The Biblical Formula for Solving Conflict Amongst the Brethren
We are human beings; imperfect; born in sin and shaped in iniquity. We all know that there will be arguments, disputes, and disagreements amongst our fellow Christians, no matter how mature we grow in the things of God. But how are we supposed to deal with them? Glad you asked!
Dealing with Offense
Jesus taught that offenses WOULD come. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. And while this is not a teaching on offenses, if we cover the problem of conflict amongst the brethren, then we must address this topic since at one point or another, we will all have to deal with it.
You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire. Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny. (Matthew 5:21-26)
You cannot carry offense in your heart. In my estimation, the unhealthy type of offense Scripture addresses is not necessarily when someone offends you; it is, rather, when you nurse the offense and allow it to embitter your spirit. Offenses can come to you all day long; it’s only those that you take to heart and refuse to release that affect the state of your spirit.
Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”
Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:21-22)
And so we must forgive.
So before you take your wonderful self to your wonderful church with your wonderful offering (or whatever gift you bring), take your wonderful self FIRST to your brother or sister in Christ who’s offended you, deal with it honestly, and ONLY AFTER THAT IS ACCOMPLISHED do you then present your gift faultless before God.
And don’t drag it out. And don’t go to the outside (worldly) authorities,* but rather, handle it amongst yourself as adults and joint-heirs in Christ. Don’t be arrogant or difficult. Handle your business swiftly and well amongst yourselves, before the outside authorities are called in and your grace runs out.
*This does NOT include situations that involve abuse, molestation, or neglect amongst minors. Trying to keep stuff like this “in the church” has caused MANY a church to get into trouble with the law and (further) tarnish their reputation in society.
Dealing with Confrontation
Now, how does this brotherly/sister conflict management look? Well, Jesus laid it out and made it plain for all of us to grasp and apply.
“Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:15-17)
Christ’s Conflict Management 101:
- ONE-ON-ONE. Tell your brother/sister what they’ve done that hurt you, angered you, peeved you, embarrassed you, etc. If that doesn’t work, try Step #2.
- TAKE ONE OR TWO. Go to your brother/sister again with one or two witnesses - because out of the mouth of two or three, every word is established (Deut. 17:6, 19:15; Matt. 18:16; II Cor. 13:1; I Tim. 5:19; Heb. 10:28). If that doesn’t work, try Step #3.
- CONGREGATIONAL MATTER. This is when you present the issue(s) before your local congregation,* and if they still don’t listen, treat the offender like an unBeliever. Have nothing to do with them. Don’t even eat with them (I Cor. 5).
*If this is a local congregation issue, then present it in that setting. If it is a denominational or fellowship issue, the present it in that setting. If this is an issue that is a media-related issue, then present it in that setting. But if this does not require the media, then don’t bring them in. No need to make the Church a laughing stalk to the world - AGAIN.
Jesus presents this formula in an easy-to-understand structure. This should be easily implemented throughout Christendom, and if we actually cared or learned to solve conflicts amongst the brethren like Christ did, then we would implement it ourselves.
Dealing with Notable Sins
This is when things get really messy. This isn’t just an offense; these are grievous occurrences amongst those who call themselves the brethren.
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles—that a man has his father’s wife! And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you. For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. (I Corinthians 5:1-5)
In this particular situation, as you’ve read, a young man was found to have had sex with his father’s wife. This was strictly forbidden under the moral category of Mosaic Law which remains (Levi. 18:8, 20:11; Deut. 22:30, 27:20), and is something that shocks even heathens (those who are without religion) as well as pagans (those who subscribe to false religions).
Some examples of these grievous sins could be sexual sins such as bisexuality, homosexuality, pansexuality, polygamy, polyamory, rape/molestation, incest, abuse, pornagraphy, prostitution, bestiality/zoophilia, etc. as well as spiritually seductive sins such as espousing and teaching false gospels. Drunken bar brawls, child abuse, elderly abuse, abortion, drug use, etc. This is by no means a complete list, but you get the idea of the level of gravity.
Now here’s the key: we are dealing with the BRETHREN. So if a heathen or pagan does this, while it may be shocking, it is not necessary to cut them off. They abide by a different standard and these days, it’s called moral relativity.
I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person. (I Corinthians 5:9-11)
The problem comes in when a BELIEVER does something outrageous like this. We are supposed to be righteous - in right standing with God and His Word. We are supposed to strive to be holy as God is Holy. We are supposed to crucify our flesh and reject the poisonous influence of the flesh. This is when we shun the said “Believer.” And again, this is only after you’ve done the following:
- Confronted the Believer one-on-one.
