Also, if the reconciler already knows you, they may feel more comfortable being forthright, which is a huge advantage. And hopefully, if they are wise and spirit-filled, their tendency to be biased will be offset by their desire to honor the Lord.
Where are you going to find people that meet these qualifications? Most likely, you will find them within your own local church.
How Should I Go About Involving Reconcilers?
There are basically two ways to go about involving reconcilers: by mutual consent or without it.
Obviously, the best-case scenario would be for both parties to agree to involve reconcilers. So let’s say for instance that a church member borrows my truck and gets into an accident. Low and behold, I didn’t have collision because it’s an old truck, and the insurance company says, “We’re not paying for that.” All of a sudden, I’m out of a truck. So I go to the church member and I say, “Listen, you owe me $5,000 to replace my truck.” And he says, “You’ve got to be kidding me! Your truck isn’t worth half that much! I’ll give you $1,500, but it’s got to be in payments because I don’t have that kind of money.” And we talk about it and talk about it and talk about, but we can’t seem to get it worked out. The best-case scenario at that point is that we say, “You know what, let’s get Pastor Kit and Ben involved. Those are both wise and godly men who we respect and who know us well. Let’s ask them what they think, and then we’ll agree to follow whatever recommendation they give. That would be arbitration. We could also get Pastor Kit and Ben involved without submitting ourselves to their recommendations. That would be mediation, where we are just more looking for advice and clarity.
Let me give you another example just for the sake of clarity. Let’s say that Nathan is looking to hire at his company and he chooses someone from church. But unfortunately, things don’t work out very well. Nathan is displeased with the individual’s work, and he eventually fires him. Three weeks later, the individual comes to Nathan and says, “You sinned against me. You didn’t treat me like all of the other employees, you held me to a higher standard, and then you fired me without following the proper protocol.” Nathan says, “I’m sorry that you feel that way, but I disagree. I had sufficient cause to fire you and I did it the right way.” They talk about it extensively, but at the end of the conversation, the individual is still convinced that Nathan owes him an apology, and Nathan still disagrees. Nathan could say, “What would you think of inviting Justin to meet with us? Justin runs his own business; he hires and fires people regularly, and I trust his judgment.” That would be another example of how this could work. Are there any questions about those scenarios?
So the best-case scenario is for both parties to consent to the involvement of reconcilers. But what if the other person does not consent or if he is unresponsive? Well, if he is a Christian, then you actually don’t need his consent in order to get others involved (Mat 18:16).
So let’s go back to the Nathan example. Let’s say that it goes a different way and Nathan totally shuts down the conversation. He says, “I’m right; you’re wrong, and I don’t want to talk to you. Goodbye.” Now I know Nathan would never do that, but what if he did? Well, if the other believer truly believed he had been sinned against and was convinced that the issue was too big to drop, he could go to Jeff and say, “Jeff, I believe Nathan has sinned against me, but he refuses to talk about it. Do you think you could come with me and see if you can get through to him?” That is closer to what is envisioned in Matthew 18:16.
Now, does Matthew 18:16 mean that you and Jeff must show up at Nathan’s door together? I don’t necessarily think so. It could be that if you show up at his door, that is just going to make him angry. So maybe instead, Jeff gets on the phone and says, “Nathan, I don’t know what’s going on, but so-and-so came to me and said that he believes you have sinned against him and that you refuse to talk about it. I’m not taking sides here, I don’t really want to discuss this right now without so-and-so present because I don’t think that would be appropriate, but do you think the three of us could meet at Starbucks on Thursday night and talk about it?”
Another way this could happen is that you could send Nathan a text saying, “Nathan, I’ve tried three times to contact you about this issue but you keep shutting me down. I would really prefer to deal with this in private, but if you are not willing to do so, my only option is to obey God’s Word and get another church member involved. We could go together and ask someone to help us, or I could just choose someone myself.” Sande says that when faced with this alternative, he’s seen many people suddenly become willing to talk. And even if Nathan still refuses to talk, at least he’s been given fair warning for when you and Jeff show up at his door, which will probably help that conversation to go better. Are there any questions about those scenarios?
One thing Sande says that I found very helpful is that when you go to involve others, it is best not to talk to them about the situation ahead of time. If you need to brief them, go ahead, but try not to share any unnecessary details, otherwise the other person may naturally conclude that the reconciler is already biased in your favor. You may even want to forward to the other person a copy of the email you sent to the reconciler requesting assistance; that way he knows exactly what was said and not said. Being careful with the details will also protect you from indulging in gossip and help you to guard your heart. The more carefully you guard information, the more likely you are to achieve lasting peace.
