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Christian fellowship is one of life’s sweetest desserts. There’s nothing quite like being with a group of people who love you warts and all. There’s great peace in sharing life with folks who are there to weep when you weep and to rejoice when you rejoice. In times of discouragement, you can rest in the comfort and prayers of sisters and brothers who will help bear your burdens. In times of weakness they will be there to lift you up. Some of my greatest times in life have been in the context of the body of Christ.
That’s the good news. But there’s not-so-good news, also. The glory of Christian fellowship makes its failures all the more painful. It always hurts when somebody is mean to you. But if that person happens to be a dear brother or sister in Christ, then the pain is magnified several times over. One of the essential and wonderful characteristics of Christian fellowship is vulnerability, the opening of your heart to others as they open their hearts to you. But vulnerability can come back to bite you painfully. The word “vulnerable” stems from the Latin meaning “capable of being wounded.” If you’re vulnerable you’ve let down your guard, which means unkind words and deeds don’t bounce off your shell. Instead, they pierce your heart. Some of my most traumatic times in life have been in the context of the body of Christ.
In my last series, God’s Guidance for Christians in Conflict, I explained that conflict among Christians is inevitable. I suppose this isn’t quite true. It’s only inevitable if you are genuinely connected with other Christians. If you live as virtual hermit, disconnected from the body of Christ, then you’re pretty much insulated from conflict. But you’re also missing out on one of the greatest joys of the Christian life. Oh, and you’re also disobeying the clear biblical command to share life with the family of God. But the downside of obedience is the inevitability of conflict. Yes, in the body of Christ you’ll find people to rejoice when you rejoice and to weep when you weep, but sometimes your cause for weeping will be the body of Christ. It’s sad, but true.
As a pastor for the past two decades, I’ve been involved in dozens if not hundreds of conflicts in church. Sometimes these have to do with difference of opinion about church ministry, such as the style of music in worship. But very often the conflicts stem from one member of the church hurting another member. Usually this offense is unintentional; sometimes, however, the perpetrator is actually trying to hurt the victim. Getting even for some other wrong is the most common motivation for such an attack.
I’m sorry to say that such things happen fairly regularly and will probably happen to you if you’re an active participant in Christ’s church. But God provides lots of guidance for Christians involved in conflict. (This was the main focus of my last series.) Jesus himself specifically addressed the problem of one member of the church sinning against another member. He gave clear, concise, and crucial directions for people involved in such a situation.
In this series I’m going to unpack that advice so that you’ll know what to do if somebody sins against you (or how to counsel others when they experience this sort of thing). It isn’t terrible complex, and doesn’t need lots of interpretation. Nevertheless, I want to focus your attention on what Jesus has said.
Before I begin, however, I must add a word of warning. Jesus’ directions for what to do if someone sins against you are among the most frequently ignored instructions in all of Scripture. Actually I’m being too charitable. They’re among the most broken commands in all of God’s Word. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that most Christians disregard and disobey what Jesus taught more than they take it to heart and do it. Sorry if this sounds too negative, but it reflects my experience as a pastor. And, quite frankly, it reflects my experience as a Christian who HATES conflict, and would much rather pretend that it didn’t exist than engage it directly.
So as we begin this series, you might want to think about how open you are to doing what Jesus says. I guarantee that it will be challenging. But I believe that the rewards of following the directions of Jesus outweigh the costs. These rewards include: reconciliation, spiritual growth, peace of mind, and a healthier, stronger church. When you obey Jesus, you also have the joy of knowing that you actions have been pleasing to him, no matter how the other(s) involved may have responded.
In my next post in this series I’ll begin to examine in detail what Jesus says we’re to do when somebody sins against us.