Archive for November, 2009

I’m always fascinated by our attempts at circumventing what God tells us in His Word and still pretend we are following His will.  Matthew 18 is a case in point.  Just to refresh our minds, here’s the text as found in the New King James version of the Bible:

“Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. “But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ “And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. (Mat 18:15-17 NKJV)

The process for reconciliation, as set by Jesus, is very simple.

1. “If your brother (or sister) sins against you…”  This is the first qualifier, which is why Jesus begins with the word “if.”
2. “Go and tell him/her his/her fault between you and him/her alone.”
Jesus didn’t say: “Write him/her a note,” “Tell someone else to tell him/her,” “Print the offense in the local newspaper,” or anything of the kind.  Furthermore, Jesus didn’t say, “Send him/her an anonymous note.”  Jesus made it very clear that the offended party has the responsibility to “GO” and “TELL” him/her, and no one else, “ALONE.”
3. If he/she will not hear, then TAKE with you one or two.  The action of “taking” one or two others makes it clear again that the offended party must be intentional and take the steps necessary to deal with the situation personally.
4. If he/she refuses to hear them, TELL it to THE CHURCH.  It is not appropriate to tell anybody else, much less the entire world, of the other person’s offense.  Tell the church, deal with it among the community of believers, because the goal is not punishment but restoration.
5. However, if he/she refuses to listen even to the church, even then Jesus does not authorize spreading the news of the offense or the incident with anybody or everybody else.   The Seventh-day Adventist Commentary, volume 5, explains: “By refusing the counsel of the church the erring member has severed himself from its fellowship (DA 441). This does not mean that he should be despised or shunned or neglected. Efforts should now be put forth for the erring member as for any nonmember.”

Before the internet was invented, those who wanted to circumvent Jesus’ instructions would relay on either gossip, which is a clear violation of the ninth commandment, or they would send anonymous letters to confront, or rather attack, the receiver.  In this internet age when we don’t send letters or greetings cards but prefer an e-mail (or a text message), anonymity has gone to a new level, particularly when it comes to dealing with personal problems we have with other people.  As I look at Matthew 18, if Jesus were living in our day I don’t believe He would say, “if anyone says or does something that hurts you, send him/her an e-mail, but don’t sign your name or use your own e-mail account so they can’t tell who you are.  If they don’t listen to you, send an e-mail to anyone on your distribution list and tell them about what they did to you and tell them that you ‘confronted’ them.  And if they still don’t come to you to apologize and beg for your forgiveness, then post it on Facebook, MySpace, or any other social network site for the whole world to see; that should teach them!”  And yet, that seems to be the approach that followers of Jesus want to take today – anonymous e-mails, or posts in blogs like this, rather than a personal visit (Jesus did say “go”) or at the very least a phone call, telling the person they are calling their name and what particular situation they are speaking of, and giving them a chance to listen, to respond, and if warranted, to apologize and have a chance to make things right.

Throughout my career I have received those anonymous letters, but fortunately early on I learned not to even bother reading them.  I figure, if they don’t have the decency and strength of character to tell me their concerns to my face then they are not worth reading. . . so, if there was no name or return address they went straight to the round file (the garbage can).  Nowadays, occasionally I receive an e-mail or someone posts a message on one of my blogs, with no name from the sender.  Not only that, but as is the case when there’s a blatant violation of the Matthew 18 principle, they do not mention a specific incident or concern but rather they make a global accusation.  I have learned to not bother responding but simply deleting it and it’s out of my computer, out of cyberspace, and out of my mind.  However, for the person who sent it, it is still unfinished business before God.

My plea through this blog is to follow Jesus’ principles as found in Matthew 18 and not hide behind a screen and keyboard while feelings toward someone else are preventing you from having a close relationship with God.  After all, the Scriptures say (1 John 4:20 NRSV) “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.”

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