“If a brother or sister sins, go and point out the fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they do not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
~Matthew 18:15-17 (TNIV).
The teaching of Jesus in the above-quoted passage concerns the admission, confession and repentance of sin — or the wanton lack of acknowledgement of same.
There are a number of points of interest:
1. Initially we must go to great pains to keep the matter between the two of us. Involving others or gossiping about matters is only going to embarrass the other person and even before they’ve had a chance to put it right. Here, it’s our credibility at stake, not theirs.
2. We need to think about our case and our approach — and to set the situation up as best we can that they might see their fault in truth. As part of this we’re also very much searching ourselves for fault — if we’re even partly also at fault we’re best dropping the action. But if we were innocently transgressed, we now have the opportunity of letting peace occur between them and us, but this will only occur if we approach them sensitively and with an eye for using fair-minded influence. This is the presentation of the facts via such a compelling manner to “win them over,” which is merely to get them to see reason — which is always fact-based (i.e. observable by anyone).
3. We get a witness or more involved if they cannot, or refuse to, see the issue we bring to them. The witness or two — those who aren’t engaged in the conflict — should bring some balance and objectivity to the issues at hand. Everyone should rest with the consensus, having seen reason — which is all sides of the issue, but oftentimes this does not occur and step 4 is needed.
4. When matters are brought before a whole church community (or organisation) — or certainly the leadership of the church (or organisation) as many issues need to be handled discreetly and sensitively, or needn’t involve everyone — there is a great deal of authority behind the eventual decision. We should have reached the delineable truth by this time. A judgment is hence made easier where truth is apparent.
5. If the person still cannot see their fault they may be seriously blind to the morality of issues at hand, if or as applicable. Treating them like “a pagan or a tax collector” is simply to treat them as an outsider, and not harshly and without love because we could never see Jesus doing such a thing. But, they are separated out until it is they choose to see established reason.
6. Organisationally in the secular world it’s slightly different, for not all situations call (or would allow) for the ostracising of people, but there are generally other remedies at hand, like the forfeit of benefits, withholding of opportunities and other consequences.
The biblical model for conflict resolution — like God’s slow to anger — is slow to ramp up, giving people ample opportunity to work it out early and maturely. Escalation should rarely occur. It’s important that the steps are followed respectfully, without subjectivity and partiality.
© 2011 S. J. Wickham.