“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)
Paul wrote, among other things, that love is patient, is kind, is not selfish, is not provoked, and doesn’t keep a record of wrongs. If I love the other person, I’ll refuse to judge their motives or generalize about their character. I don’t know my own motives; how can I know someone else’s? Just as I don’t like it when people take a single act or word of mine and generalize to conclude something about my character, I’ll refuse to do that to my opponent. As I do for myself, I’ll even try to figure out a good motive for bad conduct.
A lack of love, the irreducible form of killing, ignores potential factors in the case, affixes unworthy motives, and reaches premature conclusions. And then talks about it. Love, on the other hand, seeks the welfare of the loved one, even at personal sacrifice. Do I make excuses for my opponent with the same persistent creativity as I do for myself? For me, that’s the hardest thing, but that’s love.
Peacemaking requires humility. Most of us don’t naturally like being a servant, much less actually considering others better than ourselves (see Philippians 2:3). Yet if I refuse the servant role — one my Savior took — conflict is inevitable. Servants don’t object to washing dirty feet. Bonding in peace, then, begins with love and humility: “Walk worthy of the calling you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, accepting one another in love, diligently keeping the unity of the Spirit with the peace that binds us” (Ephesians 4:1-3).
While David was fleeing from Saul (see 1 Samuel 25), David sent his men to request provisions from a rash man named Nabal. Ignoring customs and laws of hospitality, Nabal refused to accommodate David’s request and sent his men away, so David prepared to attack in retaliation for this insult. When Nabal’s wife, Abigail, heard about the conflict, she had a generous supply of food loaded on donkeys and went to meet David’s troops. Falling at David’s feet and humbling herself, she apologized for her husband’s behavior and asked David to forgive the offense. David accepted her offer. Abigail’s wise, humble action prevented unnecessary bloodshed and vengeance that would have best been left to the Lord. Humility defuses conflict and promotes peace.
Attitudes alone won’t achieve unity. Actions are needed. The first action needed is usually the last we take. Paul admonished, “In everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). The result? “The peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (v. 7). Prayer is an antidote for worry or conflict.
The next principle is to take action. If there is a significant difference of opinion, it won’t help to let it go, hoping the problem will go away. It won’t. Jesus instructed us in the actions to take.
Let’s look the first action Jesus said to take in Matthew 18:15-17; “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.” Seek a private consultation. Go to your opponent alone, not to anyone else. It’s much easier to reach amicable conclusions if issues are negotiated privately. A gossip or church politician goes to everyone except the offending party, thus revealing a heart bent on verbal killing. But Jesus said first to go alone, seeking reconciliation.
And here’s something to simplify life: it’s always your move. If the other person sins against you, as in Matthew 18:15, or if you’re the one who is wrong, as Jesus earlier described in Matthew 5:23-24, you must still take the initiative. Never wait for the other person to make the first move. It is your move. Why not take that step today?