In beginning this section of his lengthy series of messages on the ministry of reconciliation, the author begins with a question that is worth exploring for all of us. Is there evidence of God working in our lives? For those of us who profess to be believers in God, and especially for those of us who follow the duties of church attendance and a public profession of faith and all of that, do our lives show evidence of being ever more closely tuned in to God’s ways? I say this not that we should try to take credit and glory for this, but rather that if we are truly God’s children we will look the part and act the part and most importantly be the part. Our look and actions should spring from that internal reality that we have been reconciled to God and that we are striving to be reconciled to others. Anyone who has read this series so far has seen a great deal of evidence in my own intense struggle to reconcile with others , and I am aware that I am far from alone in this struggle.
Finally, after more than four hours of messages, this particular sermon gets to the nitty gritty of what people think about when the concern of peacemaking and reconciliation is concerned, in looking at Matthew 18 as a whole. This chapter has been one that I have often turned to and sought to apply in the course of my own conflict-ridden existence. Like the speaker, I have connected the various passages together in this chapter as part of the same overriding context. One of the more interesting and thoughtful matters the speaker talks about that I have reflected on whether or not I have caused someone to sin. Has my own behavior–my words and actions–induced someone else to sin? The Bible is rather harsh on those who cause others to sin. Have I made someone’s relationship to God more difficult? Have I put a stumbling before others in their own walk with God? I am sure it has happened before, and it is something I have mourned over greatly in the course of my life. I must say that I do not despise my fellow brethren and do not deliberately seek to cause offense, although being a somewhat flippant person of quick wit, the threat of unintentional and careless offense is nearly always hanging over my head and the heads of those around me and those whom I think about often.
How do we despise each other? We are speaking here, it should be noted, of fellow believers. First, we despise each other through thinking ourselves superior. I know that people have despised me on those grounds, thinking me a particularly poor example of a Christian. Have I despised others by holding their own sins and errors against them, or by viewing them as immature and unworthy of my respect and honor? Have I despised others by refusing to make peace or get along with others because of something mean that they have said or done to me? Have I behaved in such a manner that would encourage others to despise me in their hearts? In some cases, I think the answer is yes. The amount of awkward silences and unpleasant conversations I have had with other people over the course of my life–over the course even of the last few years of my life–would seem to suggest that I do particularly poorly in this regard. Clearly if I lived such a life of conflict, I have not done a good job at clearing paths and opening lines of communication and rebuilding bridges that have been burned.
It is in this context that the speaker gives the steps of godly conflict resolution discussed in Matthew 18. First, when we have the obligation to go to someone else, when someone has offended us, we should not hate someone in our heart because we cannot let something go and refuse to go to them. He makes reference to his excellent agape series and gives some points on what to do before going to a brother: studying all of Matthew 18, praying, and fasting. We should also go to others alone–something that is more difficult when we are the sort of gossipy people who spread our difficulties to others. We go to others because we seek restoration and because we think a relationship with a brother or sister in Christ matters to us. When we are seeking to solve conflicts, we need to understand the viewpoint of the other person. As I have learned painfully in life, our situations look very different from the other side. All of our sins put a barrier between ourselves and God, and so at times it is necessary for us to go to God to intercede on someone else’s behalf, and sometimes it is necessary for others to go to God on our behalf. And if someone does not hear us when we go to them graciously and repeatedly, we do not give up on them. We go to others with witnesses of our good faith who share our desire for reconciliation and restoration with someone who has offended us where the matter is public. The speaker gives the example of unwanted romantic advances, something highly relevant in my own life, and then gives the example of Abigail’s gracious intercession for the foolish Nabal, one of my favorite examples of the Bible of conflict resolution, pointing out the attitude that we should have when we seek witnesses on our behalf when it comes to seeking peace with someone else and seeking for them to recognize and work on a sin in their lives.
In this message the speaker connects our work at living God’s way with efforts at evangelism. If we are not living God’s ways, why would God bless our efforts at evangelism? We will never be a perfect people, but we should be a sincere congregation of believers wrestling with our weaknesses and flaws and being merciful and gracious to our fellow believers. Can we resolve our difficulties more in person and with witnesses that are interested in making peace rather than inflaming tensions? I know this is an area I want to be better in, and it is one I know I need a lot of work in. Perhaps, providentially, this matter is brought to mind as often as it is in the hope that although I am an awkward person, deeply shy in some areas and all too obstreperous in others, I am at least a person willing to go to heroic lengths and efforts to become more like Jesus Christ, as flawed as I am. Hopefully the same is true for others as well. Jesus Christ told his disciples just before He faced His own death to pay the price for our sins that we would be recognized as His believers by the love for each other that we have. Sometimes that love needs to be more in evidence.
 See, for example: