My husband Dave was a young minister, fresh from college and confronted with a middle aged divorced woman in our parish openly pursing a relationship with a non-Christian man. It was the talk of our small country town for all the wrong reasons. He knew what he had to do but was unsure about how it was all going to end. How would she respond? What would the members of our small church think if she left? But what damage was being done to the name of Jesus if we did nothing? So with much prayer and fear, he arranged to speak with her and gently talked to her about the mercy that we have been shown through Jesus and how He wants us to live lives worthy of him. To our surprise, I am ashamed to report, our friend was so convicted of her sin, she repented of her actions and recommitted her life to the Lord. She went on to marry a beautiful Christian man, go to bible college and serve overseas! What a privilege it is always to act as God’s servants but sometimes, we are witnesses to His particular grace-we were that day.
Part 3 of Ken Sande’s book, The Peacemaker, methodically and practically deals with the process of talking to others about their role in a conflict. This principle of peacemaking is called “Gently Restore” and is based on Matthew 18:15-20 where Jesus sets out what to do if our Christian brother or sister is caught in sin but before we look at the process outlined in this passage, we need to ask “When is it right for us to intervene?” As we have already seen, it is first important to count the cost of a conflict. Sande says we intervene when someone’s sin is likely to bring dishonour to God, when their offense is damaging our relationship with them, when their actions are causing significant harm to us or others or seriously harming the offender.
So the steps outlined in Matthew 18:15-20 to gently restore a brother or sister, can be summarized as follows:
1. Go and show your brother his fault, just between the two of you in private (v15)
2. 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. (v16) The key to this step is to keep the people involved to a minimum.
3. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church.(v17a) Sande interprets this to mean to tell a church leader, not to make a public church announcement!
4. If he refuses to listen even to a church leader, treat him as an unbeliever. (v17b) Although this seems severe, Sande explains that the purpose in Jesus’ instruction here is to help the offender understand the seriousness of their sin which hopefully causes them to repent and be restored. This may mean withdrawing church membership privileges but unless they are disrupting the church, they should be welcomed at church like any unbeliever would.
Thankfully most of us are likely to be involved more often in steps 1 and 2 and Sande provides some wise advice for preparing for such a conversation. I have particularly found it helpful to write down what I want to say, to focus on what we agree on and define clearly what we disagree on. By preparing in this way, I am more likely to be an un-anxious presence in the conversation, less likely to say unhelpful things and will be able to listen better.
Our goal in restoring is reconciliation and the ideal outcome of any conflicted situation, is repentance followed by forgiveness and reconciliation. Sande’s fourth principle of peacemaking is “Go and be reconciled” but this unfortunately is not always what happens. Without repentance there can’t be reconciliation but we can make a commitment to God to forgive the person who has offended us. Sande’s discussion of forgiveness in this situation is frank but rings true from my experience. Forgiveness is not a feeling but a decision; it is not forgetting, but a conscious choice not to remember and it is not excusing as if it doesn’t matter. Forgiveness is an event and for Sande consists of four promises that we need to make to ourselves:
1. I will not dwell on this incident
2. I will not bring up this incident again and use it against you
3. I will not talk to others about this
4. I will not let this incident stand between us or hinder our personal relationship
What a difference it would make in our relationships if we could forgive like this and yet, is it not just how God has forgiven us? (Ps 103:10-12) And if we refuse to forgive in this way are we not like the unmerciful servant who takes God’s forgiveness for granted while withholding forgiveness from others. Sande reminds us of the story of Corrie ten Boom and how trivial are the petty hurts the God mostly calls us to forgive, in comparison.
Ultimately, only God can change people’s hearts and bring about repentance and reconciliation and our responsibility is to honour him in the way we behave and speak. But what a huge difference we can make as we breathe grace into the situations of conflict we find ourselves and follow the godly and practical principles set out in this book.