Conflicts Among Friends, Part 2
“If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison.” (Matthew 5:21-25)
“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.” (Matthew 18:15-17)
“When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world?…Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers!” (1 Corinthians 6:1-8)
I purchased a new hummingbird feeder that is specifically designed to deter bees from drinking the nectar. However, somehow the bees still come, and somehow they still get sugar-water from the rounded covers over the openings. The hummingbirds are reluctant to land and drink when the bees are on the feeder. I was very annoyed by this until I learned that a single bee sting could kill a hummingbird because the bird has so little body weight to absorb the poison. Some of us are very thin-skinned and, like hummingbirds, may be especially susceptible to stings from our friends, who may not mean to hurt us.
One way to prevent deep hurts is to speak with your friend openly and frankly if you have been offended, or think you may have offended him or her. (Matthew 5:21-25) Friends who are united in Christ should be able to talk freely and graciously with each other to clear the air. Delaying will only cause a problem to worsen and trust to disintegrate. We approach our friends believing that they did not intend to hurt us because we know that they love us. When we have this perspective, we can speak with our friends calmly, lovingly and graciously, with an emphasis on the gospel, letting them know that we were hurt or offended by their actions or words. Verbalizing our hurt often frees us to forgive our friends and even draw closer to them. Conflicts do not disappear with time; they only grow more intense.
Paul was dismayed by the lawsuit-happy Corinthians who were acting like unbelievers, taking their financial and property-related disputes to the secular court instead of settling matters between each other. * The Christians were to work at reconciling their issues one-to-one, as Jesus taught in Matthew 18. If they were unable to do so, they were to ask someone neutral to help—a believer with the wisdom of Christ—not a civil magistrate. Gospel wisdom is wiser and more effective than the law, especially the secular legal courts.
Lessons we can draw from these verses include:
- accepting that is not right to expect the one who has sinned to do all the work of reconciliation
- It is not wise or loving to neglect conflicts.
- The church is the Christian’s home and place where we should seek help, not the courts.
* “Although some have argued that Paul is prohibiting Christians from ever going to court against another Christian, Paul seems in these verses only to be addressing disputes related to property or money (cf. ‘Why not rather be defrauded?’ v. 7), rather than criminal cases, which fall under the jurisdiction of the state.” ESV Study Bible Notes (digital edition), Crossway, 2008. Note on 1 Corinthian 6:1.