“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. 16 But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. St Matthew 18:15-17
Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down. ” Proverbs 20:26
A seasoned camper knows how to keep a fire going even while it is raining. I am told this takes great skill and that one careless mistake can result in the loss of fire – often a heat source as well as a food source. A well-built fire can last for days as long as it properly cared for. While fire is good, it can also be destructive, but thankfully, one of the best ways of putting a fire out is to starve it.
A gossip is somewhat like a fire – it can live only as long as it is being fed. As Christians, we daily face opportunities to feed or starve that which can cause division among us. If we are hurt, we tend to cry out, but we need not share our brother’s transgression with everyone we come across. We do not need to develop the skill of keeping strife alive. If we starve the gossip, the quarrel will end.
The examples laid out in St Matthew 18:15-18 give us clear direction as to how we should proceed (in love), if we feel we have been offended:
- Put the fire out before it starts – Go directly to the source of the problem. We are instructed to go and speak with the one who hurt us, and seek resolution at that level. If the brother or sister is willing to listen, the flames will die and a relationship would have been restored. If that doesn’t work, we move on to step two.
- Diffuse the flame – Refuse to fight fire with fire. If our attempt at a one-on-one fails, then we are encouraged to “take one or two others along.” Sometimes those who stand on the outside have a better perspective than the players on the field. Good Christian counsel may help in loving restoration, but sometimes the one who caused the pain may not be open to teamwork. In such a case, we move to step three.
- Utilize your firewall – Get the family on board. If the offender still refuses to listen, we need to tell the church. If there is still no change, we are told to ‘treat him as you would a tax collector or a pagan.’ The reference to the tax collector or a pagan is understood to mean one who does not know Christ. In that case, we are not to toss the one who erred aside to sink or swim, but we are to lovingly treat them as a sinner who needs to come to repentance and acceptance of the love God offers.
Some transgressions seem easier to forgive. Maybe we measure these by the pain we have been caused, or by the number of persons who are aware of the damage, or by the willingness of the offender to seek forgiveness. The notes in the Scripture did not tell us what to do for each category of sin … it simply told us what to do if we are wronged.
As long as we live and breathe, there will be opportunities for us to offend others, as well as opportunities for us to be offended. We get to decide whether we fan the gossip flames, or use the Christ-approach to put the fire out.
Inventory/Introspection: How have I fueled or extinguished a fire that was unfairly lit against me?
Personal Application: I will allow Him to teach me how to apply the principles in Matthew 18: 15-17 and Proverbs 20:26 when I come across fires that have potential to damage reputations and harm relationships.
Father, at one point or another we have knowingly or unknowingly offended our brothers or sisters. Please forgive us and help us to make the right steps towards restitution. If we have kept unforgiveness in our hearts against those who have knowingly or unknowingly caused us pain, we lay it at Your feet and humbly ask Your forgiveness.
Your Word shows us clear direction we should take if another has offended us. Help us to remember this the next time we find ourselves facing pain caused by the thoughts and actions of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
We who are Yours are one body. If one part hurts, the body is weakened. Help us to look out for each other, and to deliberately weaken and extinguish any malicious acts that would cause pain to any of your children. Help us to avoid gossiping, and to disallow others from using our ears as dumping grounds. If we are approached to be the “one or two others” who are asked to help put a fire out, give us wisdom to speak as You would.
As the fire dies without wood, so will the strife end if there is no talebearer. May the words we speak encourage and uplift others to the glory of Your name.
Toni R (c)
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