I am the sort of person who pays close attention to matters of repetition. When something is repeated over and over again, my attention is drawn. Last night, in the opening message, the minister speaking made it a point to talk about Matthew 18 and the need for believers to be peacemakers, eager to reconcile, overflowing with love and concern for others, even those who hate us . This is a subject that is on my mind a lot, not merely the need for that matter, but also the practical matter of how one goes about overcoming offenses and rebuilding (or building) relationships. I cannot say I am good at this task–if I were I would probably not be a single, never married man in my 30’s with several people who do not even wish to acknowledge my presence, much less interact with me. Surely, if I were good at handling interpersonal conflict, it would not be a continual area of difficulty in my life.
So, it was a particularly pointed “coincidence” when I went to the Young Adult Bible Study this morning, after dropping off a couple of other people for another Bible Study that was going on simultaneously, when the subject matter was handling interpersonal conflicts, from a friendly local elder with a background in wireless telephony from Salt Lake City gave the presentation, with a strong emphasis on interaction, in which there was a breakout group divided by color into green and orange. I got placed in the green group, along with a young man I knew in LA who shares my first name, a lovely young lady I knew when she was a child in Los Angeles, a young man who is a member of my party, and a gentleman I didn’t know who was at his first feast in twenty years. We were all given a prompt and a certain amount of time to answer the prompt and present it. Since I managed to keep the prompt for my personal records, here is the exact quote of the question I had to answer with the group I was in: “A minister comes to speak to you re: another member has an issues with something you said/did and you need to apologize, etc. This comes as a complete surprise as you were not aware anyone had an issue with something you said/did. How do you respond? What scripture(s) would be the basis for your answer?”
Given the way my life has worked, especially for the last three years, I cannot imagine very many topics about which I have more painful and unpleasant personal experience. Needless to say, I took point on answering this particular topic, but everyone had something to contribute in terms of comments, applicable verses, and commentary. Given my own sensitivities and personal experience with this sort of “hypothetical” situation, I figured it would be best to start with scriptures and then generalize principles from those scriptures. With a wide degree of involvement, including from the elder himself, who suggested one of our ten verses/passages , we came up with a variety of principles, which included: listening respectfully, showing appreciation for the willingness of other people to come to you (especially if they come to you, and genuinely want to resolve the difficulty and overcome the previous offenses), to take the opportunity to repent, grow, and apologize, and to take responsibility for our fruits. Overall, I was pleased with our group worked together on matters of such personal delicacy. I found it interesting that in the recap of the presentations, that the local elder stated that it was improper in light of Matthew 18:15-20 for a minister to go to a member about a problem another member has with them without the proper procedure being followed. I found this to be an intriguing line of reasoning, but not an often followed practice, at least in my own experience.
Despite the delicacy of the topic, it was worthwhile to have a topic that was clearly relevant to my own personal life, as much as I wish that was not the case. The real difficulty in such matters is not knowing, but doing. Given that offenses and interpersonal difficulties are present to an alarming degree in my own life, a few obvious questions suggest themselves: What can I do to overcome the current offenses that are being charged to my account? What do I need to do differently in order to avoid increasing and multiplying the offenses I cause to others, and to encourage other people to communicate slight degrees of displeasure and annoyance and irritation before problems become too massive to deal with successfully for either side? In light of all of this, how does one build an infrastructure of trust and respect in general that allows for conversations of issues and problems to be dealt with at the earliest and lowest and most comfortable level possible, in a way that increases trust and builds relationships rather than destroying them. After all, we are commanded to live peaceably with all as much as depends on us; how are we to live in such a matter that we are doing everything we can, so that our consciences can be clear without ignorance or self-deception, despite our own anxieties of heart?
 For the record, our verses/passages, to answer the second question in the prompt, were as follows:
James 1:19, 5:16
Matthew 18:15-20, 5:23-26, 5:38-42, 7:15
Psalm 119:165, 141:5