Why Should I Involve Reconcilers?
According to Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 6, there are two reasons to involve reconcilers. First, involve them if you have reached an impasse and can’t seem to resolve the situation on your own. We see that in 1 Corinthians 6. Second, involve others if you need a witness (Mat 18:16b).
Commentators are somewhat divided as to the function of the witnesses. Are they witnessing to the offender in an effort to win him over, or are they witnessing to the congregation, should the matter eventually come before them? I think the best answer is “both.” They are there to help the other person recognize that he is guilty and repent. But they are also there so that in case this comes before the church, there is someone who can say, “Yes, I was there, and I agree that so-and-so is guilty. He would not repent, and so this is an appropriate step.” That gives the church confidence in moving forward and ensures that nothing has been done in haste and that the whole thing is not just a massive misunderstanding. Are there any questions on that?
What Is the Reconciler Supposed to Do?
- Listen. Careful listening skills are key. The reconciler might want to take notes, and he should ask clarifying questions and push back on any parts of the story that don’t seem to make sense. For the most part, he should refrain from voicing his opinion until all of the facts are out.
- Mediate. I think it is safe to assume that in these types of situations, tensions are going to be high. The reconciler can help keep things moving in the right direction by laying down some ground rules and then acting as a “referee” in case things get out of hand. He may also want to open the conversation in prayer and state some basic goals so that everyone is on the same page.
- Advise. Once both parties have shared their perspectives and clarifying questions have been asked, the reconciler may be ready to share his opinion and advise the two parties as to what should be done. So back to the Nathan illustration, Justin might say to Nathan, “You know, I really think so-and-so has a point. I know you didn’t intend to hurt him, but as far as I can tell, you mishandled the situation. You probably owe him an apology at the least.” Or maybe he says, “I think both of you are to blame.”
In a case like the one with my truck, the reconciler will probably need to suggest some sort of compromise. Of course, a good reconciler should take the two parties to Scripture and ground his advice in God’s Word. His goal is to restore the relationship and resolve the issues.
- Arbitrate. In particularly sticky situations, the two parties might want to agree ahead of time that if a voluntary agreement cannot be reached, they will follow the advice of the reconciler. They can even make this agreement legally binding so that it is admissible in court. Of course, nobody wants to submit to arbitration, but it’s still much better than going to court! That said, voluntary agreements are always better, so if the issue can be resolved without arbitration, that is preferable.
- Witness. Once again, if one of the parties refuses to cooperate, the reconciler may be called upon to act as a witness when formal church discipline takes place.
So let’s talk about that. What happens if the other person refuses to cooperate with the reconciler? You “tell it to the church.” Now, that doesn’t mean that you send out a church-wide email or post to the church Facebook page. It means you notify church leadership. If the individual attends a different church, you will need to notify the leadership of that church; and you should probably notify your church leadership, as well, just so they know what’s going on. The church leadership may want to consult with the reconcilers or even do their own separate investigation. Eventually, if no progress is made, the situation will need to be brought up in a business meeting, and the stubborn individual will need to be voted out of the church. At that point, what the church is saying is that the individual no longer has a credible profession of faith. “We will not authorize you to represent Christ to the world because you are not acting like a Christian.”
That is a very serious step, but Jesus is clear that the church speaks with God’s full authority when it disciplines its members. Verse 18 says, “[W]hatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Sande says, “The only time a Christian may properly disobey his church is when its instructions are clearly contrary to what the Scriptures teach.” And the word “clearly” is significant.
Once the individual has been voted out of the church, Matthew 18 says that he is to be treated like an unbeliever. How are we to treat unbelievers? We’re still to be kind to them; we still love them; none of that changes. But the basic assumption behind our relationship is that this person needs the Lord. He may think that he is saved, but I cannot agree with that assumption. He can still come to church, but he cannot observe the Lord’s Supper. And we can’t just be buddy-buddy as if nothing is wrong. We no longer have fellowship as brothers in Christ. My interactions with him should be marked by a sense of sobriety. I must urge him to repent.
Thankfully, there are plenty examples in which people who were disciplined out of a church repented and were restored. There’s a story like that in the Bible. And even if the person does not repent, at least the church would have been faithful to the Lord, its purity maintained, and other believers warned.