- Confronted the Believer with one or two witnesses.
- Confronted the Believer before your congregation.
If all of this has been done and the person remains unrepentant, THEN you cut them off from the congregation. And even this shunning is an act of mercy: “deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus,” (v. 5). If you keep that person in your midst and coddle them, then you are either directly or indirectly approving of the sin, and Paul said in Romans 1:32 that not only those who do such grievous sins, but those who approve of them are worthy of death. If you cut them off, then they are much more likely to have a Prodigal Son, come-to-Jesus moment, and repent in truth.
Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. (II Corinthians 7:9-10)
The goal of this method of conflict resolution is to produce repentance, not to be hateful.
Administering Reconciliation & Restoration
What may be considered harsh judgements throughout the Old Testament, is almost always an act of mercy for the sake of a person, people, or humanity in general.
When Adam and Eve were kicked out of Eden, it was viewed as a punishment. Yet it was actually a protection which kept them from partaking of the Tree of Life unworthily and entering into everlasting death. Their salvation lay beyond the Garden, through the line of their future son, Seth. (Read Genesis 3.)
When God erased humanity, bar the family of Noah, it was indeed an act of wrath (judgment without mercy) against the Nephilim-tainted bloodline of humanity which was Hell-bent (LITERALLY) on destroying humanity. (Remember Goliath and his brothers?) However, God knew that the fallen spawn of the fallen angels was busy tainting and murdering humanity, and thus, wiped them out in a solitary Flood, leaving Noah’s untainted family to preserve the human race. The Ark saved Noah’s family, and one day later through His eldest son, Shem, came a Man Who’s unblemished blood made an Ark for all humanity to choose to enter. (See Genesis 5-6.)
An act of God’s wrath was indeed carried out against Sodom, Gomorrah, and the other cities of the Valley, yet it was the mercy of God that allowed Abraham to negotiate the salvation of his nephew Lot’s family, or at least those who would listen. In fact, the entire town of Zoar was spared (even though it shouldn’t have been) because Lot begged the Angels of the Lord to let him go there. And for better or for worse, Lot and his two virgin daughters survived, and through drunkenness and gluttony, gave birth to the peoples of Moab and Ammon. (See Genesis 18-19.)
God is a God of mercy. When He sends judgment on a great or small scale, He does so to get our attention (because we weren’t listening to Him in the secret place, if we were even IN the secret place to begin with!), and bring us to repentance. He doesn’t chastise us randomly or brutally; He desires the salvation of our souls. We are NOT those appointed to wrath (I Thess. 5:9). In that same spirit, God desires that we too would have His heart and desire reconciliation with our brethren for the healing of the Body.
Now in the last segment, we learned of the young man at the Corinthian church who committed the grievous sin of bedding his step-mother. However, in the Second Corinthian Epistle, we see that this young man has finally come to true repentance.
And I wrote this very thing to you, lest, when I came, I should have sorrow over those from whom I ought to have joy, having confidence in you all that my joy is the joy of you all. For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you, with many tears, not that you should be grieved, but that you might know the love which I have so abundantly for you.
But if anyone has caused grief, he has not grieved me, but all of you to some extent—not to be too severe. This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man, so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow. Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him. For to this end I also wrote, that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things. Now whom you forgive anything, I also forgive. For if indeed I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven that one for your sakes in the presence of Christ, lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices. (II Corinthians 2:3-11)
Paul is basically saying: Hey! This guy has repented. He’s paid his dues, and Satan has indeed afflicted his soul with condemnation to the point where he wanted to return to His Heavenly Father. And thank God for it! Now, the time for severity is over; the time for restoration has arrived. He encourages the Corinthian Believers to invite this young man back into their fold, back into the Body, love on him, and forgive him in truth.
Any of us could be in this young man’s position. Maybe not literally, but figuratively. And wouldn't we desire restoration as well? Wouldn’t we desire reconciliation? Well, whether you can put yourself in your brother’s shoes or not, you must still restore them. You’re a child of God, right? Restoration and reconciliation are our ministry.
Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. (Galatians 6:1)
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. (II Corinthians 5:17-19)
It’s not our job to throw stones anymore. While we maintain the foundation of truth and structure of holiness, we are to fill it with love and grace for all our brethren. Be spiritual: forgive, love, and restore your brethren!