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If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him—work it out between the two of you. If he listens, you’ve made a friend.
The only reason I knew I’d hurt Steven’s[i] feelings is because he told me so. One afternoon, in a room at our church, Steven and I sat face-to-face, a table between us. I remember it like it was yesterday. He had asked if we could talk.
“Something you said to me really hurt my feelings,” he’d said to me. “Can we talk about it?”
I was completely caught off guard. I wracked my brain trying to remember everything I’d ever said to this man I’d known for just a few weeks. My husband was the new pastor of this church and I, the new pastor’s wife, had already stumbled into my first altercation. Steven had become a fast friend to my husband and me. He greeted us warmly each Sunday with a comfortable way that made us feel welcomed. He did not put on airs. He did not try too hard. He liked cigarettes and beer and was doing his best to raise his son as a single dad. We liked Steven. My husband and I were grateful for his friendship.
So, when Steven told me I’d offended him, my heart sank. “Of course we can meet,” I told him.
Confrontation is a sticking point for many people. Upon reaching an impasse with someone in our family, our workplace, our neighborhood, our church, we’d much rather avoid than confront. It feels easier to sweep the event under the rug or to press it down inside of us. At face value, this seems like the less painful option.
More often than not, however, the thing just won’t let us go. Each time we see that person or think of them, the impasse rises up to meet us. Thank God He has given us clear instructions for moments such as these.
Long before I spoke the words that offended Steven, God had begun to show me a new way of responding to people whose words or actions caused me pain. Using the teachings of Jesus, found in the eighteenth chapter of Matthew, God began teaching me how to respond when my feelings get hurt. What I learned is that, when someone offends, God’s way of responding is counter-intuitive. God tells us to go directly to that person and let them know. Work it out between the two of you, Jesus says to us. The passage in Matthew 18 is dealing specifically with sin in the body of Christ, but God has shown me the principles outlined in the verses of that chapter apply when dealing with misunderstandings, too. Jesus raises two important points in one short verse.
First, he instructs us to go to that person and tell them what they’ve done.
Secondly, we are admonished to keep it just between the two of us. Don’t broadcast the disagreement. Don’t shine a spotlight on the situation for all to see. Go quietly, with humility and respect and, together, face the offense.
As I began to understand what God was showing me in Matthew 18, I slowly began to see confrontation as a gift God extends to us. There are courses we can take, books we can read, and podcasts we can listen to which give us specific techniques for dealing with confrontation, but I’ve found the very best instruction right in the pages of God’s Word.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION:
Are you holding a grudge against someone because they offended you? Would you like to be reconciled to that person? Why, or why not?
Father, You often ask us to do the exact opposite of what seems logical. Sometimes, I feel uncomfortable with the way You lead. I want to trust that Your way is best for me. Forgive me for holding grudges. Show me the next step I should take toward reconciliation—whether it’s with one person or a group of people—and let me be brave enough to follow Your direction. Amen.
[i] Not his real name.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online Bible commentary: Matthew 18:15-35.
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