If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him—work it out between the two of you.
If he listens, you’ve made a friend. If he won’t listen, take one or two others along
so that the presence of witnesses will keep things honest, and try again.
If he still won’t listen, tell the church.
If he won’t listen to the church, you’ll have to start over from scratch, confront him with the need for repentance,
and offer again God’s forgiving love.
Matthew 18:15-17 “The Message”
As we settle into 2018 and the ever-changing rhythms of life, it seems like a good time to think again about how we are called (as followers of Christ) to treat one another. In the adult Sunday school class, we have been working through a study by Philip Yancey called “Vanishing Grace.” One of the early sessions focused on how we (Christians) are not know for our willingness to show grace to others.
It seems that we are more-than-happy that God shows grace to us. Furthermore, I believe most of us are willing to believe that God can show grace to just about anyone. The problem seems to be with our ability to be graceful to one another. I have heard way too many stories about how a broken relationship in the church has turned someone away from “organized religion.”
Sometimes it is little wonder that people level the charge of hypocrisy at the church, as we have a tendency to be much better at receiving grace than we are at dispensing grace. And, when I think about dispensing grace, I inevitably come back to this passage of scripture. Because in these few verses Jesus gives us a grace-filled model to deal with conflict within the church. And, frankly, because we are a gathering of imperfect humans, we are destined to have conflict. It is unavoidable. What we can choose, however, is how we deal with conflict.
However, there was always something about Jesus’ model for dealing with conflict in the church which bothered me, when (in the NRSV) Jesus says, “let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” I always understood that as essentially kicking that person out of the church. But, as I studied more deeply, I began to draw a different conclusion. Then I was introduced to The Message which put my burgeoning thoughts into words.
Just because a conflict cannot be resolved doesn’t mean that we excommunicate that person from our lives. It DOES mean that we are to treat them with the same grace we would ANY person. That we should strive to treat them with the grace we first receive from God. May we strive together to be ever more grace-filled and grace-giving people this year!