Lesson 11: Take One or Two with You, Part 2
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! Last week, we began talking about what to do when your efforts at personal peacemaking have failed. I think most people assume that at that point, you give up and move on. But God values relationships so much that He requires you to take another step, which 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? Last week, we asked and answered 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, we said to make sure you 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?
Two weeks ago, we saw from Galatians 6:1-3 that a confronter must be humble and walking in the Spirit. Last week, we also learned from 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 that you should be looking for someone who is wise. When it’s time to involve others, 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. In more complicated situations, it may be wise to involve reconcilers with expertise in the area of conflict, but the spiritual requirements for the reconcilers are still more important than any kinds of expertise they might have. 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. A person who already knows you will be better equipped to speak to the situation and might also feel more comfortable being forthright. And hopefully, if he is wise and spirit-filled, his tendency to be biased will be offset by his desire to honor the Lord.
Again, where are you going to find people that meet these qualifications? You will often find them within your own local church.
How Should I Go About Involving Reconcilers?
We said 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. And we talked about a couple of scenarios in which that might take place. But what if the other person does not consent or if he is unresponsive? Well, if he is a Christian, and especially if he is a member of your church, then you actually don’t need his consent in order to get other people involved (Mat 18:16).
So if the person refuses to talk to you and be reconciled, you could go to him along with another believer. We also talked about a couple of scenarios in which that might occur.
But remember, if you do need to involve others, try not to share any unnecessary details before the three or four of you meet all together, otherwise the other person may naturally conclude that the reconciler is already biased in your favor. Being careful with the details will protect you from gossip and help you to guard your heart. The more carefully you guard information, the more likely you are to achieve lasting peace.
And that brings us to our next question, which is “Why should I involve reconcilers?”
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 illustration that I gave last week, let’s say Nathan has to fire a church member who is working for him. The church member gets upset about it, and he and Nathan are unable to work it out, so they bring in another church member who runs a business, Justin Brown, as a reconciler. 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 many situations, 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” (Mat 18:17). 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 (Mat 18:18). 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 18:17 says that he is to be to the members like a heathen and a tax collector. What does that mean? It means that we are to treat him like we would an unbeliever. We are no longer to have fellowship with him.
However, it’s worth noting that Jesus’ attitude toward outsiders was still one of compassion. He was very kind to the centurion in 8:5-13, who was a Gentile, and Matthew himself was formerly a tax collector! This reminds us that even after disciplining a member out of fellowship, we’re still to be kind to them and love them, just like God loves everyone and desires their salvation.
However, 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. Any questions?
What If My Opponent Is Not a Christian?
Now, one of the questions that comes up is “What if my opponent is not a Christian?” Should I still take one or two witnesses? How does this step work at that point? I would say that the same basic principles we’ve talked about can be applied to nonbelievers, as well–the big exception being that the church has no authority over nonbelievers. If your conflict is with an unbeliever, then you probably should not involve reconcilers without his consent. Also, if he refuses to listen, you obviously cannot “tell it to the church.” However, you can at least propose mediation or arbitration as an alternative to litigation and/or losing the friendship.
As an aside, many companies now actually have you sign a waiver before using their product that says that you agree to resolve any disputes that may arise through arbitration. Have you seen that before? We each had to sign a waiver like that when we used the YMCA campground up in Mammoth a couple of weeks ago. The practice is very common, and I think it reflects biblical wisdom. Any questions or comments about that?