September 5

Conflicts Among Friends, Part 1

“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.” (Matthew 18:15)

“Though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus—I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart…if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self. Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ.” (Philemon 1:8-12, 17-20)

One of the challenges of writing a blog is to keep the posting fresh. I felt a bit uncomfortable yesterday as I wrote about furniture. Did I really want to compare an inanimate object to human beings? Now I realize that I had Onesimus on my mind, who was useless to the Christians in Colossae but, having been transformed by the gospel through his contact with Paul, was now useful and growing spiritually. He had been the property of Philemon, a slave owner in Colossae, and probably tried to lose himself in Rome, but instead was found by Christ and Paul. * Paul offers the Christians in Colossae the same advice the father gave to the older son of the prodigal who was offended by his brother’s sin. “It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.” (Luke 15:32)

Friendships can be frightening because they require personal vulnerability, the degree of which varies depending on the level of intimacy. The more responsibilities we have in connection with others, the more challenging the relationships. Conflicts are inevitable when two or more people form a bond. Our sin natures influence our motives and attitudes, which then result in words or actions that may unintentionally hurt, insult, or confuse our friends. Even mature Christians with the best intentions can be wrong as they try to help their friends, especially during personal trials. However, fear of conflict and issues in friendships do not justify shrinking back from becoming intimately involved in the lives of others, for our mutual benefit.

The instruction in Matthew 18 from Jesus serves as our primary guidance in every relationship with any conflict of any kind. “If a matter can be settled without getting others involved, that will keep rumors and misunderstandings from multiplying and will keep the conflict from spreading (cf. Prov. 25:9)…The ultimate objective is restoration of the offending brother or sister to the path of discipleship.” (2)

If we have friendships in which we are not comfortable talking directly about our conflicts, it is because we are unforgiving and possibly hurt beyond this particular issue. We may even be burdened by old injuries that are renewed by something small. I can imagine that the believers in Colossae were so offended by Onesimus’s behavior that they may not have been able to forgive him without Paul’s help. As friends, we should always remind each other of gospel forgiveness that we possess and offer it to others. Will you remember the gospel when you are offended and yield to Christ, for the sake of him in your friendships?

(1) ESV Study Bible Notes (digital edition), Crossway, 2008, Notes on Philemon.

(2) ESV Study Bible Notes (digital edition), Crossway, 2008, Note on Matthew 18:5.


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