Hey friends! In today’s guest post, I want to introduce you to someone very special- my little brother, Jonny! Jonny is a Pastor at Circle of Hope in Philadelphia. Their church is doing great things and loving people in great ways. Check out his bio below, and give him a shout out! As always, thanks for being a part of what we’re doing here! — Debra
There’s no getting around it. Relating to community is hard.
There aren’t hard and fast rules that help guide us, but I’m amazed at how clearly Jesus lays out some things in Matthew 18. It’s amazing to me how useful Matthew’s summary of Jesus’ teaching is so applicable. Just today, I was offering some premarital counseling to a couple and our basic rule was to follow Matthew 18.
The work that we do in community looks much messier than the ideal, and it’s much more complicated. Once we start being a part of a community, an intentional one where we are living together, or even one where we are regularly interacting with each other, we start to see how messy things can get, how much we can hurt each other, and how we sin. And so Jesus knows that, and he knows we can’t just bear all of it on our own, as we go wandering after all the stray sheep.
So what happens when a person sins against you? Jesus of course, has a great way to respond.
1. Be direct. Start the dialogue with private reasoning. It’s the first step of love. One of the reasons that directness is effective, is that is allows for a dialogue that might help reveal in you why your brother or sister’s action hurt you, what that says about who you are, how you grew up, and you are growing now. It helps humanize the individual who “sinned,” so to speak, since it is almost never one person or another, but a more complicated process. So even when Jesus seems formulaic, if you actually go and have a dialogue with in individual who has wronged you, chances are everyone will end up apologizing and loving on each other.
2. Don’t vent. Murray Bowen calls this triangulation. Really, it’s a way we avoid the conflict. Person A and Person B need to have the conflict but Person A and Person C start relating instead. A new mother might preoccupy herself with her child rather than having a conflict with her husband. The husband is on the outside of the relationship then. The husband might not want to have a conflict with his wife about the problem, and so he chooses to triangulate himself at work. And so now they’ve essentially “cheated” on each other with their children and their workplace.
It is tempting because avoidance eases anxiety, but doesn’t solve the emotional source of the anxiety. The worst part is that in most triangles the positions aren’t fixed—the two insiders can easily start relating to the outsider if there is too much anxiety between them.
3. Ask for help. Sometimes that plan involves someone else. The conflict is getting pretty intense at this point, and usually will get worked out then, but if we’re talking about serious cases of abuse, addiction, betrayal, violence, et cetera; the “church” can get involved.
The church, just like every individual in this scenario, has to be rooted in Christ and saturated with prayer before getting into this dialogue. A lot of times we end of condemning the prophets among us, the people who will guide us to a new truth that God is trying to reveal—developing eyes to see those people takes time and requires discipline.
4. Contain conflicts. When Jesus mentions the church, I’m not sure he means everyone in a congregation. In fact, in some cases, it might not make sense for it to be everyone. A festering wound that is being healed can be tolerated by some, by not by all. We don’t need to preoccupy people with one juicy piece of gossip.
The result if this doesn’t work is what we call “excommunication,” but Jesus leaves it a little open, I think. If the individual refuses to listen to the church, he says, treat him like you would a pagan or a tax collector. Jesus discipled those people and brought them along with him (he didn’t just tolerate them though—he converted them). They were those wandering sheep that he went after and transformed again.
We need to apply Matthew 18 because we can’t perfectly love and heal. Our wounds need healthy exposure to get better. God loved us so much and offers us such a gift, a gift we can’t live without, that we can never pay back. Use that gift to its fullest and actually believe that despite our imperfection, that gift actually transforms us and purifies us completely—so that we can do the impossible, like endlessly forgive. May that be what is perfect among us, that love and that grace, as opposed to endless secrets and avoidance to make us seem perfect.