Dear Pastor Lawyer,
I have a friend who blew up at me the other day for no reason at all. After I tried to reconcile with him by telling just how wrong he was to treat me that way, he blew up again and is now telling all our friends what a terrible person I am. I’ve talked with him alone, should I follow the Matthew 18 passage and take two other witnesses with me so that we can get this mess straightened out?
Out of fellowship in Cinci,
Relationships can be tough can’t they?
Instead of taking your friend to church court over the whole affair, I would suggest that you ask one of your church elders to look into the matter on your behalf. You should know that he will not just take your word for the situation, but will follow the wisdom given in Proverbs 18:17 and explore the situation with your friend to see if you account is exactly what you represent. This does not mean that you are lying, or that your friend didn’t do exactly what you said he did, but before your elder gets involved, he should check out the other side of the issue.
Oof you should know that Matthew 18 is not the only passage in the bible that talks about how Christians is supposed to relate to other Christians. We all desire perfect relationships in the body of Christ, especially in our particular little corner of the body. But sometimes this isn’t possible because people are, well, people.
Other passages that might apply are:
Romans 12:17-21 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
This verse tells us that at times it will be difficult, if not impossible to live in fellowship with other folks (there is no stipulation as to whether these be Christians or non-Christians). This can be due to a number of things: their immaturity, our immaturity, or either party’s pride, etc. When two people don’t get along, for whatever reason, it is generally not only one party that is to blame. For this reason folks need to check into things very thoroughly before making any firm judgments.
Either way, the passage does not say that when one Christian has a difficult time with another Christian, he should automatically take him to church court. It says he should strive to be at peace with all men as far as it is possible. If he can’t settle a dispute he might very well just let it go. What he should never do is take matters of judgment into his own hands and seek revenge on his brother. Instead it says the offended brother should let God deal with the other fellow’s heart. Moreover, the offended brother should not only not attack his offensive brother, he should aggressively love his brother and thus love him into fellowship.
Here are a few more passages that might help you as you wait to see what your elder finds out:
Proverbs 10:12 Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs.
Proverbs 17:9 He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.
Proverbs 19:11 Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.
1 Peter 4:8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.
I don’t mean to imply that you have done anything inappropriate by talking with folks other than your friend and I about this situation. My point in bringing up these verses is that as far as you are concerned you should probably let the whole issue drop. You should let your love for your friend cover his sin against you. If you don’t, you run the risk of becoming bitter and we all know that a bitter root will eventually cause a whole lot of nasty damage (cf. Heb. 12:15; cf. Deut. 29:18).
Until your elder gets back to you with your friend’s response to the whole situation, you need to love him and let it go. When your elder gets your friend’s side of the situation, he will either come to you to straighten it all out, or the three of you can get together, or you can have a couple of elders get with you to help hash it out.
Please know that your church leaders don’t like to have the fellowship broken any more than you do, but they also know that we live in a world full of sinners who are all working on living with other sinners. Please have patience, don’t let your friend’s behavior harden your heart and cause you to sin. Instead you should take the high ground and let love cover a multitude of sins.