Resolving Offences among ChristiansSue Afutu
“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 NKJV.
Offence is a part of life. Since we are not perfect, though we strive to be, it’s commonplace that we would offend others and that other people would offend us. For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body James 3:2 NKJV. (For our discussion, we are considering offence as an attack on your person, character or property.
Since offence is a common part of our everyday living, we need to know how to deal with it when it occurs.
It’s possible to forgive the offender, even when he has not apologized. Jesus forgave those who took part in His crucifixion even when they had not apologized. ‘He said Father forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing’ Luke 23:34. Stephen forgave those who stoned him and said, Lord, don’t count it against them Acts 7:60. However, this step may be steep for many of us. I believe it’s an easier step to take when you are sure the offence will not be repeated. But if you think the offence may likely be repeated if not addressed, then you must take another step.
Matthew 18:15 gives us that first step. You must go to your brother and tell him his fault. If he listens to you, you have won him over. (The word brother here also includes sister). This is resolving a dispute without involving a third party. There’s a parallel process in Leviticus 19:17 and Luke 17 :3-4. It requires humility to admit that you were wrong. Also, when a reprimand is given privately success may be easier achieved. However, if you take this step and the dispute remains unresolved, then you must take another step.
The second step involves taking with you one or two more people and going to see this brother who has offended you. These additional people are supposed to act as witnesses. If after taking this step, the dispute is still not resolved then you must take another step.
The third step requires that you tell it to the church. Under this step, you can decide to report the situation to a small group leader, deacon or pastor of your church and seek their involvement in the resolution of the conflict. This step can still be taken even if the brother is not in your church but another church. This can be referred to as an intergroup conflict and will involve the leaders of the churches. However, if the dispute is yet unresolved you are allowed to treat the person as a heathen or as a tax collector.
What does it mean to treat the person as a heathen or a tax collector? It means do not acknowledge the person to be a Christian brother and treat him as you would treat a non-believer. Non-believers do not deserve certain courtesies that Christians are required to show each other. However, non-believers deserve to be shown the general courtesies extended towards all humanity. For example, 1 Corinthians 6:1-6 admonishes Christians not to take each other to court. But a Christian who will not heed the process outlined above exposes himself to court action.