Rule of Christ
In Matthew 18, Jesus has this lovely saying that is often used when the warmth of fellowship and friendship is felt in a gathering. There is also a spin on this saying that goes “when two or three are gathered sooner or later there is bound to be conflict.”
Conflict is a natural part of life. Conflicts come most frequently when our flight, fight or freeze part of our brain is engaged by a perceived threat. This natural response is God’s gift to keep us safe. Not only does it keep us safe, but conflict can actually help strengthen our relationships when we deal with conflict in healthy ways. Conveniently Jesus offers a method for dealing with conflict amongst Christians, whether at home, at work or in the church earlier in Matthew 18. This method is often referred to as the Rule of Christ and at our September Church Council meeting, we adopted the Rule of Christ as our behavioral covenant as a congregation.
Here is how Jesus lays out his method in Matthew 18:8-9,15-20. “If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than to have two hands or two feet and to be thrown into the eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into the hell of fire.”…” 15 “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 16 But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
While there are a few ways to interpret this passage, how it been applied to conflict can be spelled out in six straight forward (but not always easy to adhere to steps):
1) Look at Yourself (Matthew 18:8-9) Jesus tells us to take time to examine our role in the conflict. Ask yourself these questions: Can I let it go? (If the answer is yes, there is no need to confront the other person.) If not… What may the other person perceive that I have contributed to this problem? What does God see? If there is a concern that needs to be addressed, then…
2) Converse One on One (Matthew 18:15) Take your issue directly to the other party (not via two or three other people who agree with you).
When conversing one to one, remember to: Speak for yourself by starting your sentences with “I”; work hard to understand the other person’s point of view; work together to create solutions. If not resolved by a one-on-one conversation….
3) Get Some Objective Help (Matthew 18:16) Invite a third party to help mediate the situation. This might be a trusted friend or trained profession in your home life, a member of HR at work or SPRC at church, but this step is only be engaged after faithfully attempting steps 1 and 2. If no resolution can be found, at this level then…
4) Take It to the Church (Matthew 18:17a) Some matters need to be brought before your whole Christian community for resolution. I admit we’re a long way from airing family grievances, work disputes and church conflicts at church potluck, but the early church did do this and there can be a place for us to care for each other as a community and help bring reconciliation. Some churches have Conflict Transformation Teams to help in these cases and in matters of church business the Conference has resources to help bring reconciliation. In what is hoped to be the unlikely event the concerns or conflict are still not addressed, then…
5) Shake the Dust (Matthew18:17b) – There are some issues that cannot be resolved. The church should remember its mission. Let go of the anger and disappointment at the unresolved issues and move on with ministry. Finally, …
6) God is There (Matthew 18:20) – we remember that in all circumstances and situations, where two or three are gathered in calm or conflict, God is there with us!
Click this link for an annotated version of the Rule of Christ for your home, work, or church use.
I hope this little Bible Study will be helpful in your daily life. For most it’s probably a refresher. Admittedly, while these steps are easy to understand and straightforward when relations are calm, a little conflict enters and suddenly it is easy to forget and hard to follow Jesus’s six steps, but together we can lean on Jesus to help us find peace and reconciliation when we need it most.