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Whatever else we learn about church life, we learn quickly that it will at times come with conflict. We are, after all, sinful people attempting to share community with other sinners. It’s inevitable that problems will arise, inevitable that there will be angry words, unfortunate misunderstandings, unintentional insults. While there will be many great blessings that come through the local church, there will also be real sorrows.
Thankfully, God has not left us unequipped when it comes to dealing with those conflicts in a healthy and healing way. Solomon says, “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense,” while Peter echoes, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins” (Proverbs 19:11; 1 Peter 4:8). The great majority of offenses are to be overlooked, covered in love and forgotten. But sometimes the offense is serious and the harm grave, and in these times we are to follow the instructions of Jesus in Matthew 18:15-20.
Text - Process - Person - Sin - Offender
This text establishes the God-ordained process through which a person who has been sinned against can identify that sin to the offender and see a strained, separated, or full-out shattered relationship restored. It’s a simple process. First approach the person alone, describe the offense, and give him or her the opportunity to express remorse and seek forgiveness. Failing that, bring it to the attention of two or three witnesses, and then to the whole church. If even then the person does not repent, the lack of remorse should stand as proof that he or she is not a Christian and should be removed from the membership of the local church. Christians, after all, are to “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). Those who refuse...
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