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Sermon Text: Matthew 18:15-20

Conflict happens.

Story of old couple on porch…”Well, I’m tired of you, too!”

Gary Smalley Conference

He said two things that really stuck with me:

  1. Key to a successful marriage – learn to fight well
  2. Conflict is the gateway to intimacy

Levels of relationship

  • Exchange of data
  • Exchange thoughts and opinions
  • Exchange of feelings
  • Intimacy

Need to know the rules of engagement

If you want to have a close relationship with your spouse, your family, your friends – more importantly, if we want to have a vibrant, connected community as a church – then we need to learn how to fight well.

Our Gospel text gives us the rules of conflict – Matthew 18:15-20.

The first rule of conflict – Seek to reconcile, not revile

[level-free]Our natural reaction when someone hurts us or breaks the rules of the community is to retaliate and excommunicate: to punish.

Many times this passage has been used as justification for excommunication.

Must take Matthew 18:15-20 in the larger context

Need to see it through the red letter edition. Black question in verse 1 and then all red until v. 21.

It begins at v.1 with the disciples question, “who is the greatest?”

Jesus’ simple answer: wrong question. As leaders of the church you should be asking, “who’s missing and how can we restore them?

It’s all about the little ones.

Be and welcome the little ones.

Better to maim yourself than to keep out the littles ones.

If a little sheep is lost, go after it

If a little one sins against you…

Then, directly after our passage, Peter asks, “How often should I forgive my brother?”

Jesus says, “always forgive.”

Our passage about conflict is smothered in the principle that we should always seek reconciliation and community.

The rest of the rules will show us how to do that.

The second rule of conflict – Start private, not public.

15 “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one.

Let’s make this plain and simple. Whatever you do, DON’T GOSSIP.

What do we usually do when someone hurts us? We want to go to all our friends and share “prayer requests” with them in order to build up our case against the offender.

There’s an old story about man in a small village who was known as a gossip.

The people were really upset about it and they asked the wise sage of the village to deal with it. So the wise sage took the man aside and gave him a bag of feathers. He told him to go spread those feathers all over the village and then come back the next morning.

The man did as he was told, he spread the feathers all over the place and then came back the next morning.

The sage told him to go and gather up all the feathers that he had dropped the day before.

“But sir,” the man said, “that’s impossible. The wind has spread my feathers everywhere, I couldn’t possibly get them all back.”

“exactly,” the wise man said, “and so it is when you gossip and spread rumors about others. You can never take it back.”

The greatest enemy of the church is gossip. Don’t do it. Go alone and deal with the person.

The third rule of conflict – Stay in community, for community

16 But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church;

When we are dealing with conflict in the family of God, we don’t drag our brother or sister to court, or smear them in the media, or take any of those typical routes.

This is a family matter and we keep it in the family.

It is important to note here that you don’t bring other people to gang up on the offender. You bring others in to ensure that the words you are saying are proper and seek to restore the offender to community.

The fourth rule – don’t compromise standards

and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

Sometimes there is a danger when we emphasize love and community so much. Many times it may seem like we are supposed to just gloss over blatant sin and call it love. That is dangerous.

Let’s use an extreme example to illustrate this. Anyone who has been involved with a loved one who struggles with drug addiction knows the phrases “intervention” and “tough love.”

A rule of thumb that is at the core of Christian community comes from Ephesians 4:15

But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, ” (Ephesians 4:15, NRSV)

The Truth in Love.

Truth without love is abuse, love without truth is enablement.

Sometimes you can do everything in your power to help someone see that what they are doing is hurting themselves and hurting you, but it doesn’t change them. You can’t lower the standards and allow the person to keep hurting your or the church and pretend like nothing is wrong. You have to grieve that loss.

That leads us to the fifth rule

The fifth rule – grieve the loss of intimacy, but always pursue restoration

let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

At the beginning of the passage it says, “if a member of the church sins against you.” Literally it says “if a brother sins against you.” This is a person who is close to you. An intimate relationship.

When the brother or sister is unrepentant you lose intimacy. The closeness is gone. They bounce off the door of conflict and drift back into the realm of casual acquaintance. They are just like all the other Gentiles, tax collectors, and strangers.

That hurts. That is a loss. That must be grieved.

But here’s the question that must be asked…

How does Jesus treat  the Gentile and the tax collector?

He loves them, pursues them, and gives his life for them.

If a conflict comes to this point where someone is removed from fellowship, that is not a victory. This is not a cause for celebration. This is a loss, for everyone.

That leads us to the last rule.

The sixth rule – be Jesus to the world

18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

This is one of those passages that gets wildly used and interpreted.

When I was growing up I always had a distorted view of this. I always thought it was,

“where two or three are gathered together, there are coffee and donuts in the midst of them.”

In the context of matthew 18, however, I think Jesus is simply reminding his disciples of one simple truth.

“Remember, you represent me in the world. Never ask who is the greatest among you. Always go after the little ones and the lost sheep. That is what we are all about.”

As we launch this series on Living Together I think it is totally appropriate that we start with the rules of how to fight well.

I think the mark of a great church is not

The size of its building

The number of people sitting in the pews

The sparkle of its worship or preaching or programs

It’s not even how much it serves the community

The mark of a great church is one that knows how to handle conflict the Jesus Way.

Let’s face it, when people try to live together in community it gets messy and conflict happens.

My prayer is that this next year we would be a church that seeks to be like the little ones and work through our conflict by speaking the truth in love.[/level-free]

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