Life is very short and there’s no time
For fussing and fighting, my friend
I have always thought that it’s a crime
So I will ask you once again…
Only time will tell if I am right or I am wrong
While you see it your way
There’s a chance that we might fall apart before too long
We can work it out (2x)
- The Beatles, We Can Work It Out, from the 1966 album “Yesterday and Today”
The Christ follows up his mini-sermon on sinning against others with a few choice words on how we are to handle fellow believers who sin against us (v. 15-17). These instructions are for God’s people only and not meant for the world in general. However, the big ideas of what Jesus has to say about conflict resolution can still be broadly applied. The Beatles may have it right. (Notice what Jesus doesn’t say, as well as what He does).
To be sure, when someone has wronged us – whether they belong to His church or not – it may be our human reaction of turning away from that person or seeking revenge which can come into play. We may gossip about that person behind their back or enlist a group of friends to begin a campaign of hate. We may even seek to do the very same thing in return that was done to us. It’s part of our fallen nature. And it’s also against everything the Christ lays out.
The first step is to go to the person who has wronged us, which is sometimes the hardest part of all. You may think, “They’re the one who caused the problem – why should I initiate contact?” The purpose of what Jesus has to say is reconciliation. He wants His family to be strongly bound together; not bitter and broken. Sometimes it is possible to sin against someone unknowingly. By going to the person and laying out our concerns, we may be brining something to their attention that they are unaware of. But even if the offender IS aware, He doesn’t want the wound to fester. He even set the example for us by being the one to engage mankind when we had sinned against Him and God the Father.
The second thing He wants us to do is to forgive that person. Say what? Yes, no matter how bad the sin is – no matter how much pain and hurt it causes – forgive them. Let it go. Note: He’s not saying to forget. There’s a big difference between letting go of the hurt and pain, and automatically trusting someone again. THAT, can only come with time and with a noticeable change in behavior.
What’s more – Jesus says we are to forgive someone for the same sin so many times we don’t keep track of how many times we forgive someone. There’s no point in keeping score. It only leads to bitterness and divisiveness in the family.
Finally, He says that if the person won’t listen to you and refuses to change their behavior, to go back again – this time with witnesses. Objective, third party individuals who are also members of the church are required. The purpose is so that everything can be confirmed to be true. If the person who has sinned against you refuses to listen and change, Jesus then says to take the case to the church. Let the members of the body of Christ decide the matter. If that person still refuses to listen and change, the final act is to walk away and treat that person as if they were an outsider, rather than a fellow believer.
Note: This doesn’t let us off the hook from forgiving them. What it does do is remove the problem from the church so that healing can take place within the body. This is kind of why a chunk of this format will not work outside the church. Non-believers are not going to be interested in what the church has to say about their behavior or attitude. Depending upon what the “sin” is – only manmade remedies such as involving law enforcement may be what is needed. However, there are times when the offender is of the church and going to the governing authorities may be the only course of action that can be taken (for example, sexual assault).
It’s not ideal to be sure. Ideally, Jesus would directly intervene and discipline the offending body. But sometimes He doesn’t do this and the only way to get justice here and now is to involve secular tactics. It’s part of why God establishes our government in the first place (Romans 13). Now, there will be times when the secular government infringes upon our beliefs, such as when one race is exalted above all others. Our great nation had had that problem since it’s inception but the matter was only legally rectified in 1964 with the passage of the Civil Rights Act and in 1965 with the Voting Rights Act. It is a fact that white supremacy continues to be battled today in our society and it is our obligation to combat it at every turn using the tactics of peaceful protest.
The key is realizing that although our Constitution is a well-fashioned document, it is still only written by man and will always be imperfect. Our goal should be to live our beliefs in such as way so that all human beings are drawn to us, rather than to shut our doors and insist certain laws (such as gay marriage and abortion) are so immoral we reject the people they involve. Our job, our only job while we are living on this planet, is to bear witness of Him AND draw people TO Him. We don’t do that by constantly calling them sinners and telling them they are damned to hell no matter what. Our message has to change because it is not Jesus’ message of redemption for all.
I believe all of what the Christ shares in this passage is possible because none of us is perfect. And therefore, none of us should ever think we are better than anybody else, even non-believers. How do I know it’s possible? Because Jesus set the example for us. He lived and died and forgave us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). If the perfect man who never sinned can forgive us all of our sins, it is possible for us imperfect people to forgive each other if we are imitating Him. Therefore, to shut our doors or turn on backs on people because they sin differently than we do is wrong of us. It, in fact, is sin and it is not Christ-like.
So let’s work on working it out together, even with people who are not members of the body. Let’s set the tone. Let’s be the example. Let’s draw people into the greatest family dynamic to ever exist. Let’s make being a member of the body so desireable, that it draws people out of the darkness and into the Light of Life.