Jesus makes a distinction between conflict outside and within the Church. The bonds we have with people in the Church are different—we’re brothers and sisters. As brothers and sisters, we have an obligation to correct, discipline, and mentor each other. Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”
Just like rubbing iron together creates friction, there is sometimes friction in our relationships, especially when sin tries to sneak its way between us. Sin and conflict, if not handled properly, can fracture the unity of the Church. Jesus’ passion was the Church, He went as far as dying on a cross for the sake of preserving the Church for all eternity. Sin is the enemy of Jesus’ preservation mission, so we must handle sin and conflict inside the Church carefully but also with great urgency. Fortunately for us, Jesus lays out a three-step plan to dealing with trouble in our churches.
In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus says, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 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.”
The first step when a problem arises in the Church is to go directly to the culprit in private—doing so with love, mercy, and understanding. Jesus says it’s our responsibility to resolve conflict whether we’re the ones causing it or not. As peacemakers, we get the privilege in joining Jesus in his mission of preserving the Church. If the culprit listens and repents, congrats, you’ve completed your mission in record timing. If your mission was unsuccessful, don’t give up just yet. The next step is to take along another trusted member or two of the Church to confront the culprit. There is power in numbers. If the culprit refuses to listen yet again, bring the issue to the Church itself. This is the Hail Mary attempt. Pull out every stop and go the extra 500 zillion miles, praying that God will multiply your efforts. Up until this point, Jesus’ objective has been mercy, but if this final step fails, justice takes over. This unrepentant culprit is now considered a Gentile or tax collector, meaning he is no longer a part of the community of believers. Paul draws upon Jesus’ teaching in 2 Thessalonians 3:6, saying, “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us.” If this is the fate of your mission, find peace in the fact that you are not responsible for changing hearts. You can love people, but you don’t have the authority and power to save them.
Today, pray for your church. This amazing connection we have to each other as believers of the one true God is frail and fragile in this broken world. Where there is a crack, more sin and troubles are sure to find their way in, so we must confront each crack diligently, following the procedure Jesus lays out for us in Matthew 18. Yes, confrontation is uncomfortable, but so was being nailed on a cross. Jesus never said it would be easy; he said it would be worth it.