Have you ever felt like God isn't hearing your prayers? Have you felt like there is a barrier between you and God? Maybe there is. If you're like me, you struggle enough to foster a life of constant prayer and to walk close with Jesus -- I don't need anything else getting in the way. But Scripture tells us that issues like unforgiveness (Mark 11:25), unconfessed sin (Psalm 66:18), and discord with another believer (1 Peter 3:7, Matthew 5:23-24), are some of the heart issues that might hinder our prayers and our Christian walk.
I want to focus specifically on the issue of discord, or disagreement, with another believer and how we deal with it in a godly way so the hindrances and barriers are removed.
Facing the Conflict
In Matthew 18:15, we read, "If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won the person back."
I used to be very easily offended. As a strong "J" on the personality assessment tests, any perceived slight, or unfair treatment dug at me like a festering splinter. It has taken a while, but after the Holy Spirit revealed to me my lack of grace for others, I began asking God to replace my judgmental attitude with a heart of mercy. And He answered my prayers. Consequently, I am far less frequently offended. The more I allow the Holy Spirit to fill me up, the less likely I am to be offended. When I empty myself of me and am filled with the Holy Spirit, it's nearly impossible to take things personally.
So, the first question to ask myself is, "does the wrong I suffered rise to the level that it needs to be addressed or can I just choose to overlook it, forgive, and forget it?" Throughout the course of any day, I mistreat people, say things I wish I could take back, and say them with a spirit I regret. It is my hope that people who know me well will excuse offenses I may commit out of frustration, fatigue, or stress. If I hope to receive that kind of grace, then I must be willing to extend it to others. Simply adopting that mindset will take care of a lot of the issues before they are allowed to ferment into something bigger.
But what about more serious transgressions we may suffer? What about wrongdoings that might actually point to a bigger issue in another person -- something that may need to be addressed for the good of that person's relationship with Christ? In those cases, it is our obligation to address it in a godly way, as prescribed in Matthew 18:15, "If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back."
To break the Scripture down:
- "another believer"
We are looking at how we respond to conflicts between ourselves and other Christians.
- "sins against you"
Does the offense rise to the level of a sin? Is it reflective of a deeper heart issue in your fellow believer that needs to be addressed? Disagreements, differences of opinion, and personalities that clash do not always rise to the level of a sin. Sometimes, it is more godly to just patiently and quietly forgive.
- "go privately"
PRIVATELY. Don't post it on facebook or twitter. Don't gossip to everyone in your small group about how egregiously you have been hurt. Privately means, "IN PRIVATE." Ask the person to meet you somewhere where you can speak. If necessary for safety or to avoid any appearance of impropriety, you might also include a couple of impartial and like-minded (Christian) witnesses.
- "point out the offense"
I am stricken by the "matter-of-fact" tone of this command. Point out the offense. Don't wax on about how deeply it hurt you or how you would never sin so blatantly, etc. Just point out the offense. Remember that sin is an offense against God, and THAT is why it's important to bring it to this person's attention. It's not about you and if you believe that in your heart, it's much easier to take the emotion out of a situation. When I ask the Holy Spirit to search my heart and to "point out the offenses," in my life, it isn't pleasant, but neither is it humiliating or demoralizing. The Holy Spirit points out my shortcomings with love and grace. That is how we are to help others with theirs -- with love and grace, and with a meek spirit. Remember, we are all sinners!
- "if the person listens"
IF. He or she may not listen. You can't control anyone but yourself. Any time I have had to approach another person about a difficult situation, I pray that God will open her ears to hear and open her heart to listen, but it's beyond my control. In a situation where a believer doesn't listen, you may have to just choose to forgive in spite of the lack of remorse. Or, if the sin situation is severe or threatens the church community, seek council from an elder or pastor.
- "you have won that person back."
That is what it's all about. It isn't about settling the score or being vindicated in your injury. It is about making sure that the other person restores his or her relationship with Christ.
When it's Easier Said than Done
All of this seems very easy to me until I make it personal. When I apply these principles to situations where I have been deeply hurt by another believer -- situations when my family and reputation have suffered, I have been physically wounded, or when it has cost me financially. That's when it gets hard. It is in those times that we have an opportunity to better understand and appreciate the magnitude of the grace we have received from God our Father. Nobody has wronged me as much or as often as I have sinned against God and without exception, He has forgiven me, restored me, and loved me no less.
And finally, when it's hard to deal with people who hurt us the way God instructs, try putting yourself in the other position. If you're like me, you read through this entire post thinking of all the times you have been hurt by others. Did you once think of any of the times you have sinned against another believer?
Read it again, and ask yourself if you would rather be confronted with mercy and grace or judgment and wrath? If you were living in a sin that threatens your walk with Christ and possibly even your salvation, would you hope another loved you enough to step in? Would you rather the person you hurt contact you privately, or tell everyone at the office and on social media what you did?
Yeah. Me, too.